Monday, 24 November 2014


Warning: This post is not meant for the idle or the curious. But it will call the persons for whom it is intended. So please... apply common sense and don't put this into practice unless you feel you are being called to a truly deeper closeness to God!

"Total Surrender is when one yields to Him, not due to the pressure of circumstances but voluntarily with hands folded, head bowed, ego surrendered and heart divinised." 
Swami Satyananda Saraswati


Sadhana commitment is a lifetime's affair, and at its heart lies the secret of surrender, a constant, always renewed, bowing down to Divinity and the ultimate merging with the source of divine hidden inside your heart. 

There are seasons to deep surrender, and the timing unfolds according to a rhythm that is hidden inside your destiny. Perhaps, for whatever reason, due to whatever series of events, you now feel you have reached a point where a far deeper commitment to the spiritual life is called for. You feel an urgent need in your heart to dedicate yourself absolutely and irrevocably to following the Lord in all of God's myriad manifestations, as child, as mother, as father, as the stealer of hearts. You may feel this as an urgent impulse hammering away inside of you. Something blindly leads you on. 

Only you can know if you reach such a point, but be aware that it is rare. Most people practice a bit of meditation, may be some japa, or prayers, a few stretches, and that's the extent of surrender -plus a few retreats scheduled in between life. The urge to deeper surrender is both a gift and a trouble. Everything is thrown topsy-turvy. Part of you will rise to fight against any such impulse, so you are immediately pitched into a battle with your lower nature.

If your heart is not pure, then your surrender will not be absolute. But very few hearts are pure at the time of commitment. So, surrender will only be a promissary note, a signing away of your rights as an individual to the highest good, the highest purpose. As your heart is slowly cleaned by spiritual practice, the opportunity to surrender ever more deeply comes time and time again. 

No one else need know. But the subsequent dance with the Beloved is conducted across time and space, and produces extraordinary states of exultation, bliss, as well as loss and dismay. a bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, You are swept up in the close embrace of a whirlwind.

Surrender with any expectation of reward is simply not what is meant by surrender. Surrender to obtain something, get something, exalt yourself, get powers and abilities - that's just a mockery of the essential truth of surrender. So is the cautious bargaining "Well, I might surrender, but you need to show me something first!" Nope, that won't cut it either. Nor "I want to surrender... I am frightened... later in life."

This is why deep surrender is so very rare, such a startling and wonderful and completely illogical human activity. And yet, where do all the saints and yogis come from? From the ranks of those who have surrendered to God. And from where does society get its renewal? From those very same individuals.

The Five Jewels

The act of surrender (its is called Samarpan in Sanskrit) does however bear fruit. Not immediately. It takes time and much back-breaking effort and challenge. But Surrender produces among many other wonders, 5 jewels of life in particular:

1) The Jewel of constancy

Constancy means steadfastness, means maintaining an even connection with a core mission of surrender, and slowly training yourself to live in a way that reflects, down to the very last particular, the reality of surrender.

The great Christian message of "Thy Will be Done" is the heartbeat of this constancy. Whatever comes up, good, bad, terrifying, boring, frustrating, exciting... whatever life throws at you,  you maintain this constant link to the core surrender of your life.

If you do this properly, then don't worry, this jewel of constancy will remind you of its presence, will nudge you to refocus, you recalibrate your settings back to surrender until it is so automatic that surrender becomes an unbroken stream of intention.

"Divine will is mysterious, ever elusive, ever receding, subtle, inexpressable, invisible, and yet all-pervading, knowable through intuition, devotion and purity. Who can know the divine will? Only one who has surrendered unreservedly to God can know it as the source and goal of life."
Swami Sivananda

2) The Jewel of Serenity

"Oh Lord, thou art my all in all," This prayer, the constant prayer in the heart, eventually becomes a statement of absolute truth and reality, even if it starts out as anything but. It is the outward expression of an inner peace of the heart that descends or is uncovered after many trials and efforts. Serenity is the  comfort of being inwardly secure in a sea of love, And this can felt whatever yuou are doing ... even if you are ranting and raving! Serenity is inner peace. It comes and goes over many years, but each wave of serenity seems deeper and fuller. It manifests through deep surrender.

