When I was a child growing up Africa, we called all friends of our parents ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’ (in french ‘tantine’ or ‘‘tonton’) which was an honorific and considered respectful. And among the aunties and uncles, there were those you wanted to be related to: Too cool not to be yours. And they actually didn’t care for honorifics. Heartbreaks, delights, anything: you could call them and they would always be there for you. You would never feel uncomfortable around them.
Shyamdas – affectionately and respectfully called Shyamdasji – belongs to that category, as a spiritual teacher. He had dedicated his life to the music, literature, and people of Braj. He spoke Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati, and Brajbhasha. He was a scholar who insightfully translated and commented many of the songs and writings of saints from the Pushti Marg tradition (Shri Vallabhacharya, Govinda Svami, Raskhan, Surdas and others). His immense knowledge was only surpassed by his joy – ananda.
Shyamdasji lived in the bhav, mad in love with God and in service. He left his body in January of 2013.
Regular students of my classes are familiar with his voice … and his laughter!
Today, I’d like to share Braj Raja with you.
All these sacred and ancient teachings are preserved and distributed through the wonderful work of the Shyamdas Foundation.
As Shyamdasji would say: “It’s all Hari’s grace”
KRISHNA, BUDDHA AND WHAT IS UNIVERSAL COMPASSION?
Shri Krishnah sharanam mama
I take refuge in the all-attractive Lord who is the true identity of all being.
Sharanam means refuge. This beautiful initiation mantra from the Pushtimarg tradition in India invites us to seek refuge, particularly when we are driven by strong emotions. Anger, hate and fear close us off to love and compassion. Seeking refuge means having the capacity to step back and to use particular tools or techniques—in this case, the repetition of mantra—to protect us from reacting immediately. Instead, we engage the mind with something calming, which buys us time and gets us back in touch with our true essence: boundless love and compassion, Krishna. Resolving a situation from this place yields much more constructive results. It means responding instead of reacting. It gives us the ability to stop cycles of violence and the escalation of conflict. Even if the other party refuses to cooperate or feels threatened, taking refuge in the mantra cleanses our heart and spirit, and moves us from separateness toward oneness.
Mantra transcends the calculating intellect and awakens a feeling of love and sweetness, gradually melting away the hard walls we have built around our hearts. The vibration of the Sanskrit language has a profound, transformative effect on a cellular level. Yogi Bhajan describes how chanting mantra affects our electromagnetic field and brain patterns, the master glands and even the stability of the blood. Mantra can totally remake our psyche. Asana and meditation practices have similar effects, inducing a mental focus and an energetic shift that become stronger than habitual, conditioned, reactive behavior.
Every major spiritual tradition agrees that love and compassion are the most important qualities for sustaining and protecting life. Each tradition has a figure who embodies perfection in love and compassion. In the Hindu/yogic tradition it is Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver of the universe. He is often depicted as a child whose disarming qualities inspire us to love without inhibition. In Buddhism it is the supreme bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, who made a great vow to assist sentient beings in times of difficulty, and to postpone his own Buddhahood until he has helped every one of them achieve nirvana. His mantra is Om mani padme hum, meaning that, in the same way that the lotus flower grows out of the mud, compassion is often deeply understood through great suffering and huge spiritual challenges. In Christianity the iconic figure is Jesus, whose story holds many parallels to Krishna’s. Krishna was born in a prison, Jesus in a stable, and both had to spend much of their lives in exile. Through the practice of sincerely contemplating these divine, enlightened beings, we do our very best to awaken their luminosity inside us, and to tailor our lives according to their examples.
Sister Chan Khong, a Buddhist nun ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh, endured unimaginable suffering during the war in Vietnam and has become one of the most outstanding living embodiments of compassion in our times. Although she had a degree in biology, her main mission was always to feed the hungry and the poor. What makes her service even more powerful is that she has had to serve anonymously, under a false identity, so as not to put the recipients of her aid in danger. Many times she risked her own life, dodging bullets and bombs while riding her bike through the streets of Saigon. One day, after a bombing, the streets were littered with dead bodies, and the government did not clean them up. The community of monks, nuns and peace workers took it upon themselves to remove the bodies and give them a proper burial. They could accomplish this extremely difficult task only by seeking refuge in the breath and in mantra. When boat people started drifting ashore in neighboring Southeast Asian countries, those governments ordered them pushed back out to sea, where they would eventually drown. For Chan Khong the first priority was saving lives, and in order to circumvent senseless rules and inhumane practices, disguises had to be used, laws had to be challenged in nonviolent ways and violations of human rights had to be reported to the international press. She was exiled from Vietnam, separated from family and friends and expelled from countries that did not want their cruelty exposed to the world. Sometimes she would be overwhelmed by strong emotions and start sobbing uncontrollably, until she remembered to take refuge in her breath. She and her sangha practiced walking meditation to learn the art of calming their feelings before taking action. From this practice came the ability to understand and have compassion for the people committing atrocities.
