According to Advaita Vedanta, the science of Self-Realization (which we call Self-Inquiry), requires a different approach than the sciences involved in discovering the complexities of the Universe. Both approaches are similar in one way in that our consciousness with focused attention and awareness is used as an instrument of perception to gain knowledge.
Sciences involving the exploration of the universe and its laws focus the attention outside to perceived objects (time, space, matter, laws of motion, gravity, mass, etc.) to determine their nature. When attention and awareness are focused on such analysis, the relationships between various objects according to universal laws becomes clear. This is due to the inherent power of consciousness to discover and make known to itself anything that it focuses attention on. That is how sciences (Mathematics, Physics, Medicine, etc.) move forward.
However, the theoretical limit to understanding objective phenomena is always there to the extent that the observed phenomena is based on the very nature of the observer. It is not clear how precisely the relationship between the subject and the object can be determined scientifically. Philosophically, this is due to the logical difficulty of separating the subject from the object and demonstrating their independence.
Science of the Self, however, is a radical departure from the physical sciences and has a different aim. Here attention is directed inwards towards the subject and not outwards towards objects of perception. The classic methodology given by Sri Ramana for Self-Inquiry is to ask oneself with attention and inquire, “Who am I?” This is done in order to introvert the mind and drive it deeper into its source. In Self-Inquiry, the quality of consciousness itself becomes the center of attention. In this method, consciousness is not focused anywhere or on anything other than itself.
Language is not perfect but there are many ways to say this. Attention focused on attention itself is Self-Inquiry. Consciousness becoming self-focused is Self-Inquiry. Mind turning inwards to its source is Self-Inquiry. Awareness aware of itself is Self-Inquiry. All of these are variations of the same process and basically refer to the same thing. These statements indicate that one should quietly abide in one’s own sense of identity and being with full awareness.
This is not an easy notion to grasp. The Self-Inquiry methodology does not present the aspirant with an image or a sound to concentrate on. Because we are so dependent on our sense of hearing and sight even for meditation and prayer, Self-Inquiry presents a challenge. People often find it difficult to know what to focus in doing the Self-Inquiry because they associate their identity and thus consciousness strongly with the body.
This is why Sri Ramana used to say that Self-Inquiry is not for everyone to take on immediately. I have observed this phenomena carefully for a long time. People find meditation, yoga, tantra, chakras, and kundalini methods much more interesting and exciting to talk about and practice than Self-Inquiry. It is because all of these Yoga systems are directly or indirectly based on producing changes in the physical or the subtle bodies which one can experience.
Consumption of experience in some form or another is natural to all living beings. Self-Inquiry points, however, to the subject; the one who experiences. What is the nature of the one who experiences? Self-Inquiry shifts our attention from perception to the perceiver. Who is the one who perceives and experiences reality?
The practice of meditation and yoga leads the mind to temporarily withdraw the senses from objects of perception. However, internal perceptions in meditative states or Samadhi will most likely still exist. These internal perceptions may manifest in a number of ways including that of visions of angels, holy sages, the Goddess. Various spiritual and religious symbols often appear spontaneously in the mental eye of the aspirant during meditation or contemplative prayer and there may also be experiences of lucid dreaming states. So even in higher meditation states, the distinction between the subject and the objects of perception continues as we engage in and consume one experience after another.
Self-Inquiry, on the other hand, is found to be boring and irrelevant by many people because it promises them no special experience to enjoy other than being their own self. People should always do what feels natural. Nothing can be forced.
Eventually with the practice of meditation and other types of yogas, the mind becomes more subtle. The understanding of the nature of consciousness as free from outer perception (of physical objects) as well as internal perceptions (dreams, visions, other mental experiences) can then start to emerge. Once the independent nature of consciousness (free from all perceptions) is understood, one can recognize the essential quality of existence and pure being in the midst of various experiences.
When attention/awareness become self-focused, that is called Self-Inquiry. When attention lights up attention, awareness lights up awareness, consciousness lights up consciousness, Self is Realized as Sat-Chit-Ananda, the ultimate subject, the very core of being. Sri Ramana called it simply the Heart, whose nature is that of silence which is beyond all understanding.
(Pictures in this article come from www.toontracker.com/totaltv/underdog.htm)
Underdog and Sweet Polly Purebred
Do you remember that cartoon show “Underdog”? You might have watched it as a kid in the 1960s and early 1970s. Underdog was a “humble and lovable Shoeshine Boy” who had a secret identity.
