Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Taking Back the Reigns... Katha Upanishads Week 3

So this week us Yogis gather around again - first to freshen up our understandings so far, before we continue to deepen into the mysterious teachings of The Katha Upanishads. We begin with a small recap of our story…our “Death chat” with Nachiketa and the Lord of Death himself, Yama.

After seeing his father’s false generosity is all for show and image, Nachiketa has challenged his father by asking him, “To whom would you give me!?”
Nachiketa’s father, sick of Nachiketa’s smart-arse comments, bites back; “I give you to DEATH!” (The modern-day equivalent being somewhere along the lines of, “drop dead you little…*bleep!*”)
Hmm, Nachiketa ponders – what would it really mean if I was given to Death? What would happen? Who, or what, would ‘die’?
Eager and very brave, Nachiketa sets himself off on a daring expedition to find Yama, king of Death, to explore these very questions. But poor Nachiketa had no idea that he’d be signing himself up for quite a delay. Of course, being The Lord of Death is understandably hard work, and Yama (being a busy man), has popped out on an errand……for three days.
When Yama returns, impressed by his patience, he offers the courageous (and probably now hungry) Nachiketa, 3 wishes. The first two, Yama grants with ease. Firstly, Nachiketa wishes for forgiveness with his father – for all to be well when he returns home. Granted, Yama nods. Secondly, he wishes to learn the secret to a fire ritual that will give him the power to ignite his whole nervous system, causing transformation within his body. It is yours Nachiketa, Yama agrees.
Third and lastly, Nachiketa decides to really go for it….
Yama, may I know the place of stillness within myself that not even YOU can take away from me. Let me know this, let me experience this place, whilst I am still within this body, within this life”.
With much reluctance and debate, Yama finally gives in – seeing Nachiketa worthy of his knowledge.
Okay, you win”, says Yama. “But Nachiketa, you must be wide open – you must be willing to drop everything you think you know. You must be up for this ride. Are you in Nachieketa?
Okay. Then we begin
Last week saw us dive into the exploration of Yama’s first teaching to Nachiketa – the idea that he (and all of us too), will only ever face two choices in life – Preya or Shreya. Preya, being that which gives us just a temporary benefit or pleasure (e.g., eating too much ice cream), and Shreya being the choice that is beneficial in the long term (e.g., maybe stopping after just the one scoop). 
We all make these choices daily, and we know it – and sometimes Preya choices are made because that is simply just the level of consciousness we are at, at that moment. But how beautiful is it to look back and to see our own growth? How the ‘you’ that sits here now, would not make the same choices as last year’s you? And with this, there can hopefully be a forgiveness. Sometimes the most difficult person to forgive is oneself, no? But if we can see that the choices that we made were just the best that we could do at that time, we can start to let it go. Of course, Karmas inevitably need to play themselves out, and we have to accept the consequences of our actions, but moving forward with forgiveness means we can start to change our future. 
And how do we move forward? We learn from our mistakes. We learn that we cannot plant lemon trees and expect oranges. Therefore, we endeavour to make more Shreya choices. Which in turn, leads to more opportunities for Shreya choices to find our way to us. Until eventually, there will be no more choice – our world will just become Shreya orientated. The rest will naturally drop away.
Yama, it’s very cool and helpful that you’ve cut it down to two choices for me…but how on Earth and I supposed to know WHICH is Preya and which is Shreya? It’s not always so easy”, sighs Nachiketa.
Now, if you’ve ever had to make a very difficult decision, you can feel Nachiketa’s confusion. It’s not always simple. And even Yama, Lord of Death, with all his secrets, know this too. And that’s where his second teaching comes in.

“Okay, Nachiketa, let me give you an analogy, which will explain to you precisely how your human being, and body, works.
When you come into this life, it is like you are given a vehicle. A vehicle that you ride through this life until I come to take you away. This vehicle is exactly like a chariot. And to ride the chariot through this life, you must come to know how it works.”

It’s strange isn’t it? How we come into this life, this body, with absolutely no instruction manual whatsoever.  We’re just supposed to figure the whole thing out! It must have got lost along the way somewhere. We would probably be a lot better prepared if it had come attached to us when we were born, somewhere, with big bold red letters saying, “READ ME”.
But it’s okay – Yama has the manual for us, although a bit delayed.

