Sandcastles and mortality

I was a very lonely child,

Prone to sit and dream.

I sought out the calm and mild,

Emotions less extreme.

My family were volatile,

My brother rather mean.

 

I always loved the sea-side,

The water and the sand.

Collected shells, feathers, all beside

And held them in my hand.

I’d build a castle with some pride,

Thought out and carefully planned.

 

The castle was of Lindisfarne,

I found out later on.

Holy, historical, full of charm,

Echoes of days long gone.

I built a place where, free from harm,

I’d live peacefully on and on.

 

Then in would come the playful tide

And splash my castle down.

I would stand (I never cried)

But on my face a frown.

And as my loving build just died,

I’d join in and knock it down.

 

As I grew up, I turned my tools

To building family.

A home, some pets, yogic rules,

The plan was harmony.

It worked quite well, we bred no fools,

Then came some jeopardy.

 

Cancer came, just like the tide,

And washed over all we’d built.

No matter how the family tried,

The construction turned to silt.

The love, the fun, that we’d supplied,

Our relationships all wilt.

Impermanence is guaranteed,

As we tread this stony path.

Our expectations far exceed

Possibility, willingness, love.

Life’s too short, we have agreed,

Now there’s the aftermath.

 

Moments are all that matter;

Moments and memories.

Letting everyday chatter

Give way to ecstasies.

As all illusions shatter,

Thoughts turn to mortality.

Immortality and Dharma

As a mother, you take on the dharma of motherhood. It is your responsibility to care for and nurture your children. As a grandmother, you take on the dharma of caring for your grandchildren, and filling in the spaces where you are needed. As a teacher, you take on the dharma of caring for your students. As you get older, you begin to question more deeply the philosophical questions of life and immortality. Respect, courtesy and good old-fashioned niceness is required for all generations to grow, learn, harmonise and move forward in love.

Retreat

Our annual weekend retreat begins today. One lady said: “It is more of an advance than a retreat!”

On the Saturday evening, we are doing an enactment of Chandogya Upanishad. Taking part in the drama are my daughter, my two granddaughters, me and our friend, Andy. He plays Prajapati, the renowned teacher.

Our theme for the weekend is ‘The Lotus Flower’. In Chandogya Upanishad it says: ” Within the city of Brahman, which is the body, there is the heart, and within the heart there is a little house. This house has the shape of a lotus, and within it dwells that which is to be sought after, inquired about, and realised.”

Reminded of the Bhagavad Gita

We are reminded of the Bhagavad Gita when Death says: ‘Know that the Self is the rider and the body the chariot; that the intellect is the charioteer, and the mind the reins. The senses, say the wise, are the horses; the roads they travel are the mazes of desire. The wise call the Self the enjoyer when he is united with the body, the senses and the mind. When a man lacks discrimination and his mind is uncontrolled, his senses are unmanageable , like the restive horses of a charioteer. But when a man has discrimination and his mind is controlled, his senses, like the well-broken horses of a charioteer, lightly obey the rein.’

I always say that you need to read the Upanishads with your heart and not your head. Try reading those words out loud. It’s just lovely…

All about the Self

Death says: ‘The man who has learned that the Self is separate from the body, the senses, and the mind, and has fully known him, the soul of truth, the subtle principle – such a man verily attains to him, and is exceeding glad, because he has found the source and dwelling place of all felicity. Truly do I believe, O Nachiketa, that for thee the gates of joy stand open.’

Nachiketa replies: ‘ Teach me, O King, I beseech thee, whatsoever thou knowest to be beyond right and wrong, beyond cause and effect, beyond past, present and future.’

Death continues:’ Of that goal which all the Vedas declare, which is implicit in all penances, and in pursuit of which men lead lives of continence and service, of that I will ¬†briefly speak. It is – OM. This syllable is Brahman. This syllable is indeed supreme.’

OM is the universal hymn; OM is the primordial sound; OM is the best known mantra; OM is the symbol of yoga; OM is the expression of the Supreme Being.

