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International Yoga Day Story Contest

 

INTERNATIONAL YOGA DAY STORY CONTEST

Yoga, they say is a good practice which helps to boost creativity and here’s just the contest to put that to test.  (more…)

Sadhana Part III: What is the Purpose of Life?

By Krishna Chaitanya
Krishna Chaitanya

Krishna Chaitanya

Krishna Chaitanya is founder of Yoga Vidya Retreats and a professional yoga trainer and spiritual teacher. His expertise is in the field of meditation, philosophy and psychology of Yoga-Vedanta. He lived and practiced for more than twelve years in some of the best ashrams in India and embraced the monastic life at the age of 19. Krishna has travelled to various teachers and traditions in many parts of the world in order to gain knowledge from his experiences, not just from books or spiritural traditions. You can read more about him in our guest writer post or on the Yoga Vidya Retreats website.

Sadhana: Spiritual Practice in Yoga

Part 3: What is the Purpose of Life?

In Part 1 of this series on Sadhana, I introduced Sadhana as the path to self realization in yoga. In Part 2 I explored what yoga is all about and what we try to achieve by practicing Sadhana. In the last of this 3-part series, I ask: What do I need to know and experience the truth?

This questions occupies every moment of our lives, most of the time unknowingly! Yes, every single thought-feeling-action in our daily life is centered on ‘I’ and focuses on either proving its existence or protecting it from death.

One may say, “I know who I am already and what I want from my life.”

Okay, what do we want from this life?

That’s another big question which is asked by everyone at some point of their lives but hushed up in the restless waves of the ocean called the mind. Some would prefer to leave it for scientists or Socrates and don’t care about all this philosophy! Well, yoga is for the people who care about themselves and about life and the world. So, yoga students ask this question again and again and try to find the answer from within.

02 yoga class (8)smallA Big Question: What is the Purpose of Life? 

A typical answer can be:
1) To grow up as a healthy kid in a safe environment (we can’t do anything about it now).
2) Good education at school (with lots of games and fun).
3) Acquire skills/degrees at college (for some this can mean party time with drinks-drugs-sex!).
4) Finding friendships and relationships (Facebook time?).
5) Getting a job to make enough money, to meet our needs for existence and have a lot of fun on weekends and during vacations.
6) Marriage and having kids (for some it’s a scary burden and the end of freedom).
7) More money to support the family, pay credit card bills and insurance (Oh I am getting older).
8) Retirement (a long holiday and waiting for death).
9) Peaceful death (who cares what happens next?).

So, the purpose of life is reaching a peaceful death and on the way having some exciting times with work, a home, cars, money etc… Also it is important to have fun with friends, family, kids and let’s not leave out our lovely pets. For some, it is important to be something in society or to do something for society!

Right?

10 Students (17)Well, it’s not a pleasant way of putting the complexities, absurdities and subtleties of our life in a few simple points… but this is what most of us aspire in life, knowingly or unknowingly.

Actually, or psychologically, very few people aspire to some big goal which they have in mind! It’s not that we can’t dream but very few of us dare to break the walls of archetypal social patterns and dare to walk the unique path. We are told (or brainwashed) to flow with the masses or maybe a smart sheep in the flock of humanity. We surrender to the great wheel of Samsara, dictated by our parents, teachers, society, media, friends, family, colleagues, governments etc… and also by our own minds. So, we are busy getting small doses of happiness from events, things, people and meeting day-to-day challenges, with no time for all these weird ideas about life and death!

Happiness

When we study the undercurrents of human life, we have an unspoken rule of thumb:

1) Seeking happiness / life.
2) Avoiding unhappiness / death.

Names, places, people, things and gadgets may change or repeat themselves in a different order, but what everybody wants from living this life is happiness/life. Avoiding unhappiness/death is just another way of saying “I want happiness and I don’t want death or the end of happiness!”

All this boils down to one word: ‘Happiness’. Life becomes a pursuit of happiness! Happiness becomes a standard of living. When we are happy, we feel alive. When we are not happy, we call it bad times!

In the next section we will study the secret of happiness that yoga offers!

06 Eating Time (77)

The Secret of Happiness!

