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Pranayama is a process through which you expand your consciousness, be in touch with the divinity, and be in harmony with the universal energy. This energy has all the powers. It can heal and grace you. Doing pranayama means, developing an intimate relationship with that energy. How to begin? We have to begin with acknowledging that energy. Accept that energy, and receive that energy with love. Before understanding and practising nadi shodhana pranayama or nerve purification pranayama, let us understand our constitution, the structure that God has designed.

In the human brain, there are two hemispheres—the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere has important centres—logic, analysis, inquiry, argumentation, exploration etc. The right hemisphere contains spiritual centres, intuitive centers, creative centers and emotional centers in it. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body.

If you see carefully the life patterns or the moods in a day, you experience that your moods keep on changing every two or three hours. The mood changes from negative to positive, from extrovert to introvert, from outgoing to withdrawn. When the moods change, the working pattern in the mind changes from left hemisphere to right, or right to left. At that time, the breathing pattern also changes from the left nostril to the right nostril or the right to the left. Whenever you experience a change in your mind, you can feel the shift of your breathing. This is creating a series of problems for all of us.

Of the 72,000 nerve channels that work in our body, three are very important. These are called ida, pingala and sushumna. They are also called chandra nadi, surya nadi and amruta nadi. If you see from the physiological point of view, to the left side of the spine, there is a set of nervous system travelling and it is called ida nadi. The pingala is running along the right side of the spinal column. The sushumna is at the centre of the spinal column. These are in the sookshma shareera, the subtle body, and not in the sthoola shareera, the physical body. You can roughly equate these three channels in the sthoola shareera with the para-sympathetic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system and the central nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system inhibits or controls an action. The sympathetic nervous system accelerates an action. The heart too is controlled by the two nervous systems, the sympathetic and para-sympathetic.

Let us understand it by an example. You are walking and a dog chases you. What happens? The sympathetic nervous system becomes very active and the walking pace is accelerated. It makes your heart work more and more. The heart-beat increases. By chance, if the activity of increasing the heartbeat goes on, what will happen? The heart will burst out like the tube of a vehicle. So, up to some point, the sympathetic nervous system should work. After some time, that activity should be controlled by the para-sympathetic nervous system, which starts inhibiting or controlling the accelerated activity. This system is working in the physical body.

The chandra nadi stimulates the mind to become introvert. It makes the mind philosophical, or suspends a personality in a state of “not-feeling-like¬-doing-anything.” The surya nadi does just the opposite. It influences the mind to go out, to indulge in activity, to logically argue. The chandra nadi takes you inside and the surya nadi brings you outside. This pattern is going on continuously in us.

When you inhale through the left nostril, you activate the right hemisphere. When you exhale through the right, you relax the left hemisphere. When you inhale through the right nostril, you activate the left hemisphere, and when you exhale through the left, you relax the right hemisphere. It means, you are activating and relaxing each hemisphere by turns. In that way you activate both of your hemispheres, you activate both the parts of your personality and you relax both the hemispheres and both sides of the body. Thus one activates both intellect and intuition. Bhavana and vichara are being developed equally, side by side. When they are developed together, there is harmony and joy.

By doing nadi shodhana pranayama you can stay in the right mood. It creates a rhythm in the mind. Before doing pranayama, it is desirable to have a smooth and free pranic flow, in both the nostrils; then you can enjoy the pranayama in a better way. It is possible only when you do it consciously.

Before and after pranayama, feel the quality of breathing and the mental state. After doing pranayama, just be with yourself for sometime. Don’t do anything. When the body, mind and intellect become calm, serene, steady and still, feel your true nature. It is only when you sit still without doing anything with yourself, you will be able to find out who you are and what your nature is.

My sincere request to all of you is to learn the practice of this pranayama through an expert, or attend our programs, experience the benefits and teach this pranayama to as many as possible.

In the service of Parampara,
Sri Pattabhiram

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Sadhana is important. It will give you a comprehensive knowledge of life with all its currents and cross-currents. It is amazing to observe that most of the people enveloped in sloth and lethargy are not aware that life on this earth is but a brief moment, and that moment should be utilized to purify the way of the soul. Those who don’t do their duties and yet expect the best in life are fools who live in a fool’s paradise.

