Monday, June 24, 2019

The Self has No Gender, No Pronoun

“In the Grammar of God,
there is no Number but Singular,
no Gender but Common,
no Tense but Present,
and no Person but First.”

(C.S. Baci, read by Ramana Maharshi)

“That which arises as ‘I’ in this body is the mind. If one enquires as to where in the body the thought ‘I’ arises first, one would discover that it rises in the heart. Of all thoughts that arise In the mind, the ‘I-thought’ is the first. It is only after the rise of this that other thoughts arise. Without the first person pronoun there will not be the second and third.”

-Ramana Maharshi

Thursday, June 20, 2019


“Hamsa” in Sanskrit is an important motif in Advaita Vedanta, or nondualism. Ham-sa when inverted reads as sa-ham or so-hum, which in Sanskrit means the oneness of human and the divine.

During pranayama, the inhalation is believed sound like ham, while the exhalation is believed to sound like sa. Thus, a hamsa came to epitomize the prana, the breath of life. It also means "I am That, That I am," referring to the individual's oneness with pure consciousness. The mantra "hamsa" is always with us, in the breath. It is for us to notice it and tune into it: "I am You, You are me." Ham-sa mantra is the mantra of Oneness and surrender.

Hamsa also means "swan" in Sanskrit. In Hindu mythology, it is said that the swan or hamsa can separate milk from water and drink only milk -- just as in Vedanta, we practice Viveka, or discrimination between the Real and unreal, the permanent and the always-changing, the Self and the not-self.

Photo: Ramakrishna Mission headquarters at Belur Math, Kolkata - taken on my 2017 India trip

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Shiva Yajur Mantra

karpūragauraṁ karuṇāvatāraṁ
sansārsāram bhujagendrahāram |
sadāvasantaṁ hṛdayāravinde
bhavaṁ bhavānīsahitaṁ namāmi ||

We used to chant this one at the ashram, and it has been coming to mind lately. It is found in the Yajur Veda.

Meaning of Karpur Gauram Karunavtaram Mantra:

-karpūragauraṁ – The one who is as pure/white as a camphor (Karpur).
-karuṇāvatāraṁ – The personification of compassion.
-sansārsāram – The one who is the essence of the world.
-bhujagendrahāram – The one with the serpent king as his garland.
-sadāvasantaṁ hṛdayāravinde – Always residing in the lotus-like heart. Where, Hridaya aravinde means, ‘in the heart, that is (as pure as) lotus’. Lotus, though born in the muddy waters, is untouched by the mud around it. Similarly, Lord Shiva always (Sada) resides (Vasantham) in the hearts of beings which are not affected by worldly matters.
-bhavaṁ – To the Lord
-bhavānīsahitaṁ namāmi – Accompanied by the Goddess Bhavani (A form of Parvati, Shiva’s consort), I bow

Chanting by Dr. Robert Svoboda.
More info here.

Friday, June 14, 2019


One of the words for the Self is "Satchidananda"

Sat is truth or being
Chit is consciousness, awareness or sentience
Ananda is infinite bliss, or that which is free of sorrow

Satchidananda is also the triple factor of knower, knowing and known
Sat can be thought of as the knower
Chit is the knowing
Ananda is the known

The Self *is* the triple factor.

Ramana Maharshi said, "Even though we usually describe the Reality as Sat, existence, Chit, consciousness, Ananda, bliss; even that is not quite a correct description. It cannot really be described. By this description all that we endeavor to make plain is that it is not asat, not non-existent, that it is not jada, not insentient, and that it is free from all pain."

It is none other than the indisputable awareness of your own being, ever existent, ever free.

Tat tvam asi: thou art That.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Taming the Mind

“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be the greatest enemy.”

—The Bhagavad-Gita

I recently got into an elevator with a baby, two young male toddlers, and their caretakers. Toddler 1 was crying because Toddler 2 had scratched him. “That is not how we act! Apologize to him,” Toddler 2’s caretaker said. He apologized, but Toddler 1 continued to cry; then, however, he stopped for a moment and appeared to be deep in thought. “This is like when SHE scratched me,” he whined, pointing an accusing finger at his baby sister. Then he started sobbing even more.

Watching the drama unfold, I thought, “Wow, this is how it starts.” An event occurs, and the mind has a knee-jerk reaction. Then memory digs up a samskara (mental impression) from the past and presents it to the intellect. The intellect makes a connection: “Oh, this again.” Suddenly, all of the dormant thoughts and emotions from the past are unleashed and applied to the present situation, and the individual starts to overreact. A feeling of contraction occurs in the mind, the ego thickens, and suffering increases.

It was fascinating to see the process play out and to realize how the same thing has happened to me, over and over again, throughout my life. That is, until I started studying yoga philosophy and learned about the mind and how it works.

The mind is not a solid construction but rather “a continuous flow of thought modifications (vrittis),” writes Swami Taponanda in his commentary on the Tattvahodha.

In Jnana yoga, or the path of wisdom, mental function is called antahkarana, or the inner instrument, and it has four parts.