“Your body, Nachiketa, is the chariot. And your 5 senses – they are like the 5 horses pulling the chariot along. Then the reigns upon those horses represent your mind – your desires, your emotions. And the driver in the chariot is your intelligence…your discriminative faculty, the one that can see and learn from your mistakes. 
And finally, the one behind the driver, that witnesses it all…is your true self”.
So as long as our identification, is taken by the horses (our outward senses), pulling on the reigns (our thoughts, emotions, desires), what kind of life is this? How does it look? Who’s driving? It feels totally out of control, right?
But Yama says, we can train this chariot, and we can train these horses. Just like we can (and we must) train the body and our senses. This is OUR vehicle, and if we can train it, we actually have a lot more control over our own health, and our own life than we thought. For example, if we come into a spinal twist every day…we are doing something phenomenal for our digestive system and our well-being. And then when we come into Savasana – isn’t it true, that our senses do a total U-turn from being so ‘out there’, to coming ‘in here’? On top of this, our practice within Yoga causes us to feel everything much more deeply, and see everything so much more clearly within ourselves.
Training, taking care, and taking control of our vehicle, means that we are not so easily ruled by externals, or our thoughts and emotions. Whereas unruly thoughts (wild horses), can lead to Preya choices… the one behind the driver (the one that witnesses it all), can see when these horses go mad. This is the one that when our vehicle is trained, causes us to follow higher intentions. Essentially, taking the reigns of our life back into our own hands.
Now this presence, behind the driver, will have also have been felt by us all. It’s that mysterious, unexplainable sense of uncaused peace that sometimes runs through us, occasionally in the strangest of situations. You know it? That feeling that actually, everything is okay. That you are a supported charioteer. Because you totally are.
Yeah, it might sound a little bit weird. But it doesn’t need to be understood. Actually, it’s not possible to understand it – it’s too big, too magnificent, for the intellect to understand. It would just exhaust our understanding to even try to understand it. But instead of trying to comprehend this one, we can start to build a relationship with it. With the mystery that it is, through experience. Of course, we keep all the tools that we’ve been given, like our intelligence (we don’t suddenly stop locking our doors and crossing the road without looking). But we are also just willing to open up to that which we have no clue about. Can we feel into the space behind the driver, and be with the one who witnesses it all?

The message of the teaching this week:
“You are given a vehicle in this life, which you must learn how to use. If you take good care of this vehicle, and come to understand how it works Nachiketa… you will ride blissfully though this life.”

Om Charioteers
Adele x 

Friday, 23 September 2016

We only ever have two choices…
So, week 2 of the Katha Upanishads….following on from the opening cliff-hanger of the teachings from the beginning of our dance with Death!
Our young and persistent protagonist Nachiketa has managed to convince Yama, the lord of Death, that he is worthy of his third and ultimate wish – to know and to abide in the unchanging place within himself that even death itself cannot steal from him. To know the very secret to immortality.
Yogis gather close around our teacher Steve, of course all eager to know more so as to feed the little Nachiketas living within us all.
But inevitably, the answer to such a deep and brave question does not come with just a simple reply. This evening, we delve into the first teaching that Yama reveals unto Nachiketa, the beginning of taking our life back into our own hands.
“The first thing Nachiketa, that you must understand”, says Yama, “is that YOU have a CHOICE in how you live your life. Therefore every moment, the seeds that you are sewing are becoming your future garden”.

Sounds scary doesn’t it? Sounds like a lot of pressure and responsibility. In reflection of a world FILLED with choices, the marketplace of life an expanding display of options….how do we ever make the right ‘choices’?!
Steve gives an endearing example of how one may eat their Weetabix. Some with skimmed milk, some with full fat milk, some dry, some soggy – is my Weetabix better than your Weetabix? What’s the RIGHT way? The right CHOICE? How on Earth do we know?!

But it’s all okay. Yama puts us at ease, telling us that we can quit worrying about our perfect Weetabix, as he explains that absolutely whatever the situation…we will only ever have TWO choices presented to us.

