Say it with me: Ahhhhh…. We’ve come to the bliss body! This month I encourage you to be on the lookout for sparks of Divine Mystery. Joy and beauty can show up anywhere and everywhere and it’s an important part of practice to notice them! What fills you with glee? What makes you laugh so hard it feels like you’ll never be able to stop? What experiences have utterly changed your understanding of what it means to be alive? What experiences have utterly changed your view of the world? And of Love and Light and Source?
This month we study the deepest part of our manifest being—that part of us that’s always calling us toward our soul. I have several teachings and a couple practices to help you contemplate and experience your joyful being. And at the bottom of this page I offer you some thoughts about the Ishvara sutras. I hope you’ll give yourself some time to go deep here and explore your connection to inner teacher and refuge. Who is Ishvara to you?
I have completely redesigned the packet this month… Let me know what you think! This packet includes the 5 aspects of anadamaya, teachings on how to create a ritual, the 7 important aspects of prayer and ritual, and an introduction to Ista-Devata (the deity of your own heart).
In addition to the packet, I invite you to explore this artsy and personal resource that I created in 2015 regarding the practice of prayer.
You’ll notice there’s no personal journal page in the packet. You’ll find your self-reflection questions in two other places this month. In the first practice recording below and in the sutra teaching written at the bottom of this page. Check them out and dig in!
May all these resources be a blessing to your spiritual exploration and practice!
TEACHINGS | THE ANANDAMAYA KOSHA
I have two teachings for you. One is pre-recorded and one is live. They say the same thing. And they say completely different things. I hope you’ll listen to them both.
PRACTICE 1 | INTRO & JOURNALING
This recording could easily have been split into two parts. But I kept it together on purpose. The first half is a movement and mantra practice with the intention of preparation. We’re bringing ourselves into a certain spirit in order to do some deeper reflection work. The second half includes journaling questions (so have pen and paper ready!) and a conversation about joy, ritual, prayer, and symbols.
The movement and mantra sequence practiced here will also be used in the longer practice below. You’ll want to be comfortable with it before moving on to that practice (because I don’t give as much explanation in the 2nd practice). The mantra is OM Jyotir Aham (I explain what it means in the recording!) and the movement sequence looks like this:
You can push play on this recording and listen to the first two minutes as you look at these drawings. When you feel like you’ve got it, get in position and enjoy your practice! I’ve given you a lot of detail to feel comfortable with this sequence because in the 2nd practice below we’re just chanting and flowing. We’re in the zone of practice and there’s not as much how-to instruction!
PRACTICE 2 | MANASA PUJA
This is a beautiful practice that I’ve adapted from one I experienced while studying with my teacher Gary Kraftsow. It’s a powerful practice and I hope you return to it again and again.
(be sure to spend some time working through the personal reflection questions found in the bolded paragraph at the bottom of this write-up)
In sutra 1.12, we are told that practice (abhyasa) and non-identification (vairagya) are the way to a still mind. But in sutra 1.23 Patanjali introduces something different. He suggests that through the acts of devotion and surrender we can also reach samadhi (the state of a crystal clear mind—the state of yoga). The sanskrit of sutra 1.23 is Ishvara Pranidhana, a concept we’ve already seen at 3 different points in our study. In sutra 2.1 (which describes the 3 aspects of Yoga-in-Action or Kriya Yoga) we are given Ishvara Pranidhana as an active part of kriya yoga practice—the active surrender of our small self and the outcomes we crave in response to our actions. It reminds me of one of my favorite passages from the Bhagavad Gita:
“Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward. Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work. Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and, free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or in failure. Yoga is evenness of mind—a peace that is ever the same.” 2.47-48
We also encountered ishvara pranidhana in the context of the niyamas (sutra 2.32 and 45). Here ishvara pranidhana is given as one aspect of our behavior. What are the rituals we practice everyday in order to stay rooted in our highest self and refine our behavior? According to the niyamas, they are purity of body and mind (saucha), contentment (santosa), discipline (tapas), self-awareness (svadhyaya), and active worship of God (ishvara-pranidhana).
In sutras 1.23-29 we are given ishvara pranidhana as a meditation practice that can help us remove the obstacles that stand in the way of our goal.
Samadhi also comes from complete surrender to Ishvara.
Ishvara is a unique being who exists beyond all suffering. Unblemished by action, Ishvara is free from both its cause and its effects.
In Ishvara lies the finest seed of all knowledge.
Being beyond time, Ishvara is the Teacher of even the most ancient tradition of teachers.
Ishvara is expressed through the sound of the sacred syllable OM.
It should be repeated and its essence realized.
Then the mind will turn inward and the obstacles that stand in the way of progress will disappear.
