The festival is celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day of the Maagha or Phalguna month of the Hindu calendar on the eve of the new moon. Worshippers perform pooja in the Shiva temple and should practice Dhyana (meditation) on Shiva. Bael or Bilva/Vilvam leaves are offered to Lord Shiva and devotees chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra “Om Namah Shivaya“.
Sharath told us how he as a child together with his friends used to compete to stay up all night. “Only when staying awake Shiva would come and bless you, we were told”. “All the kids would go around the different temples and then sit outside the house – one by one falling asleep. Then the parents would come and carry us home”, 🙂 Sharath laughed.
“Most of the time we forget about God”, Sharath said. We only think about him (her) when we have difficulties in our life. Or when we feel guilty about something – only then we go to pray. But in order to develop our concentration – to reach ekagrata parinama– we need to turn focus inwards away from outer stimuli – to the divine, the supreme soul. Yoga comes from the inside – not from a fancy yoga mat or expensive clothing. It’s an inner change that cannot be forced. Not even asana practice is not enough for this change. Yoga is Sadhana (like Sharath explained in depth last week) – a lifestyle and devotion to our practice.
Devotion – Bhakti – to practice is important. To develop Bhakti one needs to follow certain principles. Bhakti then leads to a shift in ones energy and focus. One important thing to follow is saucha – cleanliness of body and mind. When doing our practice and before entering the shala we should be clean. There are two kinds of cleanliness – inner and outer. We should be pure on the inside – thinking pure thoughts and taking pure actions as well as keeping our inner organs and and nervous system clean thorugh asana practice. Cleanliness on the outside refers to hygiene, such as taking a shower before practice, keeping ones practice clothes clean (i.e. washing them between each practice) AND keeping the mat clean. If one follows this, one will develop a better concentration (and it’s more agreeable to the fellow yogis practising next to you :)).
When we are able to direct our focus and concentrate – Sharath said, it will bring a different kind of [positive] energy which will change one’s practice. When we develop this energy within us we become less self centred and care more about others. Like in the Vedic chanting “Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu”, where Lokah refers to the whole universe – may all beings in the whole universe be happy and free. Yoga helps you develop this quality and energy.
Sharath highlighted the three most important qualities of yoga practice :
Tapas – austerity
Svadhyaya – self reflection or self study
Ishvara pranidhana – surrendering (pranidhana) to a higher source (Ishvara). Ishvara pranidhana is seeing the big picture of yoga practice that initiates a sacred shift of ones perspective of being alive.
If we follow this we develop certain qualities, and only then we become yogis. The qualities developed are: a thin and healthy body, a glow around ones person, a melodious voice, bright eyes and preserving the amrita bindu – i.e. eternal youth. Devotion has nothing to do with how advances one is in asana practice, but it is HOW one practices and HOW the practise affects the body and mind. Practising Surya Namaskar only or Advanced series poses, can be just as deep and meditative. It is when you totally loose yourself in practise, when you totally dissolve in the asana you are practising there is not time to think.
“When I go to my mat and practice I forget where I am” Sharath said. That is why I can do a yoga demonstration in front of 500 people without being nervous.
One student asked whether it was ok for students to practice asanas in the changing room after having finished in the shala. Sharath replied by asking: If you practice in the changing room then why do you come here to study with me? If you already know everything – why come here? To prove something? To impress on me? I don’t want students like that. I want students who want to learn something, Sharath said. Krishnamacharya was only accepted as a student by Yogeshwara Ramamohana Brahmachari because he proved his will to learn yoga. If he hadn’t shown his devotion to study we would not be able to practice Ashtanga yoga today, Sharath underlined.
Sharath was also asked how he can keep learning now that his teacher, Guruji, is no longer here. As always when speaking about Guruji, Sharath got a special glow in his eyes. He told us a story of a night of full moon a couple of years ago. Sharath had observed the full moon, how it was following him wherever he went that night/morning. Guruji was born on the full moon and Sharath that night felt that Guruji was just like the full moon. “He is always following me with his teachings, just like the full moon was that night”. The strong bondage between us is still there, just like the one between Hanuman and Rama. “Gujuri is no longer here physically, but his teachings are. You can always feel his presence”.
Tonight is not full moon, it is new moon. A very auspicious one. This new moon falls in Aquarius – which encourages us to align with our higher purpose. Apparently there is a very strong energy around this new moon and it’s a time to set intentions and await spiritual transformation. What better way than to pay homage to Shiva in order to be dissolved from previous sins, to clean our karma. Tonight is a new beginning!
Om Namah Shivaya!