Friday, 16 October 2015


As regular readers of this blog know, a huge slice of audience traffic is mostly Indian and mostly heading to reading about how to chant the 700 slokas of the Chandi Path, or Devi Mahatyam, which is a little like some adventurous walker in the mountains coming up against a huge steep cliff and scratching their heads, wondering how to climb them. 

This Navararti (Oct 2015) I've gone back to chanting the Chandi Path for 9 days, while still working for a living, in addition to all the other practices such as Japa, meditation, brahmacharya etc which go on. This is an annual task, and the 2015 effort is dedicated to the ancestors and dead relatives, as a thank you gift for letting this fool have a human birth.

It is also a chance to contemplate this daunting but magnificent text from a new and fresh perspective. Yet it is still a surprise at how difficult, angular, and simply tiring Chandi Path recitation can be - and this is not reading, by the way, but chanting out loud. It is not easy or mellifluous like the famous Sahasranams. It is not playful, either. 

"A gory comic book"

On the surface it seems initially almost like a gory comic book, dwelling with a disturbing relish on violence, destruction, mass slaughter, interspersed by three beautiful and famous hymns which seem composed in an entirely different mood. And yet, there it is. A challenge, lengthy, hard to enjoy, a relief when it is over, like taking bitter medicine which will do you good. More than one seeker has simply turned tail and decided the cliff is way too steep to climb! Normally these are the ones who want to chant it to get something in terms of material possessions, glory, relief, a change in luck. 

There is a reason why some say that every one of the verses is a mantra in its own right. The Chandi Path does manifest the Devi to the reciter. And Durga as the formidable warrior face of the mother has a certain spikiness - with a formidable arsenal of weapons and powers, a ferocious lion or tiger as a vehicle, a sort of impossibly efficient killing machine. Killing what, exactly?

This is where you can find entrance into its mysteries. Because beneath the surface, the Devi Mahatyam acts directly on your nervous system if you chant it, and the parts which hold samskaras, the subtle tendencies which if allowed to sprout can lead to harmful behaviours, and problems in every way. They are the detritus from the functioning of one of the senses, in this case, hearing. So, they are a symbol of reacting to sensory impressions, which is exactly what happens with samskaras: they get awoken or triggered by sensory input. This is the inner battle that goes on. These samskaras ultimately sprout as urges which then bifurcate into thoughts. So the battle seems to the chanter to be between concentrating on the text, and then dealing with the swarming thoughts that might be carrying on an increasingly pained inner dialogue. But actually, the inner struggle is on a deeper level, right where samskaras sprout.

The angularity of the Chandi Path is real enough. The cliff face analogy holds many truths: there are no easy footholds. With a Sahasranam, you can mostly sit down, chant and there you have it, an easy sadhana practice with genuine devotion at its core. The Chandi Path is battle. It is a text that is stripped right down to bare bones for action, And this kind of battle is almost invariably painful for the reciter, which is why most souls quickly fall away from the task. And time-wise, it's a serious commitment that you cannot avoid.

So who or what is Durga?

There are many curious features about the Chandi Path. When in the introduction we hear about the Devi, there are a few cautionary shlokas that set out Her omnipresence, and manifestation in many different forms. This stress on the Devi's universality is important to remember in what follows.

The very first ritual struggle sees the Devi's presence only noticeable when she actually moves from Her interpenetration of the sleeping Lord Vishnu. I can imagine what the strict Vaishnavas would say about this! But it is a symbolic way of pointing out that until sadhana really begins, the individual will have no clue how their lives are interpenetrated by the Mother, in the form of Maya, illusion. The Mother keeps us bound until She moves away, and in the first episode this is at the request of the creator, Lord Brahma.

We next read how She as Durga was created, in a very colourful way, by all the Devas in various stages of rage, panic, determination and collaboration. Thus, Durga is always manifesting from something else - again we read how she manifests from a bathing Parvati in Ch 5. Thus, Durga, the divine Principle of overwhelming upliftment, is moving, active, and engaged. This tell us that when we do do battle with our inner enemies, the active principle of the Devi, that part which upholds and saves, is immediately enlivened. The doing the battle, or sadhana, is the trigger and catalyst. 

