“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”
~ BKS Iyengar “Light on Yoga”
Yesterday afternoon, I made it to my yoga mat. My struggle has been finding the time to fit in “the practice”.
When is it a good time? Not when I first wake up, I savor this time for my meditation, my coffee, and writing. Mid morning? Before lunch? After lunch? A mid-afternoon break? For me, I’ve always felt that I should use my asana practice to burn off excess energy accumulated from the day. I should use this time on my mat to re-ground myself in the divine, remembering the union from earlier in the day. I don’t approach yoga as exercise, although, yes …. It is good for the body, and the mind, and the spirit.
So after I finished my work yesterday, and a chat with a friend, I made my way around my house to try to find a spot I could call home for my afternoon practice. My westside deck felt good, but as I lay my mat down, a large potted planter,with an even larger tomato plant, blocked my view of the ocean, and the rays of the setting sun.
I moved the plant.
What once feels good, doesn’t always feel good. We need to be present. While the ritual may remain the same, one’s experience upon the mat will always change. One’s yoga mat should become one’s house of refuge, a safe harbor for the soul. A place of work, which shall eventually lead to a place of joy and worship.
I lay out my mat, and allowed my cat Namaste to have some fun hiding underneath it. He’s spent more time putting energy into that mat than I have over the years.
I sat until I felt ready for my practice, and then did 3 rounds of surya namaskara A and 3 rounds of surya namaskara B, known as the sun salutations. My practice lasted all of 10 minutes yesterday.
The Yoga Sutras, just like my practice, are concise. Compiled sometime around 400BC, by a man named Patanjali, 196 stanzas tell us all that we will ever need to know about how to achieve union with the divine, and how to free oneself from rebirth …. Enjoying our time on earth in the here and now ….. Living as a teacher of yoga.
Yoga Sutra 1-1. Now, the teachings of yoga.
We will begin with a story, the greatest and most effective way of conveying knowledge.
Once upon a time, long ago, all the Munis and Rishis approached Lord Vishnu to tell him that even though He (incarnated as Lord Dhanvanthari) had given them the means to cure illnesses through Ayurveda, people still fell ill. They also wanted to know what to do when people got sick.
Sometimes it is not just physical illness, but mental and emotional illness too that needs to be dealt with. Anger, lust, greed, jealousy etc. How does one get rid of all these impurities? What is the formula?
Lord Vishnu was lying on the bed of snakes — the serpent Adishésha with a 1,000 heads – when the Rishis approached Him.
He gave them Adishésha (the symbol of awareness), who took birth in the world as Maharishi Patanjali.
Hence Patanjali came to this earth to give this knowledge of yoga which came to be known as the Yoga Sutras.
Patanjali said that he was not going to discuss the Yoga Sutras unless 1,000 people got together. So 1,000 people gathered south of the Vindhya Mountains to listen to him.
Patanjali had another condition.
He said that he would put a screen in-between him and his students, and told them that nobody was to lift the screen, or leave. Everybody had to stay in the hall until he finished.
Patanjali stayed behind the curtain and he transmitted his knowledge to the 1,000 gathered, and each of them absorbed this knowledge. It was an amazing phenomenon, and even amongst the students, they could not believe how they were getting this knowledge. They could not believe how the master was making each of them understand the knowledge without uttering a single word from behind the curtain.
Everybody was amazed. Each one of them experienced such a blast of energy, such a blast of enthusiasm, that they could not even contain it. But they still had to maintain the discipline.
One little boy had to go out to attend nature’s call. So he left the room. He thought to himself that he would go quietly and return quietly.
Another person became curious, “What is the Master doing behind the curtain? I want to see.” He got so curious that he lifted the curtain to see the Master. Just as he did so, all 999 disciples were burnt to ashes.
Now, Patanjali became very sad. There he was ready to impart knowledge to the whole world and all of his disciples were burnt.
At this moment, that one little boy returned. Patanjali asked him where he had gone. The boy explained and asked his forgiveness. Patanjali was compassionate and felt that at least one of his disciples was saved.
So he gave him the rest of the yoga sutras, the rest of the knowledge. But, the student had violated the law and Patanjali was not willing to forget that. He said, “Since you have violated the law, you will become a Brahmarakshasa, a ghost, and hang on the tree.” And the only way he could liberate himself from the curse was to teach one student. Saying this, Patanjali disappeared.
Now Brahmarakshasa, hanging on a tree, would ask everyone who passed by a question and when they could not give an answer, he would eat them. He had no choice. For a few thousand years, this was the story. He could not find a single person to whom he could teach the yoga sutras. So, he remained in the tree as a Brahmarakshasa.
(The lesson here is that when one who has great knowledge does something wrong, the state of Brahmarakshasa will come. An intelligent person becoming a criminal is more dangerous than an innocent person becoming a criminal. If a person, who knows all knowledge and then turns a criminal, it is much more dangerous).
Brahmarakshasa was hanging there and waiting for relief.
Then out of compassion, Patanjali himself became a disciple, and came as a student to Brahmarakshasa, who told him all the yoga sutras ….
Patanjali wrote the yoga sutras sitting on the top of the tree, as that was where Brahmarakshasa sat. Brahmarakshasa worked only in the night. So, he dictated the sutras at night and Patanjali wrote them on leaves. He plucked all the leaves and made a small scratch, drew blood and wrote. This went on for seven days. At the end of it, Patanjali was tired. He put everything he had written into a piece of cloth, set it down and went to bathe.
When he returned, he found that a goat had eaten most of the leaves.
Patanjali then took the cloth bag and the rest of the leaves and walked away.
In this story, there is a lot of depth. The puranas do not give an explanation. They just give a story and it is for us to unlock the meaning.
- When the veil was lifted why did everybody burn down?
- Why was one boy forgiven?
- What is the significance of the goat?
- What is the significance of this story?
(The story goes that to redeem one disciple, the Master became the disciple of a disciple.)