Whenever there was a serious world crisis or threat to the city, Underdog would turn into a superhero after taking a special vitamin pill from the secret compartment in his watch.
Underdog had a girlfriend named Sweet Polly Purebred. Sweet Polly was sweet on Underdog. Sweet Polly was a reporter, who seemed to get into trouble with the bad guys in every show. When in crisis mode, she would yell, help, help, help, Underdog, help. Sometimes Sweet Polly would actually sing despondently when Underdog was late in arriving. “Oh where, oh where has my Underdog gone?”
Underdog was probably the best boyfriend Sweet Polly Purebred ever had. No matter how far away and how deeply engrossed in shining shoes of his customers, Underdog could always hear Sweet Polly calling out his name. The “humble and lovable Shoeshine Boy” would slip into a phone booth and emerge as the champion of justice and protector of Sweet Polly. Underdog had super sensitive hearing, at least when it came to Sweet Polly. No doubt this would have resulted in a happy marriage if they had ever tied the knot. Underdog would often say, “When Polly’s in trouble I am not slow, it’s Hip, Hip, Hip and away I go !”
Underdog always came to Sweet Polly’s rescue, yelling, “Never fear, Underdog is here!” Sometimes Underdog took his time and Sweet Polly had to yell help for a long time. This was not easy on our ears as kids. But we hung on. We strongly suspected that Underdog would indeed arrive at some point.
When Underdog finally came, it was a great consolation. We did not really want Sweet Polly to get roughed up by the bad guys. Unfortunately, Underdog was no muscle dog. He had a small chest and a big belly. He was a heart attack waiting to happen according to modern medical standards on waist to chest ratio (which were probably not well known when the show started in the 1960s). In fact, Underdog often became exhausted within a few minutes in his fight with the bad guys and looked for his vitamin pill to get his vitality back. Not being able to locate the magical nutrition pill in time posed a serious problem to Underdog’s health.
It was awful to watch and we were full of tears as Sweet Polly looked for Underdog’s backup energy pill in her purse while Underdog was beaten to a pulp by the bad guys. Sweet Polly always found the needed vitality tablet for Underdog at the last minute, but not before giving everyone the distinct impression that she was very disorganized.
The magic pill, once found, was a life giving elixir. As soon as Underdog put it in his mouth, the effect was immediate. The vitality pill always seemed to bypass Underdog’s digestive system and go straight into his muscles. Typically Underdog swallowed the pill in one gulp and regained his energy the next instant. Then he would beat the surprised bad guys quickly before the show ended. Underdog always saved the day including, of course, Sweet Polly.
I was recently thinking that in real life, some people are like Underdog (who don’t have a Sweet Polly), and some are like Sweet Polly (but without their own personal Underdog).
Sometimes we want to act as saviors to people who do not wish to be saved. Other times, we need desperately to be saved but no one except mom seems interested in the job. That perfect match of being the savior and being saved that Underdog and Sweet Polly had is seldom achieved for most people. Underdog and Sweet Polly were made for each other.
We certainly lack that magic vitamin pill that Underdog had in the secret compartment of his watch. But even for Underdog, the effect of the magic vitamin pill was only temporary. He had to keep taking those pills to maintain superhero status.
One wonders where Underdog got his supply and the money to pay for those pills. After all, he could not have made much as a shoeshine boy. Perhaps he got big tips from his customers. Maybe Underdog had really good health insurance and there was low co-pay for those very strong vitality pills.
I wish that there had been some closure to the Underdog show. Underdog could have proposed to Sweet Polly Purebred in the final season of the show. If Underdog was too shy to do it, maybe Sweet Polly could have proposed to Underdog. Given the number of times Underdog saved her, that’s the least Sweet Polly could do.
It would have been nice to have a big wedding for Underdog and Sweet Polly Purebred at the end of the final season. I can just see Sweet Polly saying to Underdog before they went off on their honeymoon, “Underdog darling, make sure to pack some extra energy pills for the next two weeks.”
Maybe there will be an Underdog movie which will show that Underdog and Sweet Polly Purebred got married and lived happily ever after. If they did it right, the Underdog movie would be blockbuster!
Underdog and related characters are © 1997 GBPC, a subsidiary of Golden Books Family Entertainment.