The first victory

We read how Durga Ma springs into action right in the first chapter, with the mysterious descriptions of two ferocious, malign but tiny demons issuing essentially from Vishnu's ear wax to try and destroy Lord Brahma, the creator. What do these demons represent? Here is a wonderful coded way of looking at the sprouting of samskaras - very small to begin with, but with malign intent. If not stopped at the beginning, they will create havoc later on. The Devi comes to the rescue, and the demons ask to be slain on "ground untouched by water". Water in this case represents emotional engagement which begins to wrap samskaras in a body of thought and feeling. So the first chapter directs us to the message: "Look, the Devi is working on a very subtle level indeed, before thoughts manifest fully."

Further battles

On goes the narrative to a number of set pieces, including the deeply inappropriate desires of the demon kings, one of whom wishes in no uncertain terms to have the Devi as his wife. Of course such hideous arrogance has its own message for us: our own utter arrogance at believing ourselves individuals somehow able to command Divine Mother. This manifests for most as a desire to chant in order to get things, a crude attempt to outwit destiny and bamboozle the Devi with a feigned devotion, an arrogant belief too that somehow our lives are wrong, that the Devi's play of the entire creation is flawed in some way. 

The problem with most seekers is this attitude of non-acceptance of ones place in life, anger at being where they are, and a completely selfish feeling that their problems are of course by the far the most important things going on in this universe at any given moment. 

So the ritual battles show us how such arrogance is dealt with. As we proceed along each set piece, we conjure up the might of whole armies, processions of troops with their proud leaders, facing at times a multitude of Devis, at times just the Devi with her forces gathered back inwards. And the most terrifying moments come when Kali is unleashed, and is completely unstoppable.

The unleashing of Kali in our inner battle is an important symbol. There comes a time when sadhana heats up to a superfast movement of inner energy redistribution, when purificiation becomes the task of Mata Kundalini. Depending on our inner impurities, this can be extremely painful. A bit like water, when it is boiled, goes through a very cloudy phase before reaching its boiling point. Moods fly out of us - a common one is a feeling of complete unworthiness, of failure. Or anger can arise like a swarm of flies - anger at forcing ourselves to do the chant, anger at life, anger at anything. 

This is why introductory mantras are important especially reciting the Devi Kavacham, because we gain a certain armour, a distance from the emotional storms that may arise. Everyone who chants the Chandi Path for a regular period will experience this. Life heats up to be white hot, as we are led to the final death - and even then there is a twist with the eruption of a "head from the body"in Chapter 10, a potent image of the final recognition of papa purusha, the body of sin which is our shadow, comprised of every harmful samskara created in lifetime after lifetime, fed by our own impulses.

What is the victory?

So if the Chandi Path is about battle, what is the victory? The victory, never in doubt, is the victory of the seeker over everything that holds back their true vision of the universe and the presence of the Devi. This is the purpose of the Chandi Path - to reveal the ultimate. Now this does not happen after one recitation. Or 200, or 1,000. it happens purely and solely as the grace of Divine Mother. 

But reciting the Chandi Path bears a final message: Bow before Her, and lose the arrogance. Of course we are human, only a miniscule few are born without trickery or conceit in their hearts. But hearts can be cleaned. The Devi Mahatyam is a formidable cleaning agent to be handled with care. Using it requires great courage, determination and common sense. But don't be fooled into thinking that you the mighty great one will recite a few verses and then hey presto a million dollars lands on your door mat. The riches that flow are riches of perception, cleanliness, of virtue triumphant, of Truth revealed. That, that alone is completely priceless. A matchless gift to the humble seeker.

Is it legitimate to chant in order to get worldly benefit?

Now of course the seeker, if they are deepening their relation to the Mother can legitimately plead for an improvement in life circumstances. The Mother is the Mother, after all. Sometimes life circumstances can be so grim - joblessness, homelessness, illnesses, that we do need to naturally cry out and say "help me!" Nothing wrong with that at all. But the mistake here is to think that a simple but heartfelt prayer to the Mother is less effective than the Chandi Path!