In life’s primitive paradise, fools aspire to live for a long time. They live perpetually on charity. They are beggars who are burdens to society and even to themselves. These beggars are envious of one another and habitually suspicious of each other, like dogs living upon their master’s favours, showing their teeth, growling, barking, and trying to chew up one another. Their very existence is described as a struggle. Their paradise lacks peace, equilibrium and tranquility.

I worked hard in my life and attained something that gives me solace. I found out that life is mingled with sorrow and joy; both of these feelings should not be allowed to disturb the course of life.

A human being is not imperfect, but incomplete. Man’s essential nature is a limitless horizon. The call to inner Truth is present in him with all profundity, but his analytical logic is shallow.

Peace can’t be attained through mere speculative philosophy or logic. I am willing to believe that philosophy is useful for comprehension of the Ultimate Reality, but I don’t admit that philosophy alone can lead us to the ultimate goal. However great the philosophy may be, it must be supplemented by faith, emotion, and strict discipline of the functions of the will.

A sadhaka has to go through a series of internal experiences. When a sadhaka’s convictions are filtered by the systematic and organized way of sadhana, the mind becomes penetrating and one-pointed. An aspirant must control the dissipation of the mind. Conquest over the senses and the mind helps one to attain freedom from the charms and temptations of the world. Free from worldly distractions, nothing remains in the mind but the longing to know God.

One such an exclusive longing awakens, one becomes absorbed in contemplating and meditating on God. Through constant contemplation and meditation, one begins having glimpses of the Truth, and these experiences strengthen his faith. Growing internally, that exclusive faith becomes the source of inner strength, enabling the aspirant to move along the path until perfection is achieved.

The first detachment achieved by the aspirant is physical, inspiring him to develop the power of instinctive love and knowledge that helps him to relate with the world and nature. Nature has her own laws and helps all creatures to receive her blessings and grace in many ways.

The human mind is complex with all its typical moods, manners and weapons. The purpose of sadhana is to be free from the magic wonders of the mind and remain free all the time.

Freedom is a divine gift lent to mortals. A seeker of Truth should first have freedom from all time-honoured taboos. Mental freedom is an accepted fact and is definitely higher than physical freedom. Free spirit is godly and that alone can claim kinship with God.

The potential to realize the Truth is present in every person. In some it remains dormant, while in others it is awakened. The more one directs one’s awareness towards the Divine Force, the more one realizes the emptiness of the objects of the world. That realization helps one to withdraw one’s mind from the external world, and to compose oneself for inner exploration.

All sadhanas, all practices, are meant to purify and strengthen the mind that disturbs your being and prevents you from being aware of the Reality that is within you. To be spiritual means to be aware of the Reality all the time, to be aware of the Absolute Truth all the time, and to be aware of the Lord within you all the time.

(Excerpts from Swami Rama's book, "Sadhana")

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(Patanjali Yoga Sutra)

The meaning of this Sutra is: By establishing oneself in any aspect of yoga, the impurities wean away and the wisdom blossoms. What are the aspects of yoga? It is said thus: The eight limbs of yoga are--yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. I would briefly talk about the Sutra.

There is a misconception about practicing yoga. The impression is, one should first take up yama, then niyama and then.... Actually it is not so. Yoga is a flower having eight petals. Any flower, when it blossoms from bud, doesn’t open out its petals one by one. Gradually, all the petals would open out. In the same way, you take up any aspect of yoga, or any petal of yoga, slowly there would be a flowering of a personality. All the petals would blossom depending on yoga-anga-anushthana.

To understand it better, let us take up a yoga-anga called yama. Out of five in yama, let us take the first--ahimsa. To get established in ahimsa, it takes many lives. Gandhiji took up only two of yama: ahimsa and satya. His practice of these two granted liberation of the whole country from its alien rulers! In fact, it was a side-effect of his own evolution. It made him a Mahatma! Just imagine the power of yoga-anga-anushthana. If you too want to get established in any yoga-anga, make modest beginnings. Don’t take up vows which you can’t accomplish. If you want to practise ahimsa, begin from your home.

