Monday, August 3, 2009

Om Bhur-Bhuvah-Swah

Om Bhur-Bhuvah-Swah
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
Dhiyo yo Nah Prachodayaat.

We meditate upon the auspicious godly light of the Lord Sun; may that heavenly light illumine our thought flow in our intellect.

Goddess GayatriThe Gaayatree mantra is dedicated to the Lord Savitri. Savitri represents Lord Sun. The Sun gives all illumination to the world and any prayer for light should certainly be addressed to "the source of all light" in the material world, the Sun. In the Geetaa the Lord says, the light that pervades, the sun and the moon are all My Light. Thus Savitri, the Lord of Gaayatree, is nothing other than the Light of Consciousness, the Infinite, the Absolute.

This mantra is never chanted for the purposes of material gains, for mercy or pardon, but appeals to the Glorious Power that pervades the Sun and the Three Worlds, to arouse, awaken and strengthen the Intelligence, so that it may lead one through intense sadhana to success.

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I bow to Lord Vishnu the One Master of the Universe, who is ever peaceful, who reclines on the great serpent bed, from whose navel springs the Lotus of the Creative Power, who is the Supreme Being, who supports the entire universe, who is all-pervading as the sky, who is dark like the clouds and has a beautiful form; the Lord of Lakshmi, the lotus-eyed One, whom the yogis are able to perceive through meditation, He, who is the destroyer of the fear of Samsara.

Naama, Chakra and Shanka

Vishnu aspect of the Divinity.
India has two main traditions regarding the concept of God, and the modes of worship. These are Vaishnavism and Saivism. Although the outer practice of rituals differs, the inner significance of both the Faiths is the same. Vishnu is believed and pictured as having a 'Shankha' in one hand and Chakra in the other. Shankha represents sound and Chakra, the wheel of time. So also Shiva holds a Trisula in one hand representing Kaala, i.e., the past, present and future and the Damaru in the other hand symbolizing sound. Thus it will be seen that three are two essential features of the Divine, namely, (1) Time and (2) Sound - both are subservient to and controlled by him.

Vishnu symbolizes the functions taken on by divinity of sustaining, fostering, stabilizing and strengthening the creation. So, Vishnu has to incarnate often in order to save and salvage the world.

The mace is the sight of might and majesty. The Shankha in Vishnu's hand, the Damaru in Shiva's hand and Murli in Krishna's hand symbolize God's accessibility through audible praise and song. The Chakra in Vishnu's hand and Trishul in Shiva's hand is symbolic that God is the Maker and Master of time.

GarudaSignificance of Garuda as the Vehicle of Vishnu
It is the heart of man that is referred to as a bird. It carries the thought of God; it moves swiftly to where He is. His abode is Vaikuntha meaning a place where there is no shadow of grief. How far is it? It is within the hearing distance of every grief - stricken heart. "I do not dwell in Vaikuntha or in the heart of Yogis. I am present wherever my devotees sing my praise Oh Narada".

The Vishnu stotra
Viswasya Anu iti Vishnu' meaning every atom of the world is filled with His presence. We are all aware of the tremendous energy that is present in the atom. That energy is Lord Vishnu.

The Sanskrit words that appear in the Stotra describe God beautifully. They have the power to fill us with delight.

The correct address of God
People wander in the name of pilgrimage to holy places, takes bath in the sacred rivers and visit temples to find their God. All these holy places; rivers and temples are only 'care of ' address of God. The correct address is found in the Gita Chapter 18, Sloka No. 61: "Eashwaras Sarvabhootanaam Hriddeshe Tishati".

"The Lord is seated in the heart of all beings, Oh Arjuna". This stotra enables the child to understand in a delightful way the Omnipresence of God, His beauty, His Majesty and His Grace, and he is stirred to Devotion.

Meaning of Stotra
Lord Vishnu who is ever peaceful, who lies on the great serpent bed, from whose navel springs the Lotus of the Creative power, who is the controller of the Gods, whose form is the entire Universe, who is all pervading as the sky, of the hue of the clouds, of fascinating beauty, the Lord of Lakshmi, the lotus eyed, he who dwells in the heart of the Yogis and who can be approached and perceived through meditation. He who is the destroyer of fear of Samsar, we bow down to the Master of the universe.

Shantam means equanimity, unruffledness. The countenance of the Lord depicts the inner calm, happiness; balance, inner grace and mercy, the consciousness of strength and sovereignty - the very picture of peaceful calm. (All the deities exhibit this Bhava on their faces and in their stance.

Bhujaga shayanam
The Lord is the very embodiment of peace calm, though reclining on a thousand hooded snake. The snake is the symbol of the objective world, with its poisonous fangs. Being in the world but not of it, bound by it - that is the secret. Immanent in the universe, yet transcending it. The Ocean on which He reclines is symbolic of the Bhavasagar. (S.S.S.V)

This refers to the lotus arising out of the navel of the Lord; Brahma is depicted as seated on the Lotus. Brahma stands for creation. The lotus stalk represents the umbilical cord. Just as the child draws sustenance from the mother through the umbilical cord, the creation draws sustenance from the God, who is the Viswadharam or the basis of the universe.

The Lord is like the sky, Sarva vyapi, pervades everything. He is at all times, everywhere, besides His children. He is in the most distant star as well in the blade of grass. He is the core of everything, as butter in every drop of milk. A person who realizes this becomes fearless. Therefore, the Lord is called Bhavabhayaharam. Despair is sin against God. When he is in your heart, why do you lose hope?" Be always joyful, optimistic and Courageous.

The dark color of the Lord is the color of the deep sea and the vast sky. It signifies the fathomless, unfathomable. He secret is beyond us, (S.S.S.IV/p. 168). However long you try, whosoever seeks to know, by whatever means, you cannot grasp the mystery of My Majesty. Only intense study with faith of the scriptures can help you catch a glimpse of my glory. "Yogibhirdhyanagamyam".

His form is full of Loveliness and charm which radiates auspicious everywhere. (S.S.S.V)

His is the source of all wealth. He is the universal provider.

Laxmi means

  1. The five elements that sustain life,
    Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space.
  2. The Wealth of sound Indriyas and good health.
  3. The wealth of virtues.

The Lord is the master of the five elements. He is the source of all virtues. He is the provider of sound body; mind and buddhi.