3) The Jewel of Renewal

In  each of us is a mysterious inner spring that is the source of all vitality. It is a fountain not made by the hand of man, and it is found principally in the heart.With surrender comes a freedom to drink from this spring directly. You are renewed by the inner ambrosia daily. There are many esoteric scriptures that refer to this hidden inner spring, and it can never be used for any selfish ends, or for greed or self-aggrandisment. Those after siddhis, powers, glory, they will never get near its location. Only those surrendered will be given the gift of access, or those entirely innocent - such as small children. But with deep surrender comes deep, daily renewal.

4) The Jewel of Humility

Giving up your rights, ambitions, plans, pride of accomplishment is far more difficult than simply uttering a pompous speech to the heavens. Again, practitioners of sadhana tend to only go along with the practice if their egos are being fed. Surrender destroys this part of the ego. Surrender brings us to many moments of worldly and spiritual humiliation as we empty ourselves of our toxic natures. We have to be tough to learn humility, to take the blows and knocks. Life around great Gurus often include deliberate events or occasions when the disciple's ego is hauled before the coals... in public. In this modern age, of course, law suits may be likely to follow from the outraged disciple. But a true disciple will bow, will let pride be washed away. Only when we are naked, poor, foolish and simple will true humility dawn. And no one might even guess that such and such person has this extraordinary level of surrender. But God knows, every time.

5) The Jewel of Illuminating Light

Such a soul, such a rare soul, that surrenders and then stays true to surrender... they are the jewels of any nation. And from them a light shines which illumines all around. Is the light love? Is the love light? Yes the two are closely linked. Surrender causes a vast light to shine from your heart. This light penetrates all evil, all trouble, all inauspicious times and places. It is the pilgrim's light of one who walks the mountains of the Lord - whether you call the mountain Mt Kailash, Arunachala, Mt Zion, Mt Carmel, however your spiritual language tells you. The light is what heals our world.  

Monday, 10 November 2014


The Mahavidyas are covered in the Serious Sadhana correspondence course, and this post includes an excerpt from the part on Bhuvaneshwari.

When you sit back and think about Deity looking after each and every part of the manifested universe, it is not easy to gain perspective. The town, village or city in which we live has enough almost infinite series of variations and energy exchanges  - and just contemplate what goes on in our body alone. Now expand that, expand beyond the earth's boundaries and imagine floating through the vastness of space.

This vastness is what Mata Bhuvaneshwari embodies. Her direction in the Mahavidyas is west. So, we look west at the time of the setting sun and what do we see? Emerging space, the clarity of stars beginning to appear in the sky. 

If you have ever had the chance to truly see the unclouded night sky in all its glory, far from city lights, then you know how awe-inspiring such a sight is. I live in one of the most light-polluted cities on earth, but just occasionally in my life have seen the unguarded splendour of space unfold as I lie down on the ground and simply... gaze in wonder. The last time this happened was in a small tropical island off Zanzibar. A friend of mine once took a trip in the Egyptian desert, where the stars seem so near you feel you can touch them.

All this majesty and mystery is part of Bhuvaneshwari. This is the Mother not as the intimate mother to the soul, looking after your needs and welfare. No, this is the Mother in all Her splendour, the Mother of inconceivable vastness and majesty.

Some of us will be more drawn to Her in this aspect. She is what we imagine God to be, this being of such size that we cannot comprehend Her as a whole in our normal awareness, not at all. In the west, especially, we are most comfortable with this gigantic, epic conception. The interstellar reaches, the birth and death of stars, black holes, parallel universes, galaxies - all this is part of Bhuvaneshwari's form. 

There are two amazing descriptions which help understand this cosmic power. One is Yogananda's own experience of Cosmic Consciousness, a very famous passage from his Autobiography of a Yogi. The other comes from the unusual books by a British writer of the mid 20th century, Olaf Stapleton. These are loosely labelled science fiction but are anything but. He was a deep thinker and one of the very few writers able to sketch out visions on a truly galactic and vast scale, especially in Starmaker (don't be put off by the title, it's an erudite work not a space soap opera). 

