Friday, 27 April 2012

DEVI MAHATYAM: 108 DAY HIGHLIGHTS


## COMMENTS DISABLED FOR THIS POST ###


Note (2015):
This tapasya was undertaken some years ago, under very different conditions and life circumstances, and it is more a historical document of what it was like  at the time (there is a similar post detailing the days and experience). I was living a far more worldly life then, but evolving an inner relationship with my Guru that at times was very strange and wonderful. 

From this 108 day tapasya, life flowered in marvellous ways - but at the time it seemed there was little point behind the effort. With the benefit of hindsight, it set the blogger firmly on a path of doing tapasya as a way to cleanse the inner spirit, with the formidable power of Sri Durga Mata. What a tough undertaking, because I had to travel al lot during the recitations, but it brought a whole new birth and role in spiritual life.

If you do this, do it faithfully, don't try any shortcuts, and understand that it is tough and demanding. This is the tapasya that, as the English proverb says, sorts out the sheep from the goats...

The following long blog edits together all the differents notes made during the 108 Vrata of chanting the Chandi Path every day, while still going to work... and travelling. 



Day 5

I reached day 5 of the Vrata (vow) to chant the Devi Mahatyam/Chandi Path every day without fail for 108 days, fairly easily all the while going off for a busy days work as a journalist.

To add to the complication - as I can only chant in the evening, and I also need to meditate I have foregone the pleasure of an evening meal. All this may sound a bit "me me me" but there is a serious purpose to it all. And that purpose is reining in the wild horses that are our senses, which tend to drag us here and there until our lives collapse.

Spiritual life without some kind of restraint of the senses is just waffle. It is surface noise and glitz. In the West we can be so easily swept away by the masterly realities of Sri Mahamaya, the great shakti that creates the entire world around us, which is her form, her svarupa. Until we start to try gently to curb the senses, we do not really get any insight into our own pitiful condition.

In fact the tapasya of chanting for me is tiring, but not quite as painful as missing that meal! There's a part of me right now that's like some virulent poisonous snake caught in a bucket, thrashing around to get out! It's that painful. That part wants to do anything rather than sit and chant, or not eat!

So, day 5 is just a little way into the journey, and so far nothing but discomfort, really. But what I have found is that if you do chant the Chandi Path, make sure you meditate afterwards. You are uncovering Shakti. By meditation, you uncover the all encompassing silence that is Shiva. The two are inseperable, but one without the other leads to a one-sided spirituality and sadhana.

Perhaps the only strange incident so far has been waking up at dawn on the day before the official start, chanting the Devi Mahatyam for the benefit of a friend, and seeing outside the window 3 perfect horizontal clouds in the sky, one above the other, tinged with the pink of the dawn light. What a beautiful, auspicious sight to see - the mark of Lord Shiva, Parameshwara!

Then, yesterday afternoon as I was cycling home in the rain, a white dove came flying out of nowhere and flew very low in front of the bike for a while. More auspiciousness - at least, that's what I told myself.

"Door of my heart, I keep open wide for Thee" is my prayer (it's a song by the famous Paramahansa Yogananda) and is, when it comes down to it, the only thing I can cling to at this stage of the 108 days. Not just opening the door, but keeping it open, is why the 108 days have started. Will She come? That, above all, is Her will and Her lila, Her sport.

I read the other day a wonderful quote from a man called Swami Ambikananda, who was an ecstatic Mauritian Hindu, who lived in England and died a few years ago - the Guru of a 60's English rock band called Quintessence.  His words are telling and they went something like "The Divine Mother likes to conceal herself from us all, not reveal herself. When we do begin to see her and through her illusions, she is reluctant at first to come forth."

I do just begin to see glimpses of Her at play: in the sparkling rain fall we have been experiencing in the UK; in the noise and bustle at work; in the beauty of flowrs, the ugliness of choking city streets - and especially in the forms of all the women and children I pass by as I cycle, from young to aged. She is movement, She is change. She is restlessness and She is beautiful. All this can also be found in the famous "praise" slokas of the Devi Mahatyam. I am beginning to realise how much I am dancing at the skirts of Divine Mother.

Day 9


The great 108 day Vrata rolls on, 9 days in now... and it has been tough beyond expectations. The great Ego wants to do absolutely anything but sit every evening and chant the Chandi Path. So, given that the Devi Mahatyam text is all about doing battle with asuric forces, you'll find when you do chant this regularly that the battle takes place right inside your mind and heart and it is fierce!

But already a sweet miracle. I had asked as a boon that Divine Mother sends me a Murti of Herself ... and lo and behold my close friend came back from (buddhist) Thailand and said "I have a surprise for you." There was a brand new murti of Mahalakshmi! So this first impossible miracle... easily achieved.






Day 16


On goes the recitation, day after day, stretching ahead from April into August, which still seems an almost impossible task to accomplish given that it is early May! And it is accompanied by foregoing the evening meal, which adds to the spice of the tapasya.

It is tempting when you begin to settle into the text to start treating it with familiarity and without due reverence, especially when your legs and what one yoga teacher used to called "the sitting bones" are aching and your mind begins to wander.