The Lord is the like the lotus, unaffected by the environment where He is. That is the reason why His eyes and His feet are compared to the lotus. (S.S.S.V)

Sustainer of the universe.

Shantakaram Bhujagashayanam
The Paramaatma is present in the minutest particle; Being in everything; that remains unaffected.

That universal consciousness (Vishnu) pervades everything in creation.

He is purer than the whitest snow.

Laxmikantham Sarvalokaikanatham
That universal consciousness illumines and sustains the three worlds.

Story related to the Stotra
Lord Vishnu is described as Shantakaram; always peaceful and steady minded.

Once Sage Kashyapa was celebrating a yajna and all the sages had gathered to witness the same. Now there arose a doubt in their mind as to who was highest of all the divinities. Sage Narada replied that the Trinity - Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara were the highest of all, but Lord Vishnu was Supreme. Either praise or blame never disturbed him. He was every peaceful and in bliss. The sages asked Narada to prove it. Narada called sage Bhrigu aside, whispered something in his hear. Bhrigu was sent to verify the truth of Narada's statement.

He first went to Brahmaloka. He saw that Lord Brahma was busy in his act of Creation. From afar, Bhrigu started condemning Lord Brahma. He said "Oh! Brahma you don't have the proper knowledge of creation! Your creation is full of defects and faults. Therefore all your efforts are in vain. Not a single things in your creation is worth praising". Lord Brahma was annoyed to hear these words. He got up from his seat and came forward to punish Bhrigu. But the sage ran away from Brahmaloka. Then Bhrigu went to Shivaloka. He saw Lord Shiva engaged in Tandava Nritya. From a distance Bhrigu began to criticise Lord Shiva. He said "Oh! You are not looking after your department properly at all. Your task is to destroy the evil of the world; but the world today is full of evil. You are busy dancing the whole day and are not performing the task allotted to you, why should we worship you then?" Lord Shiva was angry to hear this and he was about to open his third eye to burn the sage, but the sage ran away from there.

Then he went to Vaikuntha. He saw Lord Vishnu resting upon the Sesha. He got very angry seeing that Lord was not coming for his devotees but seemed to be engaged in self-enjoyment; he went near Lord Vishnu and kicked hard upon his chest. Then Bhrigu was afraid of the consequences and was about to run away. But to his surprise he saw Lord Vishnu getting up from his seat falling at his feet. The Lord said, "Oh sage! please forgive me for not noticing you and ignoring you, thereby causing anger to rise in you; My iron-like chest may have injured your foot. Let me press it and comfort you". What great tolerance! What peaceful state! Bhrigu was taken back to hear these words and asked the Lord to forgive him.

Then the Sage came back to the council of the sages at the yajna and narrated the whole story. Hearing it, all the sages believed that Lord Vishnu alone was Shantaakaram and their doubt was cleared.

Namastestu Mahaamaye Shripeetha Surapoojite

Namastestu Mahaamaye Shripeetha Surapoojite
Shankha Chakra gadaahate Sri Mahalakshmi Namostu te

Goddess LakshmiExplanation
I bow down at Thy Lotus Feet. Thou art the destroyer of delusion and the source of all prosperity, who is worshipped by all the Gods, who is holding in her hands the conch shell, the discus and the club, Oh, Mahalakshmi, I bow down to Thy Lotus Feet.

Story (related to the Stotra)
When the Gods and demons were churning the ocean, in search of the Divine Nectar, of immortality, they found fourteen jewels one after the other. At one stage, while they were yet churning, there appeared Goddess Lakshmi, the daughter of the Ocean, she was beauty personified, fully decorated with lovely jewels. She had a vaijayantimala, the garland of of Vaijayanti flowers (Kind of Lotus) in her hands. As soon as the Gods and demons saw her, they had desire to marry her. So kept looking at her eagerly, to find out whom would she choose as her husband. The goddess looked around, but did not set her heart upon any one of them. Then she saw Lord Vishnu, who was resting upon Seta and was not concerned about the worldly matters. He did not even care to look at her, what of desiring then? He was ever contained and blissful within Himself. Seeing Lord Vishnu detached to the worldly matters, Goddess Lakshmi thought HIM to be the right person to be her husband. So, she went to HIM and putting her Garland round his neck, accepted HIM as her husband. Thus she acquired the seat of Sherrie (prosperity). As Lord Vishnu is possessing all such as Bhagyashree, Rajahs, Jayashree, etc., Being the consort of Lord Vishnu. She became the controller of the conch, that is power of creating sounds, the chakra, the control over the wheel of time; the Parma or Lotus is the mind and the hearts of all beings and Gad, the Mace, that is the Maya of the Lord. That is the feminine Prakrit aspect of Purusha. Thus even Gods and sages worship her.

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O Lord !
You are my mother, You are my father, You are my kinsman,
You are my friend,
You are my knowledge (wisdom),
You are My wealth (of strength, valor and power),
You are my all, My God of Gods.

Story Related

Ganesh and His brother Lord Subramanya once had a dispute as to who was the wise and should be worshiped first out of the two. The matter was referred to Lord Shiva for final decision.

Shiva decided that whoever would make a tour of the whole world and come back first to the starting point had the right to be the elder. Subramanya flew off at once on his vehicle, the peacock, to make a circuit of the world.

But the wise Ganesh went, in loving worship, around His divine parents and asked for that he be declared as having won the race.

Lord Shiva said, "Beloved and wise Ganesh! But how can I give you the prize; you did not go around the world?"

Ganesh replied, "No, but I have gone around my parents. My parents represent the entire manifested universe!" Thus the dispute was settled in favor of Lord Ganesh. Mother Parvati also gave Him a fruit as a prize for this victory.

Aumkaaram Bindu Samyuktam

Aumkaaram Bindu Samyuktam
Nityam Dhyaayanti Yoginah
Kaamadam Mokshadam Chaiva
Aumkaaraaya Namo Namah

Aumkaaram - The yogis always meditate upon the Aumkar with the Bindu (dot). We bow done to the Aumkar, that is eternal that grants us liberation. The Aum written with a Bindu (dot) signifies that we are but a drop from the Aum - the sound of all creation. The smallest unit of the Ocean is a drop. Each drop tastes as salty as the Ocean but it is not the Ocean. Yet it can merge back into the Ocean when it evaporates, and falls back as rain.

In the same way, every individual is a spark of divinity and has all the necessary qualities to become ONE with Him. It is for the individual to rise like water vapor by putting Ideals into daily practice. It is this striving for excellence that will return Man to God, just as the rain drop merges back into the sea.