So, it is happiness that drives us crazy in doing, talking, thinking and feeling all the things which make up what we call life. Yes, happiness, the never-ending promise fueled by the desire to be happy. The desire to have nice clothes, a nice house, a nice car, a nice this and that is secondary, what is important is ‘to be happy’. We catch hold of anything that makes us ‘happy’ and leave or throw away anything that doesn’t give us that ‘happiness’. Deep inside us we feel anything that makes us happy is ‘good’ and what doesn’t make us happy is ‘bad’, irrespective of what we think or say about good and bad social values.

The few yogis who embarked on this journey of finding the truth of life and death, ask if we are really happy even after pursuing happiness for years and decades. Is Bill Gates, with all his wealth, luxuries, name and fame, happy? If so, why does he still do things to make other people happy – well, that’s another way of making ourselves happy!

Photos courtesy of Krishna Chaitanya / Yoga Vidya.

Sadhana Part II: What is Yoga?

By Krishna Chaitanya
Krishna Chaitanya

Krishna Chaitanya

Krishna Chaitanya is founder of Yoga Vidya Retreats and a professional yoga trainer and spiritual teacher. His expertise is in the field of meditation, philosophy and psychology of Yoga-Vedanta. He lived and practiced for more than twelve years in some of the best ashrams in India and embraced the monastic life at the age of 19. Krishna has traveled to various teachers and traditions in many parts of the world in order to gain knowledge from his experiences, not just from books or spiritual traditions. You can read more about him in our guest writer post or on the Yoga Vidya Retreats website.

Sadhana: Spiritual Practice in Yoga

Part 2: What is Yoga?

In Part 1 of this series of 3 articles on Sadhana, I introduced Sadhana as the path to self-realization in yoga. Now, we need to have a clear understanding of what yoga is all about and what are we trying to achieve by practicing Sadhana.

Yoga is mostly known around the world as a sort of fitness exercise to achieve total health, including physical and mental well-being. Yes, hatha yoga, one of the many yoga paths, can accomplish this, though this is considered to be a preparation and not the ultimate purpose of yoga or even hatha yoga.

Before understanding Sadhana, the path of Yoga, we need to have a fundamental understanding of what is not yoga and the right directions to take in inner fields of consciousness where yoga is mostly cultivated with love and dedication over years of purity, patience and perseverance.

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Yoga is a not an exercise. The focus of exercise is mostly concentrated on the skeletal-muscular system and extremities are the main tools. Hatha yoga deals with all systems and focuses on achieving a healthy state of homeostasis by training the autonomic nervous system (ANS) with conscious central nervous system (CNS) activity which involves a well coordinated activity on physical, mental and psychic levels. There are many other differences between the fitness-oriented exercise and hatha yoga combinations of flows and stillness that you can study in hatha yoga anatomy and physiology classes taught in our teacher trainings and other places around the world.

Yoga is not a religion. All the religions around the world have an origin, founder, holy book and some sort of religious authority or organization like a church or mosque where you have a father, mullah, rabbi or lama sermonizing the devout followers about what needs to be done and not. Religious people follow the holy books as interpreted by their religious heads without question, and also prove their allegiance to the founder of that religion on a regular basis. In yoga, we don’t have a founder, or a holy book, or an organization or authority figure. Though there are some great books, teachers and traditions, a yoga student is not expected to follow them blindly or to stay committed to one teacher or tradition all the time. We just take what is best and leave the rest to the few scholars to philosophize!

01 First Day Ceremony

Yoga is not a cult or sect. Though there are gods and gurus in some paths of yoga, one is not expected to stick with them forever. They are mostly used as a means which needs to be transcended at some later stage. There are lots of sects or traditions in yoga, but all of them are just a means to achieve yoga. A good yoga practitioner always reserves the freedom to learn and practice with as many traditions or sects or gurus at the same time. There are also many yogis who do not believe in a god or guru and are more rational than a scientist and more emotional than an artist in expressing their feelings . There are yogis who live in caves and some yogis who live in palaces ruling countries and fighting wars. Yogis can work in gardens or factories and do various professions in their normal life. There are also some great female yoginis who are housewives and still achieve high states of spiritual realization. So yoga is not a cult.

Yoga is not a culture or an Indian thing! But many Hindus adopted yoga early in history and still practice it, maybe without the deeper understanding of committed yogis who are always few in number. Buddhists and all the mystics of various religions, such as Islamic Sufism, Christian mysticism, Jewish Kabbalah etc., also practiced yoga, without using this word.

