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Monday, 22 April 2013

GUEST POST: Sahaj Marg Meditation : Evolution of an Ashtangi from Physical to Spiritual Realm

Guest post on Sahaj Marg Meditation, a 'Raja yoga based system of practice', by Satya Murthy, who has been translating Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu for us here on this blog (one more important chapter to come).

"Although the Sahaj Marg spiritual practice is available in most parts of the world, it is virtually unknown except by the abhyasis and their close family and friends.  By design,  its gatherings and celebrations are low key and its Masters avoid unwanted publicity.   Although we are encouraged to talk to our friends and colleagues openly about what we do, there is no pressure or obligation. With a demanding and structured system like this, the retention rate is low even with practitioners who get initiated.  It is believed that only those who are ready will come to the system".
.........................

Sahaj Marg Meditation : Evolution of an Ashtangi from Physical to Spiritual Realm

Some of you may know me from this blog as I have been doing the translation of Krishnamacharya’s “Yogasanagalu.”  I began my ashtanga yoga practice in 2001 and in 2009, I started the Sahaj marg meditation practice to complement the very physical ashtanga practice. This article is a self-reflection on how this meditation practice has helped me evolve and in the process get rid of some of the identities and complexities I had developed over time.  I still maintain a regular Ashtanga practice, although now scaled back to make time for the meditation practice.

Ever since I began my Ashtanga yoga practice in earnest in 2001, I have had a desire to develop a meditation practice and tried several systems such as Twin Heart meditation of Master Choa Kok Sui, Advanced Yoga Practices (Yogani), etc., without much success - meaning didn’t continue for any serious length of time.  Also, being an Ashtanga aficionado, I was aware of the unwritten rule that pranayama and meditation practices have to wait until one has mastered advanced asana postures.  However, my desire to start a regular meditation practice persisted and when my brother who had been practicing the Sahaj Marg system for about 5 years suggested that I should give this system a try during a Thanksgiving Holiday family get together in 2009, I said yes and thus began my journey into Sahaj Marg.


The Practice

The initiation into the system consisted of three sittings (one on one meditation sessions approximately 40 minutes with a prefect) on three consecutive days.  A prefect in this system is a long time meditation practitioner who has been trained/prepared by the Master to conduct weekly satsangs (group meditation sessions) and initiate newcomers into the system.  There were no other rituals, registrations or fees required.  There was no picture of a deity, guru or burning of incense etc., for the purpose of initiation.  I was not given any secret mantras to repeat.  After three sessions, I was ready to start my daily practice.  I later learned that the purpose of initiation is to clean the aspirant’s samskara’s or impressions by invoking divine energy from the master to facilitate meditation practice.

The daily  practice consists of morning meditation, evening cleaning, and a bed-time prayer.  The same prayer is repeated once before starting the morning meditation.

O, Master!
Thou art the real goal of human life;
We are yet but slaves of wishes
Putting bar to our advancement
Thou art the only God and power
To bring us up to that stage

The Master here refers to God and we are stating a fact and not asking for anything other than spiritual elevation.  The living Master in the system is considered a representative of God on earth.

The morning meditation is preferably done at dawn for an hour.  The meditation consists of sitting comfortably (cross legged on the floor or sitting on a chair) and meditating on the divine light in the heart. The divine light is a mere supposition and you are discouraged from imagining it or trying hard to see it.  The process is subtle and no effort is made to concentrate.  When thoughts arise, they are to be ignored (easier said than done, but comes with practice).

For the evening cleaning, we sit for half-hour with the suggestion that all complexities and impurities (grossness) are going away from the back and in its place, sacred current of the divine is entering our heart from Master’s heart.  This is usually done at the end of the day after work when we are done with our daily routine.

At bed time, we sit on the bed saying the prayer mentally a few times and then meditate on the meaning of the prayer for a few minutes.

Apart from the daily personal practice, we are also expected to attend once a week Sunday morning group meditation(satsang) for an hour.  Here the preceptor will lead the session sitting in front of the practitioners and acting as a conduit for the transmission of divine energy from the Master.  The only thing we hear from the preceptor is when to start and when the session is over.  Sunday satsang’s help to nurture a brotherhood/community where you can meet, have discussions related to the practice or other related topics.    Once every two weeks you also take a one on one sitting (similar to the initiation) with a prefect in order to continue the cleaning of deep seated impressions and samskaras. Practitioners are encouraged to maintain a diary with brief entries regarding the practice, experience, conditions etc.