The AUM is the sound symbol - the supreme of God. To know the AUM is to know the secret of the universe. AUM is the abode of the soul. The chanting of AUM twenty one times has a special significance. The day at Puttaparti starts with the chanting of twenty-one AUMS.

We have five senses of action ( Karmendhriyas), five senses of knowledge (jnaanendhriyas), five vital airs (Pranas), and five bodies' sheaths (Koshas). The recitation of AUM purifies and clarifies all these 20 components and makes man the 21st entity. Chanting of AUM raises our consciousness for final emergence with the Lord almighty. AUM brings peace and bliss for the body, mind and the soul.

Asato maa Sadgamaya

Asato maa Sadgamaya
Tamaso maa Jyotirgamaya
Mrityorma Amritam gamaya
Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih

Lead me
From untruth to truth
From darkness to light
From death to immortality

(From the transient world of decay lead me to the everlasting world of Bliss. Let the effulgence of Thy Grace illumine by being with Truth. Save me from this cycle of birth and death and destroy the craving of the mind, which produce the seeds of birth).

Explanation with example

When the room is dark, we stumble and fall; we are terrorized by imaginary fears; a number of insects move about freely and make us uncomfortable. When we put on the light, we are comfortable and happy, so also when our minds are dark, the pests of Moha, Lobha, Mada, Matsarya, Kama and Krodha trouble us and make our lives miserable. So we pray to God to illumine our minds.

Ignorance is like darkness. In this darkness, we fail to see that we are all related to one another and to God, by the kinship of Atma. This gives rise to greed, envy, jealousy, hatred and anger. These evil tendencies make our lives miserable. Hence we pray for the light of Jnana, which dissolves all the differences.

Relative Story

When the Lord is pleased with us, what boon will we ask him to grant us? To pass us in an examination? Or to give us lots of money? Then what else? The only treasure in this world that one should possess is true knowledge and the knowledge is light: That knowledge is self-realization.

Once there lived a king called Uddalaa. He was once performing a yajna. In that sacrifice, he was giving away a lot of wealth, cows, etc. His little son Nachiketa was sitting by his side and was observing all that was going on. Though young in age, he was very intelligent. He understood the vanity and deceit of his father, in giving away all the barren cows. He felt a great pain heart. In order to save his father from sins, he asked the father, "Oh! My dear father! To whom are you giving me away?" The father didn't reply for some time. When asked repeatedly, he got angry and said "My son, I am giving you away to Yamaraja". Nachiketa was very pleased. He at once went to the abode of Yamaraja. But to his great disappointment Yamaraja was not in Yamapuri. He had gone out for some urgent work.

Nachiketa had to wait for three days and three nights at the door of Yamaraja's palace. At last on the fourth day Yamaraja returned. Seeing this little boy at his gates, Yamaraja was quite amused. He offered the boy three boons, as the boy had to wait for three days. The first boon Nachiketa asked for was to forgive his father for his ignorance. The second one was to cool his father's anger. And the third one was to bestow upon him the knowledge of self-realization. Lord Yama didn't want to grant the third boon. He tempted the child with many worldly attractions and pleasures. But nothing could change the child's mind. His only prayer was Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya.

He wanted to go from mortality to immortality. At last seeing the child's perseverance, Lord Yama had to grant the boon to Naciketa.

We too mustn't ask for worldly pleasures, as they are all just temporary. But immorality is everlasting.

Om Sarve vai Sukhinas Santu

Om Sarve Vai Sukhinas Santu

Om Sarve vai Sukhinas Santu
Sarve Santu niraamayaah
Sarve Bhadraani pashyantu
Ma Kaschid dukkhamaapnuyaat
Om Shantih Shantih Shantih

May all be happy, May all be healthy (free from disease). May all see auspiciousness. May none suffer. Peace for self, peace for neighbours, peace for all over the world.

Story related to the prayer

Yudhishthira was well known as Dharmaja and was very virtuous and righteous man. His life was full of pure, holy and divine actions. Since he had not committed any sins in his life he had earned a lot of merit. But alas! There was a tiny little spot upon his pure meritorious life.

During the Kurushetra war, Pandavas fought against the Kauravas and also their Guru Dronacharya. Krishna new it was difficult to defeat Dronocharya. If only Drona would keep known his weapons and refuse to fight, then alone it could be possible to defeat him. But how would Drona keep down his weapons? He loved his only son Ashwathama very dearly. If at all Drona would get news that Ashwatthama was dead, then he would keep his weapons down in dejection. But Drona would not believe in the rumors. He would confirm the truth from Yudhishthira, as Yudhishthira spoke nothing but truth. How to convince Yudhishthira to speak a life?

Lord Krishna thought of a plan. An elephant named Ashwatthama was killed. Krishna then told Yudhishthitra, if Drona asked him "Was Ashwattham dead?" he should say loudly "Yes" and then in murmuring voice ujks ok dq.tjks ok say whether it is an elephant or a man, I do not know. According to the plan everything was done and, as Lord Krishna had expected Drona went to Yudhishthira to confirm the truth. Yudhishthira replied in the words that he had learnt by heart. Now, though Yudhishthira did not speak a lie, yet it was partly a lie, because Yudhishthira knew that it was not a man Ashwatthama, but an elephant that had died. This little act made a small spot of sin on his life.

At the end of Yudhishthira's life, he had to account for his actions. As a result of this little act, he had to spend just a few moments in the hell first and then he could go to heaven to enjoy for all his merits. Yudhishthira readily agreed to it. When he entered hell, those who were there suffering and undergoing a torture suddenly experienced calmness, coolness and joy, due to Dharmaja's presence. They began to experience such great joy, which they had never experienced before. Dharmaja noticed the change in hell. He was so loving, compassionate and merciful; that he always felt that other's joy was his own. He pleaded to Lord Yama and said "Oh Lord, what is the use of the human life, if one does not understand the brotherhood of mankind? I think these people in the hell need my presence. Therefore, I offer all my merits to them. I am willing to stay in the hell for the sake of their happiness. Let all be happy. Let not any one suffer, let all seek peace. "What a great sacrifice! Lord Yama was very pleased; he at once released all the people from the hell. Do you know what reward Yudhishthira got? By offering his merits to others, he earned thousand folded merits than what he had before.

