MATSYENDRANATH, THE FISH



hānan eṣāṁ kleśavad uktam
The greatest obstacle to the practice of yoga is one’s own prejudices based on one’s own preferences.

PYS IV. 28

Once upon a time, the strong, wise, out-of-this-world God of Transformation Lord Shiva was sitting with his companion, the great Goddess Parvati. He was telling her about the methods of yoga he had just discovered. He talked for a very long time, not noticing Parvati was bored. After all, it was she who had designed the whole system of yoga in the first place and hardly needed to be lectured on it! As Shiva continued to talk, Parvati dipped her hand in the river and started to gracefully caress the water, making subtle ripples which went on to become waves. One fish recognized that something interesting was coming from the riverbank and swam over to check it out. That fish, whose name was Matsya, listened to Lord Shiva’s teachings with rapt attention. When Matsya asked him to repeat them again from the beginning, Shiva immediately agreed, not surprised in the least that Matsya was a fish. Shiva treats all souls with equal respect. He determines a person’s eligibility by their sincere desire to know the Truth, not by their age, religion, gender or species.

Shiva renamed Matsya, Matsyendranath or “Lord of the Fishes” (Matsya coincidentally means fish in Sanskrit and Indra means Lord). He instructed him to go on and teach others about Hatha Yoga. That’s how it works. The teacher gives the teachings to the student, and the student’s job is to then become the teacher. And so Matsya was the first student who went on to become Matsyendranath, passing on the teachings to others. Yoga is transmitted from teacher to student in an unbroken lineage that remains today. All of us who consider ourselves teachers of Hatha Yoga are descendants of that Fish, Matsya.

At the beginning of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the author, Swatmarama, acknowledges the lineage as being passed from Adinath (Shiva) to Matsyendranath. Yet most people have trouble believing that the first yoga student was an actual fish! How could that be? A fish could never do eka pada shirshasana or even padmasana! The automatic assumption is that Matsya was a man. At most they suppose he may have had wide-set eyes, scaly skin, or some other characteristic that earned him a fish-sounding name. In India, you can see images of Matsyendranath and he appears to be a strong, long-haired, bearded man with two legs instead of a fish tail.

Why is it inconceivable to us that a fish could have received teachings directly from God and gone on to become a yoga guru? It is because of deep rooted prejudice. We human beings arrogantly assume that we are the only species on the planet endowed with consciousness, intelligence, language and a soul. We think it has always been this way, when in fact, all living beings possess these qualities. Scientists today agree that there was life on this planet before human beings appeared. There was a time when aquatic beings outnumbered all other forms of life on this Earth. The Vedas speak of Lord Vishnu’s ten incarnations, and the first avatar was a fish!

I once heard someone tell the story of Matsyendranath and relate it to the biblical story of Jonah and the whale in an attempt to rationalize the “fish” issue. “Jonah,” the teacher said, “was a man swallowed by a whale. He’s inside the whale, which is sort of a big fish. Jonah was a wise and important person in the Bible. Matsyendranath was kind of like Jonah — a man inside a fish’s body. When you see Matsyendranath’s name at the beginning of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, you don’t think of it as referring to a real fish.” This teacher was adamant and to drive home the point and said, “Matsyendranath was a man, a person.” When I heard that, I wondered, are they saying that he was a person inside a fish’s body? And if so, don’t all fish have people inside of them? Isn’t every fish a person, truly, inside? Aren’t all living beings persons? If we define a person as someone with a soul — someone who can feel and think, who cares about their life, cares about their children, cares about their parents, cares about and feels things — then yes, a fish is a person.

The Vedantic teachings declare that all is Brahman—there is nothing in this universe but God. God resides in all beings concealed inside their outward form. But nonetheless, the essential nature of all souls is divine. The outer form of any being or thing is not their true eternal identity. I think the teacher who didn’t want us to think that Matsyendranath might have been a “real fish” was not prepared to think that way. Prejudice based on species can prevent us from embracing this idea. I hope the time will soon come when we do not look upon other animals as inferior and that, as teachers, we won’t be ashamed to teach that great gurus might not always appear in human form.

~ Sharon Gannon

Braja Raja – “The Dust of Braja”


shyam1
courtesy of the Shyamdas Foundation

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

Radhe, Radhe!