Yoga is not a lifestyle or a philosophy on how to live life. It is life itself. It is a science of how to experience this life here and now. Or to be frank, what is yoga cannot be expressed in words but anybody can experience it. Just like you cannot describe how sugar tastes! You have to put it in your mouth to experience its sweetness. It is an experience beyond words. Similarly, yoga is a pure experience beyond the prism of time-space-cause, which imprisons our consciousness with this body-mind identity of the ‘self’.

Yoga Vidya

By practicing yoga Sadhana,
A Christian can become a better Christian.
A Muslim can become a better Muslim.
A Hindu can become a better Hindu.
A housewife can become a better housewife.
A father can become a better father.
An engineer can become a better engineer.
A scientist can become a better scientist.
A nurse can become a better nurse.
An artist can become a better artist.
This is all about bringing out harmony from within.
This is all about fine-tuning the ‘I’ and ‘You’ within us.
This is all about seeing the reality in this great illusion of life.
This is all about making oneself happy in all circumstances.
This is all about playing the game of life, according to the fair rules of Karma.
This is all about harmony in love, work, relationships, dreams, hopes and aspirations!
This is all about peace – awareness – bliss.
Om Sat-Chit-Ananda!

Then, what is yoga? 

Literally it means union or harmony. In practical use it is known as a path to self realization or a means to experience Brahman (the ultimate truth), also known as God or Universe. Technically, it is a technique to experience the changeless eternal reality amidst the chaos of changes projected by our own minds. Mystically it means being one with truth, merging our own being with the cosmos! Karmically, it means learning the cosmic dance with Shiva-Parvati and feeling liberated to the very core of our being! Romantically, it means being one with everything!

A true yogi who experiences yoga in his or her super-conscious state of being, doesn’t talk much about what yoga is – because all man made languages and words fail to express what they experience beyond the mind and intellect! You know it when you see pure bliss in the eyes, peace on the face and joy in every action of a yogi. And yogis do not bother preaching or talking about That, because there is nothing else other than That. When there is no I and no you, who teaches whom?

Yoga Vidya

All yogis agree that the truth of yoga cannot be explained in words but can be experienced by anybody by practicing Sadhana. The best words that they could find to describe elevated states of yoga are: Sat-Chit-Ananda. Absolute Existence – Absolute Awareness – Absolute Bliss. The existence, awareness and bliss we experience in daily life is temporary and within the prism of time-space-cause and mostly projected from our mind. When a yogi can be free from the fetters that bind his or her consciousness in maya, he or she can spontaneously experience life in the absolute, timeless ‘being-consciousness-bliss’, which is part of the big picture of the eternal cosmos.

To summarize, yoga Sadhana is basically a practice to experience the truth and reality about ourselves, our true self, not the small self which is made of our identity along with the body, mind and intellect and constantly changing as per the judgments of others in the chaotic flux of human society.

In the next article we will study why we need to know the truth about ourselves and what is life with and without that knowledge of self.

Photos courtesy of Krishna Chaitanya / Yoga Vidya.

Sadhana Part I: An Introduction

By Krishna Chaitanya
Krishna Chaitanya

Krishna Chaitanya

Krishna Chaitanya is founder of Yoga Vidya Retreats and a professional yoga trainer and spiritual teacher. His expertise is in the field of meditation, philosophy and psychology of Yoga-Vedanta. He lived and practiced for more than twelve years in some of the best ashrams in India and embraced the monastic life at the age of 19. Krishna has traveled to various teachers and traditions in many parts of the world in order to gain knowledge from his experiences, not just from books or spiritual traditions. You can read more about him in our guest writer post or on the Yoga Vidya Retreats website.

Sadhana : Spiritual Practice in Yoga

Part 1: An Introduction 

Sadhana is a common term in Sanskrit used for a regular and persistent spiritual practice to achieve self realization. To experience truth or divinity according to one’s own belief is also a different form of self realization and can still be called Sadhana.

As there are many paths in yoga there are also many types of Sadhanas. However, the fundamental purpose of all Sadhanas is to experience the spiritual truth in a higher consciousness state called Turiya.

A person who practices Sadhana is called Sadhaka, a spiritual practitioner.

There are millions of religious or spiritually minded people who are practicing some sort of spiritual practice around the world. Prayer, pilgrimage, chanting etc., are some common religious practices we see in different cultures and religions across the globe. Are they also practicing Sadhana? Can they also be called Sadhakas?

