A Man's Home is His Ashram

by M. Govindan

As we awaken to the spiritual dimension of life, we may find ourselves almost always confronted by a mind which causes us much distraction. This universal human dilemma, wherein our consciousness is completely absorbed in the fluctuations of the mind, the "vrittis," such as memories, sense perceptions, sleep, conceptualizations and misconceptions, has been analyzed by Patanjali at the beginning of his Yoga-Sutras (verses (I.5-11). But Patanjali also describes the goal of Yoga, Self-realization throughout his famous text by clearly distinguishing these fluctuations of the mind (the Seen) from the Seer, or the Self . He writes: "Then the Seer abides in his own true form," (verses (1.3). But in the following verse he clearly indicates how prone we are to lose this Self-realization: "Otherwise, there is an identification (of the individuated self) with the fluctuations (of consciousness)." How can we overcome this fundamental ignorance, avidya wherein we confuse the Self with the non-Self, the Seer with the Seen, the permanent with the impermanent? Is our Yoga today helping us to remain awake, or making us fall asleep?

Yoga today has become a big business. A recent article in the Yoga Journal estimates that there are over 18 million Americans now practicing some form of Yoga, and that on average they spend $1,500 per year. That adds up to a $27 billion dollar a year industry, only a little bit less than what Microsoft generates each year! Consumer and Corporate America, the yin and the yang of our materialistic culture, has hijacked Yoga.

Is this consumer element of American Yoga creating delusion? Being consumers, driven by a culture and economic system which constantly tells us that the more we consume, the happier we will be, we usually find ourselves "consuming" in the spiritual marketplace: classes in Yoga studios, seminars, cassettes, props, books, teachers., teachings. Always looking outside ourselves for things which will give us what we are missing. For example, most persons who go to Yoga studios do not even practice Yoga at home! They are trying to get something which they feel that they are missing, from someone else. And far too many of the thousands of Yoga studios which have sprouted up in the shopping malls of America, the great temples of materialism, are promoting this delusion! Make no mistake, there is a great cultural battle going on here. While such goods and services may make us feel or look better, or improve our health, and at best even remind us of our spiritual path, they can only take us a little way towards the goal of authentic Yoga: Self-realization.

Self-realization, wherein one realizes oneself as the Seer, as distinct from the Seen, the experiences, may come in a flash of insight. But Self-realization or Samadhi (cognitive absorption) as described by Patanjali in the Sutras (verses (1.40-51) is elusive, as long as we continue to identify with our mind, that is all of the fluctuations, the vritti arising within consciousness: the thoughts, sense experiences and memories. At the very beginning of the Yoga-Sutras, in (verse (I.2), Patanjali tells us that "Yoga is the cessation (of identifying with) the fluctuations (arising within) consciousness." After analyzing these fluctuations he recommends as a solution not a specific method but: "By constant practice and detachment (arises) the cessation (of identifying with the fluctuations of consciousness)." (verse (I.12).

But how long will it take? Because of our conditioning, we all want to find the quickest and easiest path. And we are willing to spend for it! But Patanjali tells us in effect that the only currency with any value in the field of Yoga is sincerity: "Thus, the characteristic difference (as to how quickly cognitive absorption is reached depends on whether the yogin's practice is weak, moderate or intense." (verse (I.22)

A mild practice is uneven, sporadic, full of doubts, ups and downs and full of distractions, which carry one away. A moderate practice has periods of intensity and devotion, alternating with periods of forgetfulness, distractions and indulgences in negative thinking and habits. An intense practice is characterized by the constant determination to remember the Self and to maintain equanimity through success, and failure, pleasure and pain, growing in love, confidence, patience and sympathy for others. No matter what the intensity of the events or circumstances, no matter how great the play of the illusion filled drama, we continue to see Divinity throughout.

We may often hear our mind making excuses like, "I don't have time to practice Yoga, I have to go to work" or "I wish I had more time to practice." We may also find our mind yearning for a time and place which would be more ideal: "When I retire, I will go to India and live in an ashram." Or "Next year, Iam going to go on a retreat at that ashram in the mountains." This of course is just more of the same habitual reaction of the mind, seeking something outside, involved in the duality of the moment such as liking or disliking, success or failure or loss or gain. And as long as we consider our practice of Yoga to be something which we consume, or consume "out there" we will only be reinforcing the mind's game.