“Just as you have four external limbs—two lower extremities and two upper extremities—so your antahkarana (your inner being) also has four limbs,” wrote Swami Rama in The Essence of Spiritual Life. “Antah means, ‘inside,’ and karana means, ‘that which functions.’ That which functions inside is the real person; that which functions outside is only a projection of the real person. You are a projection of that which you call mind.”

The first part of the inner instrument is manas, or the lower or perceiving mind, which involves the lower mental functions such as self-will, doubt, and craving. Emotion, reactivity, and jumping to conclusions are attributed to manas.

Next is the buddhi (intellect), through which the mind reasons, discriminates, and makes decisions (i.e., the higher mind); it’s the center of knowledge and creative ideas. “At the very subtle stages of meditation, buddhi is discovered to be the function that separated the individual from the true Self in the first place,” says Swami Jnaneshvara on his website,

Ahankara, sometimes called ego, is literally “the I-maker”—the self-asserting principle that identifies with the body, thinks it’s the doer, and is at the root of our sense of separation. “The ego does not mean pride,” Swami Tejomayananda explains. “It is the sense of individuality or the notion of doership…. The mind, intellect and memory (remembered thoughts) keep changing, but the ego is there with every thought. It owns them, as ‘I doubt,’ ‘I remember,’ ‘my ideas,’ ‘my anger,’ etc. It comes into being with each thought. The mind, intellect and memories of each one differs, but the ego remains the same.”

The fourth part, chitta (personal consciousness), can be like a blank screen upon which thoughts and emotions are projected. Yet impressions are also stored there, including samskaras (tendencies or impressions) and smriti (memory). “To meditate on chitta is to cultivate the stance of witnessing the stream of thought patterns rising from chitta and falling back into it,” says Swami Jnaneshvara.

When we have deep-rooted thought patterns or are experiencing strong emotions, it can be helpful to remember the four parts of the antahkarana and observe how they work. “Coordinating the four faculties requires real effort and makes the mind creative, useful, and productive,” wrote Swami Rama.

“Here, the aspirant has delved into the depths of the mind, not merely to meditate on the objects flowing in the stream, but to explore the mechanisms themselves by which the thought process occurs,” explains Swami Jnaneshvara. “It brings one right to the edge of Self-realization.”

Read more here.

And learn how to put these ideas into practice at our Saturday, May 18 Taming the Mind workshop.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Cuckoo for Chikoo

Uma reminded me the other day about chikoo - a sweet, juicy, local fruit that looks like a kiwi crossed with a potato and tastes like a  chocolatey apple — only better.

So I asked for some when we went to the small village market on the way home from the ashram.

“Adha kilo chikoo,” I said. 

The small crowd that had gathered had a good laugh. One of them repeated my words, complete with thick Chicago accent. We all laughed again.

Then I learned it’s pronounced chiKOO, not CHIkoo.

However you say it, it makes a great breakfast salad with grapes and papaya.

Jai Guru

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Big Day, Big City

Yesterday morning the ashram was blissfully quiet. After lunch we decided to go downtown to look for a harmonium for the guest house.  We ended up at Shri Kalyan Music Store, which has 11 rooms of instruments. We found a beautiful, full-size harmonium with a deep, resonant sound for 13,000 rupees (about $190).  Pranava also found a beautiful little red-and-black guitar.  Afterwards we waited and waited for the Uno (rideshare) driver to find us and then made our way back through rush-hour traffic to the guest house in air-conditioned comfort. 

The harmonium is wonderful, and sounds great in the meditation room (and makes it feel complete). This morning I chanted the Mahishasura Mardini Strotram, and tonight we did Ya Devi, the Maha Mantra, Shiva Shambo and more. Wow.

Jai Guru

* * * 

Shortly after arriving home with the harmonium and other instruments, Keval Kumar came to take me to revisit the doctor who saw me after my face-first middle-of-the-night crash. My nose still looks crooked, and I wanted him to have a second look. 

The first time I went to his office, which is on the other side of the city, it was Holi — a holiday — and it took about 30 minutes. This time there was major rush-hour traffic, *and* KK is a cautious driver (Vijay’s rickshaw is in the shop, so he sent Keval Kumar). The drive took about 40 minutes and took us straight through — and past — downtown. 

When I got to the office, it was packed with people waiting to be seen (last time it was empty) - people of all ages, shapes and sizes. Many of them were leaning with anticipation over the reception desk; the rest were seated on rows of benches. The TV was playing the previous day’s cricket match (I already knew that Chennai was going to beat the Rajasthan Royals — who wear beautiful pink uniforms).  I pushed my way to the reception desk and explained that I had an appointment. The assistant (all the assistants were young, good-looking men) looked at me blankly, so I showed him my WhatsApp communication with the doctor. He asked my name. I gave it to him and he wrote it on his appointment sheet. “Male or female?” He asked.  
Then “250 rupees” (less than $3.50) and “Have a seat.”

I found a spot next to a lady in traditional Rajasthani dress and spent the next hour watching cricket and the crowd come and go. Finally my name was called. 

The doctor did a quick exame of my nose, put some long metal rods up either side. “Septum is OK, nose is fine, no prescription and no treatment required.”

“Your nose is fine,” he said to me. “You are thinking about it too much. Stop thinking about it.”

Jai Guru