One should pray like Yudhisthira, for the universal good, for the happiness and joy of all mankind; we pray for our own self. We may pray for our relatives, friends or neighbors. But Yudhishthira prayed for those whom he did not know, who were neither his friends nor relatives. He had realized the brotherhood of man.


This Stotra is to the Mahashakti, the great Divine Force that fosters and feeds the universe. She is the Great Teacher and Inspirer Maha Saraswati, the Great provider and sustainer - Mahalaxmi and the great Protector - Durga - she is the destroyer of evil forces within and without man.

God is mother. With motherly love, God educates feeds and protects His children from all harms. The Goddess of Victory (Durga), smiles on the heroic, those who make Lions of themselves, hardly, brave and adventurous warriors. That is the significance of the Lion or Tiger as the vehicle of Goddess Durga. If you secure the Grace of the Lord, you are reinforced with lionize strength.


The Supreme energies of loch, Kurita and Janna are embodied in the divine principles of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati.

Kriya Shakti is the source of all wealth and prosperity. Our act of inhaling and exhaling is wealth, our words are wealth.

Saraswati resides in us as power of speech and power of knowledge.

Durga resides in us as will power and as energy. Without them no function of the body can take place. The energy that we have in our body is a form of Durga. We should not waste this energy through bad thoughts, bad words and bad deeds.

We have to pray: 'Oh Mother! You are residing in me in the form of energy. May you flow through me so that I can use it only for proper things".

The food you take is the very Lakshmi. We should not waste even a small particle. Even water should not be wasted. All the five elements are the form of Lakshmi.


Thou art the all auspicious Shiva (Shakti aspect), the bountiful;
I prostrate myself at Thy feet.
O Triyambaks (Three eyed one), Gauri (the one with a fair complexion, Parvathi) Naraayani.

Thou are the auspicious Shiva (Spouse of Shiva) the bountiful. I prostrate myself at the feet. O - Tryambaka (Spouse of Tryambaka - Shiva who has three eyes). Guari (the one with fair yellowish complexion, Parvati), Narayani (the sister of Lord Narayana). This prayer is to Mother Parvati.

Story (related to Stotra)
Goddess Parvati has motherly affection for her devotees. She is auspicious and blesses her devotees by removing their delusion and protecting them.

Once a Brahmin boy named Narendranath was bathing in the river Yamuna. Suddenly there came a crocodile and caught hold of the boy. The boy began to call the Goddess Parvati. He cried in such a sympathetic tone, that the Goddess on Kailash Mountain was moved. She came rushing to the spot. She showered all Her strength, Knowledge and auspicious upon him in order to save the boy. The strength of her austerity was so great that it made the boy shine with effulgence, which the crocodile could not stand. The crocodile left Narendranath and disappeared in the water.

We are all like Narendranath caught by the crocodile of delusion, while trying to swim the waters of worldly ocean. If we pray to Goddess Parvati, who is Auspicious, Mercy and Bliss, then she bestows upon us such strength that helps us to escape the delusion and to get liberation.


(i.e. Brahman remains unaffected, retains His/Its fullness and completeness.)

Let there be no discard anywhere in the world. Let peace prevail.


Mahatma Gandhiji said that even if all the Upanishads and other scriptures happened all of a sudden to be reduced to ashes and if only this shloka were left in the memory of Hindus, Hinduism would live forever.

God pervades all all this that we see in the Universe. Therefore we must give up the idea of 'I' and 'Mine', accept gratefully whatever is given to us by God and use it sharing it with our fellow beings. Eschew all feelings of greed and selfishness. Remember that everything really belongs to God alone.

These two Upanishad shlokas teach us that we should cultivate a sense of constant awareness of the Omnipresence of the Lord and his presence in all beings. We should have love for all beings and have a spirit of surrender to God who is the all-pervading truth and the reality immanent in all beings and things.

"Listen to the primeval Pranava, OM, resounding in your heart as well as in the heart of the Universe".

OM is the sacred symbol for the Hindus. For them it is synonymous or equivalent to God. It is also called the Mahaamantra, the best aid and means for man to realize God.

In the timeless beginning it is said Brahman alone was. It was a nature of supreme silence. Out of this emerged the Naada Brahman or the sound aspect and expression of God. This was the primeval sound OMKAARA. Out of this primeval sound emerged the creation composed of the five elements: space, air, and water, fire and earth. OMKAARA is the life principle of creation. That is why it is also called Pranava meaning that which runs through Praana or pervades all life. There is a lot of literary work available on the significance of this word. No where in the world can we find another sacred symbol that has got such a vast significance.

The entire history of this syllable is given in the Vedas and Upanishads.

There is a Vedic Verse as follows:

"In the beginning was prajapati, The Brahman with whom was the word, the word itself was the supreme Brahman".

The same idea is expressed in the Gospel of St. John in the New Testament:

"In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God". OM is itself God and it is also a means for realizing God. Other faiths too have a holy word like this OM but is in a little different form. To the Christians it is Amen. Muslims call it Amin; although their interpretation and usage is not quite identical with that of OM.

Om symbolizes the names and forms of personal God. Since it is difficult to concentrate on a formless (Niraakaara) Brahman we have various forms of Goddess and God suited to our liking so we have the tradition of Ishta devataas. OM however encompasses all the names and forms of God.

Every name has a key letter-Beeja Akshara. Based on this A is believed to represent Brahmaa, U - Vishnu & M - Maheshwara as OM encompasses the triple aspect of God. Since Saraswatee resides on the tongue of Brahmaa and Lakshmi on the Vakshasthala of Vishnu OM includes the names of these two Goddesses as well. Paaravati being the shakti aspect of Shiva and a part and parcel of the half form of Shiva, who is Ardhanaareeshwara, the half male and female form, the M symbol of OM indicating 'Maheshwara' thus includes Paarvati also. In other words all forms of God respond when OM is chanted. If we say OM, we are instantly connected to Baba, is symbolized by the pranava and the supporting sounds A, U and M represent Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrugna respectively.

OM is the material and basis of the world of sounds and is the basis for the science and phenomenon of phonetics. All sounds and words have their origin in pranava shabda. All sounds that can be produced or uttered by combination of different letters or any alphabet come under the three main sounds produced by A, U and M. Since it (pranava shabda) contains all the breath sounds. It is said the OM is the sum and substance of the Vedas. Pranava contains all the names; is the basis of all different forms of worship and all names by which God is adored.

