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25 June, 2011

Kaya Sthariyam (Steadiness)

Swamy Niranjananda Saraswati


The first problem we often face in meditation is restlessness in the body. There is always some irritating sensation which distracts us from sitting still for long periods of time. This inability to concentrate can be usually attributed to past indulgences like coffee, cigarettes and alcohol that have contaminated the body. By sustained effort as well as forswearing of any further excesses, the physical body has to be molded so it can become a willing receptacle (Adhar) which can bear the power and light which pours in during Yoga. A strong nervous system is a sine qua non for any spiritual transformation.

The following is an excerpt from the book Dharana Darshan by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati of the Bihar School of Yoga, in which he discusses how to achieve physical body stability. I have appended pictures of the cover and table of contents of this useful book at the end of this post.

Kaya sathariyam

Kaya sthariyam is the first practice of the dharana series. It is a basic practice of concentration on the steadiness of the body. In Sanskrit the word kaya means ‘body’ and sthairyam means ‘steadiness’. Because of the inter-relation between the body and the mind, when the body becomes steady and still the mind follows suit. Therefore, each of the dharana practices should begin with five to ten minutes of kaya sthairyam. Only when the body is absolutely steady and immobile should the actual dharana practice begin.

It is also important to note that the mind remains one-pointed only when the body is still. As soon as any part of the body moves, the mind also moves. Thus the concentration is broken and once broken it cannot be attained again in the same sitting. During a pratyahara practices you can move the body, you can shift your position you can even get up and then come back to the practice. In dharana, however, you cannot move a finger, you cannot bat an eyelid, you cannot even swallow without breaking the concentration.

Before attempting the following practices of dharana, kaya sthairyam must first be mastered. You should be able to sit without moving any part of the body for at least half an hour, then you will be ready to begin the practices of dharana. In the initial stage of kaya sthairyam, the body should be comfortable and relaxed in the meditation posture. Later on, as immobility develops, the physical awareness will gradually subside as awareness of stillness increases. At this time the concentration is shifted from the body to the natural breath, so that the mind still has a focus. Ultimately, the awareness of the breath will also subside so that there is only awareness. At that time you are ready to begin dharana.

With that awareness which is steady and still and unhampered by the body, you must begin to concentrate on the object of meditation. If dharana is attempted with an unsteady body and fluctuating mind, no benefits will result from the practice even if you perform it for a hundred years. The only result will be tension, frustration and a broken mind. Therefore, give your attention to the preparatory practices in the beginning. Master kaya sthairyam, then you will be able to proceed with the practices of dharana without any obstacle.


Stage 1: Preparation

Sit in a comfortable meditation posture, preferably sidhasana or padmasana. Adjust your position so that you do not have to move any part of the body during the practice. Make sure the spine is erect. Head, neck and shoulders should be slightly back. Place your hands on the knees in chin or jnana mudra. Close your eyes. Become aware of slow deep breathing and count five breaths mentally.

Stage 2: Body posture

Switch your awareness to the body. Concentrate on your meditation posture. Feel your spine rising straight up from the floor, supporting the head. Be aware of the synchronized and balanced position of the arms and legs. Total awareness of the body.

Stage 3: Visualization of body

Visualise your body externally as if you were seeing it in a full length of mirror. See your body in the meditation posture from the front, from the back, from the right side, from the left side, from the top. See your body from all sides at one time.

Stage 4: Body tree

Be aware of your whole body. Feel that you are rooted to the floor. Imagine that your body is growing up from the floor like a tree. Your torso is the trunk, your arms and head are the branches, and your legs are the roots. Your body is rooted to the floor and it will not move.

Stage 5: Sensations in the body

Be aware of any physical sensations: cold, heat, wind, itching, pain, uneasiness, tension, stiffness. Direct your awareness to these feelings. Let them be a focus for your mind. If your mind starts to wander, bring it back to the sensations in the body.

Stage 6: Body Parts

Direct your awareness to the head. Be aware of the head and nothing else. Feel any sensation in the head. Visualize the head. Shift your awareness to the neck. Feel any sensations in the neck. Continue to be aware. Following the same process, move your awareness to the shoulders, to the right arm, the left arm, the whole of the back, the chest, the abdomen, the right leg, the left leg, and finally the whole body. Be aware of the whole body together. Intensify your awareness of the body. Do another round maintaining full awareness.

Stage 7: Immobility of the body

Make a resolve that, “I will not move my body throughout the whole practice. My body will not move or shake. I will remain steady and motionless like a statue.” Even if you feel an impulse to move a finger or toe, to adjust your clothing, or to scratch, try to overcome this urge. When you feel the urge to move you must say to yourself” No, I will not move any part of my body until the end of the practice.”

