Live free yoga

Liberated living through the sadhana of yog; enlivened by the grace of my satguru Yogiraj Siddhanath.


Leave a comment

From Yog to Yoga

From yog on rustic cotton mats laid out on an earthen floor under a hay roof to Yoga in swanky über temperature controlled yoga studios with branded accessories, this practice has leapt to a different level altogether. The multi billion-dollar yoga industry today is a far cry from the simple akahada gurus who would sweep the floor and lay out the mats to make the space ready for the students and accept calmly what now seems a paltry remuneration for the teaching. A routine and disciplined study, it involved much more learning than developing a beach ready body or a flawless facade.

Yoga today has taken on many hues and those who develop a particular style of Yoga hugely define its practice today. A 200-hour teachers training gets a certificate and a traditional Hindu name for a practice that took yogis lifetimes to even make progress. Patanjali and his yoga sutras, each of which can be pondered upon for months is taught in five easy lessons.

Though elated at the status this practice has achieved in the world today one has to wonder whether somewhere along the way a very scientific and well documented practice to realise the Self has been diminished to a glamour quotient for movie stars and studios.

For many born in India in the 50’s and 60’s and earlier, yog sadhana was a way of life, learnt often from watching our parents. Formal training sometimes started in school and study of the first two tenets of yama and niyama by example from adults around us.

The five Yamas are, Satya (truthfulness), Ahimsa (non-violence), Asteya (honesty), Brahmacharya (popularly sexual restraint) and Aparigraha (non hoarding).

The five Niyamas are, Shaucha (personal hygiene), Santosha (contentment), Tapa (austerity) Swadhyaya (self study) and Ishwar Pranidhan (surrender to divine will).

Yoga instructions today often either ignore or gloss over the yamas and niyamas as do’s and don’ts. Rather they may even be subverted in the race to achieve ‘success’ in this field. To build a brand, to lease out franchises, to woo students, to manufacture products, to become popular, to weed out competition, yoga practitioners and teachers may and often do trample upon many of these tenets with impunity.

These two tenets however become a natural way of being for the sincere practitioner of yog sadhana, herein lies the beauty of yoga to transform the sincere practitioner despite poor instructions from unqualified yoga teachers.

Yoga today popularly refers to the practice of asanas and to some extent pranayama. Little surprise as most often the step towards yoga is taken either for reasons relating to physical health and or mental stress both of which are taken care of by the practice of asanas and pranayama. Here ends the journey of many who venture into yoga as a practice today.

It’s a disservice to yog though to divest it of its purpose that of uniting the individual spirit with the universal spirit. In their passion to keep out the mystical or the unexplainable yog has been stripped of its real purpose. It’s like giving few ingredients of an exotic dish and keeping away the others. The dish will neither be cooked nor eaten. This may also be because the teachers are restricted by their own progress on this path, which stopped at perfecting the asanas.  

The fifth stage of yog sadhana pratyahar is the withdrawal of sense organs from sense objects. But for many modern practitioners of yoga there is a feeling of discomfort when the word detachment is mentioned. The attitude is of not being ready to give up sensory pleasures yet; they don’t want to venture that far. Systematic practice of yoga stills and reduces the clinginess of the mind to external stimuli, freeing the soul to experience its own divine nature. So once again regular practice of pranayama will get the practitioner to this very exhilarating state sooner or later.

Many practices of Dharana, the art of concentration the sixth stage of yoga is taught by experts, especially to sportspersons and high achievers. These practices taken from yoga texts are separated from the other steps that lead to it. The concentration then becomes a wish to succeed in one’s field rather than a one pointed attention to realise ones innermost core of bliss.

Dhyan and Samadhi being in the purview of a true master, a satguru often is not realised easily by many on this path.

There’s a reason for this very elaborate and codified practice of yoga laid down by Patanjali. The steps followed systematically lead you without fail to the state of self-realisation, no matter what your race, colour, gender or caste is, whether you are an atheist or a believer. Yoga does not discriminate; the sincere is rewarded with results.