Finally, the practice of constant remembrance where you bring the pervasive awareness of God into the background of your daily life. Somewhat similar to the practicing the  “Power of Now.”  This helps to always feel connected to the divinity in us.  This is a work in progress and will come with meditation practice.  It also helps one  to surrender to the divine will and not get caught up with the drama of daily life.  

It appears like there is a lot of personal commitment required in terms of daily home practice and group and individual sittings.  The answer is yes.  However, the onus is on the individual abhyasis (practitioner) to follow up. No one will start calling you if you don’t show up.  The prefect is there to help and answer questions and provide feedback.  

Ten maxims of Sahaj Marg are like the Yama and Niyamas (codes of conduct):

  1. Rise before dawn.  Offer your prayer and puja (meditation) at a fixed hour, preferably before sunrise, sitting in one and the same pose.  Have a separate place and seat for worship.  Purity of mind and body should be specially adhered to.
  2. Begin your puja (meditation) with a prayer for spiritual elevation, with a heart full of love and devotion.
  3. Fix up your goal, which should be complete “oneness” with God.  Rest not until the ideal is achieved.
  4. Be plain and simple to be identical with nature.
  5. Be truthful.  Take miseries as divine blessings for your own good and be thankful.
  6. Know all people as thy brethren and treat them as such.
  7. Be not revengeful for the wrong done by others.  Take them with gratitude as heavenly gifts.
  8. Be happy to eat in constant divine thoughts whatever you get, with due regard to honest and pious earnings.
  9. Mould your life so as to arouse a feeling of love and piety in others.
  10. At bed time, feeling the presence of God, repent the wrongs committed.  Beg forgiveness in a supplicant mood, resolving not to allow repetition of the same.

Personal Experiences and Reflection

The unique feature of Sahaj Marg is the pranahuti ( transmission).  It is defined as the utilization of divine energy for the transformation of man. This is the key to why I believe we achieve and experience faster results in this practice.  The master using his divine power can erase our past samskaras and conditioning and facilitate progress. In addition, by doing daily cleaning, you prevent additional samskaras being added and maintain a state of equilibrium to help progress.  

When I first started one on one sittings with my prefect, I regularly used to experience physical effects such as skin tightness on my face as though something was being peeled off my face.  They have long since disappeared.  Several times I have felt the strong presence of the current Master in front me although it is my prefect sitting in front.  In addition, on many such occasions, my depth of meditation was so strong that I had no other thoughts and could not even think of anything when I tried! I remember commenting to my prefect after one such sitting that it was so blissful, why he had to end it by saying “that’s all!”   However, the ultimate goal of Sahaj marg is not such experiences, but complete union with the divine as we are reminded often in its teachings and literature.  We also remind ourselves this objective of “complete union with the divine” at the beginning of each meditation session.

The practice has also helped me simplify my life in many ways and conquer a long term fear of flying.  I even began to enjoy roller coaster rides with my kids!  I have overcome my strong identification with lefty politics and began to  “divest myself of what’s useless.” as Babuji (2nd Master in the lineage) liked to say.  This in turn has eliminated my previous addiction to 24-hour news cycles including cable TV, internet news, etc.  During my commute to work (45 min each way), I now listen to spiritual talks by the current Sahaj Marg Master and other spiritual teachers such as Eckhart Tolle rather than NPR or BBC.  My kindle library is now filled with Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Power of Now, The New Earth, Complete works of Swami Vivekananda, etc., to name a few.  These books, some of which I had for years and never opened, all of a sudden make complete sense and have a strong attraction!  All this shift has happened in the past three years without my knowing.   As our Master has said many times, this is a an experiment where you are the experimenter, the object of the experiment and will also experience the results of the experiment.

The practice has also brought me more awareness into my interactions with family, friends and colleagues and a tremendous sense of gratitude for everything I have.  It has given me new tools to help enjoy the comforts of modern life,  yet not be lost by its seduction.

Although the Sahaj Marg spiritual practice is available in most parts of the world, it is virtually unknown except by the abhyasis and their close family and friends.  By design,  its gatherings and celebrations are low key and its Masters avoid unwanted publicity.   Although we are encouraged to talk to our friends and colleagues openly about what we do, there is no pressure or obligation. With a demanding and structured system like this, the retention rate is low even with practitioners who get initiated.  It is believed that only those who are ready will come to the system.

The Sahaj Marg system believes in the need for a Master in human form because for most humans, it is difficult to achieve self-realization by self-effort alone. The only thing the Master asks is our commitment to the sadhana (practice) and he is there to guide us in our spiritual journey.  The Master’s duty is to awaken and nurture the divinity in those who seek his assistance.  