Picture of Arunachala by Gabriele Ebert
Song to the Goddess
Either let me be intoxicated
in your love completely
or put on my robes of joy
and rob me absolutely.
Judge me guilty
in the court of love
or absolve me absolutely;
find me flawed if you like
but never hold me weakly.
No middle ground is possible
for lovers who love completely!
Love, Consciousness, and Bliss
The great sage of Arunachala, Sri Ramana Maharshi, used to say that all deep thinking people are fascinated by the nature of consciousness. The outer world of time and space is known only through ones’ own mind. Therefore, the mystery of mind and consciousness has been a magnet of attraction for philosopher, yogis, sages, and scientists. Upanishads say that one should know “That” by which all else is known.
What is “That”, which makes all else visible and known? The ancient philosophy outlined in the Upanishads, the sacred Hindu scriptures, refers to “That” as Sat-Chit-Ananda, the core of one’s being which is Absolute Bliss, Absolute Existence, Absolute Consciousness, and we can also say that it is the same as Absolute Love which makes all human love possible. Sri Ramana used to say that “Love is the actual form of God.”
For one irresistibly pulled by the hunger of Self-Knowledge that manifests in one’s own heart, the turning within to “That” Absolute Love and Bliss happens at some point. When consciousness spontaneously starts the process of scanning its own formless form, this churning results in the beauty and self-delight of awareness which underlies all manifestations of energy (Shakti).
Appearance of the Supreme Goddess
In many of the mystical traditions of Hinduism, the manifestations of this energy, resulting from consciousness becoming focused on its own nature, take the forms of Devi. Devi is the Supreme Goddess, who appears in visions and dreams of devotees according to their mental and spiritual condition to nurture, protect, bless, and guide them.
The Goddess is depicted in Hindu art in hundreds if not thousands of ways. This art is part of the Indian history, culture, and Hindu traditions. It comes from the inspired imagination of the artists and is based on the ancient stories about the Goddess and Her powers.
However, no artwork can really capture the form of the Goddess who appears in the mystic eye of the aspirant. She appears to each devotee in a unique way according to what best suits the nature and personality of the person at that time. As the yogi evolves in the spiritual path, the visionary forms of the Goddess can change along with that.
So a relationship develops between the devotee and the Goddess or the Divine Beloved. Like human relationships between lovers, it is not always easy.
Sometimes, the devotee cannot bear the separation and wants immediate union and consummation. He may even blame and question the Goddess as to why She has left him in the middle of the path after taking his hand.
Song of Despair to the Goddess
Play hide and seek
not too much longer
and risk this longing
get even stronger;
when people ask unashamedly
why your love flees from me
what honest answer can I make
and can you also say for sure
that in choosing me as your lover
you have made some grave mistake.
But the Goddess realizes that it is not time and waits for the moment to be ripe for the final liberation. Many of the love poems of mystics to the Goddess have come from this intermediate level of spiritual experiences where the Supreme Beloved appears to plays hide and seek with them.
Sri Ramana and Marital Garland of Letters
In the classic Tamil poem, “The Marital Garland of Letters” the Sage of Arunachala, Sri Ramana Maharshi, chides the Divine Beloved in some of the verses and apologizes for having done so in other verses. He begs Arunachala to fully embrace him (as the devotee) and utterly consume him in love; Because only then he will have peace.
Verse 23. “Sweet fruit within my hands, let me be mad with ecstasy, drunk with the bliss of Thy essence, Oh Arunachala!”
Verse 34. “Unless Thou embrace me, I shall melt away in tears of anguish, Oh Arunachala!”
Verse 60. “In my unloving self Thou didst create a passion for Thee; therefore forsake me not, Oh Arunachala!”
Hindu Mystical Bhakti Poetry
The love pattern of alternating between despair and ecstasy (Does She/He love me or love me not), joy and sadness (When will the Goddess/Divine Beloved visit again) is common in the poetry of many Hindu saints and mystics. Even the seeming confusion about the relationship itself, which makes the devotee beg sometimes for love and other times actually blame, chide, and command the Goddess/Divine Beloved, can be seen in some of the poems including the Marital Garland of Letters.
Although the Marital Garland of Letters by Sri Ramana is embedded in the Indian spiritual, historical, and cultural context, the symbolism of a lover who is in complete despair because of an incomplete consummation with her/his beloved is universally understood.
