Thursday, 31 October 2013



The greatness of Lord Shiva in his aspect as Rudra is overwhelming. He is both benevolent and fierce, untameable, forever in Yoga, beyond our grasp and yet benevolent and helpful to all sincere spiritual aspirants. As Lord of Yoga, of Yogis, of Tapasya and spiritual practice, Shiva is an inescapable part of all spiritual sadhana. Furthermore, as the consort of Shakti, Lord Shiva is beloved by all Shaktas and worshippers of the Devi. 

Shiva's name contains many secrets, and his apparent inaccessibility is explained in all the legends and folk tales that are such a part of Vedic and Hindu culture. But He is in a particular way a suprisingly accessible focus for those who fall outside the traditional Hindu caste system - such as western Yogis, crazies and eccentrics of all kinds — because his attendant "troupe" consists of the odd, the frightening, the wierd and so forth - so He accepts all. Lord Shiva, it is said, is the most generous of all the great Devas to his devotees.

The Sri Rudram is a wonderful way to approach the greatness of Lord Shiva and it bears the unmistakeable hallmark of something very ancient indeed. This text is also known as the Sri Rudraprasna, Rudradhyaya, or Satyarudriya, and comes originally from one of the Vedas, the Yajurveda. And who would have thought that in the 21st century the Sri Rudram is chanted not just in India but across the world, every day, and with great faith and devotion?

I first started to stumble through the Sri Rudram back in the early 1990s, under the shelter of Baba Muktananda's Siddha Yoga school. In fact, Siddha Yoga publishes one of the best ways to learn the Sri Rudram, because the text contains the necessary marks to indicate when a tone should be higher, lower, or stay the same - and this is the key to the Sri Rudram. Unless you know all of its melodic twists and turns, you will not be able to recite it properly.

I subsequently learnt to speed up recitation by reciting it every day for a period, both in my own room and during a long stay at the Siddha Yoga Ganeshpuri ashram in Maharastra near Mumbai, where it used to be chanted in the main temple by a devotee, his daughter and the one or two devotees who were around. So, never a crowd. 

There was always something I loved about it, just because of all the texts to chant this one has a particular wild rasa or taste, as if you are plugging in to the infinite cosmic current at its full power. You cannot fail to be exhilarated, uplifted and swept along by its breathless pace! 

The Rudram itself is divided into the Namakam, the main body of the Sri Rudram, and the famous Chamakam. The two together take in total about 40 minutes to complete  The Chamakam, with its repetition of Cha Me, to Me, asks for all sorts of wishes to be granted to you. The Rudram itself  pulls no punches about the mightiness of the Supreme, both as creator, preserver, and destroyer. Through chanting it, we acknowledge all the aspects of life, both its benign and malign aspects, we accept the totality of manifested and unmanifested existence.

Daily recitation, if you know the melody and have learnt it well, is better than any tonic or pill. it acts like an arrow, piercing though the noise of the world, and its aim is self-purification, cleansing our inner perception and sweeping away what needs to go so that the glorious overwhelming light of the Paramatman shines out.  But it is not for the casual, or uncommitted. Chanting the sri Rudram can be an act of courage in all adverse circumstances. You don't have to know every arcane detail of shiva worship. You do need a resolve, a one-pointedness and, of course, a spare 40 minutes. No harm will befall you from chanting it at any hour, in any place. But you will enjoy it immensely if you manage to be alone in a sacred space. 

The Sri Rudram has been part of my life for 20 years now, off and on. One day I remember chanting it for 11 times, an auspicious undertaking, and ending it filled with a particular energy, a purposeful, light. I have never heard this from anywhere else, and take it as just my view, but i believe, too, that its chanting sets your brain waves into patterns of deep harmony that encourage a massive growth in intellectual capacity, retentive ability and so forth. Thus: a brilliant aid to study of all kinds. 

Blessed are its chanters, Blessed is Lord Rudra!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

SADHANA CHALLENGES 2: Desire, Anger, Greed

 Kama, Krodha, Lobha (Lust, Anger, Greed)

"There are three things which the superior man guards against. In youth...lust. When he is strong...quarrelsomeness. When he is old...covetousness."

The Sri Bhagavad Gita describes what are called “the three pathways to Hell” in Chapters 16 and 17.  There’s no pulling of punches about it. The three gateways are Kama, Krodha, and Lobha.

If we succumb to Kama, lust or desire, Krodha, rage and Lobha, Greed, then our fates will be dismal, and our lives even on this earth will be very difficult.

