The Lotus of the Heart

To complete the teaching of Katha Upanishad Death tells us: ” Radiating from the lotus of the heart there are a hundred and one nerves. One of these ascends toward the thousand-petaled lotus in the brain. If, when a man comes to die, his vital force passes upward and out through this nerve, he attains immortality; but if his vital force passes out through another nerve, he goes to one or another plane of mortal existence and remains subject to birth and death. The Supreme Person, of the size of a thumb, the innermost Self, dwells forever in the heart of all beings. As one draws the pith from a reed, so must the aspirant after truth, with great perseverance, separate the Self from the body. Know the Self to be pure and immortal – yea, pure and immortal!”

The Narrator concludes: “Nachiketa, having learned from the god this knowledge and the whole process of yoga,was freed from impurities and from death, and was united with Brahman. Thus will it be with another also if he know the innermost Self. OM peace, peace, peace.”

Our theme for this year’s annual retreat was the lotus flower. It has rich symbology for the yoga community. The lotus flower is seeded in the mud. It grows up through the murky depths, and then blossoms so beautifully on the surface of the water. So it is with us. We come up through our struggles, our difficulties, our lessons, and then blossom with enlightenment!

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Blissful Self

Nachiketa asks: ” How, O King, shall I find that blissful Self, supreme, in- effable, who is attained by the wise? Does he shine by himself, or does he reflect another’s light?” The King of Death replied: ” Him the sun does not illumine, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor the lightning – nor, verily, fires kindled upon the earth. He is the one light that gives light to all. He shining, everything shines. This universe is a tree eternally existing, its root aloft, its branches spread below. The pure root of the tree is Brahman, the immortal, in whom the three worlds have their being, whom none can transcend, who is verily the Self. The whole universe came forth from Brahman and moves in Brahman. ”

Death continues: ” If a man fail to attain Brahman before he casts off his body, he must again put on a body in the world of created things. In one’s own soul Brahman is realised clearly, as if seen in a mirror…None beholds him with the eyes, for he is without visible form. Yet in the heart is he revealed, through self-control and meditation. Those who know him become immortal.”

Such an interesting description – the upturned tree. We tend, in yoga, to raise the energy from the root chakra up through the other wheels of energy to the crown chakra. Try working the other way. Bring down the light, the love and the blessings from the crown chakra to the root.

Back to Nachiketa

The King of Death says: ” Brahman is the end of the journey. Brahman is the supreme goal. This Brahman, this Self, deep-hidden in all beings, is not revealed to all; but to the seers, pure in heart, concentrated in mind – to them is he revealed. The senses of the wise man obey his mind, his mind obeys his intellect, his intellect obeys his ego, and his ego obeys the Self. Arise! Awake! Approach the feet of the master and know THAT. Like the sharp edge of the razor, the sages say, is the path. Narrow it is, and difficult to tread! Soundless, formless, intangible, odourless, without beginning, without end, eternal, immutable, beyond nature, is the Self. Knowing him as such, one is freed from death.”

So we learn more about immortality from the Katha Upanishad. Try reading it out loud. The words speak to your heart…

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.

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…