Esoteric Yogic teachings in Indian scriptures

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 Liberation of Sisyphus

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.

Thoughts on Guru Purnima day

In Eternal debt to Guruji

The day of Guru Purnima is extremely significant for all of us treading the path of self-realization. Today the Guru tattva flows unbound and unfettered, like a torrential river of grace bringing salvation to all blessed enough to perceive it. The Guru does not care for his own needs. His only concern is how to enable others to experience this possibility. For this he may adopt various methods and means and even undergo personal difficulties. His only goal is to enable others to awaken and realize their true self.

As I sit writing this post on this Guru Purnima day of 2019, I am going to try and share my experience of my Guru. It can only be an experience, as it is so subjective that it is beyond the scope of any language. Trying to express the limitless through a limited form is always a challenge. However I will give it a go.

Dazed and lost with endless wandering
Trying to understand through pondering
That which is beyond mind and thought
It is something which money never bought
Never knew the endless joy within
The end of all misery and suffering
Till the time the spark did not light
everything was as dark as the night
Dawn happened when the master came
Nothing ever was again the same
Grace showered like a ever flowing stream
The soul flowered and came out of the dream
This debt for sure can never be repaid
Even if all the world at his feet be laid
A rebirth for me it has been
Blaze of truth I have finally seen…..

Dedicated to my Guru – Acharya Amaresh Shastri

Perception & Reality

“The sun moves around the earth”. While visual observation may say that this is an authentic statement, we all know that it is not the truth. For thousands of years however, until someone decided to challenge this understanding, this remained as a fact. Today even a schoolchild knows that it is the earth that moves around the sun. We may all now laugh at this, but do we ever stop to think about the veracity of the things we state as facts. It is not as if there has been a quantum jump in the quality of human beings in the last few thousand years which would make us immune to these errors.

There is a lot of talk about Maya and how it hinders a sincere seeker. What is Maya? The above statement is an example of Maya’s manifestation. It is not always some grand delusion orchestrated by nature to hide reality. When we believe our own limited perception and try to put labels, meanings and conclusions, we are living in Maya. For instance, many say that chasing after material things is Maya. Let us look at this phenomenon a little closely. The chasing happens because of our limited perception that material well-being is the ultimate in living a fulfilling life. Whereas if we spend some time examining the pros and cons of chasing only material well-being, we would see that our perception is fraught with limitations. This can be seen also in many fundamentalist religions and cults where a limited perception of the founder is taken as the truth by the followers who then are willing to die for it.

Nature does play a role at times in the scheme of things. Without attraction to the opposite sex, the species would perish. However even here if we observe carefully, we can see how the mind can rationalize the irreconcilable flaws of someone when there is a strong attraction. This chemistry can be so strong that it can overrule reason. It can be nearly impossible for the mind to break free. Such brain hijacks also happen in case of people who are addicted to junk food, alcohol, drugs, speeding. Despite knowing the harmful effects of these things, reason goes out the window. This is a case of evolutionary instincts hijacking the frontal lobe of the brain to make it do stupid things.

In both types of cases the common things is the inability to think with absolute clarity. Clarity requires the mind to be uncluttered, refreshed and energetic. While being uncluttered may be difficult in the initial phases of sadhana, ensuring that the mind is refreshed and energetic is slightly easier. Spiritual processes are designed to give the practitioner an extra boost of energy in order to enable clarity. The whole system in Kriya yoga includes a certain lifestyle which if done with the support of a Guru help in giving the practitioner nearly boundless reserves of energy. This energy can then be harnessed to rise above the veil of Maya like a space rocket and see that it is actually the earth which is going around the sun.

Spiritual experiences

Guruji – Acharya Amaresh Shastri

Spiritual experiences can be in the form of physical sensations, light or sound, vivid dreams, divine visions or voices. Often times the spiritual experiences that one has can lead to a breakdown of their rigid worldview and create an openness towards the spiritual side of life. My initial experiences were important for me in the sense that they made me feel that there was a higher possibility that I may have missed out on. It then motivated me to search for the ultimate truth underlying these experiences. Many a times these experiences can be a figment of the subconscious mind floating to the surface of the conscious mind due to the tremendous energies generated from the practices. Sometimes they can indeed be from a higher source. Unless one is a realized person, it is hard to tell the difference between a hallucination and a divine vision. However, these are indeed beautiful sights along the way to realization and can give one the conviction that the path is right.

