Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
  AHYMSIN Newsletter, Issue - August 2013  

Explore the Richness of Inner Life

by Little Student of Himalayan Yoga Tradition

Yoga Nidra & Yoga Asana courses with Swami Ritavan & Ashutosh Sharma
Baan Phu Waan, Sampran, Thailand: May 18-19 2013

Guidance from Guru in Silence

Swami Veda Bharati has begun his 5-year vow of silence in March 2013. He promised us, however, that his silence practice would produce even more powerful impact on spiritual progress of each of us, provided that we stick to our daily practice and discipline. Many years ago I had read about Swami Rama’s different ways of teaching his close disciples, and one of method was to teach in silence. I wondered at the time how could this be, but I kept my mind opened to such possibility. This retreat provided me with a direct experience to understand what this means. Silence is the nature of God (Dhamma) and there is no better state than silence from where the teachings and wisdom could flow to the mind of spiritual seekers.

I recalled my uneasy feeling during the planning stage of this event; it was difficult to explain even to myself because I was not aware of the causes for my anxiety. One day, one of my best Kalayanamitras (Suchada Temvanishya), told me that “you  just lacked confidence because deep down in your subconscious mind, you knew that this would be the first event you would organize for Himalayan Yoga Meditation without the presence of Swami Veda Bharati”. Her words had awakened me and provided encouragement for me to allow my faith in the tradition to be tested (not to find faults within the teachings….but to further strengthen my own faith).

And the tests did come. We have experiences organizing a wonderful retreat with Swami Veda Bharati at Rose Garden (in Sampran) last year and we had more dedicated people to help with this year’s event. So we expected everything would run more smoothly. On the other hand, this event turned out to be a bigger challenge for us. We encountered problems here and there and as the new one surfaced, the intensity of  my inner worries rose. This reminded me of a story of Jesus and his 12 disciples in the middle of turbulent sea. Jesus was sleeping when their boat were rocked by stormy weather. All his disciples, despite being with him, felt terrified and tried to wake him up. Finally, Jesus got up and calmed the storm. He asked his disciples “where is your faith?”. This always happened to me in my daily situations also. One problem arises and I am immediately pushed out of balance and completely lose touch with all inspirations. Indeed, our faiths are still weak, but the Guru’s grace always stays with us if we are walking the path with sincerity. In the end, the retreat went very well and we are all pleased that people derived benefits from the teachings of Swami Ritavan Bharati and Ashutosh Sharma.  About 5 -6 people personally expressed their thanks to us for organizing and inviting them to participate in this retreat.

Himalayan Yoga Meditation is a living tradition

Swami Ritavan and Ashutosh Sharma started the retreat by telling their personal experiences about Himalayan Yoga Meditation Tradition. The reason for them to enter the path was because they were personally inspired by the living examples of the Masters (Swami Rama and Swami Veda Bharati).

These Masters could touch the people (who are in the process of seeking higher value in life) at the deepest part of their hearts because of the power of their minds generated from their sincere and disciplined practices of the knowledge, passed on to them by their Masters from the previous generations, tracing back to the Vedic period or even before.

The longing for mental calmness and happiness and for the answer to the question “what was the purpose of life” propelled their searches and when they met these Masters, they knew in their hearts that they had found the right path. They learned that yoga is not a short cut method to reduce suffering, but it is a long/continuous process of working on oneself at all levels; body, breath, emotion and mind. They are fortunate to have opportunities to live and learn from the Masters over extended period (40+ years for Swami Ritavan and 20+ years for Ashutosh Sharma), and the learning process still goes on for them.

Listening to the stories from personal experiences is the best way to communicate the essence of Himalayan Yoga Meditation to people. When asked to briefly explain what type of tradition Himalayan Yoga Meditation is, I always find no good answer and I do not want to simplify the answer by saying “in Himalayan tradition, we meditate by using personal mantra or by developing breath awareness or by watching the mind or by practicing vipassana or Samatha or by providing selfless services, or by internally worshipping God and Dhamma.” Of course, Himalayan Yoga Meditation integrates all these practices (and also many more other forms of practice) into a single whole unit. Swami Veda Bharati once said that as one progresses in spiritual practice, one realizes that each part of yoga cannot be practiced and absorbed in isolation. When coming to providing descriptions, the need to separate each practice arises in order to make it easier for the human mind to understand the concept intellectually. However, intellectual understanding would not take us anywhere if it is not put into real practice, leading to personal experiences. In that personal  experience, no part of the teachings can be separated from the others.