You are not the mind. You have a mind. You are Being-Consciousness-Bliss, Satchitananda. And in order to fully realize this, in every moment, you must play the game of consciousness: constant Self-awareness. In Babaji's Kriya Yoga, many techniques or kriyas are taught to enable one to cultivate awareness in every moment and at all levels of existence, including the asanas for the physical, pranayama breathing for the vital, dhyana meditation for the mental, mantras for the intellectual and devotional bhakti Yoga for the spiritual dimension of our being. This brings about an integral development and ultimately perfection or siddhi at all levels, not merely a spiritual or vertical ascent.

When and how will you do this? As often as you can remember to do so! It is up to you! All Yogic sadhana or practices may be summarized as: "everything you do to remember who you are, and everything you do to let go of what you are not." You are probably reading this at home at this very moment. As you read these lines, can you allow part of your consciousness to stand back as a witness, watching your mind read these words? Can you continue to allow your consciousness to be divided into two parts: one part absorbed in seeing, hearing, doing, thinking, feeling and another part simply being aware of everything going on? If so, you will find bliss in each moment. You win this "bliss" whenever you are aware. This "game of consciousness" is the only game worth playing. Every time you remember to play it, you win, every time you forget to be the witness, you suffer, and lose. Even if your karma is delivering roses, and not rotten tomatoes to your doorstep, if you are absorbed by the drama, your mind will soon start worrying about when it will end, and so suffer.

So make your home a place where you will practice this Yogic sadhana in every moment. What do we do at home? Eat, sleep, wash up, relax, play and do housework. Make all of these activities fields of consciousness, opportunities to practice awareness as taught in Babaji`s Kriya Yoga. Here are some specific suggestions in each of these areas:

  1. Mealtime: when you sit down for a meal, make it a sacred activity, starting from the time you begin the meal preparation. Sing devotional songs or chant mantras, and cultivate the witness as you chop, cook, serve. When you sit down, say a prayer or chant the food dedication mantra: Ahm Hreem Kram Swahaa, Chitrya Chitra guptraya yamarupy dryah Om Tat Sat Om Kriya Babaji Nama Aum. Chew each mouth full, practicing being the witness toeverything experienced. Even when you are washing the dishes and taking out the garbage continue to cultivate this Self-awarenss.
  2. Housework and bill paying. The old dictum, "cleanliness is next to Godliness" applies here too. Maintain your home as though you are expecting God to visit you at any time. By creating a space of order, brightness and cleanliness you will experience more equanimity within yourself. Cultivate the witness as you go about this activity. By learning to budget your expenses according to your revenue, and paying them on time, you will avoid much stress and so free the mind from disturbing reactions.
  3. Exercise, bath and dressing times. Train your mind to focus inwardly as you go about the daily rituals of your Yoga postures practice, your bath anddressing time. Do one thing at a time, with part of your consciousness withdrawn from involvement in the play of the senses and the mind.
  4. Playing with your children. Your children can teach how to regain spontaneity, laughter, and being in the present. Seek out opportunities to share with them what you love about life, and encourage them to express themselves. Be a good listener not only to them, but to your own mind's reactions and inner dialogue. Be a witness, not just a doer.
  5. Sharing with friends: Invite like minded persons to join you in satsang, or "sharing of truth," remembering that the spirit has no form, and that what is truly important is to be, more and more, Who you truly are. Satsang may express itself in the form of sharing of the best of what one has appreciated orrealized, song, chanting, fellowship, meditation, a session of Yoga postures, a meal, any expression or gesture of love and affection.
  6. Practice yoga nidra to gradually replace sleep with Yogic rest. Start with the practice of conscious rest when you are not fatigued, and so reduce the risk of falling asleep. Learn to allow the body to rest, while keeping your awareness in the state of Self-awareness, not withdrawn from the physical plane.
  7. Practice postures, pranayama, meditation, mantras and all other forms of sadhana by following a regular schedule, especially in the morning and evening, before and after work and more intensively during weekends and holidays.
  8. Study the Yogas Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita every day.

By cultivating Self-awareness in the midst of the above activities, you will experience unconditional joy, or bliss. Bliss, or ananda does not depend upon whether the outer circumstances are agreeable or not, whether you get what you want or what you don't want. It depends only upon your being present, in a state of awareness of how it all is.If you can do cultivate awareness at home, you can begin to cultivate it everywhere. By practicing equanimity constantly during the highs and lows of life, the painful and pleasurable moments, the happy and unhappy times, you will gradually become a Yogi, rather than simply a consumer of spiritual materialism. You will remain in a state of Self-realization. While the spiritual market place may lose you, the world will benefit immeasurably from your enlightenment. We do not need more Yoga studios! We need more ashrams! An ashram is by definition the residence of a Yogi. So be a Yogi, and automatically your home will be an ashram!

Copyright 2003 by Marshall Govindan. All rights reserved.


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