Jeanine

The birth of the Christ


December is a special month in our family. I was born in that month and our son’s birthday  is only a few days apart from mine. Then Christmas celebrations.

lightart

Last night, I could not sleep when I went to bed. Totally overwhelmed by thoughts and gratitude.  It is indeed a merry time for those us who feel loved, warm and safe, with more than enough to eat.
But who doesn’t know somebody who is ill this holiday season? Very dear friends of mine are grieving over the loss of their father. Last Thursday, a student shared the story of A., his family is trapped in Syria. That story stayed with me. Christmas can be the hardest time of year for those who are struggling financially, those who are lonely, especially those estranged from close family. And at this one time of year when most human beings are determined to be happy; for millions of animals, Christmas celebrations are the cause of considerable cruelty.
CHRISTMAS is literally “the mass for Christ”, the celebration of the birth of Christ.
It is an awakening, a birthing of the Christ Consciousness  from inside of ourselves.
  • Christ must be lived to be known. In all good actions, in every material and spiritual service, and in the manger of meditation, the immortal Cosmic Christ is born anew. – Paramanhansa Yogananda 
  • The Christ Consciousness is revealed in us as compassion. – Sharon Gannon

When we allow our own light of love to radiate into the world around us, it is Christmas. Christmas is not some grand event happening on December 25th. It is not depending on external circumstances. The word « light » in English,  conveys a sense of not heavy and also illumination, bright. Giving and forgiving makes us (literally) light. Eating a plant-based diet too. Just like meditation unclutters the mind, chanting makes us beam. Yoga practices provide the sincere spiritual seeker with practical means for Self-Realization.

Christ Consciousness refers to the Light, that we are. It is the Self (with capital S), the Atman, it is our Buddha nature- It is Krishna Consciousness.

As the gentle swami Nirmalananda said:  Love alone can dispel present madness of hate. Let your light (of love) so shine before all, as Christ asks us, that there may be ever more bright and radiating light which hatred cannot overshadow. When the heart rules the mind, life has altogether a different quality and dimension.

Let the Love that you are shine and Merry Christmas!

Shine on and Merry Christmas!

Jeanine

Further reading:

Yoga and Christ by Sharon Gannon

The Need to love by Thich Nhat Hanh

Jivamukti FOM – Nov. 2016


WHAT IS A PERSON? (THE WORLD IN WHICH THE KESTREL MOVES)

Focus Of The Month – November, 2016

sarva-bhūtastham ātmānam / sarva-bhūtāni cātmani
īkshate yogayuktātmā  / sarvatra samadarśanah

Through the practice of yoga, the yogini and yogi sees the Divine Self in all beings and at all times.

Bhagavad Gita VI.29

This sloka from The Bhagavad Gita asks us to reflect on the divinity, the holy nature, of all beings, which is omnipresent. The idea of “all beings” might be a little intangible— and inaccessible for many of us. It’s an overwhelming concept! How can we wrap our heads around it? One way is to start thinking of the beings we know and love, the ones we are close to—our friends, family, and companion animals. We might then extend our circle of divinity to our communities and beyond.

The Bhagavad Gita tells us that divine beings exist all around us in the form of fairies and elemental beings. We might also ask, Is a tree included? Or the ocean? And if we assume that people are, what makes a person a person? Steve Wise, a New York lawyer, has asked questions about personhood and concluded that sentiency plays a critical role in what makes a person a person. He founded a movement called the Nonhuman Rights Project, thanks to which he and a team of legal experts are campaigning to have chimpanzees (with plans to expand to other animals) legally declared persons with certain fundamental rights. The crux of their argument is that chimpanzees have the ability to self-reflect and to perceive and understand past, present, and future, and as such it is a violation of their constitutional right to freedom for them to be imprisoned in cages under human control. In other words, chimpanzees are people too and should be afforded the same basic rights that human people enjoy.

Sharon Gannon pioneered nonhuman rights when she titled one of her books Cats and Dogs are People Too!  In this book Sharon deeply considers the often-subconscious attitudes we have toward our companion animals, which deems them less important than human family members or somehow inferior.

Corporate law and culture has a very different perspective on the concept of personhood. Under corporate law in most liberal democracies a corporation such as Coca-Cola or McDonalds enjoys the rights of personhood. So, in our topsy-turvy world, corporations (which exist by definition as having the primary motive of making money) have more rights than chimpanzees, elephants, or dolphins.

The Whanganui River, in New Zealand, is sacred to the indigenous people and has been afforded the right of personhood by the government; it therefore enjoys protection from pollution and development. In India, the holy book of the Sikh faith, Guru Granth Sahib, has been granted personhood by the government and is protected as such.

When we broaden our perspective of what a “person” is, our circle of compassion expands. This sloka from The Bhagavad Gita invites us to do just that, to remember that an ant is a person just as much as a bird or a human being. Furthermore, it gives us information on how we might remember this: through the practices of Yoga. The techniques of Yoga will help us to see the divinity in all “people.”

Philosopher Mary Midgley has dedicated her life’s work to the study of human and animal relationships.  Mary is a retired university professor now (she’s 97 years old!), but has written extensively about animal rights and specifically about the issue of personhood. Mary suggests that we will extend our ability to be compassionate toward all beings if we respect and honor the differences in our own abilities and those of others. As Mary has written: “The world in which the kestrel moves, the world that it sees, is, and always will be, entirely beyond us. That there are such worlds all around us is an essential feature of our world.”

