Category Archives: intentions

The Spiritual Impulse

By Alan C. Haras

“Fire exists in the firewood, coal and charcoal, but without ignition from a spark of fire from without it cannot burn.  So the forces Divine within you do not grow without the impulse from the Preceptor.”

~Yogi Gupta (Sri Swami Kailashananda), from Yoga & Yogic Powers, p.46

There is an ancient tradition practiced by some yogis to continually tend a sacred fire.  This dhuni fire represents the fire of self-knowledge and it reduces all apparent phenomenon into a single, irreducible essence.  This sacred ash, or vibhuti, is often given to others seekers as prasad – a blessed and healing substance.  It is the duty of such yogis to keep this sacred fire going, offering the benefits of their dedicated practice as a healing remedy to all beings.

As sadhakas, we are all tending the sacred fire that we have received from our Guru at the time of initiation.  The Sanskrit word for “initiation” is diksha, which means “to ignite,” and interestingly enough, the English word “ignite” is related to the Sanskrit word agni – meaning “divine fire.”  A yogi who seeks initiation from a guru is seeking to be ignited by the sacred fire or “spiritual impulse” of the guru.  This invisible power is a “quickening” agent that speeds up the spiritual progress of the disciple.

We all contain within us great treasures of spiritual forces, but they typically remain asleep until awakened by the grace of the guru.  This grace cannot be received from any book.  In Yoga and Yogic Powers, Yogi Gupta says, “By reading the menu, your hunger cannot be satisfied.”  Similarly, any amount of reading about spiritual topics will not satisfy our spiritual hunger.  We must seek out a qualified Preceptor, and in receiving instructions from him or her, become receptive to the transmission of this spiritual impulse.

All genuine gurus have received this divine spark from their teacher.  Having received the blessing of the spiritual impulse, they continued to cultivate that sacred fire through their own sadhana, or spiritual practice.  It is not enough simply to “get” initiation – one must “give” themselves to their practice.  In this sense, initiation marks a new beginning.  One entrusted with the sacred fire becomes responsible for tending it and making it grow.  “Being initiated” means “becoming a disciple” and making the life-long commitment to the path of self-realization.

The word “disciple” comes from the Latin root discere which means “to learn.”  All are able to learn, but each individual learns at his or her own rate.  According to Swami Sivananda, an individual’s capacity is based upon their readiness to receive the divine spark of the guru’s instructions.  Some, he says, are like gunpowder – when the fire of knowledge is brought near to them, they are instantly ablaze with realization.  Others are like charcoal, who need only a little time in the presence of fire before they are completely consumed and transformed.  Still others are like dry firewood and need to stay in the fire a little while longer.  And then there are those who are like wet firewood – when they are in the presence of Truth, all they do is “smoke.”  This kind of disciple will need ample time to “dry out” before any real learning is possible.

If we approach a fire without proper respect, it is possible that we could get burned – not through any intention made by the fire, but simply through our own inattention. And yet, if we stay too far away, we won’t be able to enjoy the warmth that the fire provides.  Similarly, when a disciple approaches a guru with the divine qualities of reverence, humility and obedience, her or she is able to receive the spiritual impulse of the teacher.  Yogi Gupta says that this impulse is the “energized thought” of the teacher, and although it is invisible, it is “far more powerful than electricity.”

One receives the spiritual impulse through transmission.  The Guru received it from his or her Guru, and blesses the disciples with that same impulse upon their initiation.  It is like a lit candle passing the flame to an unlit candle – it is now up to the disciple to protect that flame, keep it burning brightly, and eventually, to pass on the living flame to a qualified disciple.  The flame does not belong to anyone, but is pure grace; the pure gift of the enlightened teachers to those who are sincerely seeking Self-Realization.  It is transmitted through the Guru’s presence and teachings, and is received only by those who have cultivated the necessary qualities of a disciple.

