Our subject for July is Guru.
What does it mean to be a Guru, or to have a Guru? The term Guru has been over used lately as advertisers and the media have been applying it to people who know a lot about something like fashion, investment, food, etc.
In the yogic tradition the Guru is a being who dispels darkness. It is not just that the Guru knows a lot about any one thing. The Guru knows about liberation and self awareness, and recognizes what will free their disciples. As I learned, the person you consider a teacher is the one who points to the light, and the Guru is the light. To illustrate, I might point a finger towards the full moon for you to witness and appreciate, but the Guru IS the full moon. The Guru is the one who radiates light and love to the disciple, and guides the disciple towards realization of their own light. This is why it is said that the Guru takes us across the ocean of samsara (repetitive suffering), because it is through the grace of the Guru that we wake up to who we are. When that happens, suffering ceases. The body that a Guru shows up in is a container, but Guru is the light of the true self. There are many containers out there, and some will resonate with us more than others. But when YOUR Guru shows up, you will know it beyond any doubt.
It is said that in the presence of a Guru knowledge flourishes, sorrow diminishes , joy wells up without any reason, abundance dawns, all talents manifest. Seekers who have found their Guru say their lives change forever. The love they experience in their Guru’s presence is unlike anything they had experienced before. You might have heard stories from great teachers such as Ram Das who tells amazing stories about his Guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Krishna Das tells stories of the same Guru. When my teacher Mukunda spoke of his Guru, his eyes would well up with tears, not because he missed him, but because of the gratitude he felt for having such a presence in his life and the profound love he continued to experience from Swami Muktananda. I myself have not encountered my Guru, but I feel as though I have been changed by being with people who have a Guru because they hold the light of their Guru. The Guru gives each disciple exactly what they need to wake up. It is up to the disciple to accept the gift, and usually they are not easy to embrace. Krishna Das tells of how his Guru would frequently make him leave his side. He also told him to go and sing to people, and spread Bhakti (devotion). It wasn’t until many many years after “Maharaji” left his body that Krishna Das was able to fulfill that task. So often the teachings and transformation continue well after the Guru departs.
Not everyone in this life time will meet an embodied Guru. But we can all still benefit from their teachings. Some Gurus have taught through writings, some through silence, some teach through hugs! This month we will hear some of these teachings and maybe get an understanding of what the Guru is pressing us towards.
Our Pose of the Month is Vashista Asana.
This side plank pose takes it’s name from the sage Vashista, whose task was to awaken young Rama to the truth of who he was. In the text Vashista’s Yoga, which chronicles the lengthy teaching given to Rama, (about 750 pages worth) we can read the stories and metaphors that Vashista used to enlighten Rama. This was not an easy undertaking. And neither is the pose.
In Vashista Asana we are balancing on our hand and the outer edge of the foot corresponding to the hand that is supporting us. (Modifications can include having your knee to the ground and being on your forearm for those with wrist issues). The pose requires that you integrate all parts to stay upright and vibrant. The trick is not to sag or doubt, or to over effort in the wrong places. When we read Vashista’s Yoga we encounter Rama complaining about the state of the world and the suffering he witnesses. He works hard at making his case for his despondency. But this is wrong effort. There must be effort in awakening, but Rama’s energy was dwindling. He is growing thin and sinking into despair. Vashista actually sees this as a good sign, Rama being so low, because his mind has shifted from its regular way of thought and he is full of the tension of being human. Something fundamental has been shaken by Rama’s encounter with suffering. Now Vashista can redirecting Rama’s mind towards stillness, surrender, strength, and power. Not the power we usually think of a Prince possessing (Rama is from a royal family in the story) but the power that comes from connecting to his higher self.
In Vashista Asana, our balance is compromised, our upper body strength is tested and our patience and stamina, or lack of, is revealed. From this dislodged place we might get a glimpse of where we are putting our effort. Is it fragmented or integrated into the core of the body? Are we locking out the top elbow in an effort to stay upright (which wont help by the way!) or can we redirect that effort in to the trunk? Can we draw up Mula Bhanda to help integrate, and put strength and prana into the latissimus and obliques to stabilize? Can we put some light and effort into places that will do some good and keep us not only upright, but radiant? Or are we holding and creating a lot of tension? Tension, rather than strength and power, will not allow us to sustain, or in some cases, even approach the pose. It is wrong effort. Maybe by practicing this pose we will also be taught by Vashista how to connect to our real power, the kind of power that Vashista wanted Rama to find, the kind of power that the Guru is pointing us towards, inner light and radiance.
One of the ways I have found it useful to look at wrong effort and right effort is to use the concept of packing for a long trip. Imagine you can't take too much with you. I think most people are inclined is to overpack and bring almost one of everything (or that could just be me). Then you are schlepping around a big bag the whole time and wasting energy. Lets say you were strategic about your packing and you were only going to bring the essentials for comfort and to make the trip a success. You would have to start to unpack things. Our effort is much like that in Vashista asana. There are essentials to that pose, integrated core, wrist flexion, strength in the legs to keep them straight, and of course the most essential is that you are still breathing! Observe yourself in the pose- have you “packed” tension in the top arm, in the face, jaw, finger tips, etc? If so you are carrying around too much in the pose, like schlepping a big suitcase (one with NO wheels!). You are wasting effort and exhausting the body. If you can observe what is NOT essential, “unpack” it (release tension in these places) you may find you have more energy to enjoy the trip, or the journey of side plank.
And to continue with this example, if you are still facing a huge suitcase you can't even close, how would you whittle down your load? You may call a friend to come and help you sort, or check in with other traveler who have made the same journey to see what they actually needed. In other words, it usually takes another set of eyes. This can be the work of a Guru, spiritual teacher, or sangha. People who can take a look at you and see what you have packed into this life that is actually not necessary for you to enjoy this lovely journey.