Sunday, 1 July 2012

2012 Newsletter From Srivatsa Ramaswami—YOGAGATE VISWAMITRA

As I have been writing, my 200 hr Vinyasakrama Yoga Teacher Training

Program at Loyola Marymount University starts on July 9th and runs

for 5 weeks. The program is registered with Yoga Alliance.

Registration for the program is still open. You may also consider

registering for individual courses. Here is the link

http://www.lmu.edu/pagefactory.aspx?PageID=34949&PageMode=View

******

YOGAGATE VISWAMITRA

Yoga is a shastra for Apavarga or the rollback of chittavrittis, the

one and only source of all our experiences. Yoga may be portrayed as

an inward journey arriving at the the root or core of oneself.

Patanjali erects three gates that could be closed in tandem so that

one goes through the homeward journey safely and without

regurgitation. They are firstly Yamas , then Pratyahara and finally

Vairagya.



The first threshold is determining the Yogi's relationship with all

the beings and objects around and using the gate behind called Yama.

Contemporary Yogis have started paying more attention to these aspects

of Yoga. The Yamas are like a wicket gate regulating the interaction

with and distractions from the outside world. Yamas along with niyamas

are not just desirable attitudes but a necessary preparation for a

committed yogi. Like Asana one should practice or observe these do's

and don’ts so that one develops these samskaras or yogic traits and

becomes yogic. This yama gate helps the yogi to take the next steps

without any let or hindrance. Then he/she would train in asana and

pranayama (bahiranga sadhanas) to reduce rajas and tamas and become

more satwic and be ready to take up the next stage of Yoga called

antaranga yoga or internal practice.



But a pious academic understanding and acceptance of the yamas and

niyamas is not sufficient for the yogabhyasi, they should become part

of the psyche of a serious yogi. Patanjali insists on a firm

commitment to the yamaniyamas-- a great vow or mahavrata. To be angry

and violent with others as a matter of habit by words, deed and

thought should be slowly and with effort overcome as one would

overcome a bad habit like smoking. A habitual liar, if one wants to

follow the path of Yoga, would take special efforts to slowly overcome

this habit, by constant reminders. To covet anything that does not

belong to oneself is steya or thievery which again is not a yogic

trait. Brahmacharya is celibacy in the strictest sense of the term.

But Sri Krishnamacharya, in line with sastras, would say that it is

not possible in this Kaliyuga with the rare exceptions of naishtika

brahmacharis.. Hence he would say the next best approach would be that

one should not transgress the institution of marriage. If I have a

tendency to philander and still want to be a yogi, I should take

special efforts to overcome this obsession. For businessman

acquisition of wealth is perhaps a legitimate goal, but not for the

Yogi. To be satisfied with whatever one makes with honest effort is

aparigraha. Adi Sankara in his Bhajagovindam says one should feel

happy with the returns one gets with honest legitimate work

(nijakarma). The Yogi will also have to keep in mind the niyamas like

cleanliness, contentment, lingual restraint (in eating and speaking),

study and surrender to the Supreme. Thus it is possible and necessary

to practice yamaniyamas as we practice asanas. Patanjali suggests that

the yogi always should think of the adverse consequences of any

transgression (vitarka bhadane pratipaksha bhavanam). Vyasa even says

rather sternly that a Yogi should be ashamed of himself if he/she

would transgress the rules of yama niyamas. “You are no better than an

animal which eats its own vomit” he thunders, to drive home the

importance of strict observance of yamaniyamas. Many suggest reviewing

the day to day activities vis-a-vis the yamaniyamas at about bedtime

or more frequently and this alone would help bring the yogi back on

the yoga track. The daily ritual 'sandhya vandana ' contains mantras

that help the yogi to do prayaschitta (regret/repentance) for such

transgressions. In the daily prayer to Sun, one beseeches the Sun god

to pardon and remove the ill effects of papa or despicable acts done

by the misuse or abuse of the mind, the limbs, speech, the other

organs. This constant reminder and a wholehearted commitment to follow

the rules of yamaniyamas will slowly seep into the samskaras of the

yogi. Then a habitual offender of yogadharmas becomes a habitual yami.