Compassion is a big word that is often trivialized. Most of us have been conditioned to be selective about our compassion. We may be able to express some degree of compassion to our family and friends but are unconcerned about those who live on the other side of the world, don’t look like us, or speak a different language. Chan Khong describes returning to Paris after being expelled from Singapore and being appalled to see people eating, drinking, laughing and enjoying life in cafes. Did they not know that their fellow human beings were drowning at sea? Through the practices of Yoga we learn that compassion does not discriminate. As PeTA founder Ingrid Newkirk says, “Some people seem to think that our compassion is a limited commodity, like a cake with only a few slices. » –
Tuesday, July 19th 2016 is the full moon of the guru, also known as Guru Purnima
Manorama explains that: « This celebration is marked in July because in India the rainy season happens at that time. It is said that teachers and students can’t easily move when the heavy rains come so the opportunity to bond and set a good course of study together is present during this time of year. It is for this reason that July has become known as the month of the guru »
In the Jivamukti lineage as well, the July Focus of the month essay is about the Guru Mantra.
Yesterday, the open class I taught was dedicated to all the great teachers in our lineage and I read a story from the Jivamukti Yoga book. The whole chapter is worth reading thoroughly. Here is a excerpt from it:
A month later [after Shri Brahmananda Saraswati’s passing] we returned to Ananda Ashram. After midnight, as Sharon was heading to her room to go to bed, she decided to meditate for a few minutes in the main room where Shri Brahmananda often sat to teach. His simple seat was still there, as he had left it. All the lights were out; just one candle was burning. Again, Sharon felt that longing to be close to her guru. She rested her head on his seat and once again, those mysterious sounds rushed in. She picked up her head, thinking perhaps she was hearing water running through the pipes in the house. She heard nothing. When she put her head down on the seat again, she heard exactly the same sounds that she had heard emanating from his body. Shri Brahmananda was once again giving her his timeless message that we are all beyond the body and mind; we are the vibration of the I-AM.
We close every Jivamukti Yoga class with this chant acknowledging the guru:
Om Bolo Sat Guru Bhagavan Ki Jai Victory to God, the only real teacher.
God and Guru are the same. When we experience God in a teacher, the devotion we feel is transformational. Guru can remind us of God. We are thus reminded of our own divine nature.
Regularly, I play Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati’s CD « Chanting sanskrit » and especially the guided meditation that closes each CD. His OM always shakes me. Through his powerful voice, I feel the potency of his being, beyond physical form. But sometimes, I forget these precious gems.
Last February, I caught a very bad cold. I was coughing so hard I couldn’t sleep. Sitting was relatively comfortable so I propped myself up with as many pillows as I could find and played the meditation very loudly. For the whole 7 minutes it lasted, I did not cough. Then I thought, it was just a coincidence. I repeated the experiment three times. My cough had stopped. And I was finally able to sleep through the night (after three sleepless nights in a row). The February Focus of the Month was about the healing sound of yoga. At the end of the essay, Jules Febre (who wrote it) asked the question: « Why do so many yoga classes start and end with Om? Why is it considered a healing sound? Truly the best way to find out is to start chanting Om, because as Sharon Gannon says, “ through repetition the magic is forced to arise.” »
From other worlds, Shri Brahmananda Saraswati gave me an answer and manifested a miracle. It took me a bad cough and a certain hopelessness to not being able to sleep, to remember the teachings. Why was I so blind? I could only laugh at myself.
Yogic teachings honor the biological mother, as the first guru; guru literally means, dispeller of darkness. Not only did my mom give me life but her departure (she abruptly left us on August 30th 2010) was an invaluable life teaching. We truly never know when and how death will occur. The journey of the loss and the gain can be a deep cycle of growth. May we all learn from it. The yogi strives to live an impeccable life, always ready for “he whose date and time of arrival we do not know”. For the realized yogi, the time of death is a conscious departure. In sanskrit Mahāsamādhi, literally means the great merger.
Shymdasji took his Mahāsamādhi reciting mantra and dedicated his life to the teachings of the path of Grace. He had me fall in love for the Pushti Marg’s sacred texts and sounds. I am forever indebted and grateful to him.