But as the shlokas (verses) unfold in their grand stateliness, at their own time and pace, you get to see how different they are from each other. The Devi Mahatyam can be broken into discrete parts, and seems sometimes strangely hinged together, combining a racy narrative that reads like a Marvel Comics action movie, beautiful hymns of praise, exalted metaphysics, and strange hints of layers of older folk traditions, when the divided land of Bharat had different tribes and petty kingdoms and different expressions of Divine Mother, the great Devi. There are also strange hints at hidden rituals - one famous one is where an asura slaps the Devi on the face, or where or another asura bursts from his own chest.

Above all, reciting the text as mantras sets up a sort of thrum, an inner vibration that directly affects your own nervous system in an unmistakeable way. I've found this to be so, certainly: what needs to be changed in me, to be brought into the light, gets acutely uncomfortable sometimes during recitation.

For this reason I find it very important to meditate AFTER the recitation, just to let things settle, to let the noise subside.

Week 3 has me focussing if I can on the meaning, and that in turn necessitates being able to read it, so I've adjusted my copy of the text to be able to read what is going on at a glance.

I feel confident now that, not withstanding a burst of business travel AND a holiday coming up, I'll be able to carry on with the recitation. I regard it, above all as a n act of thanks and gratitude, and an attempt to cleanse the windows of perception nd perhaps find peace with the burning desire for sannyas that is within my soul, but can find no formal way of fulfillment in this life, without some kind of a miracle. 

If nothing else, the recitation has already vividly brought Her close again. I feel the divine presence just out of view, flitting through the shadows of my life, wild and supremely free and blissful. It is Her grace that led me to the 108 vow, and it is only by Her grace I'll be able to do it. And I would do this over and over again as a love offering to God.

One of the things that prompted this spiritual effort was a documentary on the first guy to row solo from Australia to New Zealand, a really likeable guy who kept wanting to give up and had little experience of rowing at all. The fact he did it, and with such honesty and good humour, is an inspiration. You have to be real during a challenge, or else you will falter and fail. This vow has no real audience, no real support, but it is absolutely at the cutting edge of what I think spiritual life should be all about: restraint of the senses, and chanting mantras.



Day 33


Over a month has now passed of the 108 day recitation of the Chandi Path and the tapasya continues. The road still stretches ahead and it is, at the moment, a rather grim affair of putting one step in front of another and chanting the 700 slokas as well as I can, all the while going off to work on the weekdays and not eating after 1pm... plus brahmacharya. So, plenty of balls in the air.

There was a period of great elation and fervour, after about 10 days, but that, too has passed. But the beauty of the Chandi Path does reveal itself on occasion.

This has only happened twice, but was a strange affair, of hearing by chapter 11 (after the death of all the asuras) another voice much higher than mine helping me chant along, and on another occasion, a harmonium keeping time as I sang. Mental projections, I guess.

At times I feel Her presence just around me, the Divine Mother nearby, actually physically nearby... as if this world was simply a cardboard film set and She was on the other side, just out of reach.

My Ego continues to go through many changes, recognising that what is being chanted is simply the dramatisation of what all of us go through on the spiritual path, all the mental afflictions and tendencies that stubbornly fight for their own utterly mistaken notions of "I" ness and "My-ness". At times the Slokas seem truly like weapons, potent mantras ripping through all the veils of self-forgetfulness. They seem alive, rippling with shakti - and not to be messed with or hurried.

But it also at present seems a heavy task, a difficult challenge, one not to be taken lightly at all. It seemed the obvious thing to do when I started. It now feels like bitter, bitter medicine, an operation I chose to have but causes me pain. And there is no comforting presence making it any easier. The search for God involves painful effort and challenge and, at some point along the way, a solitary time "in the desert". And that's where I am right now in the recitation... 

Some practical tips arise for anyone wishing to do the 108 days:

  • As the recitation takes so long (2+ hours) you are going to need to shift position unless you are a master of yoga!
  • I sit on a mat in front of the puja (pic below) in 1/2 lotus, but shift legs at set intervals... so, one leg for ch1,2,3,4... then change at 5,6,7, ... back to first leg 8,9,10, second leg 11,12,13
  • A puja starts the recitation, vital. Don't just dive in.
  • Arati ends it, with my own special recipe of frankinsence, camphor and puja dhoop to create a fantastic flame then cloud of incense... 






Day 40

Day 40, and the chant goes on every day.... some difficult days recently, with waves of restlessness striking both in and out of the chant, especially as my professional life as journalist is exceptionally busy this month (June 2012) and involves some foreign travel, so I don't know how easy it will be to maintain the chant but will still be in a hotel room, proceeding.

There are so many aspects of this that have surprised me. The 108 days do seem so enormously long, and it mostly feels like an ant crawling along a vast flat surface, no end in sight. But it has also allowed me time to reflec that the pride, the hubris associated with setting forward on this vrata, is both sattvic and rajasic. 

One odd aspect is the increasing moments where my body suddenly starts on its own  very fast pranayama, involuntary bhastrika, bellows. Maybe this is a way of equalising some inner tension from this process. Who knows? 

At times, though, the clouds lift and I get glimpses of the magnificent beauty both of the chant and of the practice. Will the sun shine uninterruptedly, and this wild monkey mind settle down again? I hope so... the problem is that with my working life I can only do this in the evening, and then tend to skip meditation afterwards which is a big no-no. I'll work it out, I hope.