People who are in love with and fascinated by the mystery of consciousness have felt that mysterious pull of the Heart from within themselves. Who can really explain ways of the Divine and the different forms She/He manifests in.
What is the first step on this path of love? No one can say for sure. Was it the smile and look of a Sage, the grace of the Divine Mother, the kiss of the Goddess, or the kindness of a teacher or a friend? There must be many possibilities that make us aware of the Heart within, whose nature is Sat-Chit-Ananda, that which is the source of the ultimate bliss.
This memory once awakened brings upon the experience of pure being, and attracts the devotee to the truth of her/his own nature. This gentle pull within makes itself felt. It does not let go until the Truth of one’s own Heart is recognized, and there is nothing left to let go.
Some say that it is the Goddess Herself, who takes the devotee into the Heart and then reveals Herself as the Universal Heart. The complete identity between the devotee, the Goddess, and the Heart thus established, everything disappears. There is only that Heart of Love and Fullness, eternal consciousness completely at rest in its own nature.
Knowing That is Self-Knowledge. That is the final consummation.
“I came to feed on Thee, but Thou hast fed on me; now there is peace, Oh Arunachala!” Verse 28. Marital Garland of Letters.
NOTE: Some of the verses on the Goddess in this article are from a longer poem on the Goddess by Dr. Harsh K. Luthar.
I received some excellent and thoughtful comments from Sada-Ji (Dr. K. Sadananda) on the article, “The Method of Deep Body Relaxation.” These comments with minor editing are given below. Thank you Sada-Ji.
Comments on “Deep Body Relaxation” By Dr. K. Sadananda
Harshaiji – PraNAms
Here are some comments on your article about “Deep Body Relaxation.”
Shava Asana is always done at the end of yoga exercises as a relaxation technique.
However, I would like to add a word of caution for going from Shava to Shiva – that is lying down and doing regular meditation. There is a good reason why the Lotus Posture (Padmaasan) is universally recommended for meditation. Shava or the corpse is considered as inauspicious while Shiva means auspiciousness itself
Also, it should be kept in mind that when one is in meditation, the normal breathing process will slow down and mind becomes quiet and calm. These conditions are conducive for the mind to go to sleep easily. Hence for most meditators, sleep becomes a big hurdle to overcome. Therefore, the Shava Asana (Corpse pose lying on the floor or bed) may not be useful for meditation.
Sleep is the opposite of meditation. In meditation one attempts to stay conscious and awake. That is one of the reasons why meditation is not recommended in the night when the mind is tired, but in the early mornings when the mind is fresh and vibrant. The period around 4am in the morning is considered best for meditation (it is called brahma muhurtham in Sanskrit).
The Lotus posture insures that the person who is meditating does not fall forward. Sitting in the lotus pose is recommended so that the student is stable and firm on the ground.
Yogic texts all advise that the vertebral column and the neck be in straight line (without going into the details of kundalini aspects).
This way one can stay in meditation for any length of time – awake-vigilant and meditative. Indeed that is the state of mind in meditation to be aimed at.
As Harshaji states, one can easily go to sleep in the Shava Asana. In fact one should go to sleep in that pose thinking of the Lord.
Then one can have Yoga Nidra and blissful heavenly relaxation.
But for Vedantic inquiry, the mind has to be sharp. Our own experience is that we can read stories or popular magazines lying down. But for any serious work, we have to sit up and study. Knowledge can take place only when the mind is sharp. Then, what to talk about the subtlest knowledge about one’s own self. So the recommendation is to do meditation in the sitting pose – if you can.
If you cannot, then alternate poses are recommended.
Now the question is whether one should do meditation in a lying down pose such as Shava Asana! Of course you can do! It is like a drunkard who went to ask a priest, “Sir, can I drink while praying to God?” Priest of course said, “No. you should not drink while praying.”
The drunkard thought about this and re-framed his question and asked again, “Sir, can I pray while drinking?” “Yes of course”, said the priest. So, can one meditate while lying down? The answer is, “of course you can meditate any time and anywhere.” No problem!
Should one lie down to meditate? No, that is not advisable. Sri Krishna himself recommends sitting down and meditating in the 6th Chapter of Bhagavad Gita.
Of course for relaxation – what Harshaji says is correct.
But For a meditator, relaxation is not the goal, but it is only a by-product. Vedantic meditation requires a calm, quiet, and vigilant mind. It is a subtle inquiry within of the very essence of life itself. If relaxation becomes a goal, the meditative mind will only long for that. If the mind settles in that groove, it will not be ready to take a higher flight.