The word Ishvara is most often translated as Lord. Ishvara is clearly understood as God. But Ishvara isn’t a sectarian God. Patanjali isn’t laying out a religion that yoga practitioners must join and follow. Patanjali is asking us to trustfully surrender to something higher and bigger than ourselves. Patanjali is asking us to step away from our small self—from our ego and personality with its likes, dislikes, attachments, and fears. If we can trustfully surrender to something higher than ourselves, we can discover the truth of our highest Self. We will discover our essential nature—which is unbounded consciousness—and the obstacles in our path toward freedom will disappear.
Ishvara represents a different state of being. Ishvara is a special soul, a unique purusha. Ishvara isn’t part of the world of nature, of prakriti, and therefore doesn’t participate in action. Which, of course, means that Ishvara has no karma that needs to be worked out. Ishvara is perfect knowledge and the timeless inspiration of all teachers throughout history.
In his commentary on sutra 1.24, which reads: “Ishvara [God] is a unique being untouched by afflictions, karmas, the results of karmas, and the repository of karmas,” Pandit Rajmani writes:
“This sutra brings us to the heart of yogic metaphysics: the undeniable reality of God (Ishvara). Ishvara is Pure Intelligence, eternal, and beyond time and space. He is Pure Being. The world exists only because he brings it into existence. We come into being only after he empowers us to be. Ishvara makes the unmanifest manifest, causes dormant forces to pulsate, brings non-being into being, and the dead to life. This supremely Intelligent Being sees all that is, and in a single glance, creates a condition where infinite numbers of souls, dissolved in Primordial nature and unaware of their existence, awaken and become self-aware. Primordial Nature (Prakriti) awakens in response to his infallible intention (sankalpa). At her awakening, everyone and everything contained in her awakens. Thus, Prakriti herself and all the potential—including time, space, and the law of cause and effect—resting in her as non-being instantly come into being. This is the beginning of creation, the birth of our soul, and the genesis of our inexorable quest for fulfillment and freedom.”
This story describes the moment when purusha and prakriti meet (it’s the creation story of sankhya philosophy that I shared with you in Module 6). As I’ve said before, I like to think of this moment as the big bang (or the big OM!).
All traditions have creation stories and an understanding of Being beyond space and time. In the Christian tradition the opening lines of the Gospel of John echo Pandit Rajmani’s description of Ishvara:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1.1-5)
If you’re a Christian, you can understand Ishvara as Christ. For Buddhists, the Buddha. For Muslims, Allah. For atheists, the Universe. I understand Ishvara as one of many names for Divine Mystery. True yoga practice can strengthen your own religious practice and understanding, whatever it is. There is no conflict between your tradition and the practice of yoga. And if you don’t have a religious tradition, yoga can support the growth of your spiritual life. Whether you’re a devout Catholic, a fundamentalist Atheist, or something else, you need a connection with inner refuge and support in order to handle the challenges of life. We may all define this inner refuge differently, but without it, we’re lost.
I encourage you to study these sutras that describe Ishvara and if you haven’t already, to begin to articulate your own understanding of God or Source or Higher Power or Pure Intelligence (or whatever language feels most true and useful to you). I also encourage you to explore your own reactions to the word surrender. What does it mean to surrender your small self? What does it mean to let go of attachment to the outcome of your actions? What does it mean to devote your life to something larger than yourself? What practices—such as prayer and ritual—help support your connection to Ishvara (however you understand it)? How often do you practice them?
Sutras 1.27-28 recommend a practice to help us experience the essence of Ishvara. Patanjali tells us that Ishvara is expressed through the mystical symbol OM. When we think of the big bang/OM as the meeting of purusha and prakriti, this makes so much sense to me! The Mandukya Upanishad, which is a 12 verse upanishad dedicated to explaining OM, begins by saying that:
“OM is this imperishable Word, OM is the Universe… The past, the present, and the future, all that was, all that is, all that will be, is OM. Likewise all else that may exist beyond the bounds of Time, that too is OM.”
OM is the most important mantra, and Patanjali insists that it should be repeated. Through its repetition, our mind will turn inward and obstacles will disappear. If you’re unsure how to define your inner refuge, if you’re unsure about the reality called God, sit down and chant OM. Chant it over and over and over again. After at least 10-minutes of chanting, sit in quiet and in the quiet, feel the vibrations in your body. Allow yourself to be absorbed in the reverberations of the sacred syllable OM and notice how you feel.
Remember that samadhi is a perfectly still, pristine state of mind. A state of mind that is preceded by faith, energy, repeated recollection, stillness of mind, and wisdom (sutra 1.20). Or by trustful surrender to something higher than yourself, trustful surrender to the God of your own understanding. When we chant OM, we connect with this Higher Reality, with our True Self, and our mind turns inward and we’re able to move through our obstacles. To which I say, AMEN!