Focus Of The Month – July, 2017
Om purnam adah purnam idam purnat purnam udachyate
purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavashishyate
That is whole. This is whole. From the whole the whole becomes manifest. From the whole when the whole is negated, what remains is again the whole.
Yoga practices are magical practices. Magic happens when there is a shift in perception—what you thought was real drops away to reveal a more expanded enlightened reality. Yoga practices, fueled by a sincere intention for Self-realization, will transform habitual ways of seeing – of relating, to ourselves and others. Our thoughts, words and deeds are all interconnected with our relationship – it is what life is about. But, to the enlightened yogi, there are no “others.” In the yogic state of samadhi, the boundaries that separate you from God, as well as the world around you, the world of otherness, all dissolve. It takes some heavy-duty magic to accomplish a shift in perception like that!
The word perception means “to see.” But it means seeing with more than just the physical eyes. It means more than just to understand, but “to realize.” The English word “understand” implies a duality, as if you’re standing under something. But to really realize something is to immerse yourself and have a complete experience of it—to become with that something. And what is realized, or perceived, during samadhi is the one-ness of being. Otherness disappears as you see your own Self in others, revealing that only Love is real.
The chakras are doors of perception into new dimensions of reality. The bija mantras are the passwords or keys that open the doors to each one of these chakras, to each one of these worlds. Bija means “seed” in the sense of a potency or distilment, where something very large is compressed into something very small, compact and essential. Having something in a compact form is very good for traveling! That’s what we are doing in life. Our souls are journeying, traveling through dimensions of reality to our true home.
All of the yoga practices are purification practices that help us lighten our baggage so our travel is smoother. The system of asana has been very particularly designed to help purify our bodies, which are made of our karmas that come from our relationships. Yoga gives us the tools to purify our perception by removing the only dirt that really is: ignorance or avidya. That ignorance is caused by misperception, not being able to see or perceive ourselves, others and reality clearly.
We purify our perception through the only cleanser that is known to have the most wondrous results with absolutely no side effects. It’s like Clorox bleach without any chlorine. It’s like the most incredible detergent that doesn’t pollute any water system and doesn’t wear out the clothes in the washing machine. The magical cleanser I am talking about is love. When you can truly love others and yourself you can love God. Forgiveness of others and ourselves, as well as letting go of blaming, complaining and explaining, is necessary to allow love to work its magic.
Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati described yoga as “the state where you are needing nothing.” You realize that you are a holy being—that you are whole. Eventually, as the dawning of this wholesome yogic enlightenment appears, you find yourself letting go of selfish tendencies and less compelled to blame others or see yourself as the victim of any type of abuse or circumstance.
Because we carry in our bodies our unresolved karmas, sometimes negative emotions can arise during the asana practice. Emotions such as fear, jealousy, anger, vengeance, cynicism, doubt and lack of faith are the results of karmas or actions we have done in our past that were not guided by love. These dark emotions are obstacles that cloud our vision and can stop us from feeling connected to our eternal true nature. We can address those troubling emotions through love and start to shift our perception away from disconnection and toward stability and joy—in other words towards sthira and sukham.
This way of thinking, where we as an individual do our best to enhance the lives of others and even the Earth herself, is quite new in a culture that is based on the assumption that the Earth belongs to us, and that to be happy, we must take from others. Fear causes us to feel that if we give we will lose – that there will be less for us. Through the practice of yoga we become fearless and daring. Instead of feeling incomplete, motivated by the need to take from others to feel whole, we might dare to ask, “What can I do for others? How could I live in such a way that my life enhances planet Earth?” This kind of shift in perception can be a huge turnaround, freeing us from cultural conditioning that may have been distorting our perception of reality for many years, even lifetimes. But selfless actions motivated by love are the kinds of actions that will lead to samadhi, living liberated, as a jivanmukta living in the light of love as joyful whole, holy beings.
Essay by Sharon Gannon
Restraint, Observance, Seat, Breath Control, Sense Withdrawal, Concentration, Mediation and Ecstasy are the eight limbs of Yoga.
In the practice of pratyahara, one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, we draw the senses inward to bring attention to the inner world instead of expending energy exclusively on the outer world. What we perceive in the outer world is just one part of our whole consciousness. Pratyahara provides a bridge from the outer practices of yama, niyama, asana and pranayama (from the gross) to the inner practices of dharana, dhyana and samadhi (to the subtle). The energy freed from focusing outward, freed of the desire to act and to collect information can be wisely channeled instead to the realization of who we really are, which is pure consciousness.
Where do we put our energy most of the time? We give our precious attention to the outside world, invariably, through identification with sensory inputs as well as identification with conditioned personality. For example, take our self-image, how we want to present ourselves to the world. How do I look? How do people see me? How do I want to be perceived? This kind of behavior exhausts a lot of our energy throughout the day. Pratyahara, as a practice, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves or that we shouldn’t embrace beauty. It means to be aware of how much attention we give the outer image and to reduce the energy wasted in creating it. Satsang is a potent and helpful yoga practice in this regard. To be surrounded by people who are interested in yoga and self-realization instead of sticking to a carefully crafted outer image supports us to liberate ourselves from false identification.
