A master yogi who was brought up in the West explains how to calm your mind and body in the times of the pandemic.
Life is about choices. Ordinarily, we allow our choices to be dictated by our individual habits and tendencies, as well as those of the culture in which we live. The world “culture” comes from the Latin word culte meaning to worship or value the most. In our modern culture what is valued most are material things, personal freedom, consumption, entertainment and comfort.
Today, Mother Nature has challenged our materialistic culture with the COVID-19 corona virus pandemic. This provides each of us an opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities, our values and our culture. The current existential threat to humanity from such developments as climate change and pandemics originates from the extremes of material culture. Individually and collectively we are killing ourselves with bad food, waste, pollution, social and mental disease born of materialism. Therefore, to heal ourselves and to survive as a species Mother Nature now gives us a choice: give up materialistic culture or die! Individually and collectively it is time to make sacred all of life. Making anything sacred requires one to view and treat it as part and particle of the One. It includes concentrating on That from which everything emanates and into which everything disappears, a timeless and infinitely spacious field of blissful consciousness.
How did the one become the many, and how can the many become the One? Yoga answers this question not with philosophy or scripture, but with the techniques which enable one to experience oneness. By concentrating on a point, or bindu, or a sound, the nada such as the mantra Aum, or one of the seed syllables, the bija mantras, the yogi penetrates all of the 36 layers or principles of phenomenal nature known as the tattvas, and identifies with That, absolute being, consciousness and bliss.
This penetration of the profane worldly life to the sacred underlying reality, occurs in stages as the yoga sadhak develops not only the power of concentration, but the capacity, the purity, to dissociate from worldly life. Beginning with letting go of conditioning in the form of disturbing memories (vasanas) and negative habits (samskaras) as well as habits of living – comforts, distractions, waste of time, dispersion of mental forces in trivial pursuits and emotional impulses – the yoga sadhak pursues the objective of sadhana. Sadhana is everything done to remember “Who am I?” and to “let go” of the false identification with what I am not.
Yoga as Purification: Tapas
The great questions of life “Who am I?” “How can I know God?” “How can I find lasting happiness in a world of suffering?” can only be answered, according to the great spiritual traditions, by a process of purification. As humans, we are deeply flawed because of our ignorance of the Self and because of egoism, which causes us to identify with the body and the mind. Our attachments and aversions cause us further suffering. Yoga offers a practical means for overcoming these human imperfections. While Yoga can be viewed from many different perspectives, one of the most useful ways of seeing it is as a complete system of self-purification. Tapas, or austerity, is the use of vows, will-power and endurance to purify oneself, by overcoming the limitations of our habit patterns. According to Patanjali, “By tapas (austerity) impurities of the body and senses are destroyed and perfection gained.” (I.43) (Journal Fall 2003)
Tapas begins with an intention or a vow to deny oneself some indulgence. It could involve anything: a physical pleasure, certain food, casual sex, television, or if sitting in meditation, making an unnecessary movement. It involves standing back from any particular attachment or aversion, or any thought or feeling of “I am this feeling, sensation or thought” and letting it go. This is known as “vairagya” or “detachment.” This requires effort and willpower, and consistent repetition for an extended period.
Concentration as a vehicle towards Self realization
Concentration or “willpower” is not only a power to focus the mind on a particular object or task, but a vehicle to Self realization. Concentration is highly valued in all mystical traditions such as Classical Yoga and Tantra for several reasons. It facilitates the penetration of mental and emotional movements of the mind, with all of their consequential suffering due to attachment and aversion. It brings one into an intimate state of communion or stillness with That in which all such movements appear and disappear. In this stillness, one transcends the egoistic perspective, the Self is realized. It enables one to free oneself of the effects of latent habits and tendencies, the determinants of present and future karma.
Such beneficial results from the regular development of the power of concentration occur gradually and progressively when combined with the continuous and persistent cultivation of detachment which Patanjali emphasizes in the Yoga Sutras. This purification through detachment distinguishes Classical Yoga from shamanic and magical traditions whose objective involve the acquisition of power. Such traditions seek power to fulfil various desires. Wisdom traditions such as Classical Yoga seek wisdom or jnana: the capacity to distinguish the Self from the body-mind-personality, to distinguish what is permanent from what is impermanent, and to distinguish the source of suffering from the source of joy.
Patanjali’s prescribed steps for developing concentration
Patanjali prescribes six steps for developing concentration: social restraints (yamas), observances (niyamas), asanas, pranayama, and sense withdrawal, or pratyahara, as means for cultivating concentration, or dharana. Note that the word “cultivation” has the word culte as its root.
All of the yogic techniques as well as the yamas, the five social restraints of non-harming, truthfulness, chastity, not stealing and greedlessness, invite the one and the same gesture – to do exactly the opposite of what human nature forces us to do.