Stage 8: Steadiness and stillness

Be aware of your physical body, of your meditation posture and of nothing else. There should be total uninterrupted awareness of the whole body. The body is perfectly steady and motionless. Develop the feeling of steadiness. Be aware of your body and steadiness. Be aware of your body and stillness. Your body is absolutely steady and still. Be aware of steadiness. Be aware of your physical body. There is no movement, no discomfort, only steadiness and stillness.

Stage 9: Psychic rigidity

Feel the steadiness and stillness of the body. Gradually your body will become rigid and stiff like a statue, as through all the muscles have frozen. The body should become so stiff that you are unable to move any part, even if you try. Total awareness of the body, of immobility, of psychic rigidity. Feel the locked position of the body. Be aware of the body and of stillness.

Stage 10: Breath awareness

As the body becomes stiff and rigid, you will begin to lose physical awareness. At this time shift your attention to the breath. Become aware of the natural breath, without altering or modifying it in any way. Simply watch the breath as it moves in and out of the body. The breath moves in and out in a rhythmic flow. Follow each movement of the breath with your awareness.

At the same time become aware of the body. Let the awareness alternate from breath to body, then from body to breath. As the body becomes stiffer and stiffer, the awareness will automatically shift more and more to the breath. No effort is required. When the body is absolutely still and motionless the breath will become more and more subtle, until it seems that you are hardly breathing at all.

Stage 11: Stage of concentration

As the breath becomes more and more imperceptible, you will begin to experience the pure awareness which functions through the unfluctuating mind. The breathing is responsible for the movement of the mind and body. When the breath becomes very subtle, the mind becomes one-pointed and still. This is the state in which dharana must be practiced.

Stage 12: Ending the practice

Get ready to end the practice. Gradually become aware of the physical body, of the meditation posture. Feel the weight of the body against the floor. Be aware of the hands resting on the knees. Be aware of the whole physical body. Be aware of the breathing. Watch the breath as it flows in and out. Take a deep breath in and chant Om three times.

Source: Excerpt from the Book on “Dharana Darshan" by Swami Niranjananda Saraswati.

19 June, 2011

Assume Responsibility

There was this wise old man who had answers to all life-related questions. He was an enlightened person. A boy, in his adolescent years, wanted to test the wise old man. So, he caught hold of a little bird. Holding it in the palm of his hands and his hands hidden inside his coat, he asked the wise old man, “I have a bird with me. Is it alive or dead?” The old man smiled and said, “If I tell you the bird is alive, you will crush the bird and show me a dead one. If I tell you the bird is dead, you will release the bird and show me it’s alive.”

Embarrassed, the boy dropped his head and began to walk away. He would have hardly walked a few steps. He heard the voice of the old man, “Mind you my son, in fact, this is the philosophy of life – your life and your death are in your hands.”

In spite of the canvas, despite the paints and the brushes involved, the quality is the responsibility of a painter. Similarly, the quality of a sculpture is the responsibility of a sculptor. If so, then the quality of your life is your responsibility and yours alone. Your life and your death are in your own hands. No blame is allowed. By blaming, you give up the power to change. By taking responsibility you gain the power to change and thus you take charge of your life. The first step to adulthood is to assume complete responsibility for your life. Epictetus profoundly put it: “God has entrusted me with myself.”

This happened in one of the fastest growing companies, which prided on innovative ways to motivate their employees. One day, when the employees turned up for work, they saw a poster on the entry gate with the words, “Yesterday the person who has been hindering your growth in this company passed away. We invite you to join the funeral in the room that has been prepared in the gym.” Though in the beginning there was a spell of gloom as they read the notification, gently their curiosity got the better of them. “Who was that man who hindered the growth of his colleagues and the company itself?”

One by one when they got closer to the coffin, and when they looked inside, they became speechless. They stood near the coffin, shocked in silence, as if someone had touched the deepest part of their soul. There was a mirror inside the coffin; everyone who looked inside it could see himself. On the mirror was another poster that read, “There is only one person who is capable of stopping you permanently, and it is YOU. And, there is only one person who is capable of revolutionizing your life, and that’s again YOU. Your life does not change when your boss changes, when your friends change, when your partner changes, when your company changes. Your life changes when YOU change. No one can take responsibility for your life, like YOU can.”