Yoga Nidra, a subtle science of spiritual practice

Who are we truly? Where are we going after death? And what is final destination of life? These are questions that often pop up in our minds although non -stop involvements in daily/worldly activities convince many of us to believe that they are pointless questions. As a result, these questions sink deep into the recess of our unconscious mind. Nonetheless, at one point in our life, particularly when we suddenly and helplessly fall into sufferings caused by losses of health, wealth and loved ones, we can no longer avoid these questions. Yoga Nidra is one of spiritual practices (all forms of practices support one another) that lead to answers for the above questions.

We deeply identify ourselves with our external forms: name, fame, career and social status, relationship, career achievement, the amount of money and properties we own. Yet, these things are not permanent and constantly change. Also, we cannot take any of these things to which we attach ourselves too much when our last breath comes, so they do not really belong to us. Worse still, these attachments rob us of our happiness here and now as we lose our abilities to be content with whatever we have, we suffer as a result. To realize our true nature (who we really are) will help us to understand death and our final destination; it is the highest wisdom. This knowledge in turn increases our ability to live our daily life with greater happiness, quality and purpose. Swami Ritavan said that there are two states which allow us to come in contact with our true nature and experience how death is like; one is when one is in deep sleep and the other is when one is in deep meditation. This is the state of deep silence as if one is in unlimited empty space (termed Shunya in Buddhism). When combining these two states, we get the practice called Yoga Nidra; a conscious sleep.

As human beings, we experience different states of consciousnesses throughout the day. According to yoga, the states of consciousness that most people are familiar with are the waking state that we spend in our normal daily activities, the dreaming state, and the deep sleep state. We may also notice that we are conscious of how we are and feel in the waking state more than in the dreaming state (it is hard to remember details of the dream when one wakes up). Most of us are not conscious at all when we are in deep sleep state. In the practice session, Swami Ritavan led us through the sensation of these different states; we slowly go into deeper and deeper layers of our consciousness and then slowly come out from the more subtle level into the gross level, our normal waking state. Actually, we go through these steps back and forth every day, but because our minds are not trained to be aware in every moment, we do not remember. Thus, it is normal for beginners to feel that it is just a practice of imagination. Continued practice will gradually increase our abilities to remain aware, even in deep sleep state, and eventually, we can take the experience of being in that state into our daily life. 

Human body is a very complex system. We are not only gross body (flesh, bone, ligament, etc.), but we are also configurations of energy system. There are many thousand energy channels, called “Nadis” in our body; the three main ones include “Ida” (lunar energy channel represented by the symbol of the moon), “Pingala” (solar energy channel represented by the symbol of the sun) and “Sushumna” (where the Pingala and Ida cross and intertwine). Wherever the two or more energy channels meet, a whirlpool of energy is formed, becoming a center of energy called “Chakra”. As there are many energy channels, there are also lots of Chakras all over our bodies. The seven main Chakras form along the Sushumna channel: Muladhara, Svadhishthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha, Ajna and Sahasrara. Each state of consciousness is represented by a different Chakra; Ajna for waking state, Vishuddha for dreaming state and Anahata for deep sleep state. Together, they are all represented by the sound of the sacred mantra “OM” (A-U-M, waking, dreaming, deep sleep).

The mind can be trained to be conscious of these three states. However, beyond these three lies the supreme state of consciousness called “Turiya”, which is beyond the mind. It is a state of universal consciousness, achieved by “Enlightened Beings” like Buddha, Krishna and Jesus, etc. Before reaching that peak point, we first need to fully understand waking, dreaming and deep sleep states.  This is the goal of Yoga Nidra as well as meditation. Swami Ritavan Bharati lovingly encouraged all of us to aspire to Yoga Nidra practice with the highest goal in mind. There are many benefits in a worldly sense to be derived from Yoga Nidra practice. These include deep relaxation, improved creativities, affirming one’s determination to undertake some worldly tasks.  But these are just by-products and a small part of the benefits. The most important thing is to keep “practice, practice and practice” without expectations.