With the feet firmly grounded on yamaniyamas, the yogi trains the body

and breath with asanas and pranayama, twin angas of external yoga

practice. These two are said to reduce the dominance of rajas and

tamas and make the yogi's personality more and more satvic and one

becomes fit for Anataranga Sadhana, the second stage. Here again the

yogi has to close one more gate or door. And it is the innocuous

looking Pratyahara door.



Patanjali gives the same importance to Pratyahara as he gives to Asana

and Pranayama. When the indriyas which are the unique doorways for the

external stimulii to reach the brain, are completely sealed as it

were, it is called Pratyahara. Prati+ aahaara is pratyahaara. Ahara is

what one takes into one's system. Usually Ahara refers to the food we

eat, but here it is used in a wider sense –all that we absorb from the

outside world. The rupa paramanus/tanmatras or light particles that

reach our eyes reach the mind through some transformations. Likewise

the sabda paramanu or sound particles in the form of sound waves reach

our ears and reach the brain after some modifications. These stimuli

are the aahara to the brain through the senses. When the Yogi also

shuts down the Indriyas after gaining control over the body and mind

with asana and pranayama, through the Pratyahara door, he/she

completely shuts down the body/mind/senses complex which is commonly

but --according to Yogis-- erroneously thought of as oneself. Thus

with Yamaniyamas the Yogi shuts out the outside world, albeit

temporarily, then by Paratyahara preceded by asana and pranayama

completely shuts down and prevents any interruptions by the pseudo

self. The Yogi now has only his mind which is very satwic to deal

with. Lord Krishna indicates to Arjuna to withdraw the senses as a

tortoise (turtle) would.



So Pratyahara is a well thought out procedure which is not just

symbolic but a solid pro-yogic procedure to shut out ahamkara from

interfering with the internal practice or antaranga sadhana. Different

texts refer to different Pratyahara procedures. One may follow one or

a combination of them. Sri Krishnamacharya would invariably ask us to

practice a charming procedure called “shanmukhi mudra” as an effective

method of Pratyahara. Normally it is done immediately after the

pranayama practice following asanaabhyasa. For the actual procedure

you may refer to my book “Yoga for the Three Stages of Life”. Regular

stint of Shanmukhimudra towards the end of Yoga practice (and before

starting chanting or meditation) helps to calm the senses and bring

them under the voluntary control of the mind.



Savasana when correctly done is another Pratyahara. In the simple

savasana one lies on the back and in an orderly manner relaxes all the

major muscles and joints and remains focused on natural breathing.

Then there is a more involved Pratayahara procedure. The details of

this pratyahara procedure are mentioned in several old texts

especially Yoga Yoagnyavalkya. Remaining in Savasana, the yogi will

with concentration draw the prana/awareness from the 18 marma sthanas

or vital centers in the body in tandem and deposit the collected prana

in the heart or a chosen center. This way the Yogi will become

completely free from the body and the indriyas and can with the pure

satwic mind engage in antaranga sadhana. In this savasana pratyahara,

the yogi is said to become completely oblivious to his/her body. The

body is like a sava (savavath as HYP mentions) and when a limb is

lifted it becomes limp without the normal muscle tone and when dropped

falls without any resistance.



A serious Yogi even during normal times engages very rarely with the

outside objects of the senses maintaining a high level of pratyahara.

My Guru while walking used to keep his back straight but the head down

engaging minimally with the environment. A sage called Akshapada is

said to keep his attention on his feet while walking. The name

Akshapada means “one whose eyes are on the feet.” Akshapada also well

known as Goutama is credited with a monumental work called Nyaya

Sutras.



