It is important to analyze and understand the things which are effective on the path of Yoga. There are things that we think are effective and others which are actually effective. One such important distinction which should be made is between discipline and motivation. I am sure all of us remember listening to someone give a passionate speech or watching a motivational video on youtube and then getting fired up to transform our lives. We get charged up for grand goals like becoming the next millionaire or a virtuoso musician or even mundane ones like shedding those extra kilos. There is an elaborate plan which we then chalk out to achieve these goals. However when the time comes to follow through on our plans we end up procrastinating. It is a very natural state of affairs. The law of inertia applies universally and human beings are no exception.
Continuing from my previous post, this has to do with how emotions work. Motivation works at the level of creating a short term emotional spike. It provides an outlet for the potent cocktail of regret, guilt and anxiety in us which helps us remind us of what we should be doing with our lives. Emotions are by their very nature transient and it is difficult to sustain their highs and lows. So when the time comes to follow through on the motivation that we felt earlier, usually the same emotional state is not there and hence inertia takes over. In my experience, for any worthwhile goal motivation is usually not very effective unless it rests on a firm foundation of discipline.
Discipline is not very glamorous to talk about in today’s world. It is not a comfortable thought for most of us. It reminds us of the actual nature of success which requires a certain iron will to follow through with things day in and day out ceaselessly. We all admire people who seem to effortlessly attain grand things in life. Usually though there is a very strong work ethic & discipline at work in almost all of these cases. Even in nature change is always very slow and gradual. We only see the beauty of the butterfly emerging out of the cocoon. The real beauty however lies in the tireless struggle of the caterpillar against its very nature which transforms it into a butterfly.
Yoga is no different. Patanjali’s famous yoga sutras start with the verse ‘atha yoga anushasanam‘ which literally means ‘and now the discipline of yoga’. While there are several dimensions to this sutra and several interpretations of it, at a very rudimentary level it indicates that yoga needs discipline as a prerequisite. Even before there is a teaching given, discipline is asked for from the aspiring student. There is usually some confusion caused by the word discipline in the context of yoga. In the path of yoga, discipline doesn’t imply strict penance and asceticism. There is a lot of merit in moderation of sensory pleasures but a complete withdrawal from them is going to the other extreme. This is again our emotions at work. We must rise above the cloud of emotions to see the objective reality.
It took me time to understand the nuances of discipline in yoga. In the beginning there was a tendency for me to go overboard with things like fasting and pranayama. Over time I have realized that moderation in addition to being steady and regular makes for reliable progress. For a shishya initiated in a parampara, discipline is in following the rules of the path as laid down by the Guru. My Guru is a householder himself and he believes in moderation of everything in life. This ensures that slowly but steadily the disciple advances towards realization. As Lahiri Mahasaya used to say ‘Banat banat ban jai.’
In our lives, whether we like it or not most of our decisions are based on emotion rather than logic. We may be able to rationalize a decision once its taken but the triggers for it are usually rooted in our emotional states. The more intense the emotions the stronger the inclination towards a certain decision. This can be true for even the small preferences that we have. For instance, the craving for a certain kind of food is usually because of certain happy memories of childhood associated with it. In Yoga we should make use of all possible opportunities & tools for evolution. Hence it makes sense for a yogi to be able to effectively utilize emotion as a tool for growth.
What should then be the emotion which helps in spiritual evolution? The Bhakti traditions talk about the bhava that human beings need to inculcate towards the divine. The bhakta celebrates both the joy & sorrow in the separation from God and revels in it. The joy is because bhakti can only happen in duality where both God and bhakta are separate. The sorrow is because there is also an intense longing to merge into the divine. This counterplay creates a strong emotional bond with the chosen deity. There are accounts of Bhakti saints who start to see their ishta in everything. Many a times their absorption in their ishta is so intense that they forget everything else around them. When someone reaches a stage like this, it is obvious that an enormous transformation has happened in their being.
There are a lot of schools of yoga who differ from each other in their approach. However they almost all agree that cultivation of bhakti is very important if one is desirous of accessing the divine. Bhakti can only happen with purification of bhava. In my experience, among the most important things that the practice of kriya under the guidance of Guru enables is this purification of bhava. There are so many experiences both good and bad that I have had throughout my life that it was difficult to create a certain purity in bhava. Hence it was important to unlearn that conditioning before I could feel a deep longing for the divine. The energy from kriya along with Guru kripa helped burn these unproductive thought patterns at the neurological level.
It is important to always keep in mind that Kriya is a tool and not the goal. Many a times we end up mixing the two. I myself have done this where I felt that I should learn the best type of yogic practice and went after finding the best techniques. This thought process is a lingering remnant of the ‘doer’ mindset where we feel the need to do something to get something. While there is something to be said for discipline in sadhana & rightful actions, in the spiritual realm things work a little differently.At my current state of evolution I feel it is best to live in a bhava of devotion to Guru & the divine and let transformation happen at its own pace.
