Greenery

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The picture above is of something near-n-dear to me. It’s my “asana.” To be clear, the only definition most people know to apply to that word is along the lines of “body posture.” Everyone almost invariably thinks of Hatha Yoga and yoga mats and teachers at the front of the class twisting their bodies into poses the students could only hope to achieve. According to Patanjali, asana is a firm but comfortable posture. Wikipedia mentions some Purana (I think) wherein Shiva, the Supreme Yogi and guru of all yogis, provides 8,400,000 asanas. Of that number, 84 make up the “heart” of yoga poses, and of those 84 apparently only 32 are necessary here on Earth. However, another definition that I’ve encountered (although I forget where) is that an asana is the “mat” on which one sits during meditation (think of the animal skin Shiva is usually shown as sitting on during his meditation). And so, my asana. I came to me from Ikea and probably cost not more than $20, American. Methinks it’s made of cotton and is very durable but not terribly heavy.

I love my asana because of its weight and because of what it’s made of and its color. I usually wrap myself or my legs in it during meditation, but when it’s folded up it makes a great cushion on which to sit for the same purpose. I obviously keep it clean and I’ve been known to use things like Febreeze or other fabric sprays because the pleasantness of the smells seems to help facilitate meditation.

The Sahaj Marg employs a heart-centered meditation / transmission technique. The heart chakra (Anahata Chakra, अनाहत चक्र) is kind of like the “action center” for this sadhana and the color associated with that center of the body is green. Long before I came to Sahaj Marg, green was my favorite color. It’s the color of life and growth. It’s the color of some foundational plants in the vegetarian way of eating. And despite the common misunderstanding that red is the color of love, anyone familiar with any of the esoteric arts will advise you that green is actually the color of love which in my mind, in certain contexts, also makes it the color of God. I suppose this makes my association with Sahaj Marg somewhat serendipitous on a superficial level. I’m fine admitting that it might be entirely in my head, but wrapping myself comfortably in the “aura” of the chakra in question seems to help me dissolve into meditation more readily. Additionally, it’s important to keep items like this reserved for that one use only. This blanket will never be used to cover something up, or to wrap up in against the cold (unless I happen to be meditating in a cold place), my dogs / cat will never have access to snuggling up with this blanket.

I have lots of possessions but there aren’t many items in my life that hold a ton of meaning for me, from a spiritual standpoint. I have mandirs and murtis, ghantas and diyas, etc… many of which are quite special to me. But there’s only this lone asana. With all the symbolism I’ve attached to the object and all the “vibes” it’s been infused with (both from myself and my Guru), it’s no wonder this is a special thing to me and I kind of felt like a show-n-tell post might be warranted. I’ll close with a recent and short story that involved my asana.

I was at the home of a prefect recently for a sitting (in the Sahaj Marg sense of the term) and it was just the two of us (although another sitting was taking place in another part of the home). Their home is absolutely beautiful. The “ashram” part of their home has lots of natural lighting thanks to wonderfully placed and large windows. For my sitting I sat with my back to one of these windows – actually in my favorite place to sit when I’m there. The chair in which I sat is a retro-modern style: boxy and firm, but comfortable and possessing soft angles. Just outside the window are a couple larger bushes / smaller trees. While there, a short but intense summer thunderstorm rolled through with lots of thunder and heavy rain. After the sitting, my prefect painted a mental picture for me of a sight seen by herself: I was there in the chair, slightly wrapped in my green asana and sitting before the window – eyes closed in sadhana / meditation. The trees and sky were the backdrop and the storm passed through, with the sun still ahead of it. This allowed for a layering effect, I imagine: The chair, me, the asana, the window, the trees, the heavy rain, and the sunlight penetrating all of the scene. I jokingly and rather vaguely posted that night on Facebook that I was “nearly a vision” and “nearly glorious.” The greater Truth, though, is that “I” was actually a very small portion of the “vision” experienced by my prefect. In my interpretation, she saw the layering of Nature and the blessing of living in harmony with it – all things working together. This relates to some of the Maxims of Sahaj Marg and brings about a condition of joy and equanimity with myself. I’m exactly where I should be and I am headed, precisely on my own journey, to our common Goal.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti

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Heavy as Clay

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You never know what experience meditation might bring in Sahaj Marg. Many times I come out of meditation or leave a sitting thinking, “Holy cow!” We’re encouraged to journal, and I often log these experiences in my journal – as best I am able, given that the right words often escape me. Still, occassionally I am able to express these experiences in words that seem at least mostly adequate. This is rare, though.

Recently, and more than once, I have experienced something that may well be called a vision, although that term doesn’t seem to fit as neatly as it should because I’m not seeing anything in my mind’s eye so much as “seeing”” through a type of feeling.

I recall from my early years while I was a Christian stories about the first human being created from clay. Anyone who’s worked with clay before can attest to the general heaviness of the material. Until a few meditative experiences recently, I’d never before felt so very…. made of clay.

In Sahaj Marg, one will find much emphasis on subtlety and subtleness. Our practices and texts are filled with subtlety and emphasis on it. During our meditative efforts, it’s not unusual to experience increased subtleness from within where the inner landscapes are being tended. Despite knowing this, in something like 3 or 4 years of following the Sahaj Marg (mostly on, with a little off) these recent experiences are relatively new to me. I’ve almost always known and understood the physical body to be gross and dense (mind you, in a purely physical sense the body is actually mostly a grouping of water and empty space, but the perspective shifts when we consider the nature of physical forms in relation to the non-physical world and its experiences), but lately coming out of meditation has been fairly…. bothersome and a time or two, almost painful. I “return” and sometimes think to myself, “Damn. I’m heavy!”

It’s not entirely unlike going to the gym or doing a workout at home and later feeling a little sore in the areas you worked out. All possible injury aside, that kind of pain is good and understood to be a sign of progress. I’m not sure what, if anything, this kind of meditative experience says about my progress spiritually and as a human person, but it feels encouraging. Surely one of the best aspects of this path is, in addition to these kinds of proofs, the encouragement Shri Guru offers motivates us to re-enter the world as the grihastas we are and to perform this dharma to the best grihasta ability.

As we’re now encased in the perfect weather of our Spring season, a season I find to be filled with balance (hot AND cold temps, rainy AND sunny days, etc…), it’s my wish for you that you should similarly find the balance perfect for you, both in this world and the Brighter World.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti

Brahma Kumari Yogini

Opening page to "Chaturtho'dhyaayah" of the Bhagavad Gita

Opening page to “Chaturtho’dhyaayah” of the Bhagavad Gita

I spent a few hours at the temple this past Sunday, during my temple’s largest monthly gathering. We always collectively chant a chapter of the Gita when we gather like that (thus the name Gita Mandal) and this month our selected chapter was the fourth chapter.

A couple months ago the beloved and I went to Chicago with my parents. While we were there doing a million other things we walked past a “house” of the Brahma Kumaris. I recall that it was a nice, two-story older style home. I also recall that it was rather… Secure. There was a heavy black iron gate that surrounded the property and required a numerical pass code to gain entrance.

Prior to that time, I’d only heard the name but didn’t know much about the group. Admittedly, I still don’t know much about the group. I do know more than I did, though, after the recent trip to the temple where the discourse was given by Brahma Kumari Shubhra from Ohio. She was pretty, far older than she appeared, and like 90% of all other Indians in the United States she is very highly educated – holding a number of high-level degrees and teaching geology at a university in central Ohio.

This speaker went by the name Shubhra and is a 3rd generation Brahman Kumari. Everything she said made sense and I can see why it’s called Raja Yoga. One thing I will say about Raja Yoga is that it’s entirely consistent. I’ve studied a few different groups who would fall into that branch of yogas and their approaches are all very similar, as are their beliefs.