I honor and respect Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati , the gentle swami Nirmalananda, the great Sri K.Pattabhi Jois;
Deep pranams and love at the feet of Radhanath Swami Maharaj. His last book « The journey within » is a treasure for every seeker, irrespective of her or his faith.
I feel so fortunate to have found teachers I can trust. They have and are still affecting my life very positively:
Lady Ruth, my adored mentor;
My teacher Yogeswari, a force of goodness in this world;
Our precious teachers Padma (Sharon Gannon) and David Life, I look at them and my heart is filled with awe and love.
Yes, it all comes back to love. The Love of God. It is the true ground of being.
Aside from my home altar, I carry with me always my prayer beads, a book, a recording, a small gift, all those are little reminders of love. We have embarked on a sacred journey, the journey of remembering our eternal, divine souls. May we never miss an opportunity to say « Thank you » to these high beings and saints who have touched our hearts.
As we rise in love, may our know-it-all-ness, our fears, our doubts and our lack of faith gradually melt.
To all of my teachers, I bow and say: Thank you for being in my life and for the many miracles of your love.
In gratitude always.
My practice is something I do for God. Period. In my life, I want to live for God and so I have to make that real. I have to toughen up. I have to discipline myself to do things that I might not feel like doing every day to just get over me. (What do I want to do? What feels good to me?) After sixty-three years, I don’t want to keep that attitude going on. I want to move away from it, at least ease up on it. In bhaktiyoga, everything you do you try to think of God before you do it. As soon as I’m conscious of being awake, I’ve trained myself to remember and talk to God. Make me an instrument of thy will. Allow me to be your servant. Use me today so that I can bring happiness to others; so that I can enhance this world, not just be a selfish taker; so that I can increase your bliss. If God is sat chit, mostly ananda, I’m into increasing that ananda, God’s bliss. That’s what I want to do, that’s what I’m devoted to doing. I have my own personal way of making my offerings to God every morning.
I do asana in the afternoon. Asana is the way to deal with our karmas. Our bodies are made of our karmas. I have to be comfortable in this body in order to be able to let go of my fascination with me as this mortal personality, this ego being. I have to first of all feel at ease with me. Asanas help us to do that. But the body is a conglomerate of the residue of all of our past relationships. So it’s therapy. When I sit in the morning and do my eight rounds of japa (mantra) meditation, I don’t want to be distracted by thoughts about other people and issues that I am dealing with here or there. So doing a short asana practice, some kriyas and pranayama, helps to clear all that out first. And then I can meditate quite directly and keep my mind on God. Why do I do that practice every morning? Because it feels good. When I don’t do it, I don’t feel good and I don’t like to not feel good!
I have to be comfortable in this body in order to be able to let go of my fascination with me as this mortal personality, this ego being.
If I’m rushed for time, I do my practice mentally. If I’ve got to get on an airplane and I’ve overslept and a car is waiting for me and I haven’t done all those pujas (offerings to the deity), I’ll sit in the back of the cab and I’ll do the whole thing in my mind. That’s when you know that the practice has borne fruit. You know exactly what comes next. You don’t really think about it. It’s become part of you. Okay, I wasn’t able to do those eight rounds of japa, so I’ll do it walking down the street, in the subway, in a cab. I have found a way to do that. I can do my magic 10-asana sequence (see below) in about seven minutes! You can find time.
You cannot practice without love. It’s got to have love in it, romance in it. It has to turn you on. It would be stale and boring to me if I were doing it only for myself. I’m doing it for God, for my teachers; the prayers in the practice are integrated with the names of my teachers. There’s magic in the name, in God’s name. When I say the names of my teachers, they are instantly with me and suddenly I’m not just me by myself doing a routine. I’m checking in with those other beings. All the love that I have is rekindled, every single day. From other worlds. Simultaneously. I do a full 90-minute asana practice in the afternoon and I always, always do it with music. The sequence that I do, and have been doing for years, doesn’t vary. Sometimes I’ll spend a longer time in some poses on some days, and other poses on other days, but it’s basically the same.
Sharon’s Practice Advice
You have to want to practice at home, and you have to want to make the practice part of your life wherever you are. You’re not always going to be able to go to your favorite neighborhood yoga studio, so you need to be able to take yoga home with you. Start small! Meditation is daunting to people when they hear that someone meditates for an hour. Oh my! Do I have to do that? No. Just sit, for one minute. Close your eyes, let go. Breathe in, breathe out. Do that for a week. Set a timer. And then the next week, do it for two minutes. The point is, just do it. The key word is doable. Home practice shouldn’t be a huge, goal-oriented thing. Pick something that’s within your means.