People generally have absolutely no faith in the power of their own prayers. They prefer top seek out "powerful mantra", "most powerful chant" and all this sort of dubious rubbish. When every letter of the alphabet is sacred, what is more sacred than any other?  As for "powerful mantra for..." kind of thinking, do you think that God is more stupid than you are, and your servant to command by "powerful mantra?"

So for 90pc of the people thinking about reciting the Chandi Path, I advise you think again and simply pray, in your own words, but genuinely and honestly. Just do it! Trust the process. Ask for relief.

For the other 10pc, well, these are the mountaineers who come prepared to scale the cliff with ropes and equipment - meaning life experience, wisdom, and a clear-eyed determination. No mountaineer worth their salt is going to climb something they have not thoroughly researched and studied. Same with the Chandi Path.

The preparation I  did all those years ago was painstakingly go through each verse, noting where pronunciation would be particularly testing, made sure I understood the meaning (the Sri Ramakrishna version has the best English translation, the Swami Satyananda version/Devi Mandir has the text to chant, which is fantastic,but an idiosyncratic translation which becomes hard to follow at times), and understood what chants were needed before and what were not.

This year I have also moved finally to a comfortable chair rather than sit in half lotus on the floor, given arthritis etc, and this helps me concentrate on the text.

Anyway: preparation, but realistic expectations. Only chant it if you want to love God. Do not chant it as a thief wanting to steal great fortunes.

Friday, 9 October 2015


A Sankalpa is a statement of resolve, intent, of will and determination, short like a pithy Sutra, a statement we can use as a personal motto in pursuing Sadhana, spiritual practice.  Why is this useful? Because we need a point of focus to advance in sadhana, we need at times to be our own personal motivational coach, guru and cheerleader. 

In the world of business, companies try to embrace both a mission and a vision statement. Most are in fact false window dressing - most companies simply want to make as much money as they can for their dominant shareholders. But nevertheless, this process of defining how we will progress, how we will advance, what our core mission is can be a very useful way of marshalling our own inner resources if we use it in spiritual life. 

A better fit is to consider how famous sportsmen and women achieve victory. They, too, build up an awesome focus and determination. They make iron-heard their determination with inner statements of intent, often repeated. 

The choice of a Sankalpa, repeated as often as you like, no rules or regulations about it, reveals a lot about the seeker. Naive, narcissistic and immature seekers usually over-reach and tend to make grandiose statements which after a day or so they forget all about. But the point of a Sankalpa is to repeat it to yourself. When you do, its also useful to anchor this determination with a physical gesture - such as quietly clenching the fist of the right hand. this is an anchoring device that adds strength to what you resolve,

The best Sankalpas are those you create for yourself. But not everyone is born with the gift of language, and generally most seekers when they decide on Sadhana are timid, lazy and uncreative. All this changes in time. But if you want to progress in sadhana... make your resolution firm! There is a great quote from the Indian Yogi Bapuji Kripalu that "God lives in the palace of determination", and how true this is!  

This brings us on to the concept of "contraction and convergence". This idea was created by a South African polymath called Aubrey Meyer, who pioneered the idea in terms of global emissions restraints... the idea being that each country should set emissions targets that would all gradually meet at one globally agreed target, tightening year by year. Lack of political will among the major emitters, particularly China and the US, put paid to the idea. But it is a good concept to apply in sadhana. You therefore converge on a target... lets say Self-Realisation, and you get there over the time by contraction - dropping bit by bit all unnecessary habits, vices and impediments which stand in the way. A Sankalpa is therefore an overarching statement of intent to contract and converge. 

Anyway, here are some 50 sankalpas to consider and use if you would like. Be creative, don't slavishly follow the herd. Design your own sankalpa and then use it as your mission badge, your personal motto. God will sit up and take notice of the brave and focused soul...