Technically, yes.  But in the world of yoga, a Sadhaka practices Sadhana only when he/she yearns for some sort of ‘spiritual experience truth’ in higher states of consciousness, something beyond our day-to-day life consciousness called Jagrat. The wise may call ‘It’ by various names but truth is the same, as the Rig Veda proclaims.

So, in yoga, we don’t say that all the religious/spiritual people around the world are practicing Sadhana or are not called Sadhakas. This term, Sadhana, is reserved for only spiritual practitioners who are seriously devoting committed time in their daily life to achieve something spiritually substantial, rather than just fulfilling some sort of religious/spiritual practice as dictated by society or culture.

Krishna Chaitanya

When we go to a monastery or yoga ashram or zen center etc., we can see spiritual practitioners practicing meditation, hatha yoga, kriyas, mantra japa, kirtan or even sexual intercourse for the sake of achieving the spiritual experiences known as nirvana, enlightenment, self realization, liberation, being one with the beloved / God / the universe / Brahman etc. Or one may also practice them just to experience pure being, with no goals to achieve.

Now, how many of these ‘weird’ people really achieve that? Let’s stick to the word ‘that’ for any kind of spiritual goal or experience of the pure being/truth without any so-called supreme goals or achievements.

Back to our question: how many people do you think achieved their goal or something spiritually substantial? Well, how can we know what’s happening inside of other people?  We can’t, unless we have experienced those higher states of being ourselves. But most of the time, we have some  judgmental ideas,  that a spiritual person does this and that… or doesn’t do this or that… or we have complete faith in the words of gurus or someone we consider spiritually more advanced than us.

Kena Upanishad says: “The one who thinks he knows, doesn’t know It. The one who knows It cannot speak about It.” It is very true even in these modern times of commercialized spiritualism where we can see advertisements promising enlightenment or students and gurus proclaiming themselves enlightened.

Well, I can’t talk about all the spiritual paths around the world at different times of history. But as a monastic practitioner of yoga who committed his life for the sake of the study and practice of yoga, I will limit myself to the world of yoga I have seen over my 15 years of travel across several spiritual melting pots within India and a few other countries, and my interactions with some great teachers and a few hundred yoga students I was privileged to meet.

Actually, in several ashrams or monasteries, it is not encouraged to ask or talk about other people’s spiritual experience. The instruction is clear and on the wall: mind your own business! It also means ‘don’t talk about your own spiritual experience’ to others, except with your own gurus or spiritually advanced Sadhakas.

Now, as yoga teachers, how can we ask our students to practice this or that, without talking about what we are supposed to experience deep inside us? Most of us give the examples of some great yogis like Ramakrishna and inspire students to keep practicing with a promise that one day they will get there. Ramakrishna says: “If you get into water for a swim or are thrown into the water, the experience of water is the same.” Likewise, if you keep practicing with patience-perseverance-purity, the experience itself will teach you and lead you further. The real Guru is inside our hearts and he has been calling and waiting to walk with us… as the yogi poet Kamalakantha says.

Yoga Vidya

Is there a necessity to talk about and understand what is Sadhana? Yes, very much. Especially beginners on this pathless path need to have some mile posts to check if they are going in the right direction or not. More than understanding what is Sadhana, we need to know what Sadhana is not. Because many so-called spiritual people delude themselves into believing that they are spiritual or end up in conditional judgments.  Actually, it is one of the biggest spiritual obstacles where many yoga students or monks are stuck into believing or thinking ‘I am a spiritual person’ and making mental or emotional judgments about what is spiritual and what is not.

The tradition says that if 100 people attempt a spiritual life, 80% end up pseudo-spiritual (they fool themselves into thinking they are spiritual), and 15% end up mentally or emotionally confused and seriously in need of a psychiatric help. Then, only 5% actually walk all the way till they hit the threshold of super-consciousness where they are in a spiritual state of being, from where there is no fall. The numbers here are not so relevant and this is just to inspire the Sadhakas to keep up the fire on this pathless path, called ‘walking on the razor’s edge’, in the Katha Upanishad.

In the next article we will study the fundamentals of yoga which make up the basis or guide map for the inner experiences we go through during Sadhana.

Photos courtesy of Krishna Chaitanya / Yoga Vidya.

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