 

Alan Alan C. Haras (Bhaktadas Om) is the owner of Hamsa Yoga in Lake Orion Michigan, a commissioned Spiritual Director in the tradition of Ignatian Spirituality, and a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Religion Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy, and completing his 800-hour Advanced Dharma Yoga Teacher Certification.
www.hamsayogacenter.com

A Journey into the Self

By Gena Rockwell

As soon as I signed up for the training, I knew that it was meant to be. I had never even practiced Dharma Yoga, but when I stumbled upon the website and saw that it was actually possible to study with Sri Dharma, whom I had admired through his famous poster and his interviews for years, I jumped at the opportunity. To prepare, I purchased his Maha Sadhana DVDs, began to practice them regularly and immediately fell in love with the Dharma Yoga.

It was five years after completing my 200-hour teacher training in vinyasa yoga, and I knew that this training would take me to the next level as a teacher. Little did I know what a profound effect this experience would have on my life as a whole.

The moment I walked into the Dharma Yoga Center on my first day of class, I immediately felt calm and serene. I was warmly greeted at the front desk and directed to the temple, which was huge and beautifully decorated with candles, images of Shiva, Ganesh, and Sri Dharma’s guru, Yogi Gupta.

As I gathered with the 70 yogis from all over the world, I could sense that everyone was as excited and humbled as I was when Sri Dharma walked into the room to lead us through our pranayama practice and spiritual discourse. Throughout the first day we did hours of asana practice along with more pranayama, meditation and kirtan. At the end of the day, my body was exhausted but I was so full of energy at the same time. As the week progressed, I continued to be filled with some kind of divine energy even though our 14-hour days were packed with up to eight or more hours of asana practice.

I got to know my fellow yogis more throughout the first week and I couldn’t believe how amazing each and every person was. These were some of the kindest most sincere people I had ever met.

But then again, it all made sense because we had all sought out Sri Dharma as our guru, one of the most kind and sincere voices in the yoga world.

The mentors were amazing, as well. Each mentor had a special gift to give, and did so with so much compassion and humility. I knew the training would be great, but I had no idea how welcomed and at home I would feel right away.

“This is it, this is real yoga,” I thought to myself constantly.

Kindness, compassion, and humility, these are Dharma’s true teachings. While he is one of the most renowned practitioners of asana in the world, his true teaching is much deeper. He encourages us to realize that we are a reflection of the divine, to be kind to others, to be kind to the animals, to see ourselves in others, to always practice compassion, and to make every action an offering to the divine.

Throughout both of the training modules, we performed hours upon hours of challenging asana but in a way, it seemed effortless. I credit this to the fact that not only were we all moving together as a collective consciousness, but we were all also aligning our practice with a higher purpose,­ seeing our practice as serving something greater than ourselves.

There is something very profound that happens when you practice in this way. Suddenly, the ego or sense of “I am­ness” begins to evaporate. Your muscles are not each working individually to hold you in the pose. You are not thinking “This foot goes here, this arm goes there.” You cease to become the doer, and instead become one with all of creation.

I believe that each one of us experienced to some degree throughout the course of the training the true meaning of yoga: Union with the divine. This divine energy guided us through every 14-hour day, leaving us not only with sore muscles, but with beaming radiance,­ and a childlike sense of wonder for all of existence.

We practiced and learned many techniques to get to this place, and will keep them with us forever.

I thought that I was going to learn how to be a better teacher, but what I really learned was how to go deep inside to the place of God­-consciousness that exists within us all, the true self. Then the teaching happens naturally.

 

Gena RockwellGena Rockwell is a yoga instructor, massage therapist and musician who lives in Shepherdstown, W. Va. In 2013 she received her certification as an ayurvedic yoga specialist from the Himalayan Institute and this year she had the honor of studying under yoga master, Sri Dharma Mittra for her 500 hour yoga certification.

Finding Strength in Brokenness

By Dharma Yoga Center Staff

It was a Tuesday night and Kat Milburn was feeling good. She was two weeks into her inter-module LOAY 500 hour teacher training and things were tough, but she was determined to get through it. The new vegan diet and daily practices were making her stronger in her practice. She knew she’d be a great Dharma Yoga teacher when it was completed.

Then the accident happened.

She was walking to her kitchen, but it was dark and she entered the door next to it, falling down 15 stairs to her basement. The pain was ripping through her. She opened her mouth to cry for help, but nothing came out.

