I give you divine eyes

I was surprised at the logic of one of the bestselling authors of India.  He tweets that even though, India is well known for yoga and Ayurveda, it has poor life expectancy. His further elaboration indicates that he means to undermine the efficacy of yoga and Ayurveda.

I replied, ‘Sir, agreed that yoga and Ayurveda originated in India. But, how many people do practice it? If you want to know the efficacy of yoga and Ayurveda take the health record of those who practice yoga and use Ayurveda and compare it with the non-practitioners, whether they are Indian or not.”

He did not have anything further to say. Coincidentally, this author is famous for writing fiction based on Indian Mythology. It implies that he must have read the Indian scriptures, seriously.

There are a section of writers among Indians who write stuff just to please those western sensibilities that take pride in undermining Indian culture. It is sometimes driven by commercial interests as they think that it will appeal to the western and the westernized Indian audience.

I would not have been surprised if the author had told that in spite of being gifted with such things as yoga, Ayurveda and spirituality, neither do we practise nor do we take pride in these things. I would have been happier if the author, instead of merely limiting himself to bookish knowledge of Indian scriptures, had practiced yoga and meditation and tried Ayurveda.

These days, along with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (my spiritual master), spiritual leaders and yoga gurus like Baba Ramdev and Jaggi Vasudev are leading the movements to awaken the world to the ancient wisdom of India. Their popularity has also rang alarm bells for many who are not interested to see an awakened India. So, they raise pointless protests from time to time.

A case in point is the World Cultural Festival held on the banks of Yamuna River last year. Certain forces tried to portray Art of Living in a negative manner stating that it violated not only environmental norms, but also procedural norms. The press, which is always eager for such kind of baseless news also joined in. Of course now Art of Living has been cleared of all the allegations.  But, this does not make as much media buzz as the previous occasions when there were so many baseless allegations.

Similarly, the so called environmentalists are never seen when lakes are encroached and huge tracks of forests are destroyed by the Industrialists. But, when a Spiritual Leader raises a statue to create awareness about yoga, these environmentalists become alarmed.

Another incident that made headlines across India a number of years back was when the Shankaracharya of Kanchi was arrested. But when he was absolved of all charges, the news hardly made even to the corner of a fifth page in our newspapers. To a large extent, our media has been responsible for projecting a negative image about India and its heritage.

Coming back to the author, it brings out an interesting facet of human nature. Our ancient scriptures have been guiding lights to many for finding solution to their practical as well as existential problems. At the same time, some use the same scriptures to support their counter arguments.

Even Arjuna was not able to gain the insight that Lord Krishna had intended till Arjuna was given the divine eyes. It is very symbolic. One should have the eyes to see the gems in the scriptures. A yogeswara like Krishna can provide those eyes. Without those eyes, one will see dung heaps in place of the gems.

Even to get those eyes one should have a little bit of willingness and some basic eligibility. Arjun was willing, desperate and deserving to have those insights into the nature of truth.

But the propagandists and the activists that I am talking of are not interested in truth. Motivated by their narrow personal gain (which may sometimes include a promised better place in heaven), their ceaseless campaign is aimed at showing Indian spiritual and cultural traditions in poor light. Sometimes they may come in the garb of rationalists and humanists to hide their vicious agenda.

What kind of eyes can be given to them?

krishnarjuna

 

yoga #2: common yoga myths

yogaThe celebration of international yoga day has brought a lot of limelight to the ancient Indian practice of yoga. However, the myths surrounding yoga still continue.

In fact, as more and more people take to yoga in various capacities as practitioners, teachers, propagators and entrepreneurs new myths are created and propagated to suit vested interests. Here, let us explore a few of such myths.

 

  1. Yoga is all about asanas and body contortions

Now a days many forms or rather distortions of physical postures and activities are practised and are passed for as yoga.

In a wider context yoga is all about bringing integration to one’s various levels of existence. The word yoga which has been derived from the root ‘yuj’  means to join.  The English word ‘yoke’  has originated from the word yoga.

Asanas or the physical postures are part of the branch of yoga known as ‘Hatha’ Yoga. The broader context of yoga can be understood from the fact that various chapters of Bhagavat Gita are named as various types of yoga. Like Arjun Bishad Yoga, Sankhya Yoga, Gnana Yoga etc. Lord Krishna is also known as yogeshwar even though he is not known to have taught any kind of asanas. However, whenever there is talk of yoga, people understand the physical part of it.

  1. Maharshi Patanjali is the harbinger of yoga

Interestingly the word asana occurs in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras only a couple of times. Patanjali’s compilation of Yoga Sutras explores the basic philosophy of yoga. It does not contain any technique or procedure regarding how to do yogasanas or prayanama etc.

Various forms of yoga including Hatha Yoga have been in existence long before Maharshi  Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras  around 200 BC. Proof of yogic postures have been found to be in existence in the lost civilization of Mahenjodaro. Like the Upanishads whose writers preferred to by anonymous, the exact inventors of ancient yogic postures and practices are not known.