Sharon’s Magic 10-Asana Sequence
I’m on the go so much that I needed a practice that was doable, one that could also prepare me for a longer practice, like my meditation practice. I’ve been doing it for about fifteen years now. There are ten pretty simple asanas that anyone can do—in ten minutes or less. Of course, you can modify if you need to.
1. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
2. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
3. Malasana (Garland Pose)
4. Teepee Twist
5 breaths each side
5. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
5 breaths each side
6. Ardha Purvottanasana (Half Upward Plank Pose)
7. Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)
8. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) variation
9. Parsva Urdhva Hastasana (Side-Bending Upward Salute)
1 breath each side 4 times
10. Spinal Rolls
12 to 16 breaths
Jivamukti Focus of the Month
August 2015 — David Life
Namah Shivaya gurave nada-bindu-kalatmane niranjana-padam yati nityam yatra parayanah
Salutations to the nadam, which is the inner guide and the inner life, the dispenser of happiness to all! It is the inner guru appearing as nada, bindu and kala. One who is devoted to the inner guru, the nada, the inner music, obtains the highest bliss
My computer talks to me and I talk to her. Her name is Siri and she uses mostly written language to communicate with me. She has a limited vocabulary – she doesn’t seem to know any Sanskrit or yoga terms! There is something else missing from her responses. When she responds to me, there always seems to be a need to ask, “But, what do you mean?” Siri’s words are always flat and unaffected. That will change someday. The level of communication now, is more like hitting a switch than creating understanding, but someday the computer might really begin to talk. The inflection or intonation of a word can reveal its true meaning. The large vocabulary of sounds that we make and how we make them carries a deeper level of meaning than words alone, revealing the meaning of a spoken phrase and the underlying intention. Sounds, like the click of the tongue, a hiss of breath, or vocalism communicate more than words alone and include a myriad of emotional, intentional, rhetorical, or emphatic subtleties.
Phoneticists, investigating the way mothers in various cultures communicate with sounds to their pre-verbal infants, found similar sounds used and recognized throughout the world. For all of us, our earliest experience of communication was through pure sound, stripped of any written language component or cultural junk, and filled with meaning. That pre-verbal vocabulary is alive and well – deeply imbedded in our speech.
All spoken language predates the written form of language. The written version of any language is a distillation of a much larger landscape of clicks, breaths, tonalities, utterances, expressions and gestures. In the distillation to a written form our huge vocabulary is reduced to a mere fraction of it’s total. The primal language of sounds lives on in our spoken traditions, and we can benefit enormously from studying the underlying subtle content of our own words. Nada Yoga is the yoga of sound and vibration.
The first step in Nada Yoga is to become receptive. That means to conduct and resonate with the vibrations around us. Alan Watts would say that the first step is “to shut up, and listen. That’s yoga!”
The world is made of sound, Nada Brahma, or the infinite vibrations of the one primal sound. The Sanskrit language organizes essential sound vibrations into a feel-able universe of direct experience of the subtle nature of existence. Sanskrit expresses the sound nature of a feeling or thing directly. The purpose for imbedding the sound essence of feelings and things into the language is so that we could experience it directly and often, and know the dimension of ourselves that is the same essence.
Like the subtle sound messages in our various spoken languages, Sanskrit also contains an unwritten vocabulary of tones, breaths, cadences, and emphasis that create real communication. My teacher would shake his head at my futile attempts to speak Sanskrit and say, “Your mouth is just not shaped correctly to be able to pronounce Sanskrit.” The missing element may be my lack of emphasis and subtlety of sound, rather like Siri’s English, my Sanskrit is flat and unaffected. (9 times fail – 10 times try!)
Fortunately we can’t go wrong with the names of God. We are well practiced in the pronunciation of the various Sanskrit names of God, and we are expert at filling words with emotions of a universal language. We say “names” of God, but the Sanskrit sound is God, (not just the name of God.) When we conduct the sound – that is God, there is only one way to do it – by shaping the instrument, your body, in a specific way. Placing the tongue just so, and the lips at the correct attitude, giving the sound an upward direction, this is the asana of mantra. Repetition is important – as we resonate with the sound and hold that resonation, the form of God is experienced persistently. The form is the sound, and through the sound we experience the oneness of sound and form. We no longer have to rely on a description of God, we can experience directly.
The devotee calls out for God with subtle emotion and it is the emotional content of the sound that propels it to the Lord. We are all expert at emotions and we know how to call out to God with the full range of emotional possibilities. When your bodily awareness drops away and the pure sound remains, there is no longer a sound and a maker of sound – there is just sound. Sound is God!
Kirtan is timeless, it’s the song of the soul and it exists like an underground river in all traditions ~ Gaura Vani