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Showing posts from March, 2010

Patanjali Yoga Sutras: Atha 3

Continued from Patanjali Yoga Sutras – Atha 2

Atha means when man has realized he is all periphery with no centre.

One of my former management students sent me a mail a while back. He had a wonderful job, he said. It was not too demanding, considering the pay they were giving him, which was to the tune of about a lakh and a half a month. He had everything he could desire for at his workplace. He had recently married a beautiful young girl, an MBA like himself. They loved each other, his parents loved him, his in-laws loved him, everything was fine. But with all that he was not happy with his life, he wrote to me. He felt something was missing. He felt a deep sense of meaninglessness – a kind of existential angst.

This is what happens when your life has no deep core. Modern society, modern civilization, takes away that deep core from our lives and gives us everything at the periphery. The periphery is wonderful, but there is no centre.

Abraham Maslow speaks of the eight dimensions of h…

Patanjali Yoga Sutras: Atha 2

Continued from Patanjali Yoga Sutras – Atha 1

Anthropologists talk about the Dobuans of Melanesia. Here is how Ruth Benedict discusses them in Pattern of Culture [1934]:

The Dobuan child in Melanesia might think twice about coming into this world, if he had any choice in the matter. He enters a family where the only member who is likely to care much about him is his uncle, his mother’s brother, to whom he is heir. His father, who is interested in his own sister’s children usually, resents him, for his father must wait until he is weaned before resuming sexual relations with his mother. Often he is also unwanted by his mother, and abortion is common. Little warmth or affection awaits the child in Dobu.

The Dobuan child soon learns that he lives in a world ruled by magic. Nothing happens from natural causes; all phenomena are controlled by witchcraft and sorcery. Illness, accident, and death are evidence that witchcraft has been used against one and call for vengeance from one’s kinsmen.…

Patanjali Yoga Sutras: Atha 1

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras begin with the sutra ‘Atha yoganushasanam.”
The sutra means “Now the teaching of Yoga”

The word atha there, the first word of the Sutras, means “now.”

In the Indian culture, atha is symbolic of an auspicious beginning. Atha indicates the beginning just as iti indicates the end. Thus the Narada Bhakti Sutra begins with ‘Athato bhakti-jijnasa.’ The Brahmasutras begin with ‘Athato brahma-jijnasa.’ Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra, again, begins with the word atha. Innumerable other texts begin with atha.

But of course atha means much, much more than just an auspicious beginning.

Let us first look at some of these meanings from a contemporary standpoint, particularly as relevant to the modern urban executive, male or female. Later we shall look at how the ancients understood the word atha in the Yoga Sutras.

The job of an executive today is more challenging than it has ever been in the past. His pace of work is hectic and unrelenting, and the content of his work is varied a…

Machig Labdrön, Yeshe Tsogyal and Ramana Maharshi 2

Continued from Part 1

Here is what the great Tibetan teacher Machig Labdrön [see my article Machig Labdrön: Mystic Woman, Teacher Unsurpassed on my blog] has to say about the mind in her final teaching.

Mind itself [natural and co-emergent]
Has no support, has no object:
Let it rest in its natural expanse without any fabrication.
When the bonds [of negative thoughts] are released,
You will be free, there is no doubt.

As when gazing into space,
All other visual objects disappear,
So it is for mind itself.
When mind is looking at mind,
All discursive thoughts cease
And enlightenment is attained.

As in the sky all clouds
Disappear into sky itself:
Wherever they go, they go nowhere,
Wherever they are, they are nowhere.
This is the same for thoughts in the mind:
When mind looks at mind,
The waves of conceptual thought disappear...

The defining characteristic of mind
Is to be primordially empty like space;
The realization of the nature of the mind
Includes all phenomena witho…

Machig Labdrön, Yeshe Tsogyal and Ramana Maharshi

I still remember vividly sitting among the other disciples of my teacher in his ashram and listening to the verses of Ramana Maharshi’s Upadesa Saram sung by him decades ago. Swamiji had learnt to sing these verses in Ramana Maharshi’s ashram in Tiruvannamalai, listening to the Maharshi singing it. Swamiji he sang those verses melodiously, in his rich, deep voice, sending a thrill through us as we listened to him.

