Gayatri & Salutations:
Working thru climate change: loss and grief
Om bhur bhuva svaha
Dhiyo-yo nah prachodayat
O, Divine Mother, our hearts are loaded up with darkness.
Kindly make this darkness distant from us and advance the brightening within.
(a very simplified meaning)
This article is continued from a Newsletter inviting yogis around the world (via Zoom) to a special New Years Day event, 2022 (the 2nd year of the pandemic) regarding a practice of chanting Gayatri mantra 108 times while doing 108 Sun Salutations.)
Gayan Trayate Iti Gayatri
Gayatri protects those who chant it!
The quote above gives some insight into why we may want to chant Gayatri. But there are a great many other reasons as well. Personally, I'm inclined by a lesser known belief that it's repetition can, simply put, "burn karmas" ...and perhaps even some Ommmicrons. And, though for many it is not surprising how corny my sense of humor can be, some may be shocked that I have just combined that sacred sound (Om) with a pathogen, but only because it is a good segua to note that our challenges are our greatest gurus!
Tests and difficulties* do not come to us by chance, but by the Divine mercy for our own perfecting. ~Baha'i
What does it mean to burn karmas? Well, there are a lot of takes on that, but it is generally agreed that when we make some efforts, for the love of God, it is accepted as a sacrifice; and in terms of Panch Maha Yoga, both Sacrifice and Purification are related to the Fire Element. Thus, we must understand that there is literal and symbolic fire; one of which no one wants to go into. However, it is rare that we go into even the symbolic fire, willingly. And yet, often we know we should. But how? This is a good place to study and experience a practice like Gayatri. Think of a child who has been told by his parent "You must go over to your sister and apologize!" He is not likely to do this, unless the parent follows this instruction with a firm "Or Else !..." In other words, if the child sees no consequence for harmful actions he is also not likely to see any good reason to do such an unpleasant thing as apologizing. And yet, once they do it they may realize that, not only was it not so bad, but they also felt rather good about themselves afterwards. But, in either case, (whether apologizing "or else") the child will learn. But, one way is probably going to hurt, while the more virtuous way may only appear to be uncomfortable in the beginning, but ultimately feels much better in the end.
The greatest mystery of sacrifice is that there is no sacrifice. ~Baha'i
Humanity as a whole has very similar choices. We can go about all these crisis in the world as a means to exercise our virtue, and experience that good feeling in return. Or we can resist and learn the hard way. Again, there are 2 kinds of fire we can choose from, but fire is coming either way. One type of fire might only burn our negative karmas, the darkness within. But the other type of fire may literally burn our planet and everything in it. Thus, in addition to Gayatri being said to liberate us from the negative forces of karma (aka "burn karmas") another translation goes as follows:
O Lord, bring in that sin destroying light, that we may be guided in the right direction.
Thus, the karma burning fire of Gayatri, is not of the painful sort, but rather the fire which brings light rather than pain and destruction; and which is also associated with virtue, purpose and direction. However, as for the planet, we are already seeing that there is no stopping some degree of painful destruction that still lies ahead. Because we are still so attached to our vices, and have become very crafty at legitimizing them, we thwart and prolong our healing; which is not at all seperate from healing the planet! Thus, Gayatri is also a mantra about detachment and getting out of our own way. For, again, we are like children. We grasp at our plastic toys, unwilling to let them go, fearing a break in the continuity of our imagined comforts, fearing a bit of discomfort as if it could be too large to handle... But maybe, for the love of God, if we could manage to do so, and maybe for only a small moment [like this coming Saturday morning] Gayatri could replace those artificial things that we release with some soul nourishing soup. In other words, if we can step back a bit from the vices we cling to (prayerfully) we can get a break, and in that break we might just be able to choose (with Gayatry's guidance) the type of fire that awaits us. For example, humanity can continue to resist the lessons of mother earth and eventually go hungry or we can "sacrifice" our plastic things for a greater reality that truly will enable us all to feel more soulfully nourished and healed.