There are a few other issues with spiritual experiences. Sometimes it can make a seeker miss the forest for the trees. If one just seeks those experiences then the condition is not that much different from someone immersed in the worldly pleasures. It is just that now the pleasures are of a higher order. I remember the high I got on one occasion in a practice session and it was such a rush that everytime I sat down to practice I wanted to recreate it. I never experienced it again until I let go of that expectation and just did the practice with devotion. So it is important to be able to let go of these experiences too and always keep in mind the larger imperative of self-realization.

The other issue is that there may be disappointment if one hears about the experiences of other seekers and is not able to have the same experiences. Everyone is different with their own karmic structure and unique energy system.The way these practices are, even the same seeker cannot recreate the same experience at will. It creates unnecessary disappointment and jealousy for someone who is unable to have these experiences. This creates a mental block which then comes in the way of the practice. Any such mental block or klesha is an unnecessary barrier in our journey. That is why Gurus have always emphasized on the strict secrecy in terms of these experiences.

There is also the tendency to misinterpret these experiences to suit one’s own view of the self. This is far more subtle and very important to guard against. I remember interpreting an experience a certain way to suit my ego as a great sadhak on the path. Guruji then deflated my ego saying that it was a experience which happened in the beginner’s stage. Here again is an example of why our culture has always emphasized the transmission of this brahma-vidya only in a guru-shishya parampara. Only someone who has crossed the mire can pull you out. It is not possible to pull oneself out of the mire or for someone else who are also stuck in the same mire.

Winner’s Curse

Most of us think that dealing with failure is among the most difficult things for any person. I want to put a contrary point of view here, that it is actually dealing with success which is more challenging than dealing with failure. It is not just because of the conventional wisdom that mind does not get the satisfaction from the success that it thinks it will get, although that is one aspect of it. There is a deeper reason to this and that has to do with the trade-offs that success implies. The value of success is only one side of the coin, the trade-offs that happens in its pursuit is usually not understood by most of us.

Winner’s curse or buyer’s remorse is a phenomenon typically seen in common value auctions where the buyer or a winner feels that they have overpaid in retrospect. Typically it may happen due to a winner overpaying due to emotional reasons or incomplete information. In life this is more frequent than we think. In fact most of the time success as described by the social norms has a steep price attached to it. I have closely interacted with people whom society would describe as successful having achieved their career and business goals. When they introspect in the later stages of life, many of them have regrets about the way they have lived their lives. Some of them have chronic health issues as they had not prioritized their health, some have rifts with their family and then there are some who feel that they had to kill their passion to achieve success. The success in terms of money or hierarchy is there but it does not mean much in the context of having lost out on something else.

Being creatures of the herd our understanding of value of anything is generally a perception of our peer group and not the actual value as perceived by us. Researchers and practitioners of consumer behavior know this very well. If 10 people are of the view that doing x is good and y is bad, the 11th person will usually agree without much thought. While this has far reaching implications for the propoganda machinery of any state, in the individual context it means that things are not what they seem to be.

I myself have had experiences where I felt that the time and energy I put into something was not worth it. Later on when I analyzed all these instances, there was one common thread that I found. These were not the things that I wanted for myself. They were things others had or did and I assumed that it would work for me as well. I have found that it is usually better to first understand the trade-offs in one’s own context and value system that are implied in any decision and be comfortable with them. The only way to ensure that we do not have these blind spots and take decisions that are optimal is to be in a state of full self awareness. This state of self awareness is quite far off for most of us because of the layers of conditioning, biases and compulsive behavior patterns. It is not possible to wish these things away in an instant and become more self-aware. There are introspection methodologies in psychology that can help to an extent. However without addressing the energy imbalances creating these issues, the problem does not get addressed. In my experience, Yoga is the most effective method that can deal with these issues at the energy level and make one more self-aware.