In the meantime, onwards and upwards!

The other day I finally managed to sit in just one asana the whole way through! In the UK we experienced a brief heat wave, and the lovely warm temperature helped loosen the joints. Also wearing a really big mala of rudraksha has a great calming effect, too (see picture below). Rudrakshas are a truly fantastic secret ally in any spiritual practice. But they only work really if your body and mind are a little bit settled. In times when i have fallen off the path in the past, rudrakshas rapidly become unbearable to wear. Ash on the skull, or sandalpaste, also really helps cool things down...






Day 57


Past the half-way point (54 days) and these past 10 days have been pretty testing. I've had to chant the Chandi Path in some wierd settings: at a hotel room in Brussels, then in Frankfurt, then at the airport, then on the channel tunnel, and on these emergency occasions I've foregone pretty much all of the preparatory mantras and pujas and struggled through all of this, somehow, mostly out of dogged stubborn-ness on my part than an overwhelming surge of bhakti. That presence of the Mother has faded away,  the bhakti too, and it seems a desultory half-baked offering. But one positive is that all that sitting up has really sharpened my asanas, half lotus, a bit of full lotus, etc.

Sometimes I remember, as the text says, that the Devi IS everything manifested - all the confusion, laziness, impurities that reciting has thrown up. I can see, though, how beneficial it would be to be able just to sit and recite in sattvic surroundings and not have to get up and go to work. Ho hum... parabdha karma, destiny, is unescapable. "Maybe in the next life surroundings will be more auspicious," I whisper to myself....


Day 58-59

Flu, really bad. Have lost my voice and had to retreat to the ulitimate recitation fall back, sitting in bed trying to get warm, and "chanting with the eyes alone".


Day 60-75

The chanting became very testing as the flu progressed. London, in May, June and July 2012, suffered from the worst summer in recorded memory, with rain storms sweeping the country almost every day. Coupled with the lack of sun came, for me, a baleful confluence of work duties that made June and July the busiest months I've ever experienced in my professional career. So... voice lost... flu.. work... all this made the chanting a tough challenge. But finally, the sun began to shine again, work deadlines came and went, and I recovered from illness. Afterwards, it was a little like surveying the wreckage after a tsunami as I contemplated the after-effects of a surge of negativity which raced through me and made me question the very reasons why the chanting should go on. But it did.  

We can easily forget, if we are used to mantras and the like, what we are actually dealing with: extremely powerful sound vibrations that have a big impact on our own nervous system and the environment. One reason why purity is stressed so much in Yogic tradition is that these vibrations will shake loose much of the "grime" that attaches to our glowing inner systems, and this shaking loose can be ... a tad uncomfortable. Courage is necessary to face the impact of our own inner cleansing.



Day 101

After much toil, tribulation, effort climbing up this enormous sacred mountain, the final week has dawned and I can begin to look back now with joy and relief at a task completed to the best of my ability. The picture above is of the Olympic flame being lit in London, and the chanting will end on the second week of the Olympics, a fitting backdrop! Some weeks earlier, I'd managed to take time off for a holiday in west Scotland, beautiful part of the world. But grand ideas of sitting by a lochside as the sun rose, touching the mountain peaks, turned out to be illusions: there were too many ferociously biting midges! Scotland is famous for them, tiny creatures with a seemingly insatiable desire for blood, my blood. In one morning session i was bitten on the legs44 painful times. A poor midge got accidently caught in the pages on the book and remains there, a mute reminder of this period.

My own advice to anyone thinking of attempting this is that if you also have to work for a living, it's a real challenge - far easier if, say, you were in an ashram or a place of retreat and could focus just on the practice.

Also there is a great saying in Tibetan Buddhism... Don't turn Gods into Demons. This has been a rich source for contemplation recently. Somewhere in all that testing period of business travel I grew to resent the task, resent the super Ego voice in me that had directed me to do such a thing. Tough tussle with inner enemies, but only through acceptance, gentless compassion, and admission of weakness has brought me back to a saner attitude of reverence and respect. Only a few days to go now...


Day 108

Haribol! Jai Mata Di! The final day, truly the final day and my final recitation takes place this evening. Very hard to put into words the emotions this evokes, not just for the 108 days, but looking back to these long years of spiritual life somehow kept alive, a golden thread running through my life.

I am so grateful for the opportunity of having the darshan of this sacred text. I am grateful, too, to be moving on and back to the deep meditations which i had to put to one side for 108 days because of time constraints.

Miracles did not arise, it's fair to say. The recitation kicked up a lot of inner dust and at times it was difficult to see a way forward, but step by step the final days have come, and just before the great day of Janmastami  this year 2012 CE.

Mother stayed pretty well hidden behind the chant. At one point early on it was like She was just there, just behind a curtain, but that feeling faded. I feel Her, though, as I write this, a smile, a smile just out of reach. Her universe, Her womb, Her Maya.