The point of contact with Bhuvaneshwari for all those pursuing Devi sadhana is the bija mantra HRIM (pronounced Hreem)  which is also called Hrillekha, the streak or sudden emanation like lightening from the heart space, or the Devi Pranava (which can also be applied to other shakti bija mantras). This bija mantra is embedded wherever you look when worshipping the Mother, it is absolutely vital. Hrim connects our heart space to the transcendent by creating this flashing-forth of the heart-streak. 

Hrim is also known as the "modest" Bija, Lajja Bija, and the subtle meaning of this is that She, as the Mother of space, gives birth to worlds and universes which are "modest", which are not yet fully revealed or uncovered -which will unfold in time. So contained in this name is one of the secrets of the universe: that worlds unfold in time, just as our own souls reveal their potential over time. This is the closest that Tantra comes to the evolutionary impulse. But it is also worth remembering that just as we can unfold, so we can fold - that there are two basic movements in the universe. It's not all continual expansion or spinning out. At some point every creation draws in, ends and dies.

The Mother as Bhuvaneshwari encompasses vastness and Space, which in Sanskrit is the fifth element akasha. This is the form that contains all the manifested universe, of which we are an infinitesimal part, the Mother of whom Yogananda sang in one of his Cosmic Chants “Thousands of suns and moons from Thy body do shine.”  It is also connected with the heart-space,the sacred heart which is the resting place of the Divine in all of us. Her name in the Vedas is also Aditi, the great mother of all the Devas. Yet another name familiar to all: Maya,  or Mahamaya, the great veiling power of the unmanifest becoming the manifest.

Bhuvana means world, ishwari ruler, but nevertheless she is not an earth goddess at all, but a ruler of all space who fills it and protects it. This rulership gives her a calmness and serenity, a dispassion and mildness that makes her easy to approach. All troubles and woes disappear in the vastness and calmness of space. She is also known as Aditi, the primordial Mother.

Bhuvaneshwari therefore is connected with Kali, because she provides the cosmic ground on which Kali dances – thus Space provides the ground for Time. She is sacred ground, the ground on which all creation unfolds, and therefore the innermost sheath covering the unmanifest, Lord Shiva. Her name Bhuvana, means cosmos, and appears in a truncated form in the famous Gayatri mantra.

She is connected with Tripura Sundari because she represents Jnana Shakti, the energy from knowledge. The difference between the two is this calmness, the universal equipoise beyond all movement of passion or desire. She is the Mother who supports and interpenetrates all of creation, but the mother, too, without a court unlike Tripura Sundari.

And yet she is virtually unknown to the wider world! Clearly the world is not yet wide enough for this Goddess of the Universe. Perhaps in the West, her calmness and universality makes her the most easily understood of all the Mahavidyas. Again, there are echoes in other religions of Her, especially the Egyptian Goddess Nut, whose depiction is of a giant form bestriding the night sky with a body made of stars.

We look out therefore at the goddess who inhabits all, as far as we can see. Her inconography is similar to Tripura Sundari except her colour, which despite her position in the west has the colour of the rising sun.

How to worship such a Goddess? How to worship such scale? For surely we then condemn ourselves to being the utterly insignificent speck on an utterly insignificant corner of an utterly insignificant galaxy. But the point about this massive conception of the Mother is that interpenetrates us to the depth of every cell, that she has infinite eyes, infinite limbs, infinite senses. That she sports in us, and therefore connects us with every other part of her. 

Akasha, her medium, is all pervading in the manifested world. It is the ground of manifestation, it is what everything floats in, from the nucleus, the atom, to the biggest neutron star. Space is pervasive, this is another part of her message for us.

Connecting with Bhuvaneshwari calls therefore for a courageous recognition that really, every moment of every day, we are manifested as a vibrational light in a wider sea than we ever consciously think about. She is that sea. This is the Mother at her most awe-inspiring. And all of this is unlooked by that apparently simple bija mantra, Hrim. Amazing! Just say, if you have the time, this wonderful mantra out loud, really stretching it, in a darkened room...