The niyamas are intense, constant practice, or tapas (especially of vairagya or detachment), self-study, or svadhyaya, and surrender of the egoistic perspective to the perspective of the Witness, the Self.
The practice of asanas has as its objective the development of a relaxed stable position. Patanjali tells us that “From the relaxation of tension, endless unity (samadhi) is established. Thereafter one is invulnerable to the dualities” Yoga Sutras II.47-48.
With regards to the practice of pranayama: “As a result, the veil over the inner Light is destroyed. And the mind becomes fit for concentration.” Yoga Sutra II.52 -53. This means that in the same way as a veil may be removed, thread by thread, pranayama has the effect of removing, one by one, the thoughts which in their totality, create an inner darkness. What is revealed is the underlying Light of consciousness. So, the experience of the inner light is not an end in itself. Concentration becomes simple as the mind, body and breath become calm.
Pratyahara, sense withdrawal, occurs “when the senses disunite themselves from their own objects and resemble, as it were, their own form of consciousness, in Yoga Sutra Ii.54. Otherwise, if one feels hot, for example, one says, “I am hot,” and forgets the Self, our true identity. When one restricts the action of the five senses, for example, by closing the eyes and sitting comfortably with no distractions, consciousness ceases to identify with external sense objects, and the five senses become like consciousness itself: formless, calm and centered inwardly. The senses are like a mirror: when they are turned outside, they reflect the world of forms; turned inwards, they reflect the pure formless light. This requires discrimination in daily life, not just while sitting in meditation. We may cultivate it by choosing leisure activities which remind ourselves of our highest ideals and avoid those which stimulate unhealthy desires or which feed our negative tendencies.
The Tirumandiram contains ten verses on the subject of withdrawal (pratyahara) beginning with verse 578:
Step by step practice mind’s withdrawal
And look inward;
One by one many the good you see within;
And may you then meet the Lord,
Now and here below.
Concentration as a means of Tantric sadhana and making all life sacred
Classical Yoga and Tantra provide guidance and tools to make our lives sacred. Tantra means to unite the material and the spiritual dimensions of life, and it refers to the teachings and techniques which facilitate it. Concentration, known as dharana in Yoga, is a fundamental requirement of all techniques.
This process may begin for some persons by dedicating one’s actions to the Supreme Being. As Krishna says in the Gita, “dedicate all of your actions to Me”. This is karma yoga. For those of a devotional or contemplative nature, it may begin with bhakti and raja yogas. Krishna’s admonishes us to concentrate on Me. In the Bhagavad Gita He says:
That Supreme Begin, o son-of-Prtha, is to be won by love (bhakti) (directed to) none other. In Him all beings abide, by Him this whole (universe) is spread out (like a spider’s web). VIII.22
Here, he does not condemn attachment as such, which is merely a directedness of the mind. His only concern is the object to which the mind clings. Since attachment to mundane things lead to self-alienation, only one way remains to fulfil the call of our “essential nature.” This is to attach our mind to God and let ourselves be carried along the vigorous ascending current which begins and terminates in Him. Thus, instead of dissipating the mind’s power by permitting it to run after so many objects of sense, we must concentrate it and channel it towards the Supreme Being. We must melt our innumerable desires into one all-powerful urge inwards and upwards. Desires are a centrifugal force with scatters our energy.
Tantric sadhana comprises two stages: (1) making sacred, cosmicization, of the human being and (2) transcendence of the cosmos, its destruction through unification of the opposites (sun-moon, ida-pingala, Siva-Shakti, liking and disliking, inertia and activity).
Concentration becomes a vehicle for this cosmicization of man, passing from worldly life to the sacred. In withdrawing from profane human life, the yogin finds another that is deeper and truer, the very life of the cosmos. Indeed, one can speak of the first yogic stages as an effort toward the cosmicization of man. To transform the chaos of biomental life into a cosmos – one divines this ambition in all the psychophysiological techniques of Yoga, from asana to dharana.
The yoga sadhak applies concentration to unify the most important functions of life: breathing and consciousness. On the psychomental plane, with concentration the yoga sadhak seeks to fix the flow of consciousness, to realize an unbroken psychic continuum, to “unify” thought. Even the most elementary of yogic techniques, the asanas, have a similar goal, to become conscious of the totality of one’s body, felt as unity. The advanced techniques involve concentration on the nine openings of the physical body and the chakras and ida, pingala, and sushumna nadi channels of energy in the vital body with mantras and visualisation. The simplification of life, the calm, the serenity, the static bodily position, the rhythmical breathing, the concentration on a single point – all of these exercises pursue the same goal, which is to abolish multiplicity and fragmentation, to reintegrate, to unify, to make whole.