And so it ends

OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI









Monday, 23 April 2012

DEVI MAHATYAM/CHANDI PATH 108 DAY TAPASYA



Note (2015):
This tapasya was undertaken some years ago, under very different conditions and life circumstances, and it is more a historical document of what it was like  at the time (there is a similar post detailing the days and experience). From this 108 day tapasya, life flowered in marvellous ways - but at the time it seemed there was little point behind the effort. With the benefit of hindsight, it set the blogger firmly on a path of doing tapasya as a way to cleanse the inner spirit, with the formidable power of Sri Durga Mata. What a tough undertaking, because I had to travel al lot during the recitations, but it brought a whole new birth and role in spiritual life. If you do this, do it faithfully, don't try any shortcuts, and understand that it is tough and demanding. This is the tapasya that, as the English proverb says, sorts out the sheep from the goats...



Today, Monday April 23rd, 2012,  is the day I start the Shata Chandi Vrat, a vow to recite the Devi Mahatyam every day for the next 108 days without fail - a serious and well-known austerity or tapasya. (updates on how it all went are included in a SEPARATE entry which follows this one..).

The kicker in this instance is that the recitation is not going to be done in the quiet centre of an ashram but at the end of a long day at work, given that I still live in the world and have to earn my keep on this earth. So, no shelter, no congenial cave or hut, nothing like that.

There are some extra constraints, too. As I only return from work at 5pm, the whole evening will be taken up with the recitation and meditation and an evening meal will not be possible...

Seen through the eyes of our normal world, it seems a crazy thing to do for a westerner, for no tangeable benefit at all. But seen through the eyes of a serious and dedicated spiritual practitioner, a lover of God or the Goddess, the true value of this sadhana can be appreciated. Can it actually be done while being in the world? I'm hoping it can!

The Devi Mahatyam/Chandi Path for those who don't know this scripture, is one of the truly glorious gemstones of Hindu devotional texts which are chanted aloud in sanskrit. Every word is a mantra, and its 700 verses or slokas are a manifestation of Mahamaya herself, of the great Devi, the mother of the Universe, may she be exalted! 

So, it's not just a reading exercise, but a chanting exercise, in one spot, in one asana, for at least 3 1/2 hours. Done without reverence, it's just gabbling. Done with reverence, humility, and joy, it's a beautiful wonderful practice.

I aim to do this for some specific purposes related to spiritual matters, and as a way to help world peace, and peace on the streets in London where I live. I'll be reporting on progress and pitfalls and you can check out subsequent posts on this blog, but would also like to share with you what happened after I'd decided to do this.

That evening I cycled back as usual the 1 hour ride back from my office to my home, and got caught in a terrific April storm, pelting rain and black clouds... as I struggled through this I thought "This is a good metaphor for my life and for the recitation to come!" Because, by the final 20 minutes or so of the journey (which is all uphill) the rain had stopped and the blazing sun reappeared. A good omen! And 2 days prior to starting, I chanted the Chandi Path, getting up at 4am, and as dawn rose I saw out of the window three beautiful horizontal clouds, edged in pink - the mark of Lord Shiva. Another good omen! With such things we can push our lazy minds into fufilling to project.







Below, I've cut and pasted some extra info that may be of help... they are not my words but give you an idea of the benefits of chanting the Chandi Path.

"Though Devi Mahatmyam looks like stories, there are very valuable lessons on Her nature in it. The deeper you go, the more you can understand and appreciate the lessons in the stories."

The benefit of reading Devi Mahatmya several times is given below:
  • Three times - to get rid of effects of black magic
  • Five times - to get rid of difficulties caused by planets
  • Seven times - to get rid of great fear.
  • Nine times - achieves Peace,
  • Eleven times - to get over fear of death, attention of the king
  • Twelve times - getting desires fulfilled and destruction of enemies
  • Fourteen times - to attract partners  as well as destroy enemies
  • Fifteen times - Pleasant life and obtaining of wealth
  • Sixteen times - to get sons and grand sons
  • Seventeen times - to get rid of fear of the King
  • Eighteen times - to get occult powers
  • Twenty times - For war to end
  • Twenty-five times - To come out of prison
  • Hundred times - to get rid of great sorrow, banishment from caste, Loss of life, salvation
  • Hundred and eight times - Fulfilling any wanted desire
  • One thousand times - Goddess Mahalakshmi will visit him and he will get all wealth

A great list, I'm sure you will agree. Just be careful though about general expectations. We live in times that are not conducive to this kind of pure effect, but the Chandi Path really does stir up the sediment in your own inner bathing ghat! You may be exceptionally pure, free from rajasic moods, stresses and strains, in which case the sun will shine for you. This was certainly not the case for me, and the energy unleashed by the recitation can be unsettling... in a nice way. 