As yogis we are fortunate to have a direct method for accessing this world of the kestrel. Through the practice of asana we become the eagle, the snake, and the cow. We become the tree and the mountain. And in doing so we embody the people that those holy beings are and resonate more deeply with them. We extend our own experiences of being and might begin to see the Divine Self in all beings. In this way asana is a tool for enlightenment—the realization that we are all One.

As Sharon Gannon has said: “We are all in this together. We are all this together.”

Katie Manitsas

BEHIND THE FACADE


BEHIND THE FACADE
Focus Of The Month – October, 2016
The long-haired ones, the sky-clad sages, wear only the yellow robes of dust. Along the wind’s course they glide when the Lord of life has penetrated them.

Rig Veda (10:136)
For a brief time in ancient history there lived a great Egyptian pharaoh who was known as Akhenaten. He was married to Nefertiti, the most beautiful woman in the world. He had daughters and one son, Tutankhamen—who was destined to become very famous, but that’s a different story.

Pharaoh Akhenaten was a religious reformer. He was satyagraha (satya = “truth” + graha = “to be grabbed by”). Akhenaten was so possessed by the truth, he might have challenged even Mahatma Gandhi in how far he took his commitment to satyagraha. His one burning desire was to be truthful—to allow Truth to exist and outshine all deceit. Akhenaten had radical ideas for his time. He believed in one God and worshiped that God as the Sun (Aten), who shines equally upon all and from whose light life is created and sustained. He felt that all of God’s creation should stand before God without artifice, naked, devoid of pretense. To this aim he had an aversion to wearing clothes. Clothes, he felt, were deceptive, as they covered one’s body, hiding it from God. Clothes caused riffs between people, creating a hierarchy between rich and poor, as seen in the clothes they wore. Akhenaten even extended his practice of satyagraha to his home. He removed all the roofs from the palace so as to be exposed, to insure that he was not hiding from the divine sun inside his man-made house. In order to spread what he felt was a practical message of truth to his people, he and his family would appear on the balcony of the palace naked.

When visitors from other countries came to the palace they were given the option of removing their clothing. One visiting diplomat from Mesopotamia wrote in his journal that the only negative thing he had to report from his visit to the city of Amarna, where the pharaoh and his family lived, was that he got the worst sunburn ever. Akhenaten’s philosophy and religious and political views were not popular among his people, and he was assassinated in his seventeenth year of rule.

Lord Krishna, an incarnation of the primal God Narayana from the Indian mythology, who appeared in human form on this planet more than 5,000 years ago, also revealed the importance of Satya and baring the soul. The story of how he stole the gopis’ (dairy maids of Vrindavan) clothes while they were bathing illustrates this. The gopis removed their clothes and entered the Yamuna River to bathe. While they were in the water, Krishna, picked up their saris and climbed a nearby tree. From there, he teased them, demanding that they come out of the water to greet him. The young gopis were embarrassed and sunk deeper into the water to hide their nakedness. However Krishna played the flute and transmitted the universal knowledge of our relationship to God which does not need any sort of artifical covering or hiding from truth. We can bare everything in front of God and get in touch with our own reality. The gopis heard the divine teaching, climbed out of the water, and were liberated from their false modesty, pretentiousness, and shyness.

Clothes are coverings. We are clothed in our gender, ethnicity, religion, prejudices, and mainly self-obsessed interests. The stories we tell about ourselves are forms of clothing. The unenlightened identify with their story—the story of their personality. They mistake who they really are for the layers of karmas they have accumulated—the outer clothes they wear. You know the popular saying, “Clothes make the man (or woman).” This does not have to be the case—each of us has the choice to write our own story. As we tell our story, we become our story. We can tell a true story or we can make up a lie—how truthful of a story will you tell?

The innermost soul of our being is made of ananda, “bliss.” This bliss body is covered over by many layers, all formed by karmas—actions we have performed. To purify our karmas, to cleanse our bodies, is the aim of the Yoga practices. Only through love and devotion to God can those karmas be purified. Once they are purified, we are no longer bound by those karmas. And we are no longer bound by our bodies, by the coverings over our soul, and we can stand naked, without any attachment to false identity, which arises out of ignorance, out of our past karmas. We drop the clothes, and the truth of our true self—happiness—is revealed.

Because of all the heavy cultural conditioning regarding nakedness, it may not be practical or safe to walk around naked on the streets of the world’s cities these days, although many sky-clad sadhus (religious ascetics) and Jain monks in India do. Underneath our clothes we are all naked. We can practice satya by shedding our attachments to our limited stories and become more at ease with our karmas. Yoga can help us to be comfortable, naked in the bodies that cover our souls.

—Sharon Gannon