Ahara : A wider definition part 3

In the last couple of posts I have talked about a more inclusive definition of ahara so as to include the audio and visual inputs that we human beings are receiving. I may have painted a rather bleak picture of the outcomes of technological advancements on the human psyche. The phenomenon of neuroplasticity means however that new and productive samskaras can also be created. In this post I will try and talk about what I have tried to implement to actively counteract the impact of this external stimulus. I have left out the part on the influence of my Guruji on all this because that is something beyond the comprehension of my limited mind. More than anything however the grace of a realized master helps on this path.

Yogis are very practical people and they will recommend only what works. So all the unnecessary elements of yoga are generally removed over time through a process of trial and experimentation by some of the most advanced and dedicated Yogis. It also stands to reason that remedies have already been designed for all the possible pitfalls on this path. There is nothing new in what I am mentioning here. Although I may be able to add some flavour from my experience and the context of the 21st century.

It has been established by psychologists that creating new good habits is much easier than trying to repress old bad habits. Hence instead of trying to stop watching tv, starting something else may be better idea. Over time the mind starts enjoying the new activity and the habit of lazily surfing channels drops off. Meditation will help in enhancing the effectiveness and speed of this process.

While reading scriptures is not really necessary on my path, it did definitely help in orienting and aligning me with my quest for seeking the true nature of self. On days that I have a good meditation session, a verse from the upanishads, the bhagvad gita or the srimad bhagvatam can really move me very deeply. Pilgrimages to temples and religious shrines apart from the energy benefits of the kshetram create a new samskara of visiting religious places. Singing bhajans and doing kirtan is another practice which creates bhava which helps in melting the ego. I remember singing along with Pandit Jasraj on ‘Bharat Bhai Kapise Urin Hum Nahi‘ and the indescribable joy I felt.

An active attempt at becoming a producer rather than consumer of media can also help. For instance painting, music, writing are activities that help in flowering of one’s creative energies. Instead of sitting and consuming media, one becomes involved in the creative process which is far more rewarding. On this path of Kriya, there is a lot of excess energy that is generated and available for a sadhak for use. As the phrase from the movie Spiderman goes ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. Instead of frittering away the shakti generated through sadhana in useless pursuits, it should be used by us for activities which help us in coming closer to our true self and realizing God.

Ahara : A wider definition Part 2

There is also the aspect regarding the content of the media which is being created for our consumption. One of the big challenges in meditation is stilling the mind. In order for this to happen there is a lot of processing of the past experiences which needs to happen. Whenever we undergo an experience there is a groove that gets created in the mind. Events with high emotional spikes end up creating deeper grooves which then take over the thought process as they are the easiest neurological patterns to access.

Even now I can most vividly recall those events in my life where I had strong emotional reactions to the situations. In a way they have become recorded on speed dial in my psyche. I do not even have to make an effort and those thoughts and memories pop up on most unexpected of occasions. As I progress in my journey, I know that over time I have to deal with all of these things. I am sure that for most of us, there will be a lot of things which we need to resolve as we move forward on the path of yoga.

When simple day to day life experiences can cause such disturbances, it is frightening to imagine the impact of movies,tv and news on us which are designed for heightened emotional reactions. Everything leaves behind a groove in the mind, it may be small but over time it may cause repetitive thought patterns which end up strengthening it. They can also lead a susceptible mind towards depression. Studies have shown that modern entertainment and news also cause a general desensitization towards things like violence.

I have not yet stopped going to the theatre or watching movies. I have however, reduced my consumption of digital and electronic media to a large extent and am conscious about what I want to watch. I used to be a movie enthusiast and was fond of watching movies across genres. Once I started going deeper into meditation, I realized the havoc that these things were creating on my psyche. It was the equivalent of 2 steps forward and 1 step back. The path as itself is very difficult with a lot of things to be mindful of so as to ensure progress. Introducing new unknowns by way of a psychological imprint of last night’s horror movie will just lead to derailment. So for the aspiring yogi in the modern digital age, mitahara is not just about the digestive system.