IF YOU WANT TO DO THIS TAPASYA, SOME TIPS:
  1. Be extremely clear-sighted about what you can and cannot achieve. It may be you do not have the inner or outer resources to do the full 108 days. There is absolutely no shame in that. I suggest you simply try step by step... start with 1 in a row, then 2, then 3, see how it goes. I found in my own life that after a week of chanting I was thinking "I've taken on way too much", but a vow, a vrata sworn before the goddess, is a vow. So don't bite off more than you can chew.
  2. Whatever you decide, add a touch of flair: tie a raksha, a string bracelet , round your right hand which reminds you of your intention and won't leave your wrist until the tapasya is completed. I have found there is one string that is really hard-wearing and ideal, and oddly enough it is in IKEA of all places, their free wrapping string which is pretty hardy. This has acted as a wonderful visual reminder throughout the tapasya. 
  3. Pronunciation of the mantras correctly is essential, unfortunately. If you don't really know how to pronounce sanskrit, this could be a problem. So read it all through before you cant, and with respect work out where difficulties might arise, and mark your text accordingly. A purist would say if you are marking your text you are wounding the body of the goddess, but apply common sense here.
  4. Having said that: devotion is the real essence of this, devoted concentration and one pointedness. She will not be able to resist a longing heart.
  5. Meaning is also really important: make sure you know what is going on, what is being said, when you recite. I've had to adjust my text so that I can easily see what is the meaning of what is being chanted.
  6. Preparatory mantras are crucial, as are closing mantras. The only place I've actually found these in English is the Devi Mandir printed version is by the American Sadhu Swami Satyananda, and there are at least 4 extra chants you need to do. Plus the Devi Kavachyam.
  7. Water: if you are completely austere, you'll chant without a sip. If you are a little more humane to yourself, make sure you have some water. I always take a sip at the beginning of every new chapter.
  8. Shifting your asana/seating position: again, depends how flexible you are. I sit in either 1/2 lotus or siddhasana, but with a crippled back i find i have to shift positions as follows, following the natural flow of the text: After ch4, after ch 7, after ch10...
  9. REVERENCE! easy for mind to wander: be hard on yourself and make sure you pay attention when you chant, and keep the proper attitude. This may sound wierd, but when my mind really begins to gohere there and everywhere, i slap my own cheeks to bring the mind back again.
  10. Timing: when you chant is of course up to you. I live in the world and have to work for a living, so it is early evening for me. Early morning is a great time, but this chant definitely feels at its most appropriate in the evening.
  11. Place is crucial , the right isolated spot either in your house or outside. This is a ritual, after all, and rituals derve their own place and space in order to unfold. 
  12. As for the list of benefits, also be clear-sighted. Just be aware that changes will occur in both you and your environment, but not neccessarily ones that are easy to spot. 
  13. Chanting this for 108 days takes tremendous perseverance and doggedness, real courage, and sometimes you are going to rebel, try anything not to do it. Don't worry, be gentle with yourself, think that you are leading a very fidgety nervous horse to pasture, a horse that wants to bolt. Think the mind will want to leap anywhere else, that you will face restlessness, anger, aversion, all might come up. But stick to it! All will be triumphantly achieved for you. It is truly a golden lifetime achievement.

Below are the covers of the 2 books I use, which give the English and Sanskrit texts...








Tuesday, 17 April 2012

SRI SRI SRI SHIVABALAYOGI: THE MASTER AT PLAY


It has been half a year now since, after a lifetime of spiritual practice, I came to a fateful moment of connection with my Guru Shivabalayogi. What a ride it has been!

This blog records in earlier posts, back in October 2011, what happened when, after 9 days of chanting the Devi Mahatyam, the next thing I knew was the appearance of the great Yogi sitting on top of my head, comfortable esconsced in the sahasra, the crown chakra.

It's an experience very hard to describe, but as real as the sights we see with our ordinary senses. This was accompanied by great ecstacy, many visions, and a number of other phenomena. It was also a huge surprise. The connection was so deep, and yet so improbable! I thought I was fairly "Guru'd out"  after a sequence of experiences with two big spiritual groups and the business corporations they became. Then along came this.

What happened next? Gradually the ecstacy faded, normalcy returned. After being blitzed in such a spectacular fashion, the mind of course gathered force to reassert business as usual. Only it wasn't.

Being a journalist, the first thing I did was read all about Shivabalayogi's life, (he attained mahasamadhi in 1994) and see what organisations represented him. His ashrams exist. He had no successors, but after His death there were issues and challenges about some of his disciples who claimed their own Guru-hood. He specifically warned against the politics and seamier side of attaching oneself to an ashram or organisation. He was such a free and wild being, and he would not be so neatly tamed by my own ego.

After a while, life became a little duller but I tried to persist in meditating at least an hour a day using his method, and extending this to up to 3 hours twice a day. I think unconsciously I was trying to grab some wonderful yogic state, and this kind of nonsense brought me to a full stop. I could seemingly get no further, and my meditations became bogged down in a tiresome parade of thoughts and mental detritus.

That might have been the end of the story, but a true guru never lets you go for one second. Back in February I went to India on business, and took a detour to Dehradun, Rishikesh and Haridwar. At Dehradun was one of the yogi's old ashrams, now the home of one of his disciples Shivarudrabalayogi (who was away when I got there).  Dehradun in February, in a cold, windy and dark basement room, was a painful experience and at the time I thought that the connection with Shivabalayogi was after all nothing but delusion on my part.

But one awful night there proved to be a turning point. After that, the Yogi was back in my awareness as strong as ever, or some the impurities that covered the windows of perception were cleared away. A period of intense sadhana followed.

These days, the sadhana includes a Guru paduka puja every day to Maharaj, my own name for the Guru. This 40 minute puja, ineptly performed, follows an hour's meditation slotted in when I get back from work. On the weekends longer chanting and meditation is possible.

All I can say is that with any other spiritual disciple, my own self-will created for me several get-out clauses so that ultimately nothing was too serious or too committed: it's one of the plagues, I believe, of the western spiritual devotee, a "take it and leave it" attitude so that we can bail out when the going gets tough and experiences dwindle.