To be able to turn the focus inward we need to minimize outer disturbances to the extent possible. What do we feed our minds all day? Information from news media, television, emails, social media, magazines and advertising, all of which trigger our emotions and tell us what we need next. What is our strategy to deal with all this information? Some may turn to alcohol, drugs and gossip. We talk and think more in an effort to digest all that input. Unfortunately, it only makes things worse. We should rather make an effort to calm our mind! We have to be able to digest what happens to us and everything that we say and think and do. Choose that which gives you less new things to deal with. As a practice, write down what distracted you during the asana or mediation. What made concentration difficult? By putting it into words you can realize what you are chewing on while you wanted to focus on something higher than your daily distractions. Then you start getting a sense of what is really important to you and what kind of external sensory input you would like to minimize.
To understand what is happening during the process of pratyahara, for me the philosophy of Samkhya is very helpful. We get an exact breakdown of how the human being functions, what has an influence on our behavior and how we perceive the world. We all know our five senses, referred to in Sanskrit as buddhendriyas. There are also the karmendriyas or “senses of action” (talking, grasping, moving, eliminating and procreating). These are almost always immediate, unconsciousness, automatic, spontaneous, and learned reactions to the sensations. I see something I like, for example, a brownie. For others, it would be a cigarette, a steak, a sexy person or a new pair of shoes. I see the brownie, I want to have the brownie and my hand grasps the brownie. To understand why we act like we do, we need to observe the connection between sensation, mind and action. Then we have the chance to change something. Being aware of what drives us to action makes it easier to let it go and calms down our lives. Conscious behavior reduces distraction and increases the ability to concentrate. Focusing inward we discover the three parts of our mental activity. The dominant parts are the thinking part, the mind (manas) and the part having an opinion, our ego (ahamkara). The pure observing component (buddhi) is slightly hidden, but always present. Through training the mind we can interfere and stop our prompt action. We then have time to reflect and act consciously. Do I need the brownie? Am I hungry? Do I need more sweets? What did I eat all day? What are the ingredients? What are the consequences for me and for others? Does my action lead to more suffering of others? What are my ethical and moral beliefs? How do I want to act, instead of just react? Addressing these questions will lead to different behaviors, which are based on a freely made decision, with hopefully less ego involved. Selfless and nonviolent behavior reduces the dominance of the ego and brings more peace to the world and to the mind.
A practical aspect of the training of the mind is to observe things consciously like a witness. Practice observing without judgments, without words, just watching. For example, watch thoughts arising during the Yoga Practice. We don’t have to stick with the thoughts, we don’t have to describe them and we even don’t have to think about where they come from. We can realize this is the mind thinking a thought, and let go of the thought. This will bring us closer to the buddhi, our intelligence, which allows realizing the higher Self, which is pure consciousness.
The practice of pratyahara shows us, how much influence the culture has, the outer circumstances, our experiences, our personal behaviors and characteristics and, of course, our preferences and antipathies. Going inward reveals a sophisticated vision of our entire consciousness. The ego — or better the “maker of our small self” — can be identified and eliminated, revealing the buddhi, a clear and free perception. As Sharon Gannon and David Life say in Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body and Soul, “Through pratyahara we can journey from the outer fixation to inward revelation.”
BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD
yad-yad ācarati śreṣṭhas / tad-tadevetaro janaḥ / sa yat pramāṇaḿ kurute / lokas-tad-anuvartate
A great person leads by example, setting standards that are followed by others all over the world.
The streets of Calcutta were dangerous and dirty. Thousands were infected with leprosy, cholera, and other contagious diseases. At overcrowded hospitals, nurses were forced to turn away dying patients onto the cockroach-infested streets. A group of activists, led by Mother Teresa, risked their own health to treat the sick and poor, even though most could not be saved. Why would Mother Teresa dedicate her life to working in the most unsettling conditions for people who did not have anything to give in return? She responded by saying, “I see the divine in every human being. When I wash a leper’s wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?”
The great leaders of the world – Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, the Dalai Lama, Malala Yousafzai – all share certain characteristics. They are clear communicators as well as great listeners. They have a firm and steady grounding that reflects an unwavering commitment to their cause. They inspire and empower. They are also confident, honest, and discerning. There is another quality each great leader has, that perhaps outshines all the others – humility.
Business philosopher Jim Rohn says, “Humility is almost a God-like word. A sense of awe. A sense of wonder. An awareness of the human soul and spirit. Humility is the grasp of the distance between us and the stars, yet having the feeling that we are part of the stars.” In other words, humility is seeing yourself in others; it is seeing all life as holy.
The word humility is derived from the Latin humilis, which is translated as “grounded” or “from the Earth.” The Chandogya Upanishad teaches tat twam asi or “you are that.” This mahavakya, or great saying, relates to the idea that everything is Brahman, that the supreme Self and the individual self are one and the same. If you are Brahman, and the tree is Brahman, then you and the tree are one. The yogi has the humility to understand they are the same as all that exists on Earth. Its natural resources support life, so it is our responsibility to support the Earth just as much.
According to Vedic scripture, we are currently living in the Kali Yuga – an era of conflict and struggle – and great leaders are especially needed. If we want to see peace and happiness in the world, then we must live the kind of life we want to see. There was a point in time when humanity lived in harmony with nature. We only took from the Earth what was necessary to survive. Now, each year, humans kill billions of animals and destroy millions of acres of land. We are fighting wars over natural resources and the Earth can no longer sustain us. The business of taking all the earthly resources we want was once thought of as progress. We have instead regressed, causing billions of humans, animals, and plants unhappiness.
A great yogi offers strength to others so that they too can learn to be steady and joyful. Humility allows the yogi to be the change they want to see in the world. We can consider progressing in a different way, one that would help us rediscover our higher consciousness and realize that we are the same as the stars and shine just as bright. We can also lead by example, setting standards that are followed by others all over the world.
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LOVE & A BLESSED 2017!