The Katha Upanishads use two marvellous Sanskrit words to distinguish between which course of action will lead us into trouble and regret in the long run and which will benefit ourselves truly – leading to us living a more loving life in line with our highest good.
These two words? Preya and Shreya.
Simply beautiful aren’t they? And you will know them deeply already – we all do.
Preya, is simply that which gives us immediate gratification or short-term pleasure, but we know will not be beneficial for us in the grand scheme of things. Think of putting off an assignment until last minute in exchange for watching TV or partying too much. Ah I travel back to my Uni days! Definitely a few Preya moments.
And the opposite, Shreya, is that which is beneficial for us in the big picture. Sounds totally great, and we all want what’s ultimately best for us – but making a Shreya decision is sometimes very hard work. It is true that what is beneficial is not always pleasant, and what is pleasant is not always beneficial!
Does it sound familiar? I totally know it. And we all know we know it on some level – there’s always that little voice inside us popping up that knows what’s ultimately best for us. Isn’t there?
Of course, we want to choose Shreya. But how do we make friends with it when it can be so difficult sometimes? Ah, Steve says…this is where our Bhakti comes in. Our heart wish.
If our higher ideal in our life is clear to us – if our deepest wish is to open, grow, develop, and EXPAND in life….then the power of our hearts can get behind our endeavours. That way, “the Preya can prey on us less”, Steve jokes. When our own very hearts are involved in our choices, it is totally different than “being told what to do”. When we have true, meaningful reason behind sticking with often not-so-easy choices – for example, eating a better diet, sacrificing time to nourish ourselves or do important work, it becomes a little easier to decide. We can always be continuously asking the deeply telling question; “does this choice truly serve me?”, and endeavour to be completely honest with ourselves. The tough and wonderful thing is – absolutely nobody elsecan make these choices for us.
A beautiful, memorable example. Steve plays,
“You’re never alone in bed you know, there is always three of you. When you wake up, Preya and Shreya are right there next to you”.
One I am totally familiar with, as I am sure all Yogis are! Do I drag my sorry bum out of bed to my mat for my practice at this ungodly early hour or do I enjoy another hour of sleep in my lovely, comfortable, warm bed?
And inevitably, Shreya is not always going to win! We are going to make totally Preya choices sometimes. And that…is okay! And actually, sometimes it’s very necessary to make Preya choices for our own growth – so we can look back and see the consequences of our own actions. But our general ongoing endeavour…is to work with Shreya whenever we can, and slowly move more and more of our choices over to what is beneficial for us in the long term. It will be a slow progress, with many slips and falls, but the most important thing is that we HAVE FUN trying to expand into Shreya! And essentially, despite the mistakes, we know we are ultimately on the path.
Using our Yoga, we start to develop the inner capacity to be able to read into what is truly right for us. In a time where working until we are burnt out seems admirable, it could be easily confused for Shreya. But when we start to listen deeply to ourselves, we can notice there is actually a lot of balance that comes with Shreya. We can notice when we are perhaps over-doing…and actually, maybe the deeper benefit that is needed here for us is to rest. And of course, the opposite is also true.
Can we commit to delving into Shreya? Into exploring more and more what is needed …what is for our highest benefit in the long term, rather than an immediate relief right now?
What a total, moment by moment PRACTICE, Preya and Shreya. Steve asks….
“Can you fall in love with it?”
I know I totally can.
And for this week, we close…. With the space and time to play with exploring our choices.
Om om!
~ By Adéle Sales

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Katha Upanishad

Omm Yogis, welcome back to the Living Wisdom blog. At the cusp twixt Summer and Autumn, it is time to go out into the fields of wisdom and harvest another crop, which has been lovingly cultivated and tended to by countless generations of Sages and Seekers. This time we must sharpen our scythes for the reaping, as the Grim Guru, Lord Yama (deity of death), dispels the darkness of our ignorance with His uncompromising truth and teachings.

We’ll be taking an enlightening journey through the Katha Upanishad over the coming months and this weeks blog is by way of introduction to this ancient fable which stands proud amongst the vedantic canon of India and which carries sapient weight across the ages and indeed across the continents.

So the set up in brief …

Nachiketa is our hero in this legendary story, a young boy and the son of a man of some wealth and public standing. His father is known for his charitable giving within the community and is something of a lauded figure amongst the local people. However Nachiketa, his son and heir, is a plain speaking and healthily sceptical early adolescent who does not blindly and blithely buy into the ‘generous’ persona promulgated by his old man; seeing as he does the artifice in his father’s  ‘charitable sacrifices’. In Nachiketa’s youthful, clear sighted, no-nonsense view his Dad’s alms are no more than a farce designed to look like selfless giving, when in fact the goods being donated have already been used to exhaustion, and are of no true value to the recipients. The example is given in the Upanishad of Nachiketa’s father giving away many head of cattle whose breeding and lactating days are well past and whose heads droop as they lack the vitality to even lift their chins.