Yoga is self-regulatory and an inward path. It involves a bond between the teacher and the taught that is based on an ethical behaviour where they alone judge and witness their motives. The redeeming fact is that since every one who practices any of the eight steps of yoga is evolving along this path, eventually the chitta and the vrittis -fluctuations of the mind will be overcome and Patanjali’s Sutras will bear fruit for that yogi.

This article was first published in the The Pioneer in December 2018.

http://www.pioneeredge.in/the-journey-from-yog-to-yoga/


Leave a comment

Am I a Hindu if I practice Yoga?

This blog was inspired by an online post on social media by a western yoga teacher who was postulating how yoga was not religious and could be practiced by anyone from any other faith whilst adhering to their own religion without fear of conversion.

Does practicing yoga make one a Hindu? As a yoga teacher who teaches westerners I come across this oft asked query to which I have a counter question. Do they think of Hinduism as a religion and Hindus as a class of people practicing a set discipline? My reply is based upon their response to this question.

If Hindusim is a religion, yog cannot be divested from it just because people from ‘other’ religions want to practice and reap the benefits of this time tested ancient technique without getting out of the comfort zone of their belief sysytem. They have to understand that yog is part of a great spiritual philosophy now known as Hinduism. It is a culmination of rigourous self-study, self-imposed austerities, deep reflection on the nature of the self and is based on a solid foundation of sustained practice of thousands of years.

Many who are called Hindus today believe the ‘ism’ and the term Hindu was imposed upon them by the Greeks, Mughal and Colonial marauders to put them in a box they could comprehend, as comprehending the diversity of this land they overcame with brute force was impossible for their small limited minds. The present day hindus themselves believe their roots are deep in the Sanatana Dharma philosophy, an eternal way of life that evolved/is evolving, is alive and is the result of extensive study, introspection and realisation into the nature of humankind and their relation to the divine, with many paths and movements branching out from this study, of which Yoga is one. There was never a need to give this a limiting lable of an ism. This system accepts even atheism as a philosophy and they are free to adopt, refute and challenge belief systems of scholars.

This is proof of an enlightened spiritual tradition not an excuse for marketing Yoga as not a religion and giving examples of atheists practicing yoga to draw in students.

Therefore to understand that yog is not a religion you have to yourself be realised to that extent. To frivolously mouth yoga is not a religion and that one can continue being a christian or muslim or jew while practicing yog is insulting the universality of yoga and in extension the religion now called hinduism of which its a part.

So yes if you think Hinduism is a religion then Yoga is hindu. But if you have broken the shackles of religion in all its limitations then not only yoga but all the paths that have come out of this deep reflective philosophy is not religion but an invitation to explore and realise.

“The pilgrim, the path and the goal become one- LOVE,” says Yogiraj Siddhanath a realised Kriya Master, a foremost example of how versatile and evolving Sanatana Dharma is.


4 Comments

Of Gurus, shishyas and the Satguru

Let’s begin with this beautiful track of a Kabir song about the Satya guru sung soulfully by one of my favourite singers Channulal Mishra from Kashi. The song expresses much of what I learnt from my own Satguru, who among other qualities awakened in me an awareness of divinity in the daily activities of ordinary life and ignited a joy within not dependent on external circumstances. The song begins with a couplet awaring us of a false guru and goes on to explain the role of the Satguru. You can let the song play as you read the rest of this post 🙂

That guru is called True (music track)

When I first started this article it was going to be only about the Satguru and the Guru but I then realised that without the shishya who gazes upon them this would be an incomplete effort. So here I am eschewing upon a most difficult topic and wondering why I am even attempting this since I will probably open myself to more flak than appreciation. But when has that ever stopped me from saying what I feel. And as usual I write from my own experiences and inference and anyone is welcome to disagree.

For the purpose of this article I am going to use the word Satguru for true spiritual guru and guru for a teacher or acharya and shishya for student or disciple and seeker. I am purposely not using the word follower here as for me this implies a ‘blind’ faith in the person or path being tread, a pack mentality- sheeple as they are addressed now, lacking what is called, the vivek buddhi or power of discernment.