And yet these three describe the kind of qualities the western world often seems to hold as desirable character traits – where being “driven” and with the ability to be “ruthless” are seen as pre-eminent traits in business success, and where the concept of "Social Darwinism" (Don't help your neighbour, only the fittest should survive etc) is deeply inculcated, particularly in America . In our Kali Yuga age, the spirit of the age favours our worst human qualities and sees little value in enlightened benevolence, respect for family and elders, and good ethical conduct..

Furthermore, desire anger and greed seem embedded in our very humanity: they are in our template and almost impossible to eradicate altogether, unless one can live in seclusion far from civilisation - and even then they will arise in the mind at the slightest provocation. 

So... it's not a problem that you alone have, but which we all know about.

These three real urges in human life are very deeply entwined and related, like legs of a three-legged stool. Each on its own can ruin a life and the lives of others as well.

The three are tremendously powerful inner forces, built up in lifetime after lifetime, and we may find we have been born into a precise set of circumstances and destiny designed to trigger off the latent impressions – samskaras – that will encourage their expression. A childhood of neglect and cruelty can, for example, build up the samskaras of truly murderous rage. The wide availability in modern life of indecent images may trigger an unstoppable wave of lust. And if you are not on the breadline, then modern life offers many different ways for greed to manifest.

On a neurophysiological level, scientist say that such primitive and destructive impulses come the inner core of the brain, the amygdala, sometimes referred to as “the lizard brain”, that part of the brain which deals with basic reflexes in terms of fight, flight, territory and mating. The amygdala also deals with memory. It’s part of our animal heritage. But this animal side of our brain is ruthless in the attempt to achieve its animal goals. Its leadership in our behaviour therefore sends us down very dangerous paths. Lizards are not known for their cuteness, cuddliness or general affability. They patrol their territory, fight intruders, eat as much as they can, and mate when they get the chance.

Let us deal each of these three human behaviour problem areas in turn.

Kama/Lust or Desire

The human species must be propagated to survive, and humans have evolved various unusual traits to make sure this happens. One is that, unlike most animals, we have no mating season.  If you have ever been around a male Elephant in must, its breeding season, you can see the transformation as a flood of hormones hits the animal. Baba Muktananda was gifted a beautiful elephant which lived in his Ganeshpuri ashram. But when the elephant hit the must season,  it created havoc and escaped the ashram grounds. Humans - men especially - can become permanently “on heat” through the food we eat, the images we see, the company we keep.

The urge for sexual union is deep seated, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it at all – its simply a very powerful instinct. But ignore this at your peril, for it can break out and manifest in many different ways.   

Kama, too, has a wider meaning. If we translate this as "Desire" then we see how extensive the reach of kama really is. Think of everything you desire, some of which seem to you "good" desires, some not so good. The Yogic teachings say there is only one "pure" or sattvic desire: the longing for God, or liberation.

The odd fact is that IF those with very compulsive and overwhelming desires can somehow redirect their focus on to this one single desire, they can quickly becomes saints and sages. Why? Because there is a tremendous energetic force behind their desires. So please don't despair if you feel overwhelmed by waves of desire.

For men especially, the path of sadhana can begin to release long suppressed desires and at a certain stage this can make life very hot and uncomfortable. You may resolve to sit and meditate and find yourself dreaming of partners, couplings, fantastical and complex erotic imagery, until you think "this meditation is just not for me... I am too impure". 

Or you may start building mental castles as you sit in silence: "If I was rich.. let me see.. what kind of a house would I have.. and what kind of car" etc etc.

The trick to desire is recognising what is arising, and not being drawn into its gravitational pull.  And the clue to that is making an astonishing leap of understanding that will shake your foundations of what you perceive your personality to be. All these thoughts and desires, where do they spring from? They actually ultimately arise in the heart centre, and when you notice their manifestation properly you will uncover one of the real secrets of our humanity: we do not own our thoughts! we do not create them! They arise and subside mysteriously. And we can easily accept them as temporary phenomona that we witness. In other words "we" are not "our" thoughts: thoughts are an expression ultimately of the great universal power that rules this manifested universe, which is truly the power of Shakti, the Divine Mother.

So the trick that saints through the ages have advised is: Witness your thoughts. Witness yourself witnessing thoughts. Relinquish attachment to them. And this breaks the chain. Thoughts lead to action, action to fulfillment. Identifying with thoughts is in sadhana terms a waste of time.