Thus, it is not necessary that we literally torture ourselves as a means of worthy sacrifice. It may only be small but steady acts of detachment that restore the magic of planetary holistic health. But again, we are like children. We imagine even small acts of sacrifice, like wearing a mask, as some hellish injustice; while missing that Courtesy to others is considered the Prince/ss of Virtues. as well as that healthy, magical, feeling, and the healthy, literal, physical, immune boosting chemistry that is releasesd within oneself when the practice such virtues as kindness and courtesy. But we all have things that swell up our attachments. We all have our plastic toys and plastic egos. We all are under the illusion that they are indispensible components to our happiness. ...Thus, some time and effort, aspiring for at least some measure of healthy detachment, is required in order to burn away the dross that covers our vision that we may be guided by the light. The practice / sacrifice of 108 Gayatri &/or 108 Surya Namaskar can evoke such aspiration and provide such a break in the clouds of our existence. And, as anyone who lives in an area like Ohio, thru long grey winters, we know how valuable and thoroughly mood, game and attitude changing a sunny day can make!
A tribute to the practice of Surya Namaskar at the New Delhi airport
In addition to detachment and other forms of sacrifice, there is one more component of sacrifice that must be mentioned: the attitude in which our sacrifice is made; which makes for another nice segua into whether you should actually do 108 sun salutations at the event, or maybe just 8. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna says it is the love and purity of intention within our sacrifice that is most acceptable and beloved. Thus, you need not worry if you are not up to sacrificing your muscles to the burning fire of 108 sun salutations. In fact, you should only continue this practice if you have some faith that it will cultivate some measure of love, joy, gratitude and radiance of heart; or at least some level of relief! Otherwise, begrudgingly just pushing thru, you will be working against the purity and harmony of a loving sacrifice to the Beloved. Thus, start with a bit of hope, and if other positive vibes emerge, offer them up to God or the KRST (the greek speling for both Krishna and Christ) or any Other of God's Intermediaries: Moses, Baha'u'llah, Zoroaster, Muhammad, Buddha, White Buffalo Calf Woman... as it would be heavenly-nice to have Them All there! Thus, hopefuly it is clear that with this practice we will take our time and, as we do so, who knows what may be discovered. I can tell you i have done this practice many times before, doing 108 salutations straight thru, without any break. But it was a very different practice, more about perseverance than soulful insight. However, when I have done this practice in 12 sets of 9, with little breaks between sets for other prayers and meditations, by the time I reached the end it proved to be a much more rewarding journey. Hopefully it is also clear that this practice should not just be about accomplishing a certain number; just as a regular asana-yoga practice should not just be about accomplishing this posture and that posture, but the journey of moving into, between, and out of the postures as well. Some people get bored with that, they just want to grab a morsel of fulfillmnet in the making of some animal shape. But no sooner than that shape is made they are bored again. So they immediately want to learn how to make more animal shapes, yet never having truly imbibed any of the deeper characteristics of any of the animals that inhabit those shapes; including the aspects of moving into them and out of them. And yet, as it has been said of music, it is not only the notes that are played but what happens between the notes that is the experence of music. Thus, it is worth repeating, we do not intend to do 108 Sun Salutations simply because we want to complete a strenuous task and reach a magical number. Albeit, 108 is considered an auspicious number, but 108 cannot exist without all the numbers that have preceded it! 107 zeros do not lead up to 108. Thus, our intention is to dance with the music that we create throughout the process. Yes, it is a loving sacrifice we make for the Divine, but we should savor the making of it. And, in fact (for those into yogic lingo), this is the deeper meaning of Vinyasa and similarly the purpose of Prasad, the blessed food that is given to you at a temple after puja (worship). In other words, our practice should not end at the door. We put it in our belly so that we can take it with us, so that it can continue to nourish us. Otherwise we are only practicing yoga on the side, and provided we feel like it at the time. But yoga is always right in front of us.
What's in the way Is the way!
And, as Sri Aurobindo put it...
All of life is yoga!
...or at least it can be, as I like to add, which is why my students always hear me say at the end of, literally, all of my classes: "Don't forget that the most important part of yoga is to keep it with you." Sun Salutations are a great experience of vinyasa, of experience asana-yoga not just as postures, but as a dance and resonance between postures as well. Furthermore, they pay homage to the Sun or Fire Element as they also kindle a fire within that we can literally feel as we leave the studio or temple; especially after 108! Much if it is like a radiant glow, but much of it is also likely to be muscular soreness as well. But can the soreness that is likely to be felt afterwards be felt with a smile? In other words, besides making our offering to the Divine with a loving and devotional attitude, can we also take this with us when our Puja is over? The answer is yes, because both Asana and Gayatri can be therapy! And if you look a little closer you find that therapy is alchemy. Transmutation is Transformation.