  1. I will practice my spiritual disciplines each and every day
  2. I will increase my love for the Lord constantly
  3. Every day I refine my spiritual discipline
  4. I will sing They name, no matter what!
  5. I serve Thee and love Thee
  6. Come into my home, Lord, today. Come into my heart!
  7. I am determined to reach Thee
  8. I will sweep my inner temple every day
  9. I invite you to visit. Please come without delay
  10. I will apply continual loving self-effort in sadhana
  11. I will do what is necessary to achieve the ultimate, without harm to others
  12. I praise thee: all my life is Thy song of praise
  13. I will pick myself up, brush myself off, and keep going no matter what
  14. I will fly Thy flag!
  15. I have the strength to overcome each and every weakness
  16. I will follow my Guru's mission to the end of my days
  17. I will fill Thy world with love
  18. I resolve to meditate, do japa, chant as an offering to Thee
  19. I am a Truth seeker and nothing will stop me
  20. I will reach my true home, no matter how hard the journey
  21. I love Thee, now come to me!
  22. My life is a garland for the Beloved
  23. All I  am, I offer to Thee, every day
  24. Troubles are clouds. You are the sunshine. I will not forget this
  25. Oh Benevolent One, you will heal me!
  26. Mother of All, I will nestle in your arms
  27. I flourish under Thy protecting care
  28. I know that They mercy will heal me
  29. I offer all my life to Thee
  30. I offer all that is broken in me to Thee. Please come.
  31. I walk the path of enlightenment with grace and poise
  32. I love the world more and more because it is Thy gift to me
  33. My wings are broken but you are the Master healer
  34. Warm my cold cold heart
  35. I will see the good in everything I see
  36. I resolve to curb my bad habits
  37. I can conquer all my vices with Thy Grace and mercy
  38. I will love Thee, more and more, in every way, no matter what
  39. Nothing can stand in the way between me and God
  40. I live through Thy blessing
  41. I am Thy vessel and instrument for peace
  42. I will make my light shine as brightly as possible
  43. I can. I will. I do.
  44. I will manifest Thy miracle of healing
  45. The stone that was rejected becomes the cornerstone of thy temple
  46. Oh Beloved One! I reach out to Thee
  47. I am strong, determined and resolute in sadhana
  48. My past is over. I need never go through that again.
  49. I have a new life now! Stay with me!
  50. God, my God, my all in all.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

SADHANA FOR BEGINNERS (plus advice from the Dasbodh)

The level of simple ignorance about how to practice spiritual discipline seems to have reached almost epidemic proportions. The blogger is overwhelmed by many emails flooding in from desperate people who need mostly material help, and preferably some magic genie of a Guru to appear in a puff of smoke and make their lives easy and full of luck once more. This is not sadhana, this is just swimming in desperation to a life raft in the hope you can escape misery. A Guru or teacher is not a donkey on which you can offload all your problems! But beneath all this noise, there are still very sincere souls who genuinely want to turn their life more to spirituality, but have no idea what to do or how to go about it. 

So here are some tips which I hope will be of help. But please do not bombard the blogger with "Guruji plz help" kind of emails as a result! 