SATGURU

The coming of the Satguru in a disciple’s life is akin to the meteorite falling on earth that ended the age of the dinosaurs giving the Earth an evolutionary boost. The arrival brings to an end the dinosaurian mindset in the disciple ushering a new beginning. Dinosaurian here refers not only to a conditioned and atrophied mindset but also to the intellectual knowledge collected over years of study. Shams crashed into Rumi’s life reducing all his bookish knowledge to naught. The vibration of the Satguru is such that it transforms the disciple, sometimes at first meeting. There are many such examples, Yukteswar Giri and Yogananada, Ramakrishna and Vivekananda*.

English language has no appropriate word for Satguru. Popularly the word Master is used in its stead, but the word ‘master’ in all its nuances does not come close to explaining Satguru as understood in the spiritual context. Though I have used the word master, for want of a better word in English, for the title of my book One Master one disciple, it does not inspire me. For me the word master immediately brings to mind an autocratic figure wielding control over his slave disciples, which a true spiritual guru definitely does not do.

In earlier times it was common to address spiritual satgurus with the simpler guru. It indicated a person exhibiting the attributes of a Satguru even though not addressed as one, for example Guru Gorakhnath who is at the level of a deity! And Sikh guru’s, Nanak to Gobind, though referred to as Guru many of them exhibited the characteristics of the Satguru, i.e. the ability to transform by their mere presence the disciple, one of the principal quality of the Satguru who does not ‘do’ anything but by merely ‘being’ sparks in the seeker an inner light of divinity. Some of the great gurus did not even use a prefix or a suffix such as Kabir, Lalla, Lahiri, yet they were recognised by the then present as shining in the light of the divine.

One key quality to note in a Satguru is that their goal is the expansion of the awareness of the disciple, to disengage them from the external and move them inwards. A true spiritual guru is not an advisor for daily living…getting a job, having a good relationship, making money, doing well in class etc.

The paradoxes on the spiritual path become suddenly clear to the disciple after contact with the Satguru, arousing a knowingness of the universe by connecting with its blueprint within. The paradox that going with the flow gives control of one’s life, the disciple who drowns in the ocean of divinity is the one who actually gets to the other side rather than the one swimming on the surface. Jo ubhra so doob gaya jo dooba so paar!!

The Satguru awakens the disciple to the inner wellspring of joy enabling the disciple to become love and radiate love. All this the Satguru can do by mere presence. A technique or practice may be given to relax the grip of  the disciples mind and the transformation is initiated.

The external physical Satguru introduces the disciple to the inner essential Satguru. A true spiritual Guru does not become the disciples crutch rather the Satguru guides the disciple to become self reliant. Physical proximity, after a while can reduce as the Satguru can, at will, contact the disciple who is receptive thousands of miles away. I have had this experience, as I am sure, have others.

*(Interestingly, most popular examples i could find or give from the past are of male gurus and their male disciples. Is it patriarchy that effaced the names of the women saints or were they themselves not interested in leaving behind a hierarchy. Not saying there were none, there are many examples of women Rishis but Meera, Lalla, many female ascetics from South India established no organised sect or religions, seemingly satisfied with their own connection to divinity and radiating it.  There are scant mention of their key disciples. Similarly most pictures I found were also rendition of male gurus with male disciples. This trend has changed in recent times since the likes of Anandamoyee Ma. Hmn, this would be a topic of another more in-depth study…or not. )

GURU

Today the word Guru is often used more loosely to mean an expert in any particular field. So  we have the management gurus, IT and tech gurus and even the love guru. They are well read and have “mastered” their subjects. The word guru in the present context for me means a teacher who throws light on the subject under study. In India anyone who teaches us anything, be it music, dance or sports is accorded the status of a guru, starting from our parents who are considered the first guru.

While the satguru is associated only with the spiritual field the guru or teacher can be from any field. But here we are turning the lens on gurus of the spiritual path so will focus on them.

The Satguru, by nature, lets the pure light of the Divine flow through without corruption and transforms the disciple; the Guru, on the other hand, teaches, fine tunes and perfects the technique given for practice by the Satguru to the disciple. The more clarity the Guru has in passing on the teachings sincerely, the more the benefit to the student. Depending on the lineage, the Guru guides the student in mantra or tantra, in yog or its specialised branches. The teacher inspires the student by living and naturally exhibiting the qualities that are the result of the practice, love courage, joy and peace, siddhis if that’s what’s being taught. In short by example and walking the path the teacher shows the way to the student.