All this needs some practice of stilling the mind to really make sense, and that is what meditation is principally all about. I first started to meditate back in 1975 as a young student at Oxford University, and remember the first week of trying to repeat a mantra internally that the only thing I seemed to be able to effortlessly repeat was a popular song of the time. This song arose from nowhere it seemed, but could i get rid of it? No I could not. It took a lot of practice for the mind to be able to calm down, and once it does happen, thoughts and desires will no longer master you in quite the same way.


Many a would-be Yogi's life is ruined by anger, and there are plenty of salutary stories about great sages like Vishwamitra who plainly had foul tempers. In fact some modern teachers give off a most unpleasant aura of seething anger, which then becomes arrogance and pride.

So what is anger? Again, the Bhagavad Gita gives us a clue. Anger arises when desire is not fulfilled. A lifetime of missed opportunities, cruel parents, low self-esteem, being bullied and overlooked can create such a fire of anger in the system that it can paralyse you. Anger can lead you to terrible acts of revenge, and most often against yourself. Recently a friend's daughter tried to commit suicide, angry about being lied to by her boyfriend. Anger can lead to self-harm, addictions, bad behaviour of every kind. 

The worst aspect of anger, though is that we may be blind to it, while others are perfectly aware of it. Animals can especially sense an angry person, and children too. Anger is subtle: you can appear to be sweet on the outside, while burning inside. And often this burning is a cold flame - anger can be icy cold as well as boiling hot. 

My own experience of spiritual movements reminds me that in groups dedicated to one ideal, anger is often present and yet completely unacknowledged - but it can manifest in personality clashes, petty dictatorial ways, and the manipulative undermining of others. Truly, anger can be devastating. And yet, like lust, anger is a part of us.

One interesting theory, by the way, about why Middle East cultures produce such violence among young men and women is the prevelance of unleavened bread, which in turn leads to vital shortages of particular minerals - and a chronically angry disposition.

If you are an angry person, the chances are that you will not be able to recognise it in yourself, because anger is a great deceiver. 

Perhaps you feel it right to be indignant about this, that or the other, perhaps not. Often if you are angry and go to an ashram or spiritual centre, circumstances will create a situation where you really do lose your temper. You will do this by complaining about conditions to yourself and others, by feeling mistreated. In fact, a lifetime of complaining about how you are being mistreated is another sure sign of anger. Anger can bring crippling psychosomatic deseases as well.

So how to handle anger? Not easy at all. This is a really tough assignment and is likely to be a lifetime's work. Ready to roll up your sleeves? Well, a brave decision, if you make it.

Yogic tradition teaches us that to eradicate our worst faults, encourage their opposite. In anger's case the only way out is to practice Titiksha,  forbearance, or Kshama, patience.

Forbearance is the mark of a truly humble soul. With forbearance, we can accept that life is often impossible, that we can be, as one song goes "pecked by doves and trampled by lambs". Life can seem to be almost malicious, with bad luck falling around us and suffering intense. I remember many such moments of extreme misery in my life, when nothing favours, nothing goes right for us, day after weary day. Forbearance says "Yes, the rain falls. Oh well... " and recognises that even in our very darkest moments some light is present, and that we humans just have to endure through the worst. We don't lash out, we practice patience, forbearance. We hold to the truth that life is always changing, that fortune really is a wheel - sometimes you are up, sometimes down, and that insecurity is our lot on this earth plane if we are not anchored in the Self.

Next time you lose your temper.. practice forbearance. In the face of every insult, every difficulty, practice forbearance. Confucius has a saying - "the pine tree only shows its true strength in winter". 

Along with forbearance, practice forgiveness. Forgiveness of yourself, of others, time and time and time and time again. A person who will not forgive is one tied by a chain to the past. Forgive! People are ignorant and hurtful! So what! Forgive, bless, move on.

Here are some notes on quelling anger from a Buddhist perspective principally by the practice of Metta Bavana, a wonderful practice I'd heartily recommend for everyone. These notes are written by Bhikku Nanananda:

"If you restrain yourself like a broken bronze, you have already reached appeasement (nibbana) and there will be no cross-talk for you".Danda Vagga, Dhammapada.
(Note - A broken bronze vessel does not give out reverberations or echoes, when struck).


'I -see-no-error-made-which-I-could-not-have-made-Myself'(i.e. given the same amount of delusion).