  1. Sadhana is not about you getting help for difficult material circumstances. It is not the equivalent of calling a helicopter in a mountain rescue, where you are lifted up and out of your life by another agency.
  2. Sadhana is about a wonderful mix of self-effort and grace. Self-effort attracts Divine grace. In turn, Divine grace attracts more self-effort. But sadhana is not simply giving all your nasty problems to someone else to carry for a while.
  3. Sadhana involves disciplined and regular practice.
  4. Practice of what? The simplest stepping stone is always japa - recitation of a name of God, usually done on a japa mala - a set of 108 beads. This can be done silently, or aloud, your choice. Don't agonise about initiation into a mantra or you will never start, and get diverted into a search for someone who will initiate you (and in this day and age charge money for it most probably). Start with a name, and that name itself will lead you to a teacher who will then help you. But... start! 10 minutes japa every day, then extend the time slowly. Develop a passion for japa, in a quiet space, just you. Japa is a formalised way to call out to God, to fall in love. In India particularly there is this fear that God will be angry at you for calling out this way. The rest of the world has a more sensible approach.
  5. Practice of meditation is what really kick-starts japa. In the beginning, the simple but profound process of sitting quietly and focussing on your in breath and out breath really sorts out who will stick in sadhana and who will not. Meditation is a process of stilling the mind. At first, all you experience will be the endless chain of thoughts passing through. But, persist. Those who set up a regular meditation practice are guaranteed ultimate success.
  6. For men and young men in particular, a lot of your problems are due to the excessive wasting of seminal fluid. This robs you of vitality, energy, gentleness, and adds anger and impulsive judgement to your life. At some point, if you get serious about a search for God, you will have to restrain your sexual indulgence.
  7. Worldly problems are not solved by sadhana in the way you think. But your attitude is what changes. But all too often, people only want to make a brief gesture of sadhana, then sink back into bad habits and self-pity. Many narcissistic personalities enter sadhana in the entirely mistaken assumption that they are wonderful loving individuals, all the while criticising others and blaming everyone but themselves for their woes. So have a bit of humility.
  8. Approaching teachers, too, has to be in the right spirit. Don't cavil or argue with a teacher who has experienced reality and who gives you good advice. A whole generation has lost respect for wisdom and experience.
  9. There are many simple and obvious preparatory steps to clean up your life that need nothing but your own efforts, such as:
  • Go to bed early
  • Don't spend excessive time on computers and phones. God is not a phone contact or on Facebook
  • Drink water all the time, not soft drinks or stimulants
  • Do physical exercise
  • Eat sattvic pure food
10. Sadhana involves a wonderful creation of your own routine at your own time, utilising your own pace but done with wisdom and always slightly tightening your routine month after month, year after year. Just like climbing a mountain, you go one step at a time, not one giant leap. A lack of common sense and inability to judge your own strength will have you drop away from sadhana within a few short weeks.
11. Your life will be characterised by complete restlessness, and in sadhana this will manifest too as you restlessly go from teacher to teacher, book to book, sensation after sensation. Sadhana properly done involves steadiness, involves slowly curbing this restlessness once and for all. The analogy often used by the wise is to compare the mind to a bee, flitting from flower to flower etc etc. Now at some point the bee has to stop and sip the nectar it seeks! So, when you find a path that gives you nectar, stick to it. And this does not mean maxing out on worldly thrills - that is the path called "Bhoga" not "Yoga". If you are not convinced that sadhana is worthwhile, then stick to being a  Bhogi like 99.9pc of the population. 
12. There is more than enough material on the internet to teach you everything you know. There are some great resources, especially free e books from Swami Sivananda, who was a great communicator and teacher of wisdom last century. Search out fearlessly and see what comes up.
13. Stuck for really learning? By far the best thing is to get a good version of the Sri Bhagavad Gita (avoid the Hare Krishna version which has some pretty harsh dogmatic commentaries). Read the Bhagavad Gita every day.
14. Sadhana also involves prayer for others. If you do not know how to pray, you do not know how to breathe. Pray for others. Turning your ingrained selfishness to help someone else is worth a whole heap of diamonds in sadhana.
15. You will need a Guru at particular points in sadhana, and a Guru will always manifest for you. But in the beginning, this is not necessary. Nor is a Guru going to be someone to whom you can chat on a daily basis, nor can you try drag a true Guru into your own network, a sort of servant of your every whim and ailment. Most people do not want a real Guru, but a parent. this blogger gets besieged by people who ask for his phone number so they can chat about their problems, as if teachers are a Helpline service and just waiting to pander to troubled egos. A Guru is there pointing the way. Only a very few souls have the grace to live intimately with great ones, and that kind of life can be very fiery!  
16. A lack of love for yourself and others is mostly down to bitterness and anger. These traits take time to remove, bit by bit, but you have to do the heavy lifting. Few even try.
17. Is Sadhana worth it? 100,000 times yes! Sadhana gives you contentment, constant inner joy, dignity, and unveils successive miracles and strange wonderful hapennings. Sadhana is what lights the flame to which the Lord is drawn.
18. There is a famous saying from the Shiva Sutras: Yoga Bhumikah, the path of Yoga is full of wonders. This is absolutely true. Sadhana faithfully and regularly pursued with intensity produces miraculous events so astonishing that they can raise the hair on the back of your head. It's not just visions and lights - no, real miraculous twists and turns in your life. God is ready to draw near the devotee who makes the real effort to draw near to the Divine. Oh, what inexpressible joy is sadhana! This blogger in his life has seen and tasted just about every pleasure the world can produce. But all really is dust compared with the bliss of the dance with the Divine. 
19. A life of vice will never mean success in sadhana.
20. A life of  virtue is the golden ticket to sadhana.
21. Finally: most people feel unloved, victimised, unhappy, stressed, bitter and angry. So what? Only a few brave souls have the ability to persist in sadhana, and yet this persistence brings rewards out of all proportion to the effort made. The key is to begin, off your own volition, not to wait for some authority figure to say "begin". You want to be totally changed by Divine Love? Start the process!