OM represents all the states of consciousness, the physical as well as the spiritual and our awareness from the physical to the transcendental (divine) state.

The Upanishads say that OM represents self (the non-dual reality, Brahman or Atmaa). This self has four states of Consciousness -

  1. Waking - Jagrat
  2. Dreaming - Swapna
  3. Deep Sleep - sushupti
    Most of us experience these 3 states.
  4. Tureeyaavasthaa - higher plane of consciousness (only Yogis experience this) This is also the Samaadhi Avasthaa. Thus we see that OM signifies all these four states of consciousness.
    A represents waking state
    U represents Dream State
    M represents deep Sleep State

When OM is pronounced there is a tailing silence (Ashabda). This rich humming sound of silence is Amaatra OM, self or Atmaa. This is the basis and substratum of our very being (state of divine consciousness).

Om must be chanted as slowly as possible. A emerging from the throat (originating in the region of the navel and U rolling over the tongue in the ascending tone until the sound reaches the peak and ending in M at the lips. Then, it must take a curve at M and descend as slowly as it rose, taking as much time as it took to ascend, and with Amaatra OM it must gradually merge into the silence reverberating in the cavity of the heart.

One who has a subtle ear can hear OM, proclaiming the Lord's presence in every sound. All five elements vibrate with this sound. Like the temple bell ringing AUM, the OM sound constantly goes on silently in our body. This silent sounds in our sushumnaa naadi, which our gross hearing facility cannot hear; is AUM only. It goes on humming "SOHAM". SO means HE and HAM meaning I (Aham) (individual self). Thus it is a medium connecting Man to God.

The names of God although they are great in themselves need to be preceded by OM. Before any ritual or worship, a Ganesha pooja is done. Likewise OM has to precede all sacred chartings, even chanting of the Name of Ganesha who is Himself Pranavaakaara.

We say "OM GANESHAAYA NAMAH" etc. It is therefore understood that when OM is added as prefix to any name or mantra the power of the Mantra or name increases several folds.


Vaikharee - first stage of sound process (incantation) when it is repeated in a loud voice (to concentrate the mind).

The second stage is Madhyamaa where the sound process (incantation) is not heard but only the lips move. It is a stage between sound and soundlessness.

The third stage is Pashyantee where it is soundless. There is no open or covered recitation but Japa still goes on in mind without an effort.

The Fourth paraa stage of Japa the Mantra itself is forgotten and only its impact remains. This is the Tureeya State of complete bliss, happiness and joy.

We have to practice OMKAARA chanting with a conscious effort. We can also add the name of our Ishta-Devataa to it. This process of chanting should become a part and parcel of ourselves like our breathing.

OMKAARA bestows liberation and immortality and unites us with the God forever. In the 8th chapter of the Bhagwad Geetaa the "Aksharaparabrahmayoga" Lord Krishna says, "uttering the one syllable OM, Brahman and remembering me, he who departs leaving the body attains the supreme goal".

OM chanting should be our constant hobby. Unless our breathing is deep, rhythmic and regulated our physical health suffers and mental calm and peace is disturbed. OM chanting helps us to regulate our breathing. It also bestows on us mental calm and peace. Our power of concentration and memory power increases.

Let OM chanting be our constant companion from today. Let our mind cling to it. With every single chanting of OM, we are sure to reach his lotus feet and become nearest and dearest to him.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ujjayi Breating

Breathing Exercise (Pranayama) - Ujjayi (Loud Breathing)
Breathing is life. It is one of our most vital functions. One of the Five Principles of Yoga is Pranayama or Breathing Exercise which promotes proper breathing. Proper Breathing, in a Yogic point of view, is to bring more oxygen to the blood and to the brain, and to control prana or the vital life energy. Pranayama - the science of breath control; consists a series of exercises intended to meet these needs and to keep the body in vibrant Health.

Benefits of Ujjayi

Ujjayi strengthens the Nervous and digestive systems and gets rid of the phlegm. According to the Ancient Yogic Text, diseases are caused by an excess of either phlegm, wind or bile.

The Practice of Ujjayi (Loud Breathing)

Ujjayi This consists in drawing air in through both nostrils with the glottis held partially closed. Ujjayi translates as "what clears the throat and masters the chest area." This partial closure of the glottis produces a sound like that heard in sobbing, except that it is continuous and unbroken. The sound should have a low but uniform pitch and be pleasant to hear. Friction of air in the nose should be avoided; consequently no nasal sounds will be heard. A prolonged full pause should begin, without any jerking, as soon as Inhalation has been completed. Closure of glottis, use of chin lock and closure of both nostrils are standard. Prolong the pause as long as possible; but it should be terminated and exhalation commenced smoothly and slowly. When properly performed, exhalation proceeds slowly and steadily through the left nostril with the glottis partially closed as in inhalation. One may begin to exhale with release of air pressure by lifting the finger from his left nostril, loosening his chin lock and then partially opening his glottis. Exhalation should be complete.

Variations of Ujjayi Breathing

Ujjayi Breathing has many variations. For example, we can breathe in through the throat, then completely close one nostril and breathe out through the other nostril, which is only partly closed. This technique is called an Anuloma Ujjayi. In a Pranayama technique called Viloma ujjayi, we breathe in through the nostril and breathe out through the throat. These techniques are used to lengthen the inhalation and adapt techniques of the Anuloma Viloma Breathing Technique. In Ujjayi Pranayama, it is important to follow this rule: "When we regulate the breath through the nostril, we never breathe through the throat at the same time".