But with Shivabalayogi, the whole thirst and mania for "experience" is revealed for what it really is: just another distraction and entertainment for the ego. The experiences are there once more, strongly so, but they no longer form the reason to do sadhana at all.

One of the greatest gifts of this relationship is that Shivabalayogi has restored my love for Divine Mother, and thus brought balance back to sadhana. Chanting the Devi Mahatyam regularly intensifies this unfolding relationship with the mother. Shivabalayogi has wiped my windows clean enough to begin to see, now, the Mother everywhere and in all things.

His personality is unfathomable, but He lives in me as real as my own personality. I cannot clearly say why I know that he is my Guru. Every other relationship with a guru has involved an intellectual choice. There is no choice about this. It is self-evident. It is a bedrock certainty. And of course the joke is that on a physical level he passed away: I can never see him in the flesh on this earth in this lifetime. Yet I cannot mould Him to my own will and purposes. The relationship does not work like that.

I surround myself daily with mantras and chants like a pundit. He was no intellectual, just a village boy before He entered his 12 years of tapasya as a boy Yogi. What He has to do with me is a mystery... why should He bother? Yet I feel His grace, His love, His sparkling humour, His playfulness.

I owe everything to Him, and yet I'm amazed at this kind of effusive statement, which seems so silly. But it's true! Through him, I've learned that grace exists, that the grace revealing power of God is real, that all the great messages of Yoga and Yogis are accurate, and that if we follow their path - and put in self-effort - then THAT can and will be attained. When? Well, if not in this lifetime, then the next... or the next... or the one after... or... does it matter? The Self is already attained. It's just a matter of uncovering, of stripping away the veils.

The key to all this living link is practice, spiritual practice. Sattva gathers around sattva. Purity builds around purity. Momentum builds when we honour life in every aspect both good, terrible, auspicious and inauspicious.

I don't know ultimately where this relationship leads. Will I meet my Guru face to face? Many devotees of Shivabalayogi did just that. But to me, He is in my heart. That is enough, more than enough. I bless this great good fortune again and again!


Monday, 16 April 2012

CHANTING THE DEVI MAHATYAM (CHANDI PATH)




## COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED FOR THIS BLOG POST##

***LATEST: Read blog post in August 2016 that shares the inspiring experience of 108 days chanting of Chandi Path by a female Indian graduate of our Serious Sadhana course ****



Note to readers: This post was written back in 2012 and has been read many thousands of times across the world. Since then, the blogger's own practice has moved to other spiritual texts, but still celebrates the awe-inspiring beauty and benefits of the Chandi Path. But, to be clear from the outset: the blogger has been flooded with requests for chanting etc... which would take all day to do! So read this post carefully, it contains everything needed for a serious devotee and practitioner... so, with great respect to you, please do not ask for someone else to do the work for you or use it as a reason to plea for help from your troubles.. 

THERE IS A POST IN OCTOBER 2015 THAT ALSO ADDRESSES SOME OF THE ESOTERIC MEANING OF THE CHANDI PATH





This wonderful text is made to be chanted, not just read, and if you commit to this, it can take you, along with attendant pujas, up to 4 hours at a time, so it's not for the faint-hearted. It has been popularised in the west recently by the wonderful work of the saintly Shri Maa and her American disciple Swami Satyananda - a fantastically eccentric character - and you can read all about their activities at their Devi Mandir in the US on the website.http://www.shreemaa.org/drupal/ The Ramakrishna Mission also has a text in English and Devanigri, but not with some of the important opening chants.

Most Hindus will look at the Devi Mahatyam, or hear it recited, during Navaratri, the famous 9 days of the mother in autumn each year. On the surface it is a "vivid" or grisly rendition of how Sri Durga defeats various demons in a blur of charges, assaults and fights. But the esoteric meaning of this will unfold for you in secret and in private. She, the Mother, will richly reward anyone who seeks her through chanting the Devi Mahatyam, and it is only by Her will that you will be impelled to chant it.

A sweet story I read the other day is how one of Paramahansa Ramakrishna's closest disciples, Sashi (who became Swami Ramakrishnanda), who was brought up in strict orthodoxy, was very dismissive of the text, saying he wasn't into all of the gory stuff and fighting: His guru promptly insisted he chant it every day, and so reluctantly he began to do so. The transformation happened.

What transformation? Well, it is hard to explain, and you can only experience this for yourself. But when you become aware of the Mother playing in the universe, you realise a truly wonderful joy.

No faith, no spiritual practice is ever going to truly flower without recognising both the eternal feminine and the eternal masculine, the unmanifest unbounded and the manifested reality -  and the image of Durga or Kali standing on the inert Shiva is redolent with very primordial meaning. Love of the Mother, when it dawns in your life, has no escape. It will drown your pride, your plans, your identity. It will dance your heart and move your feet! Truly, if the Mother chooses to reveal Herself to you, then you are very blessed indeed. and the fact that you are reading these words mean that She is helping you in your search for life's mysteries and peace of mind.

I have been chanting the Devi Mahatyam  off and on for some years - the longest chant that I do - but aim to treat this each time as a very special occasion. I came to it late in my spiritual life, and for a while simply pondered it as an impossible mountain peak that I could not hope to scale. It would take too much effort. Then finally I took the plunge.