Handout and Prasad from the Brahma Kumari speaker

Handout and Prasad from the Brahma Kumari speaker

We ran through the usual liturgy at the temple (invocations, shlokas, dhuns, bhajans, and chanting a chapter of the Bhagavad Gita) and when it was time for the discourse, she came to the front to speak to everyone. Her discourse was entirely logical and filled with love, too. I find that kind of “doctrine” very appealing. You can’t argue with good logic and when love is in the mix – you don’t want to. I’ll admit, this is a group I’m not sure I’ll fit into but I’m definitely curious. I’ve reached out to the nearest BK group that registers on their site, which is in Cincinatti. And now I wait for a stronger connection to be made. We’ll see.

This kind of thing is one of my favorite parts of being a Hindu. In most cases, Hindus are encouraged to feel around. Explore. You must invest efforts needed to test the waters. Without that effort and without testing those waters in some way, you never gain experience. And without experience you won’t become much of a Hindu and you can be sure that your progress to wherever it is you intend to go will be slow. So slow.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti

Dhrishti and the Divine Goose

Anser_indicus_1921I’m fond of being in the middle of reading about 9 books, and then purchasing 20 more for when I finish the first 9. I realize I have a problem. But I’ve also realized that bookcases are more handsome when they’re filled with books. Plus, I find myself with an ample supply ready for the sharing, should I encounter someone who needs or wants one of these gems. A recent purchase of mine, “Methods for Immortality, Death: Beginning or End?” has proven to be mostly yawn-provoking, but did center around a very simple meditation/mantra technique that virtually anyone can benefit from. I intend to share suchery presently.

The author of this book, Dr. John Mumford (aka Swami Anandakapila Saraswati) calls this meditation the “Gayatri Meditation,” or “Gayatri So Hum,” and insists (as may be implied by the book’s title) that its ultimate purpose is to help strengthen the meditator in such a way as to facilitate a very conscious end of one’s current human life, which he alternately refers to as death and transition. He admits that this technique is not the only way of dealing with the life/death intersection, but finds it to be a very valuable contribution and that many will find it suitable.

This Gayatri Technique is founded on the breath, about which Mumford says, “Breathing is, for the human, the most basic biological rhythm that consciousness can attach itself to, and this process of respiration goes on automatically, twenty-four hours a day, to the end of life.” Another word for death is expired, which seems to be connected to our word for breathing: respiration. When a person dies, he exhales (ex-spirates, as it were) and does not inhale (in-spirate) again. Since the beginning of human history, there has existed a perpetuated belief that the soul exits the body with the final breath. Romans actually attempted to catch the essence of the dying by inhaling his last breath.

Most people aren’t aware that one breath actually consists of four parts: Inhalation (caller puraka in yoga), retention/momentary pause (this phase is called kumbhaka), exhalation (called rechaka), and finally suspension/momentary pause (this time called sunyaka). For other 1,000 years Yoga has centered on either controlling or becoming aware of all four phases of a respiratory cycle as a means for transcending the physical body or experiencing altered states of consciousness.

Sometime around 1200 A.D., a yoga master named Goraksha authored a yoga text called Goraksha-Samhita, wherein he detailed observations that correlate with modern knowledge. He observed that a full respiratory cycle takes place every four seconds, or about fifteen times a minute. He then calculated that within one full rotation of the Earth we breathe automatically 21,600 times. Goraksha then noticed that the in-breath and out-breath make subtle subliminal sounds, which translate into a mantra, thus the name of this technique: Gayatri So Hum. Gayatri is attached to this because a Gayatri is a hymn or mantra that confers freedom from bondage, or liberation from the wheel or death and rebirth. This practice is alternately known as Ajapa Gayatra, on account of its mantra being voiceless. What Goraksha noticed, and what has been passed on through his lineage, is that the exhaled breath makes a subliminal sound “haa” and the inhaled breath makes the subliminal sound “saa.” This continuous unconscious mantric vibration, often written as “Hamsa,” or “Hansa,” beginning at birth and ceasing at death, has special qualities including piercing the veil between life and death. Although we’re starting with the in-breath (so/saa), when you string the two sounds (so/saa & hum/haa) together end-to-end, you end up with a “hansa” sound, the middle n being mostly nasal. “Hansa” is the divine goose (Anser Indicus), a beautiful white bird often eulogized in Hindu scripture as a symbol of the Soul and its ascent into heavenly places. The Gayatri So Hum is the Hansa, or divine bird, carrying us from beyond life and death into the center of the transcendental Self.