Although the total length of time required for a single Cycle of Breathing will vary with different persons, certain ratios of the periods needed for inhaling, pausing and exhaling are recommended. The period occupied by exhaling should be about twice as long as that occupied by inhaling. Practice inhaling and exhaling without a full pause. Then, when you feel ready, hold your breathing for a pause which is comfortable. With continued practice, this pause can be extended to a duration which is double that of the inhalation or equal to that of the exhalation. Advanced practitioners of Yoga hold their pauses to four times the duration of inhalation and double the duration of exhalation.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Patanjali Yoga Sutras

Patanjali Yoga Sutras

Part One

1.1 Now, instruction in Union.
1.2. Union is restraining the thought-streams natural to the mind.
1.3. Then the seer dwells in his own nature.
1.4. Otherwise he is of the same form as the thought-streams.
1.5. The thought-streams are five-fold, painful and not painful.
1.6. Right knowledge, wrong knowledge, fancy, sleep and memory.
1.7. Right knowledge is inference, tradition and genuine cognition.
1.8. Wrong knowledge is false, illusory, erroneous beliefs or notions.
1.9. Fancy is following after word-knowledge empty of substance.
1.10. Deep sleep is the modification of the mind which has for its substratum nothingness.
1.11. Memory is not allowing mental impressions to escape.
1.12. These thought-streams are controlled by practice and non-attachment.
1.13. Practice is the effort to secure steadiness.
1.14. This practice becomes well-grounded when continued with reverent devotion and without interruption over a long period of time.
1.15. Desirelessness towards the seen and the unseen gives the consciousness of mastery.
1.16. This is signified by an indifference to the three attributes, due to knowledge of the Indweller.
1.17. Cognitive meditation is accompanied by reasoning, discrimination, bliss and the sense of 'I am.'
1.18. There is another meditation which is attained by the practice of alert mental suspension until only subtle impressions remain.
1.19. For those beings who are formless and for those beings who are merged in unitive consciousness, the world is the cause.
1.20. For others, clarity is preceded by faith, energy, memory and equalminded contemplation.
1.21. Equalminded contemplation is nearest to those whose desire is most ardent.
1.22. There is further distinction on account of the mild, moderate or intense means employed.
1.23. Or by surrender to God.
1.24. God is a particular yet universal indweller, untouched by afflictions, actions, impressions and their results.
1.25. In God, the seed of omniscience is unsurpassed.
1.26. Not being conditioned by time, God is the teacher of even the ancients.
1.27. God's voice is Om.
1.28. The repetition of Om should be made with an understanding of its meaning.
1.29. From that is gained introspection and also the disappearance of obstacles.
1.30. Disease, inertia, doubt, lack of enthusiasm, laziness, sensuality, mind-wandering, missing the point, instability- these distractions of the mind are the obstacles.
1.31. Pain, despair, nervousness, and disordered inspiration and expiration are co-existent with these obstacles.
1.32. For the prevention of the obstacles, one truth should be practiced constantly.
1.33. By cultivating friendliness towards happiness and compassion towards misery, gladness towards virtue and indifference towards vice, the mind becomes pure.
1.34. Optionally, mental equanimity may be gained by the even expulsion and retention of energy.
1.35. Or activity of the higher senses causes mental steadiness.
1.36. Or the state of sorrowless Light.
1.37. Or the mind taking as an object of concentration those who are freed of compulsion.
1.38. Or depending on the knowledge of dreams and sleep.
1.39. Or by meditation as desired.
1.40. The mastery of one in Union extends from the finest atomic particle to the greatest infinity.
1.41. When the agitations of the mind are under control, the mind becomes like a transparent crystal and has the power of becoming whatever form is presented. knower, act of knowing, or what is known.
1.42. The argumentative condition is the confused mixing of the word, its right meaning, and knowledge.
1.43. When the memory is purified and the mind shines forth as the object alone, it is called non-argumentative.
1.44. In this way the meditative and the ultra-meditative having the subtle for their objects are also described.
1.45. The province of the subtle terminates with pure matter that has no pattern or distinguishing mark.
1.46. These constitute seeded contemplations.
1.47. On attaining the purity of the ultra-meditative state there is the pure flow of spiritual consciousness.
1.48. Therein is the faculty of supreme wisdom.
1.49. The wisdom obtained in the higher states of consciousness is different from that obtained by inference and testimony as it refers to particulars.
1.50. The habitual pattern of thought stands in the way of other impressions.
1.51. With the suppression of even that through the suspension of all modifications of the mind, contemplation without seed is attained.

End Part One.

Part Two

On Spiritual Disciplines

2.1 Austerity, the study of sacred texts, and the dedication of action to God constitute the discipline of Mystic Union.
2.2 This discipline is practised for the purpose of acquiring fixity of mind on the Lord, free from all impurities and agitations, or on One's Own Reality, and for attenuating the afflictions.
2.3 The five afflictions are ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and the desire to cling to life.
2.4 Ignorance is the breeding place for all the others whether they are dormant or attenuated, partially overcome or fully operative.
2.5 Ignorance is taking the non-eternal for the eternal, the impure for the pure, evil for good and non-self as self.
2.6 Egoism is the identification of the power that knows with the instruments of knowing.
2.7 Attachment is that magnetic pattern which clusters in pleasure and pulls one towards such experience.
2.8 Aversion is the magnetic pattern which clusters in misery and pushes one from such experience.
2.9 Flowing by its own energy, established even in the wise and in the foolish, is the unending desire for life.
2.10 These patterns when subtle may be removed by developing their contraries.
2.11 Their active afflictions are to be destroyed by meditation.
2.12 The impressions of works have their roots in afflictions and arise as experience in the present and the future births.
2.13 When the root exists, its fruition is birth, life and experience.
2.14 They have pleasure or pain as their fruit, according as their cause be virtue or vice.
2.15 All is misery to the wise because of the pains of change, anxiety, and purificatory acts.
2.16 The grief which has not yet come may be avoided.
2.17 The cause of the avoidable is the superimposition of the external world onto the unseen world.
2.18 The experienced world consists of the elements and the senses in play. It is of the nature of cognition, activity and rest, and is for the purpose of experience and realization.
2.19 The stages of the attributes effecting the experienced world are the specialized and the unspecialized, the differentiated and the undifferentiated.
2.20 The indweller is pure consciousness only, which though pure, sees through the mind and is identified by ego as being only the mind.
2.21 The very existence of the seen is for the sake of the seer.
2.22 Although Creation is discerned as not real for the one who has achieved the goal, it is yet real in that Creation remains the common experience to others.
2.23 The association of the seer with Creation is for the distinct recognition of the objective world, as well as for the recognition of the distinct nature of the seer.
2.24 The cause of the association is ignorance.
2.25 Liberation of the seer is the result of the dissassociation of the seer and the seen, with the disappearance of ignorance.
2.26 The continuous practice of discrimination is the means of attaining liberation.
2.27 Steady wisdom manifests in seven stages.
2.28 On the destruction of impurity by the sustained practice of the limbs of Union, the light of knowledge reveals the faculty of discrimination.
2.29 The eight limbs of Union are self-restraint in actions, fixed observance, posture, regulation of energy, mind-control in sense engagements, concentration, meditation, and realization.
2.30 Self-restraint in actions includes abstention from violence, from falsehoods, from stealing, from sexual engagements, and from acceptance of gifts.
2.31 These five willing abstentions are not limited by rank, place, time or circumstance and constitute the Great Vow.
2.32 The fixed observances are cleanliness, contentment, austerity, study and persevering devotion to God.
2.33 When improper thoughts disturb the mind, there should be constant pondering over the opposites.
2.34 Improper thoughts and emotions such as those of violence- whether done, caused to be done, or even approved of- indeed, any thought originating in desire, anger or delusion, whether mild medium or intense- do all result in endless pain and misery. Overcome such distractions by pondering on the opposites.
2.35 When one is confirmed in non-violence, hostility ceases in his presence.
2.36 When one is firmly established in speaking truth, the fruits of action become subservient to him.
2.37 All jewels approach him who is confirmed in honesty.
2.38 When one is confirmed in celibacy, spiritual vigor is gained.
2.39 When one is confirmed in non-possessiveness, the knowledge of the why and how of existence is attained.
2.40 From purity follows a withdrawal from enchantment over one's own body as well as a cessation of desire for physical contact with others.
2.41 As a result of contentment there is purity of mind, one-pointedness, control of the senses, and fitness for the vision of the self.
2.42 Supreme happiness is gained via contentment.
2.43 Through sanctification and the removal of impurities, there arise special powers in the body and senses.
2.44 By study comes communion with the Lord in the Form most admired.
2.45 Realization is experienced by making the Lord the motive of all actions.
2.46 The posture should be steady and comfortable.
2.47 In effortless relaxation, dwell mentally on the Endless with utter attention.
2.48 From that there is no disturbance from the dualities.
2.49 When that exists, control of incoming and outgoing energies is next.
2.50 It may be external, internal, or midway, regulated by time, place, or number, and of brief or long duration.
2.51 Energy-control which goes beyond the sphere of external and internal is the fourth level- the vital.
2.52 In this way, that which covers the light is destroyed.
2.53 Thus the mind becomes fit for concentration.
2.54 When the mind maintains awareness, yet does not mingle with the senses, nor the senses with sense impressions, then self-awareness blossoms.
2.55 In this way comes mastery over the senses.