"An antiseptic" for rash itchings and irritations that may come up while handling the suffering, erring, humanity.Symptoms : nausea, c-a-r-ping(not coughing), holier-than thou' feeling, stiffness, righteous - indignation.Contra indications : Discontinue treatment if self-pity sets in.Directions for use : Just 'rub-it-in' to your self.


"Large-heartedness" - the way to Deliverance of the heart through Metta (Metta cetovimutti). (i) Accommodation - No problem (Accept them with all their weaknesses) (ii) Reception - Cordial (Receive them with the warmth of friendship) (iii) Atmosphere - Free (Let them ventilate their grievances)


Switch on to Metta --- for a floodlit scene of a gloomy world.


Veto - all hateful impulses - on the basis of the 5 ways of quelling malice (i) Monks, to whatsoever person malice is arisen, towards him loving-kindness (metta) should be developed. (ii) "Monks", to whatsoever person malice is arisen, towards him compassion should be developed. (iii) "Monks" to whatsoever person malice is arisen, towards him equanimity should be developed. (iv) "Monks" to whatsoever person malice is arisen, towards him un-mindfulness and inattention should be exercised. (v) "Monks" to whatsoever person malice is arisen, towards him the attitude of taking into account the fact that he is the owner of his own deeds should be adopted - "That venerable one is owner of his own deeds heir of his own deeds, deeds are the matrix for him, deeds are his kin, deeds are his refuge, he will become the heir of whatever deeds he does". Anguttara Nikaya III 184


The "bad-tempered" are good whetstones for Forbearance.He works for the weal of bothHis own and of the otherwho on seeing the other enragedmindfully calms himself down.Sakka Samyutta, Samyutta Nikaya 122


Get rid of your worn-out skin !One occasion for ANGER is injured self-pride. Supposing you make a blunder and your friends are poking fun at you. The best thing to do now, is to have a hearty laugh at yourself - to join with them in poking fun at yourself. Your friends will soon realize that now there is no one to poke fun at - no real object for any malicious delight - for they are now pelting stones at the discarded worn-out skin of a serpent.He who can curb his wrathas soon as it ariseslike timely antidote will checksnake's venom that so quickly spreadssuch monk gives up thehere and beyondjust as a serpent shedsits worn-out skin.Uraga Sutta - Sutta Nipata


PLEAD - for your client - the Accused, before the prejudiced judge "Anger N'Hate"


How best to treat a 'patient' who is angry and hateful towards you : i. Bathe him with "METTA" - water - to cool him down. ii. Apply fragrant "METTA" - soap - to remove his dirt of hate. iii. Use the "METTA" - towel on him - that he may not catch the chill of remorse. iv. Sooth him with "METTA" - balm - to cure his irritations and old wounds.


Build the bund of Khanti' - (forberance) - well above the level of the marshy wasteland of ill-will and turn the river of METTA to overflow it in cascades.


Metta enables you to discover uncut - diamonds where earlier you found mere chunks of charcoal.


A word of METTA leaves pleasing overtones for others and serene undertones for oneself.

Lobha (Greed)

Our world has an odd tendency to apparently reward the ruthless and greedy, the exploiters of others. Great news I read in India the other day, of obesity finally becoming a problem in the emerging urban middle classes, who now have the money to spend on fulfilling their desires. 

Greed is not just about food. It is about desiring the wealth of others, the partners and wives and husbands and daughters of others. It is about overcharging, ripping others off, about abusing the system, avoiding taxes, tricking people every which way. 

Greed is the manifestation of the desire to be fed continually and over-nourished. greed wants the sweetness, especially if life is bitter. Greed wants to be bathed continually in sweetness and ecstacy.

You can see greed working out in areas you might not think about: greed for land; greed for your parent's assets; and greed by nations and groups and ideologies to "conquer" to have more, to take over, to win at all costs. and for what? To have more... and more... and more. Greed for fame, name, wealth, privilege.

How to conquer this fearsome inner enemy? This is another challenge in sadhana. Greed for entitlement is a very subtle manifestation: greed for flashy spiritual experiences, for a badge of office, for a special position as a favourite of a teacher or Guru. 

Greed is conquered by restraint, forgiveness and humility. This again is a lifetimes work, but begin today if you can. Greed is overcome by giving, by generosity, by self-effacement. You are in a long queue pushing to get something... let someone else have it. Let others have the honour, the name, the fame! Those who have conquered greed truly live peaceful and blissful lives. Best restraint? Meditate!