The very first time I sat to chant it a few years ago now (with no selfish aim in mind), I was so exhausted, discouraged, dispirited and fatigued I crawled into bed thinking "no one could possibly ehave enjoyed that!" because I had chanted the text so very clumsily and ultimately with great weariness. Yet within 24 hours a new car was sitting outside my house (a strange miracle of prosperity). The next time, within 24 hours an enlightened saint, Sri Sri Sri Shivabalayogi, burst into my awareness and my life and since that day I accept Him as my Guru. 

These days nothing quite so dramatic happens, and I tend to chant it only rarely. It is a major undertaking, a major tapasya and involves intense concentration. But some little miracles have also unfolded for others. In 2012 I chanted the whole Chandi Path every day for 108 days, a massive undertaking.


Home Puja (6ft poster of Sri Sri Sri Shivabalayogi you can just
see at the back). Devis are (l to r) Durga, Sri Hrishikesha Kesava (from Rishikesh) and Durga devi
together with Lord Naramsimha, Maheshwara, Sri Ganesh and Sri Dattatreya  
just visible at Lord Krishna's right foot. 
Gurus pictured include Sivananda, Gurumayi, Muktananda, Nityananda, and a young Sri Sri Sri Shivabalayogi.
Other pics in the room include Gayatri Ma, Maha Saraswati, Mahalakshmi, Mahakali







This is the mysterious murti of Durga 
that came my way during the chanting 108 day Chandi Path.
She's actually very big, and I travelled 200 miles to find Her...

But most recently, a day or so after chanting this, something miraculous did happen in a very different way: I found my heart pulsating with waves of love, and for a day or so everything I saw and everything I witnessed seemed, simply, the Divine Mother at play. The "I" remained, but for just that brief moment I seemed to catch a glimpse of  this fantastic camouflaged reality, giant and all-encompassing. And after it faded away, I remembered the same sense of shock and awe had come when at the Ganges for the first time, seeing what looked liked spirits and figures playing in the torrents of sparkling turqoise water at Rishikesh. This sense of everything being saturated by Her presence is no fantasy. It all comes down to Her in the end.

The other wonderful aspect of the Devi Mahatyam is the "curse lifting" side of it. Many of us are unconsciously infested with thought forms and presences that greatly hinder our lives in the form of addictions, compulsions, rages, excessive self-pity etc etc. Furthermore within us all is what is called in Hinduism "papa-purusha", the "body of sin"... a sort of personal devil made up of every bad tendency that we have grown in this and other lives.

Chanting texts is like using the "sword" of Durga to lessen and thin out papa-purusha. So if you are in inner trouble and turmoil, and really need help, email me if you are desperate and I'll chant. NOT for your prosperity, but for your illumination. The Devi Mahatyam is not an exercise in begging, in "gimme this, gimme that", in "poor me", in "I want a Porsche".But the penultimate chapter, ch12, lists some of the help it gives, especially if you in deep trouble and do not know where to turn, andin this modern society people can very easily slip into dreadful trouble of all sorts.

The text I use is the one published by Devi Mandir, and as a word of warning you only get to chapter 1 by page 108 or so! So there is a lot of preparatory chanting, lots of unlocking the power of the recitation. And you will most probably feel pretty wiped out after doing it. But it is also possible to finish chants and pujas after about 2hrs.

The other aspect is what "tune" to use, to put it in western terms. There are in fact many options indeed. It's a complicated area. But don't just speak the verses, sing them. Sincere devotion is the key to it all. The Mother will know and appreciate your efforts, will make a 1000 steps to you even if you take one tiny faltering step to Her. She knows we are blind, helpless, and inclined to wander off. She will help you. Go on Youtube, tho and check out some of the tunes. Again, Devi Mandir has CDs to buy, which gives you one possible tune. Devi Mandir also has a wonderful little book on ways to chant the Chandi Path... fancy standing in icy water for 4 hours? Well, that might be a bridge too far, but have courage, make a resolution, just tackle it once even and without any expectation, just as an exercise of love and devotion. Then the Mother will come.

But what joy, what joy, what a fortune to be able to chant this! And what grace comes from it, what wonderful inspiring praises of the great Devi!

There are many secrets this chant posseses, but perhaps the greatest gift it can give you is absolute conviction that all these tales of gods, goddesses, mukti, samadhi, the whole world of indian spirituality, all of it is profoundly true and profoundly relevant. What better way to spend a bit of your life than chant the Devi Mahatyam!

Perhaps another aspect: spirituality is not necessarily a grim and humourless affair. This chant is really zestful, full of incident and colour, and life and movement and the vibrations of these wonderful mantras vibrate inyour blood cells, sparkle everywhere in you as they find a home. The Devi is composed of mantras woven out of light. That is Her body that manifests in the recitation.

Treat this with awe and reverence and if you decide to do this even just once in your life, know that blessings from Divine mother will surely flow to you and ease the pain of your life. You are Her beloved child, always, always, always...


Below, I've cut and pasted some extra info that may be of help... they are not my words but give you an idea of the benefits of chanting the Chandi Path.

IMPORTANT NOTE:
Many seekers want to rush to this chant I think more out of desire for rewards than as an exercise in devotion, and they immediately get confused about WHAT introductory chants to do, and WHERE to get the text. You do need the text! 