To take up any sadhana, the prime importance should be laid on creating the environment. Through continuous practice, try to create the external as well as internal environments, not by force, but by gentleness. It is possible that you make mistakes; don’t worry. Grow as you do mistakes, and march ahead. When an INSAT satellite failed a few years ago, the head of that organisation had said, “We would learn more from mistakes than from successes.” Just see how successful they are now. In that way, every aspect of life is a satellite-launch. We stop growing if we don’t learn lessons and march ahead.

If you want to practice satya, it is subjective. You can’t always prove it to others but you can experience it in you. You can’t even teach it, but you can stay in it. Try to stay in it, not teach it. The environment plays a very important role in creating a vibrant atmosphere. In that atmosphere, the seed of truth grows. In everybody’s deeper layers of consciousness, the seed of truth is present. The reason why we are having problems with ourselves is, we are not providing the right environment in the deeper layers of our consciousness. That is why, there is no sprouting of the true personality. If you are watchful enough, you would see only weeds in the deeper chambers of our being. Ironically, we are nourishing them. In order to give strength and vitality to the seed so that it grows, we have to remove the weeds. The removal of weeds is done by following yama and niyama. Niyama is creating the external environment, like cleanliness, exhibiting happiness... Staying in yama means practising, one or more of, ahimsa, satya, non-stealing, non-possessiveness.. Yama is the Lord of Death too. Taking up sadhana also means learning the art of dying. Learning to die at every moment – means seeing life afresh.

Staying in yama will help us to see the life in its totality. For this, one needs to follow an element of ahimsa in one’s awareness. I am not saying that you follow ahimsa in its totality. I don’t say that you behave in a particular way in order to practise a code of conduct. Ahimsa is that where there is no ‘himsa’. If I start condemning people, if I irritate them, disturb them and hurt with harsh words, that is himsa. These too are the acts of violence. It would harm you more, internally, than the one whom you are harming.

I have different yardsticks for others and for myself. If I apply the same yardstick for others as well as for myself, then I stay in ahimsa. Ahimsa practice is to treat everybody as a part of your own being--your husband/wife, children, parents, inlaws, friends/foes... If I hurt you, it would take the form of tension in myself and it would not allow me to keep quiet; it starts disturbing me. I get agitated and disgusted. I become even frustrated and fearsome. Violence breeds further violence. That is why, sage Patanjali asks us to sprinkle the fragrance of ahimsa in our attitude, in our behaviour. I don’t ask you to practice ahimsa to the extent our sages have lived; just see how far you can practice. If you practice ahimsa, the effect would be a calm and quiet mind.

In this way, you can correct every aspect of your gestures. The way you sit, the way you talk, the way you snub people, the way you pick and choose things for yourself and deny certain things to others. If you sit with a hunch back, try to sit straight. If you are curt, try to be sonorous in your words.

With regard to practicing Satya, it is becoming sincere to your inner being. Find out whether you are true to yourself. If you are leading the life of a hypocrite, try to be straight and, at the same time, polite. Be in a feeling, “I am what I am; I don’t hide anything.” In order to deal with the external world, people lie a lot. In order to hide one lie, we would roll out a chain of lies. But the human consciousness can’t tolerate this and it would bring out the truth one day or the other. It can’t accept anything that is untrue.

As you continuously stay in yoga-anga-anushthana, the pseudo personality that you have built over the years, over so many lives, would lose its strength and the true seed starts getting its nourishment; when it grows, it would be a magnificent tree, giving shelter to so many tired souls. May you be blessed.

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Concept of God in Hinduism

The ultimate goal of every Hindu is to attain Moksha or liberation – liberation from the cycle of births and deaths and union with the Ultimate Reality, which the Vedantins call Brahman – the Absolute. Brahman is indescribable, for it is by its very nature formless, unlimited and infinite. The Ultimate Reality is One but different people with different backgrounds try to understand, experience and describe it in their own language. As Sri Ramakrishna says, it is like water called in different languages by different names. If there are three and four ghats on a lake, the Hindus who drink water in one place would call it ‘jal’; the musalman drinking it from another place would call it ‘pani’ whereas the Englishman drinking it from a third ghat would call it water. In essence all the three denote one and the same thing, the difference lies in the name only. In our studies of the various religions of the world we find that in their highest reaches, the experiences of mystics and sages of all religions are the same.