Since the Guru is also evolving he/she is vulnerable to the pitfalls of human passions and emotions and can be easily influenced by Ego and Ahamkar. Most gurus fall prey to the adulations of their students, some of whom can and do praise sincerely or sycophantically. Greed for money and fame being another of the hazard the teacher watches out for. Therefore the Guru needs to be constantly in connect with the light of the Satguru. In the path of yoga, be in sync with the yama and niyamas. The swadhyaya -self study, turning the lens inwards, being a very important tenet for teachers on the spiritual path of guiding seekers, keeps the teacher realistic and away from delusions of being a satguru or profess taking on the role of the satguru.

SHISHYA

Now wherein in all this does the shishya or pupil fit in?

In the clear gaze of the shishya the image of the Satguru and the Guru is reflected back giving them an unadulterated view of themselves. The Satguru shines in the sky like the sun radiating life, neither needing nor wanting, but the moment the shishya’s gaze turns upwards an enriching connection is formed, a connection of Love, in that exchange of love, the disciple flowers and the Satguru accomplishes the evolution of another soul.

In the case of the teacher, whats a teacher without the taught. Though the guru may be releasing a fragrance of knowledge and information like a flowering tree but its the sincere student who is drawn to partake of it, completing and complementing the role of that teacher to distribute knowledge.

The shishya, according to me, has the most difficult of roles in this trio – to recognise a satguru from a guru, a charlatan guru from a sincere one. Especially as both the Satguru and the Guru can physically appear the same. In fact the Guru often being still in the ego looks and behaves more pious than the Satguru who is more natural and whose aim is to shake and wake up the disciple. Contrarily a Guru might take on a role like a Satguru might, a zen master, being rude and harsh. Now the shishya has to sift this through the lens of his/her own discretion and recognise the sincere teacher and distinguish him or her from a Satguru!

 A very difficult task indeed sometimes learnt after trial and error by the seeker, over many lives! One cannot base this identification on the number of disciples an existing Satguru has or the popularity of an organisation, here the seeker might just end up being a “follower”, similarly discovering an ascetic hidden in a cave in the Himalayas also does not guarantee a genuine satguru. The seeker to ‘see’ the Satguru needs an unbiased clear sight uncorrupted by conditioning.

Well I wish good luck to all such seekers.

Doodled some early morning musings that i found interesting and you might too.

IMG_7455

Explaining the doodle, at the bottom we have the pool of creation that includes everything that is created- the whole universe. Here we focus on the pool of humanity from which come the seekers of many hues. Those that seek actively for a spiritual true living Guru or just a teacher of philosophies, yoga, spiritual techniques. Seekers who are entrenched in religions of their choice, following customs, traditions, religious functions. Seekers not seeking anything, happy or not in the trammels of daily life and seekers seeking material and external happiness. From this pool come the disciples and students.

Some find a teacher who leads them to a Satguru, others find the Satguru directly or vice versa the Satguru finds them. Some Satguru’s connect with a deity- Shiva and his rays Gorakh, Hanuman; Vishnu and his avatars, Ram, Krishna, Buddha; Shakti, the Mahavidyas, Kaali, Durga. These beings, for me being extra terrestrial and cosmic beings  are in human form only because they are appearing on earth, on another galaxy they will appear like the locals! Some Seekers and Satguru’s might directly connect with the Infinite Ocean of consciousness, but usually even the most advanced and avataric beings have a physical guru/satguru and or diety, the reason for this I still have to figure out.

The infinite Ocean of consciousness is called by my Satguru Yogiraj Siddhanath as the Isness of the zero, not-zero who’s centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere. His poetry says it all:

वहां ध्यान न स्थान न नाद न बिंद, आकाश नहीं वहां काल कहाँ
सब शून्य अशून्य का हैपन है, ईश्वर भी निरंकार वहां – योगिराज सिद्धनाथ

Between these two pools all drama is being played. And the wonder of this infinite consciousness being within us and discoverable is exquisite. The Satguru leads us back here effortlessly supporting us.