To be continued…

Ahara : A wider definition Part 1

I am sure most of us have heard the old adage ‘you are what you eat’. While that is true in many respects, it is a somewhat limited view that views us as only as the physical body. Only when one starts doing yoga, the other dimensions of this statement start getting revealed. Yoga views a human being as having several layers and not as just the limited physical self. Keeping that in mind, food for the physical self is not the only nutrition that we need to be concerned with.

While purity and quality of food are important in ensuring progress on this path, there are other nuances which get overlooked. I have personally experienced the importance of protecting against the minor things which can end up creating disturbances in the mind. It is a fact that old samskaras or habits do get overwritten by good new samskaras over time with sadhana. However, it may be wise to not just wait for this change to happen on its own through sadhana and actually consciously strive for it.

We live in the age of digital media and cheap communication. My generation has gone through the advent of the computer and the internet and has experienced first hand the transition from VCR to OTT. The impact of this change on the human consciousness should not be underestimated. When junk food becomes cheap and prevalent among developed countries, the impact of it was observed . The developed nations are now struggling with obesity and lifestyle diseases. Similarly the far reaching impact of cheap digital media and entertainment may not be obvious at first. It would suffice to say that it is far more sinister than bad food habits.

Imagine the mind to be like a blank screen. The eyes communicate images to this screen through the visual apparatus as we go about our daily life. For millennia, humans have had relatively simple visual experiences on a daily basis. The brain has evolved through that process to be able to handle a certain amount of input stimulus. Now through the advent of cheap online content a human being can choose to be constantly bombarded by new visual stimulus. This along with the mind’s nature of wanting instant gratification can make for a dangerous combination. I have observed it happening with me once I started becoming more aware. I kept checking my cellphone throughout the day without even getting calls or notifications. I used to unlock the phone, go through apps absentmindedly and lock it again.

Only when I started becoming more aware, I realized what a dangerous habit this had become. Everything in yoga is designed to make us liberated and free and here I was creating more chains around myself.

To be continued…

Growing up..

I am sure that many of us would remember our childhood when we used to play with toys. I definitely remember the excitement when I would get a new toy and how I would spend hours with it. When a new toy came, the old one which I used to play with would remain neglected and ignored in a corner. Until some other child wanted to play with it, when suddenly I would turn into a defender of my realm.It was so easy to get lost in playing that many a times my mother would have to call me repeatedly to eat my food. In a way that little piece of plastic and metal could form the centre of existence for me at that point in time. They mattered so much until the time came when I grew up and wondered why I made all that fuss on something so insignificant.

Substitute ‘toy’ with whatever goal or dream we are chasing and we have the modern human condition. It could be a house, a car, girlfriend, boyfriend, a family, a career, a bank balance or everything at the same time. The human mind is very goal oriented and objective achievements are a way to track progress in the endeavor of being a human being. We are also creatures of the herd. It is an evolutionary trait as members of the human species who did not go with the herd ended up ostracized and dead with their genes not passing on. The inherent uncertainty in almost all life decisions means majority will follow the herd as there is always comfort in numbers. I am not saying that following the majority is wrong. It has its place in terms of survival decisions, but to want to know the self requires the courage to walk alone.

When I had my first glimpses on this path, I wondered why more people do not want to do sadhana. It was obviously the greatest journey that a human could undertake. Then I thought of myself as a child and how engrossed I used to be with my toys. I would not have given them up even if someone reasoned with me. I then recalled myself as an adult and being anxious about my education & career, wanting to be better looking, worrying about girls liking me, wanting to be popular, wanting to earn money. If at that time someone had come and spoken to me on this subject, I would have possibly ridiculed them for being impractical. When we are immersed in the pursuit of something, it is very hard to step back and see the inherent irrationalities in the same. Many a times when a spiritual experience happens to us, we start lecturing the people around us and wanting them to walk on this path.There is no point in doing that. Like a unripe fruit, it is best to let it ripen on the tree before plucking.