It helped that Swamiji had learnt classical Karnatic music as a child in Tanjavur from traditional music teachers. Listening to him chanting the Upadesa Saram was a spellbinding experience. Swamiji of course sang the verses exactly as Maharshi had sung them. Following the chanting of the verses, he would comment on them. Usually he commented on one verse a day, for ninety minutes to two hours – so the thirty-one verses of the book took a month for us to study under him. By the time he finished, we had, of course, memorised the entire book, apart from exploring the meaning. T…

Life of Machig Labdrön by Lama Lodö Rinpoche

In searching for authentic material on Machig Labdrön, I ran into different versions of her life. Here is a very brief one by Lama Lodo Rinpoche. The biography is found in a book called Chöd Practice and Commentary, by Lama Lodö Rinpoche. The Preface to the book begins with the following warning by its author: “I strongly suggest that whoever wants to read this book and practice chöd have the initiation from a qualified teacher and have their permission to study this book. Because this practice is of the high tantric class of Vajrayana, it may be dangerous rather than beneficial to do this practice without initiation and explanation from a qualified teacher.”


The especially well-known profound practice of Chöd was brought from India to Tibet by the great mahasiddha Dampa Sangye . . . The Chöd teachings and practice were transmitted in Tibet by Machig Labdrön, who thus played a very important role in the Chöd lineage. Here, therefore, we will give a brief history of the wisdom dakini…

Machig Labdrön: Mystic Woman, Teacher Unsurpassed

As we celebrate the Goddess during this Navaratri, I wanted to write at least one article on a woman teacher. I was most keen to write about Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal, Tibet’s greatest yogini and supreme teacher, the woman founder of Tibetan Buddhism, the Mother of Vajrayana. Yeshe Tsogyal [also spelt Tsogyel] has had a special place in my heart for some eighteen years now and I have never written about her, so I thought this would be a good time to pay my obeisance to her and express my gratitude the innumerable things that have happened to me through her grace.

But everything associated with Yeshe Tsogyal is a mystery and though I have been trying to write an article on her repeatedly for the last few days, my attempts came to nothing and it is not about her that I am writing now, but about her subsequent reincarnation – about Machig [Machik] Labdrön [Lapdrön], the legendary Vajrayana pathfinder, the originator of the spiritual practice known as gCod [Chöd], credited with developing the…

Mind Power, the Will to Live and Cancer

In one of my sessions earlier this week in a training programme for young engineers from Tata Steel held at the Centre for Excellence, Jamshedpur, one of the topics we discussed was managing the mind – something every executive should know in today’s world. The job of an executive today is more challenging than it has ever been in the past. His pace of work is hectic and unrelenting, and the content of his work is varied and fragmented. Much of his work is reactive rather than proactive in nature, requiring him to react to decisions taken by others and actions initiated by others. The decision making processes are disorderly, characterised more by confusion and emotionality than by rationality and frequently involve hard negotiations. Besides, organizational politics and self-serving interests of individuals and groups complicate the process further. Under such conditions, an executive who does not know how to manage his mind ends up as a total failure.

Our discussion on managing the…

Chasing Shadows, Fighting Windmills

Dead authors sometimes surprise us with their amazing wisdom. Of course, living authors do so too.

From my child hood, I had always known Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote as a book dealing with the mad adventures of a crazy night. I knew Cervantes was laughing at the craziness of us human beings through his literary masterpiece, which is often considered the first novel from the western world. The book was one in which the central character was out of touch with the reality of everyday living, out of touch with concrete facts and lived in a world of misguided fantasies. I had taken it at that and had never bothered to read the full book after I read an abridged version of it in my teens, which I enjoyed tremendously. But recently I came across a quotation from Cervantes and that made me sit down and think about the book more seriously. The quote said: ““Make it thy business to know thyself, which is the most difficult lesson in the world. “ That is what Socrates said in ancient Greece a…

Ramana Maharshi: The Human Side of a Jnani

Ramana Maharshi is often perceived as a pure jnani, living at a dimension far beyond that of ordinary mortals. He is sometimes seen as entirely devoid of a human side to him – an impression that I myself had retained for a long time, in spite of being taught by two of his direct disciples. The following excerpts from SS Cohen’s Guru Ramana show how this impression is totally wrong. SS Cohen was an inmate of Ramanasramam for fourteen years, until the Maharshi passed away in 1950.


There I quietly sat and listened to the visitors’ talks with him and to his answers, which were sometimes translated into English, particularly if the questioner was a foreigner or a north Indian – not always. His answers were fresh and sweet. His influence was all pervasive in his silence not less than in his speech. To me in the beginning this was all the more perceptible in the contrast it offered to the hustle and bustle of the life on which I had just turned my back – to the wasted energy, the false v…