One may have physical beauty, a beautiful spouse, fame & renown and wealth as high as the mount Meru. However if the mind is not fixed upon the lotus like feet of the Guru, there is no use for all the other attainments. This verse is the opening of the Guru Ashtakam, hymn in praise of the Guru composed by Adi Shankaracharya, a towering figure in the spiritual history of this land.
In this country, we have spent thousands of years trying to find ways to accelerate the evolution of human consciousness. Every small and big act was designed to shift the consciousness upward towards the divine. However due to recurring invasions and foreign occupations over the last few hundred years, this cultural link was broken leading to only symbolic remnants of a powerful way of life. One of these remnants is the act of touching the feet of elders. We do this as a symbolic gesture of our respect for age & seniority. There is actually a very esoteric reason for this practice which is not known to most of us now.
At the surface level the act of touching the Guru’s feet symbolises the giving up of one’s ego and seeking refuge. In reality the deep yogic reason is that shakti flows outward from the feet of the Guru and the disciple can access this by touching them. However just like the mouth of pot needs to be open to be receptive to rain, the disciple needs to be ready to accept the flow of energy from the Guru. I have had personal experience of this with my Guru. When I first met him, I did a sashtanga namaskara and touched his feet. Afterwards the next day, I had an intense experience which to this day is etched in my memory.
The term sharanagati is often talked about as essential for spiritual progress. The word sharan can be loosely translated as refuge. However if we look deeper sharan is actually charan which means feet in Hindi. Gati means movement or speed. So speed in spiritual growth happens through feet of the Guru. Even our scriptures state that all the pilgrimages and divine beings reside in the Guru’s feet.
To the modern mind conditioned with reason & logic all this may seem airy fairy hogwash. I myself refused to have anything to do with religion and spirituality till a couple of years back. However, now that I have experienced a glimpse of the divine bliss firsthand, I will be the first one to acknowledge the limitations of the way of the intellect. Sharanagati cannot happen if doubt is there. It is a catch-22. To have experiences one needs to have faith and to develop faith one needs to have experiences.
The time was 5:30pm. We were almost running through the world’s largest functioning Hindu temple worried that we would miss the darshan as it was almost closing time.It would be a pity to miss it now having travelled so far. Just a couple of hours earlier we had been saved from a massive catastrophe. We missed a gruesome accident on the highway, a 7 car pile up by 5 minutes. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/5-die-in-multiple-car-collision-on-highway-near-pudukottai/article28874052.ece Before that incident, Guruji had sensed something and had been repeatedly telling our driver to stop the car and take a break. The driver thought to stop after some time as we had a lot of ground to cover. Then Guruji deliberately stalled and delayed at a refueling station when the driver stopped to fill diesel. That saved our lives on that day. Even seeing something like that can change and shift one’s perspective on life. We all know we are mortals, but we live as if we have forever.
We had planned to go from Rameshwaram to Chidambaram that day. Midway through the drive we felt that we should go to Srirangam. It would mean an additional 2 hours on the road which would mean we would possibly reach Chidambaram only by 11 pm. Srirangam has the famous Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple dedicated to a form of Lord Vishnu. It is a large and beautiful temple and the place is replete with the vibrational quality of centuries of worship. We arrived at 5:25pm and the darshan timings would get over in 5 minutes. We went in the temple wondering if we would find the door of the garbha griha shut. Although in hindsight we should have known that something like this will not happen since one is in the company of such a master. We were almost the last ones in to see Ranganatha, the reclining form of Maha Vishnu. It was a wonderful experience of feeling thankful in the presence of Guru & God; the gratitude magnified by the close shave a while ago.
As I moved forward in the queue to see the deity, an inexplicable surge of emotion overwhelmed me. I was at the Kothandaramar Temple at Rameshwaram where Vibheeshana had come to Lord Rama seeking refuge. Incidentally it was also the temple Swami Vivekananda had visited after his historic trip to Chicago. The whole environment of the temple was soaked in the vibe of sharanagati. The desolate surroundings of Dhanushkodi gave it an otherworldly feeling. There was a very distinct vibrational quality to the place. It was possibly one of the most profound experiences of my life. One may even call it life changing. In a sense it was fitting that I was with my Guru and fellow disciples at a place of such significance.
Recently I along with a few of my fellow disciples embarked on a journey with our Guru where we visited a few important pilgrimages in south India. It was a transformative experience for all of us which I am sure we will remember for a very long time. More than the powerful energy of these ancient temples, it was the presence of an enlightened master which was the highlight of the trip. There were many things which happened during the course of this trip; some of them so outlandish that the rational mind would really not be able to grasp.