This vulgar, ostentatious, display of wealth, dishonestly concealed in the garb of giving, to elicit public approval, is more than the sober youth, Nachiketa, can bear and he is moved to challenge the patriarch on his motives even calling into question his very integrity by dint of his forthright enquiry. This goes down none too well with his proud pater and father’s ire is piqued when Nachiketa probes “Dear father, to whom will you give me (an item of true value) away?”
The boy probes a second then a third time until, seized by anger, his father blurts, “To death I give you away!” In the modern vernacular we could interpret this furious response as  ‘Ah drop dead you irksome upstart!’ or similar hastily declared retort. To Nachiketa, his father’s readiness to ‘kill him’ with words is further evidence of the man’s moral bankruptcy and it comes as little shock to his young ears. But insult aside, the barb gives the lad some food for thought and before long his contemplations bring him to a profound inner enquiry. What if his father’s wish in that angry instant had been granted and he had sent him to death with his words, thoughts and feelings? What would being ‘given’ to death actually mean? How would it feel? These and a torrent of other questions inundate the boys mind and he becomes more and more absorbed by the premise of being given away to death. This absorption would have been a deep meditation, an internal journey in practice, but for the narrative format in the Upanishad it is rendered as an external odyssey by Nachiketa to the abode of Yama – the deity of death in Indian mythology.

Nachiketa arrives and Yama is not in his abode, but determined Nachiketa decides to wait. Three days and nights pass. In Indian custom it is the height of ill manners to leave a guest unattended in your home, and as such, Nachiketa is being dishonoured as a guest by Yama (albeit unknown to the host himself).
So when Yama arrives back home after three days to find the young boy waiting for him, he is apologetic for the dishonour and offers him three boons or wishes in recompense.

Nachiketa’s first wish is that Yama uses his omnipotence to restore parity, order and affection to his relationship with his father when he returns from death’s abode. He asks that his father be calm, well disposed and not resentful when he gets home, just as he was before the farcical charity brouhaha. Yama immediately sees this is done.

The boys second wish or boon is for Yama to instruct him as to the proper execution of a fire ritual. A ritual which will enable him, Nachiketa, to embody such a vitality in the system and such a state of expanded consciousness that he would abide in a perpetual state of joyful ecstasy. This state would be an internal heaven, wherein his nervous system was a conductor for all the most blissful and ecstatic energies in the Universe; freedom from sorrow and total immersion in joy. Yama immediately grants the wish and further adds a declaration that the fire ritual itself be known as the ‘Nachiketa fires’ from thereon in.

Nachiketa then asks for his third boon. He asks Yama to tell him the secret of immortality, to reveal what lies beyond the veil of death. The boy asks the deity of death to clarify what happens after a person dies and thus unlock the ultimate enigma of mortal men.

Yama hedges and fudges, he prevaricates and procrastinates, slipping and squirming away from a direct answer. Yama offers Nachiketa all the riches in the known world, he proffers unending life on earth, tempting him with anything he can imagine for himself, if he’ll only drop the last question about what happens after death. But not one to be deterred by evasiveness, the boy remains dogged in his appeal and persists in pressing home his will.

At this point Yama is torn between elation at finding such a vehement and resolute potential student as Nachiketa and a prudent sense of reservation learned from many brushes with fickle and flimsy human beings since time immemorial. However from this dissonance despite his reservations, the deity of death resolves that by denying all the worldly treasures offered to him, Nachiketa has proven himself worthy of receiving the highest of all teachings and being shown the workings behind the mystery of death and of life itself Yama pledges to take the unflinching Nachiketa as his student and to nurture him accordingly, instilling in the young lad a deep inner stillness and assuredness which can only come from true knowledge.

So Yogis, an enticing intro closes with us, the rapt audience, on genuine tenterhooks looking with real gusto ahead to the next instalment. But how does the tale of the three wishes pertain to us as Living Yogis? What is to be our specific and practical lesson from the first section of the Katha Upanishad? Well let’s draw the parallels between Nachiketa’s three boons and the three levels of training in the system of Living Yoga as taught by Steve at the Yoga Sanctuary …

Level One training offers a general ‘house cleaning’ for body and mind; students are encouraged to lead a more positive and meaningful life tidying up relationships and patterns or habits which left unattended could disrupt or obstruct a student’s Yogic progress, upliftment and reaching their full potential. Just as Nachiketa got his ‘house in order’ with his first wish by settling the unresolved disharmony with his father.

Level Two training invites practitioners to deepen their commitment and practice in order to address subtler tensions in the body and mind in preparation for the upgrade of the nervous system to one of ecstatic conductivity. This has the effect, long term, of endowing students with an inner ecstatic joy just as Nachiketa’s second wish, for knowledge of the fire ritual, did for him.

Level Three training involves advanced Yoga practices to cultivate the ecstatic nervous system and a profound and abiding inner stillness. This stillness can only be achieved with firm establishment in the Living Yoga Practices and their underpinning philosophy, accrued through time and effort and correct living in virtuous cycles. Nachiketa’s third boon brought the potential for stillness and inner certainty in much the same way by delving into some of the more deeply hidden truths of our very existence.

Omm Omm.

~ By Elliot Donnelly.