Make your home an ashram, a sacred space
Where to begin? Concentrate to bring awareness into your daily life at home where you can begin to work on your conditioning. By cultivating equanimity constantly during the highs and lows of life, the painful and pleasurable moments, the happy and unhappy times, you will gradually become a Yogi. We need more ashrams! An ashram is by definition the residence of a Yogi. So be a Yogi, and automatically your home will be an ashram! Make your auto-suggestion: “I am calmly active and actively calm at all times.”
You are not the mind. You have a mind. You are Being-Consciousness-Bliss, Satchitananda. And in order to fully realize this, in every moment, you must play the game of consciousness: constant Self-awareness. In Babaji’s Kriya Yoga, many techniques or kriyas are taught to enable one to cultivate awareness in every moment and at all levels of existence, including the asanas for the physical, pranayama breathing for the vital, dhyana meditation for the mental, mantras for the intellectual and devotional bhakti Yoga for the spiritual dimension of our being. This brings about an integral development and ultimately perfection or siddhi at all levels, not merely a spiritual or vertical ascent.
When and how will you do this? As often as you can remember to do so! It is up to you! All Yogic sadhana or practices may be summarized as: “everything you do to remember who you are, and everything you do to let go of what you are not.” You are probably reading this at home at this very moment. As you read these lines, can you allow part of your consciousness to stand back as a witness, watching your mind read these words? Can you continue to allow your consciousness to be divided into two parts: one part absorbed in seeing, hearing, doing, thinking, feeling and another part simply being aware of everything going on? If so, you will find bliss in each moment. You win this “bliss” whenever you are aware. This “game of consciousness” is the only game worth playing. Every time you remember to play it, you win, every time you forget to be the witness, you suffer, and lose. Even if your karma is delivering roses, and not rotten tomatoes to your doorstep, if you are absorbed by the drama, your mind will soon start worrying about when it will end, and so suffer.
So, make your home a place where you will practice this Yogic sadhana in every moment. What do we do at home? Eat, sleep, wash up, relax, play and do housework. Concentrate during all of these activities while practicing awareness as taught in Babaji`s Kriya Yoga. Here are some specific suggestions in each of these areas:
- Mealtime: when you sit down for a meal, make it a sacred activity, starting from the time you begin the meal preparation. Sing devotional songs or chant mantras, and cultivate the witness as you chop, cook, serve. When you sit down, say a prayer or chant the food dedication mantra: Ahm Hreem Kram Swahaa, Chitrya Chitra guptraya yamarupy dryah Om Tat Sat Om Kriya Babaji Nama Aum. Chew each mouth full, practicing being the witness to everything experienced. Even when you are washing the dishes and taking out the garbage continue to cultivate this Self-awareness.
- Housework and bill paying. The old dictum, “cleanliness is next to Godliness” applies here too. Maintain your home as though you are expecting God to visit you at any time. By creating a space of order, brightness and cleanliness you will experience more equanimity within yourself. Cultivate the witness as you go about this activity. By learning to budget your expenses according to your revenue, and paying them on time, you will avoid much stress and so free the mind from disturbing reactions.
- Exercise, bath and dressing times. Train your mind to focus inwardly as you go about the daily rituals of your Yoga postures practice, your bath and dressing time. Do one thing at a time, with part of your consciousness withdrawn from involvement in the play of the senses and the mind.
- Playing with your children. Your children can teach how to regain spontaneity, laughter, and being in the present. Seek out opportunities to share with them what you love about life and encourage them to express themselves. Be a good listener not only to them, but to your own mind’s reactions and inner dialogue. Be a witness, not just a doer.
- Sharing with friends: Invite like minded persons to join you in satsang, or “sharing of truth,” remembering that the spirit has no form, and that what is truly important is to be, more and more, Who you truly are. Satsang may express itself in the form of sharing of the best of what one has appreciated or realized, song, chanting, fellowship, meditation, a session of Yoga postures, a meal, any expression or gesture of love and affection.
- Practice yoga nidra to gradually replace sleep with Yogic rest. Start with the practice of conscious rest when you are not fatigued, and so reduce the risk of falling asleep. Learn to allow the body to rest, while keeping your awareness in the state of Self-awareness, not withdrawn from the physical plane.
By concentrating with Self-awareness in the midst of the above activities, you will experience unconditional joy, or bliss and everything will become sacred. Bliss, or ananda does not depend upon whether the outer circumstances are agreeable or not, whether you get what you want or what you don’t want. It depends only upon your being present, in a state of awareness of how it all is.
Resources (available at www.babajiskriyayoga.net):
Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Siddhas
Opposite Doing: the Five Yogic Keys to Good Relationships