By Jerome Burdi
Of all the yamas, brahmacharya is the greatest struggle for me. It is, however, possibly the most important to really taste true freedom –freedom from desires. Even the gods admire the one who is free from desires.
Swami Sivananda mentions the importance of brahmacharya time and again in his book, Raja Yoga, detailing the Yoga Sutras. I read the book in preparation for the 800-hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Training in August.
The other yamas — non-violence, not stealing, non-greed, and truthfulness –are much easier practices for me and many other yogis. Curbing desires is the toughest and if it’s not done successfully, all the other yamas can be tainted.
Only when desires are quieted can one progress along the spiritual path.
This is also the essence of Lord Buddha’s teachings: Desire and ignorance are the root of all suffering.
I enjoy Sivananda’s technique of destroying the evil vrittis, or thought patterns. It’s a sort of meditation, an awareness that one must maintain to have success on the path of yoga.
When an evil thought arises, think of its opposite and all the benefits of the good vrittis. When the thought of lust arises, think of brahmacharya; when anger rises, think of love; when pride shows its ugly head, chop it down with humility.
Desires will keep you in a rajasic, overactive state of mind, always unsettled. One must work properly, from a calm, sattvic state of mind.
“When sattva increases, the mind becomes steady like the flame of a lamp in a windless place,” Sivananda wrote. “He who is sattvic can do real concentration and meditation, and can enter into samadhi easily.”
The difficulty is how to find that sattvic mind and finally concentrate.
“Have perfect trust in God and be steady in your sadhana,” is the advice Sivananda gives. “Faith sustains the yogi like a kind, affectionate mother.”
Faith is a crucial component as one moves along the path. Sometimes I feel like I’m getting nowhere in my practice, but then come those moments of holding a difficult asana or having a steady stream of concentration. And that’s it! There’s the bliss! It may not last long, but it’s enough to get me through to the next episode. There’s falling along the way, but the faith gets us back up again and back on the path. We can’t beat ourselves up over the past. We get up and keep moving forward.
“Everything is present for the yogi,” Sivananda wrote. “Everything is here. Everything is now only.”
When the mind is filled with passions and desires, you cannot sit still to do your sadhana. The mind is always moving. The asana comes easily for many, but we must remember this is only a preparation so we can sit and work on the higher limbs of yoga that lead to the goal, samadhi, complete union with all of creation.
When I read about the states of mind a yogi can reach, I am reminded of how much work I have to do to reach the goal. The distractions are always coming like hurricane rains, like waves in the sea, or wind atop a mountain. But with practice, the yogi finds stillness. That’s why we do our practice, why we have our faith, why we stay on the path despite the digressions.
In those blissful moments we are mountains. Desire cannot touch us. We are truly free.
Jerome Burdi is a Brooklyn native who discovered yoga during a shamanic retreat in Brazil in 2010. Since then, he’s been enveloped by the path of the yogi. He left his job as a newspaper journalist to go to Rishikesh, India, and become a yoga teacher. Upon returning to NYC, he discovered Dharma Yoga and has been hooked. Though Jerome grew up in NY, he had to go to India to come back and see Sri Dharma with clear eyes and to hear the truth that is Dharma Yoga. Jerome is also a Middle Eastern style percussionist and holistic nutritionist.