One of the joys of Ramaswami's 200 Hour Vinyasa Krama TT course (we're about to start the fourth week) has been the stories. Whether in Yoga Sutras, Chanting, Mantra or Asana class a story told in his own inimitable style is never far away. Whether these are to clarify, illustrate or bring to presence a text, argument or point of view, or just to use up the odd ten minutes towards the end of a class, the result is the same, we become like children calling upon him to share the story, shuffling in ever closer. It's not just the stories, Ramaswami has recorded over 40 cassettes and CDs in India of various Sanskrit chants. If he doesn't illustrate a point with a story then it's likely to be a short (or occasionally long) chant whether from the Vedas, Upanishads or perhaps the Puranas followed by an on-the-spot translation which bringing the material alive.
I was delighted to see that he titled this months newsletter Story time (perhaps because we've been teasing him about it all week). Here is one of the stories from the newsletter that should give a taste of the two weeks we've just spent studying the Sutras with him. The newsletter in full can be found here
'Here is another story told about Ganesa. Lord Shiva with Goddess
Parvati was in his heavenly abode called Kailasa (the Himalayas). An
old devotee during a visit to Kailas, offered the Lord a delicious
mango. The Lord then turned to His sons, the elder Gajamukha/Ganesa
(the elephant headed) and the younger firebrand Sanmukha (one with six
heads) and offered the mango to the one who would travel around the
Universe quicker. Soon enough the younger Sanmukha mounted his peacock
vahana (vehicle). (In Indian mythology many gods have their vehicles,
Lord Vishnu used a particular variety of the eagle family called
Garuda; Saraswati, the goddess of learning glides around in her swan
vehicle.) Each Deva used a different vehicle as we use a Bentley or
Chevy Impala. Shanmukha had a head start, he was off to a good start
on his “around the world in.a jiffy” adventure. He was sure that he
would win the race. It was just impossible for obese Ganesa to crawl
along on his mushika vahana or mouse vehicle.
Ganesa had his own strategy. He held his hands in Anjali (salute)
Mudra and went round his parents
Siva and Parvati with great reverence. After completing his
pradakshina (perambulation) he told the divine parents that he had
won the contest and asked for the prized mango to be given to him. He
told his quizzical parents “You two are the Universe, my Lord and I
have completed the task of going around the Universe, have I not?” he
asked. “And see, my brother is nowhere in the frame yet,”he said
trunk in cheek. Sure enough, when Shanmukha completed his round trip
of this vast universe, he was flabbergasted to see his sumptuous
looking brother eating the juicy mango. That he became angry and did
not accept the verdict of his parents is another matter. He had lost
the race. The moral of the story is that bhakti is easier to practice
than jnana, which is especially true of Kali Yuga according to my guru
Sri Krishnamacharya. One's mother and father should be revered as
God, so says the Taittiriya Upanishad. All parents agree.
(Here is a commercial break. I have lifted the story from my book
“Yoga for the Three Stages of Life” and I know not many people have
read the book, so knew nobody would notice it. It contains many more
stories from the puranas and others that are relevant to Yoga.)
Ok, what is the relevance of this story? In Yoga Sutras the first
chapter is intended for the highest evolved yogis-- the Uttama
Adhikaris – the born yogis who could get into a samadhi state at the
drop of a hat. Here there are two types of Yogis, the nirishwara
Samkhya oriented philosophers who do not find the need to accept God
in the creation and running of the Universe, even though it is an
orthodox philosophy subscribing to the authority of the vedas, and the
yogis who accept God. Patanjali in his Yoga philosophy accepts the 25
tatwas (24 tatwa of the prakriti or Universe and one distinct tatwa,
the purusha) but, adds the 26th tatwa Iswara or God to facilitate the
spiritual journey of some aspirants. That is why Yoga Philosophy is
also known as “seswara Samkhya” or Sankhya philosophy which includes
Iswara or God.) While one set of yogis have difficulty in accepting
God in their equation there is considerable number who believe in God.
One interesting facet of Yoga is that it is Universal. It is for
everybody, believers and non-believers alike. So, in the first
chapter, Patanjali addresses the question of Chitta Vritti nirodha and
Kaivalya for both the groups. Those who follow the Samkhya path alone
would practice dispassion towards the 24 tatwas in four groups
(visesha avisesha lingamatra and alinga) because these 24 tatwas are
the non-self and ultimately reach the stage of kaivalya. But Patanjali
recommends another approach -- rather than muddling through the
practice of vairagya on all these 24 tatwas, one may meditate upon the
One Tatwa (eka tatwa), Iswara or God and attain Kaivalya or freedom.
People pray to God for a number things. Here Patanjali suggests
praying for spiritual Freedom or kailvalya. Madhava, who wrote a book
“Sarva Darsana Sangraha” or a “Concise elucidation of all
philosophies”, says (following Sankara ) that the born Yogi who
practices Iswarapranidhana using the Pranava mantra and also
contemplates on the import of the Mantra attains salvation easily,
like Ganesa who worshiped the Lord and Sakti unlike Shanmukha who took
the laborious and circuitous path going around the Universe. The
implication is: those yogis who have faith in God may do well to use
that devotional fervor and make spiritual progress more easily. In
fact my guru Sri Krishnamacharya in spite of his enormous yogic
practice was an ardent Bhakti yogi. Of course one should admit that if
someone has genuine difficulty in having faith in God that person may
follow the step by step yoga approach of the Samkhyas'.
So the course is going well as you might have gathered. The campus we're staying on (Loyola Marymont Uni.) is beautiful, lots of palm trees. I've only been off campus twice, once to Venice beach and the other to Marina del Ray where we spent three hours walking around one marina after the next trying to find the car. Might go to San Marino tomorrow. Great people on the course, remember I've never really practiced in a class setting before (just two visits to a Mysore self practice room), yet I felt instantly comfortable practicing with these people, encouraging, supportive, a big thank you to everyone.
For the first couple of weeks I stuck with my own practice in a stairwell before class but last week the triangle sequence took it's toll. As we all lay on our mats exhausted (asana class is three and a half hours long) in one of the many savasanas, Ramaswami joked 'Vinyasa Krama is easy'. I thought, coming from Ashtanga, I was pretty tough but I'm being quite humbled by this deceptively gritty practice and there's still the one legged sequence to come.
Three weeks into the course and the Asana class has a good shape, we're working the new sequences into a coherent practice. We spent the first two weeks on Pranayama and the one just gone on mantra meditation (more of that this week) so are able to add those to the end of asana class. In fact the afternoon Meditation class has developed into something that would make an excellent evening practice, twenty minutes each of asana, pranayama and mantra meditation. Two more weeks to really ground this practice.
Thanks to Barry, our resident class photographer for the shot above of story time. This was in the dance studio where we have asana class and I'm pretty sure it was the story about Vajrasana .