Deep Body Relaxation
I used to teach Yoga, relaxation, and meditation classes in the late 1970s in NYC to make a living. After the Hatha Yoga sequence was done, students were led through a guided deep body relaxation in Shava Asana (the corpse pose where everyone lies down and relaxes each part of the body). After teaching Yoga for many years, it seemed to me that for most students, the guided meditation while lying down was absolutely the most favorite part of the class. Many students would continue in the Shava Asana for half an hour or more after the class was over. Some became so relaxed that they would fall asleep.
Over the years, I have come to feel that the best posture for meditation is not always the Lotus posture as many Yoga traditions claim, but simply lying down in Shava Asana. The sleeping posture is universal and sets no high bar for anyone to have to overcome. Therefore, it is the perfect posture for attaining Self-Realization. In fact, we know that the Sage of Arunachala, Sri Ramana Maharshi, became Self-Realized in that posture.
Deep body relaxation can be mastered by anyone slowly and many people experience physical, mental, and spiritual benefits from it. I have personally found it to be immensely useful in a variety of ways. My own experience of the Heart, Oneness of Being, came when I was very young. I had been meditating for many hours, sitting straight in a cross-legged position, and my back was aching and so tired that I lay down to rest for a few minutes. I was not trying to relax but it was in that resting posture that this deep conscious relaxation came over me and the truth of being revealed itself with complete clarity.
The Relaxation Method
The relaxation method I use is easy. I simply bring attention to every part of the body and consciously experience it and relax it. I start with each individual toe on both feet and relax these. I also focus on the bottom of the feet and relax these. Then I focus on the upper feet and relax these. Then I come to the ankles and relax these and keep moving up to the legs and other parts of the body and so on.
Sometimes, in my teaching, I have combined this method with visualization of white light filling the different parts of the body from the head to the toes. This is a beautiful way to use the intelligence and imaginative and visual faculty of the mind to fill the body with deep relaxation and to create a sanctuary of peace for one self.
Of course, Hatha Yoga is important for many people and sitting in meditation with a straight spine has its own health and energy oriented benefits. Meditation on energy centers along the spine is facilitated by sitting straight in a cross-legged posture. It also helps in doing certain pranayama and deep breathing exercises.
For many people who cannot sit cross- legged, sitting straight on a chair with support for the elbows is helpful. There are many ways to meditate. The main thing is that one should be comfortable in one’s posture.
Sincere Practice Leads to Self-Discovery
One, who is serious about meditation and relaxation and practices it with sincerity, slowly discovers what postures and exercises are the most helpful for her/his body and mind. Each person is unique in terms of what they find useful.
Finding a good yoga teacher is much easier today than it was when I was teaching. Back in the 1970s, in the U.S. and other Western countries, Yoga was popular only in big cities like Manhattan and Los Angles among the actors and actresses and the elite. But now it has become more mainstream and one can find Yoga classes in virtually any city.
Deep body relaxation seems to be universally attractive to people, because it allows for letting go of accumulated tension. It is easy to learn and do and with practice and experience becomes natural.
Philosophy of Sri Raj Mata-Ji
Sri Raj Mata-Ji is one of my earliest spiritual advisors and counselors. Here are some of her sayings in Hindi and Punjabi that I have translated into English.
Life is fleeting. Do something for yourself as well as others.
Grab some happiness when you can.
Happiness is having a caring family and cooking for them.
Happiness is having good friends and good neighbors to talk with.
Happiness is a state of mind.
Some people have everything but they are not happy. It’s a pity.
The secret to happiness is in giving.
If you serve others sincerely, you will be happy.
Nobody cares for the weak. Be strong.
You can only help and serve others if you are mentally strong.
Pray and ask God to make you strong.
If you eat too much, don’t complain afterwards.
Go take a walk after a big meal.
Take care of yourself. Nobody else can in the same way.
Make an appointment with the doctor and get a complete check-up.
Help others who need it. It will be good for you.
Give to charity whatever you can afford.
Make friends with your neighbors. Go shopping with them.
Stay active getting older and be part of a community.
Look for friends. They are looking for you.
Don’t look for perfection in others.
Life is a compromise.
You are better off than a lot of people.
Do the best you can and trust in God.