Ignorance and Knowledge

Death continues: ‘Far from each other, and leading to different ends, are ignorance and knowledge. Thee, O Nachiketa, I regard as one who aspires after knowledge, for a multitude of pleasant objects were unable to tempt thee. Living in the abyss of ignorance yet wise in their own conceit, deluded fools go round and round, the blind led by the blind. To the thoughtless youth, deceived by the vanity of earthly possessions, the path that leads to the eternal abode is not revealed. ‘This world alone is real; there is no hereafter’ – thinking thus, he falls again and again, birth after birth, into my jaws. To many it is not given to hear of the Self. Many, though they hear of it, do not understand it. Wonderful is he who speaks of it. Intelligent is he who learns of it. Blessed is he who, taught by a good teacher, is able to understand it.’

Yoga is a journey of Self-discovery. This is why it is endlessly fascinating. We keep travelling down the layers until the Self is revealed.

Nachiketa is granted three wishes

Nachiketa journeyed to the house of Death, and waited for three days to see him. Death greeted him as a Brahmin and offered him three wishes, or boons. Nachiketa’s first wish was that his father would release his anger and greet him as his son. This wish was granted. Nachiketa’s second wish was that he could learn the fire ritual, so that he could be guaranteed to enter heaven. This Death taught him. But then his third wish was to learn the secret of immortality, and Death was very reluctant to grant this boon. He begged Nachiketa to accept all manner of wealth and status instead, but the boy stood firm. Eventually, Death begins to share his knowledge of immortality:

“The good is one thing; the pleasant is another. These two, differing in their ends, both prompt to action. Blessed are they that choose the good; they that choose the pleasant miss the goal. Both the good and the pleasant present themselves to men. The wise, having examined both, distinguish one from the other. The wise prefer the good to the pleasant; the foolish, driven by fleshly desires, prefer the pleasant to the good.”

So it is that we learn from the teachings, in story form. Just as we enjoyed the stories of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, or Cinderella, so yogis digest the teachings from the Upanishads..

keeping it real

Katha Upanishad begins: ‘ On a certain occasion Vajasrabasa, hoping for divine favour, performed a rite which required that he should give away all his possessions. He was careful, however, to sacrifice only his cattle, and of these only such as were useless – the old, the barren, the blind and the lame. Observing this niggardliness, Nachiketa, his young son, whose heart had received the truth taught in the scriptures, thought to himself: ‘Surely a worshipper who dares bring such worthless gifts is doomed to utter darkness!’ Thus reflecting, he came to his father and cried: “Father, I too belong to thee: to whom givest thou ME?” His father did not answer; but when Nachiketa asked again and yet again, he replied impatiently: “Thee I give to Death”.

We will only progress along our spiritual path if we embrace our yoga, our meditation and the teachings wholeheartedly. That does not mean to say that we follow blindly. No, there is always a need to check everything out with your inner guru. But ‘going through the motions’ will not lead to progress. I’m sure we have all met ‘yogis’ who are more concerned about how pretty they look in an asana, or how lovely their meditation shawl is, rather than actually doing the work!

Katha Upanishad

In the introduction to Katha Upanishad we read: ‘The secret of immortality is to be found in the purification of the heart, in meditation, in realisation of the identity of the Self within and Brahman without. For immortality is union with God’.

Meditation is the cornerstone of yoga practice. When we’ve worked with our asanas and our pranayama, we’re ready to sit steadily and meditate. Then we explore the deeper questions…

The Upanishads

Student yoga teachers study three great works, ‘The Bhagavad Gita’, Patanjali’s Sutras and ‘The Upanishads’.

Upanishad means to ‘sit at the feet of the Master’. This refers to the fact that yogic teaching was passed from Guru (teacher) to chela (student). The Upanishads are like our fables. You need to read them with your heart, rather than your mind. They all contain a moral.

The Upanishads are the philosophical part of the Vedas. Neither dogma nor theology, these meditations concern direct, overwhelming religious experience in the midst of life, and record insights into eternal truths. They are unified by their common search for the true nature of Reality, and in the course of this search afford glimpses into supreme states of the soul.

In the days to come, we’ll explore twelve of these Upanishads.