My advice is head here to some folks who know all there is to know about the Chandi Path: http://www.shreemaa.org/ways-to-worship-pages/durga/chandi-path-questions-answers/

My other advice would be to SERIOUSLY CONSIDER whether you actually have the stamina to do this. The easier and very sweet option is to chant intead the SRI LALITA SAHASRANAM and there is a long post about this in the May or June 2013 blogs on this blog. The SLS is a sweet, intoxicating and easy and blissful recitation of 1000 names of the Mother, a beautiful and far less punishing practice, so if you feel that zing of devotion and want to sing out her praises don't think the Chandi Path is your only option...

Finally, it is very easy and more than a little lazy to ask the Blogger to do the heavy lifting and chant for you. This is your undertaking, no one elses.



"Though Devi Mahatmyam looks like stories, there are very valuable lessons on Her nature in it. The deeper you go, the more you can understand and appreciate the lessons in the stories."

The benefit of reading Devi Mahatmya several times is given below:
  • Three times - to get rid of effects of black magic
  • Five times - to get rid of difficulties caused by planets
  • Seven times - to get rid of great fear.
  • Nine times - achieves Peace,
  • Eleven times - to get over fear of death, attention of the king
  • Twelve times - getting desires fulfilled and destruction of enemies
  • Fourteen times - to attract partners  as well as destroy enemies
  • Fifteen times - Pleasant life and obtaining of wealth
  • Sixteen times - to get sons and grand sons
  • Seventeen times - to get rid of fear of the King
  • Eighteen times - to get occult powers
  • Twenty times - For war to end
  • Twenty-five times - To come out of prison
  • Hundred times - to get rid of great sorrow, banishment from caste, Loss of life, salvation
  • Hundred and eight times - Fulfilling any wanted desire
  • One thousand times - Goddess Mahalakshmi will visit him and he will get all wealth

And, from me



IF YOU WANT TO DO THIS TAPASYA, SOME TIPS:
  1. Pronunciation of the mantras correctly is essential, unfortunately. If you don't really know how to pronounce sanskrit, this could be a problem.
  2. Having said that: devotion is the real essence of this, devoted concentration and one pointedness.
  3. Meaning is also really important: make sure you know what is going on, what is being said, when you recite. I've had to adjust my text so that I can easily see what is the meaning of what is being chanted.
  4. Preparatory mantras are crucial, as are closing mantras. The only place I've actually found these in English is the Devi Mandir printed version is by the American Sadhu Swami Satyananda (picture below), and there are at least 4 extra chants you need to do, especially the siddha kunjika stotram . Plus the Devi Kavachyam - which lets you put on "the armour of the goddess" as protection. Most deities have their own kavacha texts. http://www.shreemaa.org/drupal/

  1. Water: if you are completely austere, you'll chant without a sip. If you are a little more humane to yourself, make sure you have some water. I always take a sip at the beginning of every new chapter.
  2. Shifting your asana/seating position: again, depends how flexible you are. I sit in either 1/2 lotus or siddhasana, but with a crippled back I find I have to shift positions as follows, following the natural flow of the text: After ch4, after ch 7, after ch10... but the aim is not to get up out of your asana until the chant is completed. 
  3. REVERENCE! easy for mind to wander: be hard on yourself and make sure you pay attention when you chant, and keep the proper attitude. This may sound wierd, but when my mind really begins to go here there and everywhere, I slap my own cheeks to bring the mind back again.
  4. Timing: when you chant is of course up to you. I live in the world and have to work for a living, so it is early evening for me. Early morning is a great time, but this chant definitely feels at its most appropriate in the evening. Don't get put off by wondering what the most auspicious times are or you'll find yourself wandering in a thicket of lost intentions. The Slokas themselves suggest 8th, 9th and 14th days of the Lunar fortnight as days to chant (read this in Chapter 12) if you want to be doubly sure, and to calculate that you need access to a panchang, an almanac, which is easily available online at, for example,  http://www.drikpanchang.com/panchang/month-panchang.html .
  5. Place is crucial , the right isolated spot either in your house or outside. This is a ritual, after all, and rituals derve their own place and space in order to unfold. 
  6. Remember the concept of what has been called limnal space: you are creating a sacred moment which is on the edge of time, just on the edge, where time gets a bit blurry and fuzzy and fluid. Linear time tends to get shaken about when you chant this regularly, because you are creating on a different plane of reality a yantra, a living breathing evocastion of the Goddess, a vibratory essence which has life and super-intelligence. And you are doing something that has been done in essence for many thousands of years: This is ancient worship of the divine as the feminine, it is something deeply appropriate to our nervous systems, it activates deep cellular memories and helpful tendencies buried in that complex interwoven strand  of karmas which is the individual soul. Religions tend to get a bit strange when this Divine feminine principle is ignored (and I'm sure yoiu know which religions I'm talking about...)
  7. Chant the whole Chandi Path every day, not just one or two chapters. Experience has shown that many people make a big song and dance about doing it... then come the emails along the lines of "how little can i actually get away with". If you have not got the time or energy DO NOT DO THIS TAPASYA. Pray instead. Ma hears you either way. 






Om aim hreem shreem dum Durgayi namaha!