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I’d like to point out here, briefly, that the goal of any Hindu is not to make it to Heaven. Heaven and Hell are seen to be temporary, at best. Each lasts only as long as an individual’s karmas warrant. The definition of salvation for Hindus is to step off of the wheel of Samsara -the wheel of death and rebirth.

The author sums up in four steps how to begin this Gayatri So Hum/Hansa Meditation technique.

  1. Sit comfortably. Make sure all parts of the body are comfortable and supported, with the exception of the head. The head needs to be free so that you can notice if you nod off to sleep. Mumford says this isn’t a bad thing!
  2. With your eyes closed, begin to consciously become aware of your breath. Do not interfere or try to control it, just watch it.
  3. Proceed to synchronize your inhalation and exhalation with mental repetition of the Gayatri So Hum. Silently say “So” as your breath flows in, and similarly silently say “Hum” as your breath flows out.
  4. Continue this for a minimum of 20-30 minutes. Anything less is useless.

Physical Signs and Symptoms of Successful Meditation

  • Relaxed Wakefulness: Subjective contentment with warming of hands and feet, slowing of respiration, and lowering of blood pressure as well as raising of GSR (galvanic skin response) threshold.
  • Dreaming: REM and sudden flaccidity of the neck muscles, producing head nodding.
  • Deep Dreamless Sleep: Often accompanied by  snoring; it is possible to retain consciousness in this state -Yoga refers to it as Turiya.

In addition to the aforementioned four steps of this technique, one last factor comes into play.

  1. Move the left ring finger toward the fleshy pad at the base of the thumb as the breath flows in, and move it away as the breath flows out.

Wearing-White-MudraWhy the left hand? The left hand is used to ensure a “slight initial dominance,” or at least a direct contact, with the right hemisphere of the brain. The right hemisphere of the brain encourages holistic, nonverbal, spatial integrative experiences. Why the ring finger? When we focus on the ring finger, we tap into psychic and psychological inheritance that is both East and West. the ancient Egyptians believed a special cord or nerve ran from the ring finger directly to the heart, and many have attributed this to the custom of placing a wedding ring on the ring finger. Symbolically, the ring finger represents the Shiva Lingam and the wedding ring is the Yoni. since Roman times the ring finger has been identified as the healing finger or Digitus Medicus, and in contemporary India it is still the prefered finger for anointing the forehead with kumkum powder.

Mumford indicates that it may be useful for the student to utilize the Gnana Mudra, i.e. gently touching the tip of the left forefinger to the tip of the left thumb, forming a circle. This mudra carries profound significance and in itself signals the mind to prepare for meditation and accept absorption within universal consciousness. Mumford also says that as the meditation deepens, you may find that the movement of the left ring finger slackens or drops away entirely. This is acceptable. If you find yourself surfacing from the meditation prematurely, you can resort to the ring finger movements again. You’ll find this little addition taking up an amazing amount of slack and mental restlessness that people often experience.

… And there you have it. The Gayatri So Hum/Hansa pranayama (breath-centered) dhyan (meditation). It’s simple, but effective, and makes -if nothing else- a good foundation for additional meditation styles. If you try it, I want to hear about it.

Om Shanti