Thursday, 6 November 2014


Would you give up your life to save a grove of trees? Would you protect wildlife and the environment at all costs despite living in a harsh desert environment where resources are scarce? Well in one region in India there is a faith that values the world around us so highly, devotees have sacrificed themselves to prevent others from harming it.

The faith is called the Bishnoi religion, founded over 500 years ago by one of India's least known saints, Guru Jambheshwar. It is narrowly focused in one social grouping in the Western thar desert of India. The Bishnoi name is derived from the number 29 and refers to 29 core principles (given below) handed down by the Guru.

The remarkable aspect of this faith is that its care of the environment and animals has had a truly wonderful effect. Even in the desert conditions, the land flourishes and animals flourish in peace with intervention by humans, whereas all around no such bounty exists. Why is this so? The peacefulness urged by the faith has essentially done a large part in eradicating violence in society. 

The Bishnois appear briefly in a new BBC documentary series on the Monsoon lands, and their ways carefully explained by the tribal elders. What a wonderful bit of heaven! Ahimsa, non-violence, is one of the vital Yamas and Niyamas which underpin all spiritual practice, but to be truly non-violent you have to extend this to the world around you. 

Elsewhere in the desert, deer are chased away and driven far from water sources. In Bishnoi land they wander freely and are honoured and nurtured. And all of this at least 500 years before the world spawned environmental activists!

The great Guru himself must have been a beautiful soul. His essential teachings boiled down into 29 principles are nothing startling in terms of spiritual discipline. But they add some extra clauses. Have a look at them (this translation is from Wikipedia):

  1. Observe 30 days' state of untouchability after child's birth
  2. Observe 5 days' segregation while a woman is in her menses
  3. Bath early morning
  4. Obey the ideal rules of life: Modesty
  5. Obey the ideal rules of life: Patience or satisfactions
  6. Obey the ideal rules of life: Purifications
  7. Perform Sandhya two times a day
  8. Eulogise their God, Vishnu, in evening hours (Aarti)
  9. Perform Yajna (Havan) every morning
  10. Filter water, milk and firewood
  11. Speak pure words in all sincerity
  12. Adopt the rule of forgiveness and pity
  13. Don't steal
  14. Do not condemn or criticize
  15. Don't lie
  16. Don't waste the time on argument
  17. Fast on Amavashya and offer prayers to Vishnu
  18. Have pity on all living beings and love them
  19. Do not cut green trees, save the environment
  20. Crush lust, anger, greed and attachment
  21. Accept food and water from our purified people only
  22. Provide a common shelter for male goat/sheep to avoid them being slaughtered in abattoirs
  23. Don't sterilise ox
  24. Don't use opium
  25. Don't take smoke and use tobacco
  26. Don't take bhang or hemp
  27. Don't take wine or any type of liquor
  28. Don't eat meat, remain always pure vegetarian
  29. Never use blue clothes

The principles you find nowhere else are also intriguing. The gelding of male bullocks or their destruction at birth is one of the saddest results of modern agriculture, where only milk producing cows are valued and male cows have no use, because the use of oxen as a key tool in agriculture is declining even in India.In the west this situation is appalling but to the credit of the Hare Krishna movement, they run a save an oxen movement in the UK, The ban on the colour blue refers to the use of indigo which involved large scale destruction of plants. 

What is amazing is that the Guru managed to persuade villagers to follow these principles so faithfully and pass them down through the generations. If only the rest of India would take note! This is a land that should look so beautiful yet is marred by such polluting ugliness, especially the awful profusion of human waste, plastic bags, and general detritus strewn around the outskirts of cities. 

To me it seems as though the rest of the world has got some catching up to do with the Bishnois. It is as if God decided to perform a little experiment in one small corner of the world and see what would result. What did transpire, no one could have foreseen. Over 300 Bishnois laid down their lives rather than let a ruthless raja cut down their trees. As recently as 1995 a Bishnoi gave his life to stop hunters on Bishnoi land. Now that is truly living a spiritual life to the max.

The proof of the pudding in this case is how fertile the Bishnoi lands are compared with elsewhere. In our violent modern culture where taking is considered the one motivation, the Bishnois remind us, no, there is another way to go. And this way works. What a fantastic tradition!