Whether one is a born Yogi who can slip into a Samadhi state at the

drop of a hat or a yogi who has muddled through the seven angas

leading to Samadhi, an entirely new Yogic vista opens up. The enormous

power of the understanding of all the subtleties of the Universe or

prakriti becomes accessible to them due to their unique yogic

perception (yougika pratyaksha) from samadhi which the mere

yogabhyasis have yet to acquire. Such unique understanding of the

subtleties of the prakriti produces concomitant yogic powers. From the

abilities to control and even stop the heart, or to remain without

food or water or minimal air for a long time-- a long list of

empowerment opens up due to yogic knowledge. Ability to travel in

space and time, knowing the past or the future, entering into someone

else's body and mind, well the possibilities are numerous and many

yogis get hooked to these siddhis. Knowledge is power and yogic

knowledge is yogic power! Whole mankind worships such a Yogi and holds

him/her in awe.



These Siddhis are spectacularly supernatural. But yogis like Patanjali

consider them to be impediments for the Yogi who is after getting into

the core of himself/herself the Purusha, that immortal principle which

is pure awareness/consciousness never changing, always aware of the

chittavrittis. All other siddhis are but deviations, impediments to

reaching the goal. Patanjali succinctly puts it: “While for the others

it may be siddhis but for the nirodha yogi they are just impediments

and byproducts.“ He also says that the Yogi who is after the knowledge

of the Self will guard against temptations. “Invitations from high

personalities like even Devendra (the boss of the heavens), should be

dismissed nor should the Yogi feel proud of such achievements.” So

there must be in place in Yoga a procedure to overcome the temptations

of the grandeur of the Sidhhis, to reach the ultimate goal of Kaivalya

or absolute freedom, which is spiritual. The old schools have the next

and final door that has to be closed to consider and that is VAIRAGYA

or dispassion. Samkhya, Vedanta and Yoga all proclaim the need of the

sword of Vairagya to cut asunder the never ending cycle of

reincarnation. Understanding all the tatwas of prakriti as the non

self and developing vairagya towards them is the means. The Samkhyas

talk about the 24 tatwas that belong to prakriti as the non self but

which also form the human system of body, ego and breath.

Contemplating on them, going into Samadhi to understand them

thoroughly and rejecting them as the non self and developing Vairagya

is what they say is the means. Vedantins, on the other hand, look at

the human system as made up of five kosas or sheaths, contemplate on

them in Samadhi and develop Vairagya towards them. Then the yogi would

reject them all, the physical, physiological, the mind, the

intellectual and the ego sheaths as non self. Mandukya Upanishad

considers the three stages of waking, dreaming and deep sleep as the

awareness about the non self and leads the abhyasi to the pure state

of Purusha in the fourth state, the pure state of consciousness as the

self. The yogis consider developing Vairagya toward the human system

consisting of the three gunas, the gross aspects made up of the five

bhutas, the subtle body, the intellect and finally the prakriti itself

as yoga. Is there a system of developing Vairagya. Yes Vairagya is a

systematic procedure leading to spiritual freedom. Vyasa in his

commentary on the sutra “Abhyasa Vairagyabhyam tannorodhah” details

the four stages of Vairagya and a systematic method of practicing it

and also para vairagya. Here is quote from Mahabharata on Vairagya



"The happiness one would get by the fulfillment of all the worldly

and all the other worldly desires is not comparable to even a

sixteenth part of the mental peace one gets by the renunciation

(trishna kshaya) of the very desires".



So the last door the Yogi closes behind to reach a stage of Kaivalya

is Vairagya. Yamas, Pratyahara and Vairagya are the three doors that

the Yogi needs to close during the spiritual homecoming, the final

happy journey.



In this connection here is the STORY OF VISWAMITRA, (my version).



Kausika was a great powerful King, perhaps an emperor. All his

subjects adored him, he was well known in the entire universe

including the heavens. Once he was met by many subjects and at that

time a sage called Vasishta came that way. Vasishta was a great Yogi.