And here's the tip of all tips:






And now over to the great words of the Maharastran saint Shri Samartha Ramdas (contained in the Dasbodh)

  1. Worldly life is like a great flood with unlimited water animals and poisonous serpents biting
  2. Hopes and the sense of "mine" are like shackles for the human body.  They are like alligators tearing one to pieces. They drag one towards sorrow and put one into difficulties.
  3. The ego is like a crocodile which throws one into the lower world and drowns one there. it is difficult for living beings to escape or be freed from there.
  4. Desires hold tightly like an alligator that does not loosen its grip. When one develops hatred and it does not go away, and when pride and jealousy are never reduced, this is being cvaught in illusion.
  5. The majority of beings are caught in a whirlpool and are swept away, but some call to God for help, with a deep feeling of devotion.
  6. God himself jumps into the flood and takes them to the other shore, while those who are without devotion get swept away.
  7. God is hungry for devotion.
  8. He is enticed by seeing devotion, and helps the devotee in danger and protects him.
  9. The sorrows of worldly life disappear for one who loves God and calls upon him.
  10. Those who give their allegiance to God enjoy the celebration of their own happiness. Such devotional people are blessed with good fortune.
  11. Whatever type of faith one has in God, God is like that for them. He is the innermost knower of thoughts of all beings.
  12. If one is deceitful, God becomes a great deceiver. It's a wonder to see His reciprocation.
  13. Whatever way in which one praises God, in the same way, God gives contentment. If one's faith becomes a bit less, God moves away.
  14. Those who give praise with deep feeling are purified and become one with God. By the power of their devotion they liberate their ancestors as well.
  15. Those who have love for God rejoice in the bliss of the self. Their wealth is different from that of other people. It is never ending.
  16. The devotee of God may be inferior with regard to riches, but he is superior to Brahma and the other Gods as he is always content and without any desires.
  17. The devotees who have given up attachment to worldly life and who hold to the support of God are protected by Jagadisha, the Lord of the Universe from all sides.
The Dasbodh on the first stage of Sadhana, the state of a seeker (mumuksha) :
  1. Because of intoxication with worldly life one acquires many lowly and undesirable qualities. Even by looking at such a person one feels affected by his worldliness.
  2. One who is bound and who behaves in an uncontrolled manner in worldly life becomes miserable in time.
  3. He remembers all the misdeeds that he has previously committed and the memories of them stand strongly in his mind.
  4. The fear of death stands strongly in his mind because he has done so many wrongful deeds in his life.
  5. He thinks: it is as if I  drowned devotion, which is like a mother, and fooloishly disturbed the peace and spoiled good intellect and virtuous desire.
  6. What is to be done to remedy my situation? How can one go beyond the worldly life? What qualities will enable me to realise God?
  7. If one recognises and turns away from worldliness, one can change and become a seeker such as described in sacred texts.
  8. When one says, "I know nothing, I have so many faults," that is called being a seeker.
  9. When one says, "I am a heap of bad qualities. I have wasted my life in vain. I am a burden to the earth," This is called being a seeker.
  10. When one begins leaving behind ones egotism, and holds to the expectation of liberation, this is called being a seeker.
  11. One who begins to feels ashamed of his lust for power, fame and glory, who then begins making efforts for a spiritual life, and who begins serving virtuous people is a seeker of liberation.