End Part Two

Part Three

On Divine Powers

3.1 One-pointedness is steadfastness of the mind.
3.2 Unbroken continuation of that mental ability is meditation.
3.3 That same meditation when there is only consciousness of the object of meditation and not of the mind is realization.
3.4 The three appearing together are self-control.
3.5 By mastery comes wisdom.
3.6 The application of mastery is by stages.
3.7 The three are more efficacious than the restraints.
3.8 Even that is external to the seedless realization.
3.9 The significant aspect is the union of the mind with the moment of absorption, when the outgoing thought disappears and the absorptive experience appears.
3.10 From sublimation of this union comes the peaceful flow of unbroken unitive cognition.
3.11 The contemplative transformation of this is equalmindedness, witnessing the rise and destruction of distraction as well as one-pointedness itself.
3.12 The mind becomes one-pointed when the subsiding and rising thought-waves are exactly similar.
3.13 In this state, it passes beyond the changes of inherent characteristics, properties and the conditional modifications of object or sensory recognition.
3.14 The object is that which preserves the latent characteristic, the rising characteristic or the yet-to-be-named characteristic that establishes one entity as specific.
3.15 The succession of these changes in that entity is the cause of its modification.
3.16 By self-control over these three-fold changes (of property, character and condition), knowledge of the past and the future arises.
3.17 The sound of a word, the idea behind the word, and the object the idea signfies are often taken as being one thing and may be mistaken for one another. By self-control over their distinctions, understanding of all languages of all creatures arises.
3.18 By self-control on the perception of mental impressions, knowledge of previous lives arises.
3.19 By self-control on any mark of a body, the wisdom of the mind activating that body arises.
3.20 By self-control on the form of a body, by suspending perceptibility and separating effulgence therefrom, there arises invisibility and inaudibilty.
3.21 Action is of two kinds, dormant and fruitful. By self-control on such action, one portends the time of death.
3.22 By performing self-control on friendliness, the strength to grant joy arises.
3.23 By self-control over any kind of strength, such as that of the elephant, that very strength arises.
3.24 By self-control on the primal activator comes knowledge of the hidden, the subtle, and the distant.
3.25 By self-control on the Sun comes knowledge of spatial specificities.
3.26 By self-control on the Moon comes knowledge of the heavens.
3.27 By self-control on the Polestar arises knowledge of orbits.
3.28 By self-control on the navel arises knowledge of the constitution of the body.
3.29 By self-control on the pit of the throat one subdues hunger and thirst.
3.30 By self-control on the tube within the chest one acquires absolute steadiness.
3.31 By self-control on the light in the head one envisions perfected beings.
3.32 There is knowledge of everything from intuition.
3.33 Self-control on the heart brings knowledge of the mental entity.
3.34 Experience arises due to the inability of discerning the attributes of vitality from the indweller, even though they are indeed distinct from one another. Self-control brings true knowledge of the indweller by itself.
3.35 This spontaneous enlightenment results in intuitional perception of hearing, touching, seeing and smelling.
3.36 To the outward turned mind, the sensory organs are perfections, but are obstacles to realization.
3.37 When the bonds of the mind caused by action have been loosened, one may enter the body of another by knowledge of how the nerve-currents function.
3.38 By self-control of the nerve-currents utilising the lifebreath, one may levitate, walk on water, swamps, thorns, or the like.
3.39 By self-control over the maintenance of breath, one may radiate light.
3.40 By self-control on the relation of the ear to the ether one gains distant hearing.
3.41 By self-control over the relation of the body to the ether, and maintaining at the same time the thought of the lightness of cotton, one is able to pass through space.
3.42 By self-control on the mind when it is separated from the body- the state known as the Great Transcorporeal- all coverings are removed from the Light.
3.43 Mastery over the elements arises when their gross and subtle forms,as well as their essential characteristics, and the inherent attributes and experiences they produce, is examined in self-control.
3.44 Thereby one may become as tiny as an atom as well as having many other abilities, such as perfection of the body, and non-resistence to duty.
3.45 Perfection of the body consists in beauty, grace, strength and adamantine hardness.
3.46 By self-control on the changes that the sense-organs endure when contacting objects, and on the power of the sense of identity, and of the influence of the attributes, and the experience all these produce- one masters the senses.
3.47 From that come swiftness of mind, independence of perception, and mastery over primoridal matter.
3.48 To one who recognizes the distinctive relation between vitality and indweller comes omnipotence and omniscience.
3.49 Even for the destruction of the seed of bondage by desirelessness there comes absolute independence.
3.50 When invited by invisible beings one should be neither flattered nor satisfied, for there is yet a possibility of ignorance rising up.
3.51 By self-control over single moments and their succession there is wisdom born of discrimination.
3.52 From that there is recognition of two similars when that difference cannot be distinguished by class, characteristic or position.
3.53 Intuition, which is the entire discriminative knowledge, relates to all objects at all times, and is without succession.
3.54 Liberation is attained when there is equal purity between vitality and the indweller.