As soon as the people saw the sage they ran to him and started paying

their respect in right earnest completely ignoring Kausika. Kausika

was flabbergasted, he could not understand what this simple fakir

could offer to his subjects. To know more about the Rishi, Kausika

later went to Vasishta's unpretentious ashram in a forest. He went

there with his large army to impress upon the sage his vast wealth

and power. Soon enough the sage offered to give the King and his army

food as they had traveled a long distance and were his honored

guests(athiti). Kausika was again bewildered, “How can this pauper

feed an army of soldiers like his?” Mockingly he told the sage that he

would be happy to have lunch with him. Vasishta had an innocuous

looking cow, a milch cow, called Nandini believed to be an offspring

of the famous Kamadhenu the divine cow that could give anything that

one wanted. Nandini had been given as a gift to the sage by Indra

himself as a mark of respect to the sage. The sage Vasishta then

beseeched Nandini to provide food for the guests. Nandini promptly

provided a delicious divine lunch for all of the king's army. Soon

after taking food, the King told the sage, “ You are a renunciate and

you really do not need a great gift like Nandini who can provide

anything one wishes. I am a King ruling a large kingdom and if you

could please gift it to me it will greatly benefit me and my people

and I can compensate you greatly.” Vasishta explained to him that

Nandini was a gift from the gods and was supposed to feed Vasishta and

be with him and he was not supposed to part with her. “You are not

supposed to gift away what you yourself received as a gift,” he added.

Enraged, Kausika immediately ordered his men to forcibly take Nandini

away from the ashram and take it to his kingdom. When the men

attempted to take hold of the divine sacred cow, the docile Nandini

suddenly became furious and firmly dug her front hooves into the

earth. Lo and behold! From out of the dust particles from the hooves

hundreds of soldiers sprang up and destroyed all the King's men.

Defeated and humiliated Kausika returned to his kingdom. Soon he

resolved that he would also become like Vasishta a great sage. But at

that time kings or rajas would not become sages which was usually the

vrittis of Brahmins. However he decided to do tapas or penance and

follow the yogic path and become a sage like Vasishta. He then wanted

to be praised by Vasishta himself as Brahmarishi.



He renounced his kingdom and went to the forest to undertake the

arduous tapas or yogic practice. As he was making great strides, Indra

the lord of the devas, got worried and sent his most beautiful apsara

and divine dancer to entice the king turned yogi and destroy his tapas

and yogic powers. Menaka came to earth and was very quickly able to

entice Kausika. She just came in through the yama gate left ajar by

Kausika. When she appeared before him with all her beauty and charm

the dormant rajas in Kausika came forth aggressively. He soon left his

tapas, his sadhana and spent time with her. Menaka who was only

supposed to distract the King herself fell in love with the powerful

King Yogi and in course of time they had an offspring-- a very

charming divine girl who came to be known as Sakuntala. But soon

thereafter, Menaka told Kausika that she came at the bidding of Indra

to destroy his tapas. Having accomplished her mission she should

report back to Indra in heaven.Her permanent place was the heaven and

not the earth, she reasoned. She gave the girl child to Kausika to

take care of, but he refused as he felt depressed and angry with

himself and wanted to go back to start his tapas once again. A mural

by a famous painter depicting Kausika refusing to accept the child is

still popular in India. Here is the link to view the mural.

http://sushantskoltey.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/vishwamitra_menaka.jpg



Kausika realized his folly of falling into the trap set by Indra. He

had failed to close the Yama gate behind him before starting on his

Yoga Tapas. He then decided to continue with his yogic tapas with

redoubled vigor.. His baby girl Shakuntala was raised by a

compassionate sage Kanva. Shakuntala grew up to become a beautiful

lass. Her son Bharata who is said to have had lions(cubs) as his

playmates as a child later became an emperor to rule ancient India.

India in olden times (even now) came to be known a Bharata Desa or the

country of Bharat.



Kausika closed the Yama gate firmly behind him and did yogic tapas.

Soon he went into Samadhi and many Siddhis came to him. Another test

he had to face came to pass suddenly.



Trisanku was another young king. While reading the puranas, he came

across various religious rites that would propel one to go to heaven.