  1. With so many fake gurus around, it is better to self learn yoga. 

There are black- sheep in every profession. There are fake or fraud doctors. That does  not prevent us from going to a doctor when a need arises. Nor, do we brand the whole profession as frauds because of the existence of a few fraud doctors. Ravana came to abduct Sita in the garb of a saint.

In the Yogasara Upanishad it is said, “Gururantike yogabhyaset”-  Learn yoga under the guidance of a Guru. Similarly, setting aside their friendship, Arjuna accepts Sri Krishna as a Guru and seeks his advice for his existential dilemma. (Shishyasteham trahi mam prapanna… thus goes a stanza in the Bhagavat Gita)

Authority from the scriptures apart, let it be known that any kind of yoga, even hatha yoga is not just a kind of sundry exercise.  Many subtle energy centres and channels get activated while doing yoga.  So, the presence of a master or an expert is always a safer option.

Self learning of yoga is a kind of self medication where trial and error may sometimes lead to  dangerous consequences. Even if one may not face any kind of danger, one has to do a lot of trial and error and spend a lot of time unnecessarily to find out what form or pattern of yoga would suit one, considering that various combinations of yogic practices may run into thousands. Either way, it makes sense to seek the guidance of a master.

It is better to learn yoga first under the guidance of a master- a genuine master.

what is all that fuss about yoga?

idy.pngWith the International Yoga Day round the corner, posters pop out from every street corners and there is a buzz in the air, even the unlikeliest people suddenly joining the discussion to break a few myths associated with yoga. Of course,  there will be controversies galore as yoga may seem threatening to the perceived identities of certain belief systems. But how much do we really understand the various concepts and ideas associated with yoga?

Contrary to the often propagated concept that yoga is all about creating contorted body postures and holding on to them, it has a broader connotation encompassing all areas of life.

While Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras expounds the basic philosophy of yoga, each chapter name of the Bhagavat Gita ends with yoga, Arjuna Bishada Yoga, Gyana Yoga and so on. Interestingly these two popular scriptures do not give any description about the body postures which are so passionately propagated as yoga. Sri Krishna – the Lord of yoga did not teach even a single asana to his foremost disciple Arjuna during the entire length and breadth of the Bhagavat Gita. Nor did Arjuna had to do a Sirsashana (head stand) on a yoga mat amid the battle cries of Kurukshetra to a get a distorted view of the prevailing state affairs so as to fall into such depression that Sri Krishna took eighteen chapters with 700  verses to bring him to his senses.

By the way, references to various body postures and other physical yogic techniques can be found in Hathayoga Pradipika. However, Many of the asanas have been handed over to us in master-disciple tradition, some of them refined and  some distorted, in their long passage through 5000 years of the yogic history.

The meaning the word yoga is to join, to connect. So purpose of yoga is to connect all the loose ends of life. At a basic level it is to connect with oneself. Surprisingly, the first chapter of the Bhagavat Gita is Arjunabishada yoga – the yoga of Arjuna falling into depression and the last chapter is Mokshasannyas Yoga- the yoga of enlightenment . When one is happy, one spreads out and forgets oneself. But it is during the times of misery and depression that one starts to remember oneself. But that is only the starting point. As it happened in Bhagavat Gita, through the guidance of a master of yoga like Lord Sri Krishna, Arjun was led from the state of depression and dismay to the state of ultimate awareness- from Arjunabishada Yoga to Mokshasannyas Yoga. In the Gita, Lord Sri Krishna is referred as Yogeshwara – the lord of yoga. At one place He says – Samatwam Yoga uchyate – to be in a state of equanimity is yoga. So, the scripture is full of description of the yogic state and how to attain that state.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined as yogaschttabritih nirodhah. Even though different authors translate it in different ways, keeping in view the spirit of the book, I feel the nearest would be – Yoga is all about mastery over the modes of consciousness. Unlike Bhagavat Gita, the Yoga Sutras start with Samadhi pada – the state of ultimate bliss and equanimity. With scientific precision it describes,  explores and categorises the inner world of a human being.

Different religions and scriptures use different symbols and techniques. When one goes beyond those symbols or when one tries to decipher the real indications of those symbols, I feel, one may find those things touching upon some concept of yoga, even though they may  not be using the word.

Anything that you do, whether it is religious activity or secular activity, whether it is dictated by tradition or something new, if it gives you a glimpse into your real nature, if it brings you bliss, peace calmness and contentment, that is your yogic path.

If at the basic level yoga joins you with yourself, in a larger context yoga is being in harmony with your surroundings and the humanity at large. Thus, it starts with the well being of oneself but, ultimately it must spread to the society.

Do not all religions claim it to be their basic purpose in spite of the disagreements as to the methods to be followed to do this?