The temples in south India are really something else. They are designed for specific spiritual purposes. It is an amalgamation of ancient technology and art to create something which is awe inspiring to say the least. Centuries of invasions have left this land bereft of many of these ancient marvels. South India and Tamil Nadu in particular has been fortunate to still retain some of the magnificent powerhouses where traditions of worship have continued unbroken for thousands of years. If one is receptive enough and is able to access the shakti that flows through these kshetrams, they will be blown away by what is on offer. Travelling with a master is like a shortcut hack for this access. I don’t know what happened, but visiting temples had never felt like this earlier. Although to really confess, I don’t know how much was the impact of these places and how much was of being in presence of the Guru. Even our scriptures repeatedly say that all the pilgrimages are to be found at the feet of the master.
The easter egg phenomenon in modern computer software is not a new concept for Yogis. For thousands of years they have utilized it very effectively to ensure that the teachings are not lost and at the same time they cannot be accessed by someone who is not ready. For most of us who grew up with Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas; they remained stories. Stories which in a riveting manner taught us lessons about right & wrong, ethical dilemmas, good & evil and which have in a way shaped our cultural landscape over time.
Only once I started sadhana, I was able to relate my experiences with the stories. I will recount one such story and what yogic lessons I could see in it. There are possibly even more layers or many other nuances which I may be unaware of. I will take the instance of the samudra manthan story or churning of the cosmic ocean. If we look at it as a story then devas (the good guys) and asuras (the bad guys) form an alliance to extract the nectar of immortality from the ocean. A mountain was used as a rod to churn the ocean and Vasuki the divine serpent was used as a churning rope. Vishnu came in the form of a tortoise to provide a base for the mountain as it was beginning to sink. The churning process released Halahala (a lethal poison) at first which Shiva had to consume. Thereafter the churning released a lot of wonderful things which Vishnu had warned devas beforehand not to get distracted by and wait for the nectar of immortality. Finally when the pot of nectar came up, Vishnu tricked the asuras into giving it to the devas. I have just given a broad summary of the events here. There are a lot of other things going on as well. Taken even just as a story it can stand its ground with the best myths and epics of the world.
However, when one has started on the path of sadhana the yogic lessons start to emerge. I am not sure how correct my interpretation is, but at least there is enough to make sense. Let us visualize a yogi meditating in a cross legged posture. The mountain becomes the upright spine, the tortoise represents the lower half of the body, the breath is the serpent churning the spine, the ocean is the mind of the meditator. The spine needs to be upright for the yogic process to be effective. The body must be still and stable like a tortoise. Vishnu & Shiva represent the Guru who can initiate and guide an aspirant and step in to help when really needed.
On starting a sadhana, a lot of accumulated negativity gets released at first before the good things can happen. That negativity is halahala. After that the good things start to come. These can be equated to attainments or Siddhis. They are a distraction the spiritual path and if one gets sidetracked here then the final goal cannot be attained.
Devas and asuras are both good and bad aspect of our self. Which means unless both these aspects of us are not committed to transformation, it is not possible for a seeker to progress. This has deep implications as all along the asuras were tricked by the devas to participate in a process which made the devas immortal. Hence as aspirants we need to be able to use every trick in the book to ensure our lower self cooperates in the process. Only then can we attain the divine nectar which lies within the ocean of the self.
The myth of Sisyphus is one of the best known myths in the Greek mythology. Sisyphus was a Greek king who was condemned by Gods to an eternal punishment. He had to roll a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down when it reaches the top and start the process all over again. The french philosopher Albert Camus bought this myth into popular consciousness in the 20th century with his essay on Sisyphus outlining it as a metaphor for individual’s persistence against what is essentially the absurdity of life. Even with this fatalistic and depressing outlook, Camus tries to find meaning and optimism by concluding that the meaning for human beings is in the joy of the struggle.
The views of Camus can essentially be attributed to the evolution of centuries of European philosophical thought which culminated in the final problem being identified as the absurdity of existence. For the solution he should have looked east where this problem had not only been identified but there were several types of methods suitable for different people to be able to overcome this absurdity. The predicament of Sisyphus would get identified by us as Samsara – cyclicity of all existence. The only way Sisyphus could be truly free was to attain Moksha. Moksha means freedom from samsara, from the cycle of birth and death. It is like Neo getting out of the matrix and seeing reality for the first time.
Continuing with the matrix metaphor, without help from Morpheus, Neo would have continued with his delusions. Only because Morpheus was outside the illusion he could help Neo. Similarly a Guru is needed on this path for us to break free. Life can grind down the best of us. Even if someone can manage to go through life with everything working well, the gnawing feeling at the back of the mind will remain. That feeling of absurdity can dawn at the most inopportune moments; that this is not all there is.
The spiritual tradition of Kriya Yoga is a lightning path towards freedom. While the external appearance may not change and it may still seem that Sisyphus is rolling the boulder uphill; the internal state undergoes a massive shift. In essence what was soul crushing punishment earlier ceases to have any effect. Instead of the mind trying to make up meaning, it is the internal energy system which starts functioning at such a high pitch that the need to make meaning ceases. So when there are no thoughts; good or bad, Sisyphus is finally liberated.