So the question arises that if Hindus accept that the Ultimate reality is the formless Brahman, how can one explain the innumerable forms of gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon? It is very simple. To achieve the spiritual union with the Supreme Soul, there are believed to be three main paths, bhakti yoga (through devotion), Jnana yoga (the path of wisdom or intellectual path) and karma yoga (the path of action).

The most common of these paths is the path of Bhakthi or devotional worship. The absolute God cannot be grasped by the human mind. For a philosophical man, his symbol may be highly abstract as the Vision of the infinite sky or a vast expanse; something that appears unlimited. A person who cannot think in such abstract terms prefers to have more concrete symbols. So he gave forms to the Reality. The Reality is presented according to the understanding of the devotee all the while reminding him that it is through the worship of the form that he is to reach the formless aspect of the divine. So the devotee chooses a form of the Brahman in any of His manifestations and realises God through love and devotion. Image worship does not mean that some inert object like wood stone or metal is being worshipped. The image is also not a mere icon. It is a symbol of the Lord.

There is a very interesting story of how Swami Vivekananda explained the concept of image worship to the king of Alwar. The young king was apparently not a very religious man, but the Prime Minister wanted him to meet the Swami whom he believed to be a great intellectual as well as a man of realisation. The king said in half joking manner to the Swamiji, “God many exist, but I do not understand why people worship images: He is not the image.” Vivekananda explained that it really did not matter. Hinduism gave one that freedom. We can start with meditation on any form, just so it is the same thing day after day – not one thing today and another tomorrow. Even if the experience comes through meditation on God with form gradually we reach stage of formlessness. Those who can worship the Absolute were most free to do so, but Hinduism did not put down those who needed an image in front of them to focus their devotion on. Seeing that the king was not yet convinced, Vivekananda looked at the wall and asked an attendant to take down the picture on the ground and spit on it. Such an act was akin to treason and the whole audience was absolutely stunned at the command given by the Swamiji.

Swamiji seeing the baffled look on the faces of the ministers and others, laughed and said, “You think that if you dishonour the picture, you will be dishonouring the king?. But the king is not in the picture. You, his subjects, who love and respect him, think that by dishonouring the picture you are dishonouring the king himself”. Then turning to the kind he said, “Maharaja, you are sitting in that chair, nothing of you is there in that picture. But because of a little likeness, some suggestion, the artists capability of representing you in this manner, your subjects seeing you in the picture feel that dishonouring it is akin to dishonouring you. It is exactly the same with image worship. It is not that the image is God. But it is through the image that God is being worshipped. The picture or image is only a suggestion, a symbol.”

Thus it must be understood that the image is not considered God, as is often misunderstood; it is the symbol (or pratika) of Godhead. In order to get the devotee to concentrate his mind totally on God, such an image (or pratima) helps in the first and early stages of worship. In this stage of apara bhakti, the devotee asks or prays for something in return. The higher stage is para bhakti where the devotee is consumed with love for his Ishta-Devata. He sees Him everywhere and is intoxicated by his vision of Him to the exclusion of all else. His love is all consuming. He perform no poojas or rituals but dances with joy at the all pervading ecstasy of divine love. In this stage of bhakti the bhakta sees no other deity, believes in none else. He is mad in the eyes of the world but reaches divinity through ekanta bhakti or single-minded love for Divinity in the form of his Ishta Devata. Such bhakti elevates the Bhakta until at the final stage he becomes one with Divinity.

Bhakti or devotion can be of any form where each devotee worships and adores God in his own way. The devotee could look upon God as a child does his father as can be seen in the devotion of Dhruva towards Vishnu, or he could treat God as a close personal friend as is seen in the relationship of Arjuna and Krishna. In dhaasya bhava, the devotee looks upon God as his master in the same as Hanuman looked upon Sri Rama. One could cite the example of Meera or Andal who saw Krishna and Vishnu as their husbands, when one talks of Kanta bhava.

- Asha Sunilkumar (Excerpt from the magazine 'Mahima')

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