Sahaj Marg Masters are unlike the traditional Gurus/Swamis from India.  They don’t stand out in their appearance or dress.  They don’t wear any of the traditional marks or symbols or dress in robes.  You are not expected to prostrate in front of them or touch their feet.  In fact, such practices are discouraged. Successors are hand picked by the current Masters well before their passing so that there is continuity and transparency.    Although being a Hindu, I was quite familiar with the Guru concept, I was never comfortable in accepting and surrendering to a living Master until now.  It took me more than 2 years of practice before I began to realize the importance of Guru in this spiritual practice.  I then felt a strong desire to go and be in the presence of the Master and only last year I had my first satsang (group meditation) with the Master.  

Sahaj Marg Masters



Lalaji (1873 - 1931)

Babuji(1899 - 1983)



Chariji (1927 - current)
Vast amount of literature is available on this Raja yoga based system of practice documenting the history and growth of the organization from its simple beginnings.  These books are valuable resource in helping the practitioner understand the system and monitor progress.   A number of them are available online with free access. My favorite introductory book is “Reality at Dawn”  http://www.sahajmarg.org/publications/ebook/reality-at-dawn

For further reading:




Finally, this is a truly universal practice that can be practiced by anyone from any tradition or religious background without any restrictions. I will leave you with a message from Babuji that beautifully captures the essence of the practice.



9 comments:

  1. very very well put! and really very inspiring and nicely written, thanks a bunch :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you on Satya's behalf, Vivek

      Delete
  2. I went through this writing with absolute attention. Many times in the past I have come across meditational sittings, like TM. But then my own impressions in life was can a person by himself not transcend above the murkiness of cunning life and practice a simple, uncomplicated life. A bit of introspection would always validate as to what is righteous and what is sinful in our daily transactions.

    God is within us and pious performance is possible by mortals. Yes, the singular most difficult thing is to become selfless and offer service to needy. Perhaps to fine tune this, one may require a
    guru to show the way.

    Thanks for some insight given by an abhyasi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, this approach seems to be offering a little support and guidance. i can see how a sangha can be supportive in what is ultimately a solitary discipline, as it must be. Thank you for commenting.

      Delete
  3. That is a lot of meditation time! I'd never be able to schedule that & Astanga around my job (unless I learned to sleep 5 hours a night!).

    But thank you for the article.

    And Grim - I can totally scroll now!!! No problems.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad the new, simpler, layout helped Boodie.
      I guess one could build up to an hour, start with, ten, twenty thirty minuets, same as we build it up in Zen or Vipassana, we start from where we are no? And the 'Evening Clearing' or review could be shorter too no doubt in the beginning. The Jesuits have something similar, reflecting on the day or even the preceding few hours. Ramaswami would suggest that we spend a few minutes in the evening reflecting on the day, perhaps in relation to the yamas and niyamas. The communal Sunday meditation makes me think of going to mass once a week. I'm not so into the communal aspect but my own meditation practice is somewhat similar with the effulgence meditation after practice. I liked this description from Satya's article
      "The divine light is a mere supposition and you are discouraged from imagining it or trying hard to see it."
      That's helpful.
      Interesting stuff, nice of Satya for sharing it.

      Delete
    2. I too like the new format for the blog Grim! I forgot to clarify in the article that you don't start with 1 hour meditation, although the prescribed time is one hour. Like any practice, you can start off with 20-30 minutes and increase slowly. I've only got to an hour very recently. The cleaning could be 15 min. initially.

      The Sunday satsang is somewhat like going to a church I suppose, although there is no singing or sermons. Well, we do listen to a segment of a 10 min talk by the Master or someone reads a short passage from a book after the meditation session.

      Satya

      Delete
    3. I appreciate this very well written description of how to begin with
      Sahaj Marg .. I have had my three sittings & going forth into my first Sunday meditation.. I come from a catholic back ground,so I was hesitant.. I felt very peaceful after my sittings..
      Keep me in your thoughts for a successful journey :)

      Delete
  4. Hi Anonymous,

    That's great and Welcome! Your catholic background should not be a hurdle as this spiritual practice goes beyond religion. As you might have noticed, there are no ritualistic practices related to Hinduism although the essence of the practice is based on principles of Raja Yoga and Bhagavad Gita. As you progress, you will connect with the true meaning behind Christ's teachings rather than how it is practiced in the religion.

    Best wishes,

    Satya

    ReplyDelete

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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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