Many Paths, One Goal

Himalayan Yoga Meditation, like all other authentic spiritual traditions, recognizes “One Ultimate Truth or Supreme Reality”, a concept which people who stick strongly to their own religious belief find it hard to accept – “mine is always the best” is the habit of human mind, but it has nothing to do with this one ultimate truth”, realized as personal experience by all Enlightened Beings (Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, etc). In Catholic belief, everything in this universe is created out of  the same God and yet we have variety of everything; human races, plants, animals, etc.  The same thing can be said of the Buddha’s teachings that Dhamma is the source of all manifested things. If God and Dhamma is happy to give birth to things that are different out of the same essence, why can’t they provide different paths to realize the (same) truth? Each of us is drawn towards one of these paths according to our background and personalities. But all the paths lead us to the same mountain top (of consciousness), the final goal of humanity.

Swami Ritavan said that the highest state of consciousness called “Turiya” has different names in different paths and traditions: “Brahman”, “Atman”, Nirvana (Nibbana), Christ consciousness, Union with God. Yoga is the tool, the map of consciousness, available for us, human beings, endowed with higher consciousness than any other created things in the universe, to help us along our journey to realize the highest value in life, which is the “Ultimate Truth”, the eternal source of life. Yoga is the path of life. Yoga can help enhance our faith and belief in the path or religion that we have already chosen.

Whatever path or religion we belong to, Swamiji encouraged us to be engaged in group activities (i.e. group meditation) of like-minded people and to exercise Isvara Pradidhana (devotion and surrender of one’s self to the Divinity in whatever form). These would help one progress on the spiritual path by purifying our emotions, opening up our hearts to the feeling of love and compassion, and transforming our internal state.

Hatha Yoga is the path and philosophy of life

When Ashutosh Sharma met Swami Veda more than 20 years ago, he asked Swamiji “how could you define what yoga is in one sentence ?”  Swamiji answered “To enjoy your every single breath is the real yoga”. This sounded simple and easy to him at first, but 20 years of experience made him realize that it is not that easy and in fact could be a life-long process and learning.

Most people take Yoga as a form of physical and breathing exercises, which although providing lots of benefits, is by no means yoga in its true sense. Ashutosh himself had attended several yoga schools in India and practiced lots of advanced asanas, that most people would have loved to be able to master. He derived great benefits, particularly health improvement, but the way he practiced during those days never brought real peace of mind to him. They could not help him overcome his own emotional weakness. After meeting with Swami Rama and Swami Veda Bharati, the life of yoga took on a new meaning and impact, far deeper than his own limited understanding of yoga before encountering these two masters.

Ashutosh said “Yoga is Samadhi”. If practicing asana does not lead us into and inspire us to practice meditation, then we miss a big part of it. We suffer a great deal in our daily life and relationships because of our emotional junk and thus emotional purification is the heart of Yoga asana. Swami Veda taught Ashutosh by using the situation in daily life to break Ashutosh’s habits, which made him rigid and inflexible.

Yoga asana should be practiced as a tool for us to gently dissolve our undesirable habits, whether they are physical, emotional or mental. Once these habits are mastered to a certain degree, we find greater freedom and suffer less in our life. Yoga is more of a mental exercise. We train our minds through physical movements and at the same time train our bodies via a clam, clear, and joyful mind. The breath is the link between mind and body. This means that we need to be aware of body, breath and state of mind at every moment during our practice.

As the name indicates, Hatha yoga is a combination (union) of the two forces, residing in every one of us. “Ha” is activating force, solar energy, which produces heat; it is represented by the symbol of the sun. “Tha” is the opposite; a relaxing or lunar energy. It cools down the body system and is represented by the symbol of the moon. Most people only emphasize “Ha” part, which reflects attitudes in their daily lives: pushing, competing, the uncontrolled need to be seen as better than others. When balanced with “Tha”, all actions one does have been transformed into the state of awareness. Aware of what? Our own physical, emotional and mental capacities and that we need to love and respect ourselves. Otherwise, we unconsciously become violent to ourselves and helplessly, we are also violent towards others (either through thoughts, speech or actions). Ashutosh stressed “Be nice to yourself” as this is the first step to take if you want to be truly compassionate towards others. It is also important to keep in mind that practicing yoga is not limited to activities on the mat, but it is 24 hours of work, day in day out.

Be self-inspired

A workshop with inspirational spiritual guide can always uplift our minds, elevating it to a beautiful state. It is very easy for anyone to feel that way. Bad (or good?) news, however, is that the real test comes when we are all back to our normal daily activities. To seek true happiness and value in life is indeed our own responsibilities.


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Editor’s Note:

AHYMSIN Thailand is an AHYMSIN affiliate.  Contact: [email protected]


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