He stopped all the works and went to Sage Vasishta and requested him

to perform a yagnya, a religious procedure for Trisanku's sake so that

he could go to heaven, But Trisanku also insisted on entering heaven

with his mortal body. But Vasishta said it was against natural and

cosmic law to go to heaven with this mortal body. “Why don't you do

good karmas and when you die you will reach heaven with your subtle

body? That is the law of karma, natural law, cosmic law”. Trisanku was

disappointed. He was stubborn. He approached Vasishta's sons who were

also well versed in vedic riruals. He said that their father Vasishta

would not fulfill his wish and requested them to do the yagnya so that

he would go to heaven. They tried to convince him that what their

father said was right and that was the course he should follow. The

stubborn Trishanku was persistent. The young sons of Vasishta lost

their temper and cursed him to become an old man. Progeria set in and

instantly Trisanku looked an old man. He then rushed to Kausika who

was intently doing his yogic tapas. When Kausika opened his eyes, he

saw his former friend in tears and unusually looking aged. Trisanku

put the whole blame on Vasishta and his clan and requested Kausika to

help him go to heaven with his mortal body. Would Kausika use his

magical yogic power to propel him to heaven?



Kausika's ego was tickled and his natural animosity towards Vasishta

came to the fore, his Siddhis blinded his eyes his vivks or

discrimination.. He assured Trisanku that he would do it for him, and

using his yogic powers made Trisanku levitate and quickly ascend to

the heaven. The Devas, the divine beings in heaven were aghast at this

unnatural phenomenal and with all their might pushed down Trishanku.

But Kausika's power was incredible and soon there was a state of

equilibrium, a stalemate—the downward push of the divine powers of the

devas was matched by the enormous yogi power of Kausika. Finally

Kausika realized his limit but still wanted to placate Trisanku. So he

created an intermediate heaven—some texts say it was an illusory

heaven-- in the southern skies, with its own stars around and was

about to create even an Indra “god of heavens”. The devas immediately

pointed out the folly of his actions and warned him that the very

attempt would be considered a sin. Kausika cooled down and abandoned

any further work on his heaven creating mission. Some believe

Kausika's Trisanku Swarga is in the southern skies, here is a quote:



“Trisanku Svarga in the sky is identified by Indian Astronomers with

the constellation Centaurus; and Trisanku is probably Alpha-

Ccentauri or Rigel Kent, a triple star system in this constellation.

The other star in this triplet is the Proxima-Centauri, the closest

star to Earth next to our Sun. Closest as in about 4.3 light years

close”



Trisanku believed he was in heaven it is believed.



By then Kausika had used up all his yogic powers that he had

accumulated. He was back to square one. For a third time he started

his Yoga journey. This time he closed the third door Vairagya. He

developed a deep dispassion towards everything prakritic including

powers, siddhis, etc. He became absolutely dispassionate, a Bairagi

(one with vairagya).Finally he was shining as a yogi. Sage Vasishta

visited him and declared him to be a Brahma Rishi the highest position

of a renunciate. He went on to to do a lot of good for mankind as a

Rishi. He discovered the most potent mantra from the Veda, the Gayatri

Mantra, the mother of all vedic mantras, just as Pranava is the source

of all Vedas and vedic mantras. Because of his great humanitarian work

he came to be known as “Viswaamitra' or the great friend of the

Universe. Gayatri is still a mantra chanted by millions even today and

every time one chants the mantra the name of Viswamitra as the Rishi

of that mantra is fondly mentioned routinely and thus he became

immortal..Yamas. Pratyahara and Vairagya are there in Yoga for a

reason.



To get a few moments of peace in sleep, a person closes the front gate

of the yard then the front door of the house and finally the door of

the bedroom before retiring to bed. The Yogi closes the yamaniyama

gate to regulate interaction with one's own outside world (mamakara)

first, then pratyahara to take out of contention one's false identity

with the body/mind/senses complex (ahamkara) and finally the para

vairagya door to slip permanently and irrevocably into the peaceful

Purusha/ Self.



Sincerely

Srivatsa Ramaswami



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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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