Working Through Grief / Working Through God
There is a mysterious Gold within serious grief!
Andrew Garfield spoke in an interview with Stephen Colbert about the lingering emotional pain related to the recent passing of his mother as a beautiful thing. He said,
"I hope this grief stays with me because it's all the unexpressed love that I didnt get to tell her."
In other words, he felt this grief as a means of precious and continued connection to one that he obviously loved so very much; the kind of love that mystics say can act as a measure for the type of love they have for the Divine. Which also reminds me, I have seen the quote that I wrote several paragraphs above (as *"tests and difficulties"*) also translated as...
*Grief and sorrow* do not come to us by chance, but by the Divine mercy for our own perfecting. (Baha'i)
Thus, in light of this quote and what Andrew was saying about hoping this grief never leaves him, perhaps we are not understanding something about grief, or we have a bad translation, or perhaps grief is something that is not static, but didactic and enlightening; and perhaps, like sacrifice, it is a mystery. Might we even say that, similar to another quote I put above, the greatest mystery of grief is that there is no grief at all? Well, let me go ahead and answer that: No, there is surely real and lingering grief in this world, but it doesn't have to remain in a perilous form. In fact, in terms of ancient elemental medicine wheels, grief can be grounding (earth) and therefore, nourishing. And if we follow the elemental healing process, grief can take form in Air (sighs) and then Water (tears) and from water we can have growth, which is referred to as the Space element in Ayurveda, but in Traditional Chinese medicine it is called Wood, which can be transmuted into very good fire kindling and, therefore, leads us to cultivating the Fire Element: The symbolic significance of which ultimately represents Transformation! Bring it! Bring it to your practice!
I suspect that many who join us for this practice this NYD will have some grief they are dealing with. Perhaps they have lost someone to Covid or maybe they have a collective heap of sorrows from the past couple of years or even decades. But, whatever it is, bring it! Bring your beautiful grief to our Temple, to this Alter. As for me, I am grieving for the state of the planet. And I intend to use this practice to kindle my grief into a stronger and steadier flame of greater love and tender-care for her; which in turn is service to humanity, and service to humanity is equated to service to God. Thus, in essence, this is a worship service; which isn't just about praise, but about turning to God first. For praise should come spontaneously and sincerely, not faked. So first we show up, then we turn to God with hope and with our practice. Then we see if the devotional fire of our practice transforms our practice into praise. However, it is not required to bring grief or to go into any grief you may have stored in your fibers. Nor do you need to look for any. I am just wanting to make it known that this practice - if you do have any grief that you can't seem to alchemize or kindle from a smoldering flame into any kind of useful flame - that this practice can give you something to do with that pain.
Before enlightenment one runs from the fire to the river After enlightenment one runs from the river to the fire. (Buddhist proverb)
If you do this, you will complete this practice as a different person!
I do not say this as someone who has simply read about it. I have witnessed from my own practice that joining my concerns with both 108 repetitions of Gayatri and 108 Salutes to the Fire does effect a significant alchemy. I have never been disappointed from the practice, no matter how sore i might be the next day. And when doing it collectively, ...well, let's see!!! Prophets and gurus the world over have spoken of the power of just 2 or more "believers" gathering together, but even simple, humble humans have discovered it as well...
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. ~Margaret Mead
Thus, if so much power is possible from a small group of committed citizens, imagine what a larege group of World Citizens might do!
"So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole world!" ~Baha'i
Besides the loving sacrifice of 108 salutations along with the Gayatri mantra / prayer, we will follow up our kindled energy with a collective practice of Vishwa Yoga Nidra; a magical method for sprinkling the seeds of our beautiful intentions for a healthy, vibrant, peaceful planet; and which another several pages could be written. (..Let me know if you are interested another one of these blahgs :). However, there is enough here to think about and we can give more thoughts and guidance about Yoga Nidra on the day of the event. Nevertheless, in the interim, please begin now to create visions of planetary harmony in your minds eye, make these visions clear, and bring them with you on New Years Day ~ 2022!