End Part Three

Part Four

On Realizations

4.1 Psychic powers arise by birth, drugs, incantations, purificatory acts or concentrated insight.
4.2 Transformation into another state is by the directed flow of creative nature.
4.3 Creative nature is not moved into action by any incidental cause, but by the removal of obstacles, as in the case of a farmer clearing his field of stones for irrigation.
4.4 Created minds arise from egoism alone.
4.5 There being difference of interest, one mind is the director of many minds.
4.6 Of these, the mind born of concentrated insight is free from the impressions.
4.7 The impressions of unitive cognition are neither good nor bad. In the case of the others, there are three kinds of impressions.
4.8 From them proceed the development of the tendencies which bring about the fruition of actions.
4.9 Because of the magnetic qualities of habitual mental patterns and memory, a relationship of cause and effect clings even though there may be a change of embodiment by class, space and time.
4.10 The desire to live is eternal, and the thought-clusters prompting a sense of identity are beginningless.
4.11 Being held together by cause and effect, substratum and object- the tendencies themselves disappear on the dissolution of these bases.
4.12 The past and the future exist in the object itself as form and expression, there being difference in the conditions of the properties.
4.13 Whether manifested or unmanifested they are of the nature of the attributes.
4.14 Things assume reality because of the unity maintained within that modification.
4.15 Even though the external object is the same, there is a difference of cognition in regard to the object because of the difference in mentality.
4.16 And if an object known only to a single mind were not cognized by that mind, would it then exist?
4.17 An object is known or not known by the mind, depending on whether or not the mind is colored by the object.
4.18 The mutations of awareness are always known on account of the changelessness of its Lord, the indweller.
4.19 Nor is the mind self-luminous, as it can be known.
4.20 It is not possible for the mind to be both the perceived and the perceiver simultaneously.
4.21 In the case of cognition of one mind by another, we would have to assume cognition of cognition, and there would be confusion of memories.
4.22 Consciousness appears to the mind itself as intellect when in that form in which it does not pass from place to place.
4.23 The mind is said to perceive when it reflects both the indweller (the knower) and the objects of perception (the known).
4.24 Though variegated by innumerable tendencies, the mind acts not for itself but for another, for the mind is of compound substance.
4.25 For one who sees the distinction, there is no further confusing of the mind with the self.
4.26 Then the awareness begins to discriminate, and gravitates towards liberation.
4.27 Distractions arise from habitual thought patterns when practice is intermittent.
4.28 The removal of the habitual thought patterns is similar to that of the afflictions already described.
4.29 To one who remains undistracted in even the highest intellection there comes the equalminded realization known as The Cloud of Virtue. This is a result of discriminative discernment.
4.30 From this there follows freedom from cause and effect and afflictions.
4.31 The infinity of knowledge available to such a mind freed of all obscuration and property makes the universe of sensory perception seem small.
4.32 Then the sequence of change in the three attributes comes to an end, for they have fulfilled their function.
4.33 The sequence of mutation occurs in every second, yet is comprehensible only at the end of a series.
4.34 When the attributes cease mutative association with awarenessness, they resolve into dormancy in Nature, and the indweller shines forth as pure consciousness. This is absolute freedom.

End Part Four

Monday, January 5, 2009

Eightfold Path

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means "eight limbs" (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one's health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.

The first limb, yama, deals with one's ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The five yamas are:

Ahimsa: nonviolence

Satya: truthfulness

Asteya: nonstealing

Brahmacharya: continence

Aparigraha: noncovetousness

Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice.

The five niyamas are:

Saucha: cleanliness

Samtosa: contentment

Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities

Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one's self

Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God


Asanas, the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third limb. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.


Generally translated as breath control, this fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. As implied by the literal translation of pranayama, "life force extension," yogis believe that it not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.

These first four stages of Patanjali's ashtanga yoga concentrate on refining our personalities, gaining mastery over the body, and developing an energetic awareness of ourselves, all of which prepares us for the second half of this journey, which deals with the senses, the mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness.


Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. Keenly aware of, yet cultivating a detachment from, our senses, we direct our attention internally. The practice of pratyahara provides us with an opportunity to step back and take a look at ourselves. This withdrawal allows us to objectively observe our cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth.


As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or concentration. Having relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. No easy task! In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, we learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound. We, of course, have already begun to develop our powers of concentration in the previous three stages of posture, breath control, and withdrawal of the senses. In asana and pranayama, although we pay attention to our actions, our attention travels. Our focus constantly shifts as we fine-tune the many nuances of any particular posture or breathing technique. In pratyahara we become self-observant; now, in dharana, we focus our attention on a single point. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation.


Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be one and the same, a fine line of distinction exists between these two stages. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all. The strength and stamina it takes to reach this state of stillness is quite impressive. But don't give up. While this may seem a difficult if not impossible task, remember that yoga is a process. Even though we may not attain the "picture perfect" pose, or the ideal state of consciousness, we benefit at every stage of our progress.


Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of ashtanga as a state of ecstasy. At this stage, the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether. The meditator comes to realize a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things. With this realization comes the "peace that passeth all understanding"; the experience of bliss and being at one with the Universe. On the surface, this may seem to be a rather lofty, "holier than thou" kind of goal. However, if we pause to examine what we really want to get out of life, would not joy, fulfillment, and freedom somehow find their way onto our list of hopes, wishes, and desires? What Patanjali has described as the completion of the yogic path is what, deep down, all human beings aspire to: peace. We also might give some thought to the fact that this ultimate stage of yoga—enlightenment—can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced, the price of which is the continual devotion of the aspirant.