Man not only has the power to take responsibility for his own life, but has within him the capacity to take responsibility for the life of others too. Wherever opportunities present themselves, be the first one to put your hand up. Followers accept responsibilities. Leaders assume responsibilities. You take the initiative. You volunteer. You step forward. Announce your presence. Be counted, and make yourself count.

When you assume responsibility, always take it unconditionally. What is not unconditional will never be done. There is no point in keeping the ‘exit’ door open all the time. Burn the bridges. Conditions are required only to pass on the blame, in case, there is a failure. Don’t even consider failure as an option. Where conditions succeed, responsibilities fail. Where responsibilities succeed, conditions are redundant. Just take it and do it.

The Lord may have borne the cross of your sins, but even He will not bear the cross of your growth. The cross of your growth is your responsibility, and yours alone. You alone must carry it. Only when you feel responsible for your life, you can respond with ability. Else it will be responding with disability. Put your hands up and be counted. There is no better way for a man to create himself than to assume responsibilities.

Of all the creations, man alone, by the way he lives his life, can make this world a little better than it was when he was born. Every man has the capacity to be an architect of a new world. Even if a concept of rebirth exists, you will not be born again as you – not in this form and this name. This is the only chance you have got to be you. Don’t miss yourself and let the world not miss you. Make the most of this birth, this lifetime. Bring forth every human faculty and live a complete human life.

Responsibility is in ensuring you never let a moment pass by you, without you making your presence felt. Add value to every moment. Add value to every relationship. Transform every transaction by adding value to it. Let nothing pass by you without you adding value to it. Be an alchemist. Let everything transform in your presence. In turn, you will be transformed. In helping others to find themselves, you will find yourself. Be a reformer. Be the change agent.

Every revolution in the world happened when one man assumed responsibility of gigantic proportions. In Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ambedkar and Mother Teresa a social revolution was triggered, when they could no more be a passive witness to the predicament of the then society. They waited for no one to lead them. They needed no body to ask them to take the responsibility. They took the lead. They took the initiative. They assumed the responsibility. They put their hand up. They decided to make their life count. They decided to reform the prevailing social conscience and thus caused a re-formed society.

“Something must be done,” that’s the attitude of a spectator in life. Talks about everything; does nothing. A classic follower! If somebody does something, I am willing to enjoy the benefit of it. I, from my side, will not seat, won’t toil, and forget about the blood or tears.

“I will do something about it,” is what leaders are made off. They volunteer to bear the cross. Their life is never a ‘Came and Went’ statistical life. Their life is a legacy of ‘Came and made it Count’.

In Veda Vyas, Adi Sankara, Budha, Mahavira, Jesus, Mohammad, Guru Nanak…. Came the embodied souls, who took it upon themselves to provide a spiritual path to the then ‘lost our ways’ humanity. The Latin word religare, from which ‘religion’ is derived, simply means, ‘to bind back’. Thus, the purpose of religion in the truest sense of the word is to bind us back to the original source from which we came. Each one of these messiahs assumed the responsibility to lead us back to the source from which we came, and through them new paths were born, new religious paths unfolded.

Whether it is your own individual transformation, or the re-formation of humanity at large – it all begins with one embodied human soul stepping forward to assume that responsibility

A promotion in your career isn’t a new status but it is a new responsibility. Man and woman becoming husband and wife isn’t a new status but a new responsibility. Husband and wife becoming father and mother isn’t a new status but a new responsibility. Being born a a human being, in itself, isn’t a status but a responsibility, for you can impact this world in ways you alone can.

If I ask you to carry a 12 Kg single granite stone and walk a kilometer, you will struggle with it. Now, I ask you to carry your child who is 14 Kg for the same one kilometer and you will happily do it. Anything in life that is perceived as Kashtam Kashtam (difficult, difficult) will only appear to be even more difficult. Do the same thing, perceiving it as Ishtam Ishtam , the most complex of tasks can be done with effortless ease. Stop viewing responsibilities as a burden and start seeing them as opportunities. Stop saying Kashtam Kashtam (difficult, difficult) to responsibilities and step forward to take responsibilities by saying Ishtam Ishtam.

Source: FT May 2011 issue.

15 June, 2011

Role of reason in human life

Lord Buddha has cautioned humanity over 2,500 years ago on the important role of reason in human life.

     Do not believe what you have heard.

     Do not believe in tradition because it is handed down many generations.

     Do not believe in anything that has been spoken of many times.

     Do not believe because the written statements come from some old sage.

     Do not believe in conjecture.

     Do not believe in authority or teacher or elders.

     But after careful observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and it will benefit one and all, then accept it and live by it.