“I couldn’t stand up and I couldn’t scream because my diaphragm was pushing into my back,” Milburn said. “I crawled half way up the stairs so my roommate could hear me.”

She was rushed to the hospital where the doctors worked on her, then told her the horrible news: She had broken bones in her left foot and also fractured her vertebrae.

One of the first things that came to mind was how she would continue her 500-hour Life of a Yogi teacher training. She could keep the diet for the most part, but she couldn’t practice pranayama and meditation while on painkillers and asana was out of the question.

She had about five more weeks before the second module began. Despite her injuries, Milburn knew she wanted to attend, even if she had to sit on the sidelines while everyone else did movements she no longer could.

The Dharma Yoga Center allowed her to continue her training and Milburn was relieved. After being an athlete her whole life and practicing asana seven days a week, the accident caused her to move into deep reflection.

“It was tough,” she said. “I was working towards the goal and it felt like someone pulled the rug from underneath me. I hurt myself where I couldn’t even do a practice.”

There were Dharma Yoga classes lined up for Milburn after the training near her Arlington, Va., home, but she is not sure when she will be able to teach them.

“I’m feeling like I’m letting everybody down,” she said.

Milburn knew that making her way back to the Dharma Yoga Center on Nov. 2 to complete the eight day training would help her spirits and help her to heal. She could not wait another year to complete it.

“Every day was a tough time,” she said. “It was physically hard, sitting in the chair on the sidelines. Everything happens for a reason. I was given the opportunity to sit and really watch Sri Dharma teach and that was a blessing. I was also given the opportunity to teach in a way I don’t do. I had to sit and picture myself doing the class every time people were doing it.

“We are all humans and we’re going to break down and we’ll have a time where we can’t demo all the time. Learning that was my biggest gift. It made me a stronger.”

Milburn also had support from the Dharma Yoga staff and her nearly 70 classmates, including two reiki healers who would check on her everyday.

“That’s really powerful to be around people who are genuinely concerned,” she said.

Other students told Milburn how inspiring it was to see her strength and determination to come back.

“They’d say, ‘You have the toughest practice of all,’” Milburn recalled. “I feel I made more progress during my own spiritual journey to sit and be silent and not listen to that nasty voice in your head. Remain unconcerned. You fall down a flight of stairs and it’s really hard to see the beauty in that.”

Milburn was right that making her way back to the Dharma temple would help her heal. When she returned home, the doctors were amazed at how fast she healed. A week after the second module ended, Milburn was given the OK to slowly start practicing again.

Time for Tapas: Make a Commitment for Guru Purnima

by Kali Om

title photo by Mia Park

“People become depressed when they neglect their spiritual practice.” –Sri Dharma Mittra

What are you putting off that would deepen your yoga practice?

Is it to clean up your diet? To devote 20 minutes a day to meditation? To stop bed-texting and devote time to reflecting upon the day’s events? To work on a certain pose on a regular basis?

Rather than putting it off indefinitely, consider committing to a new level of practice for a four-month period, starting on Guru Purnima, which this year falls on Saturday, July 12.

Guru Purnima is a special full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashad in which yogis commit to deepening their practice in order to honor their spiritual preceptor and all spiritual preceptors dating back to the sage Vyasa, who edited the Vedas, Puranas, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Mahabharata.

Ganesh-21

The guru is considered to be a living example of yoga, a saintly person who shares the practices that can bring the dedicated disciple face-to-face with God. On Guru Purnima, devotees may get up early and spend the day fasting, praying, and singing their guru’s praises. Of course, the best way to honor the guru is to follow his or her teachings and achieve the goal of yoga–self-realization. Indeed, nothing pleases the guru more than seeing the disciple stand on his or her own two feet.

Whether you have a guru or not, Guru Purnima gives yogis a wonderful opportunity to recommit to their spiritual practice, knowing that others around the world are doing the same thing. This collective consciousness is a powerful aid.

On this day, yogis make a commitment called a sankalpa, or a sacred vow. This vow is traditionally kept for a chaturmas, or a four-month period.

A sankalpa made on Guru Purnima is not like a typical New Year’s resolution, where one makes a vague, lofty plan that is followed for a few days and is then jettisoned as old habits reappear. Instead, it is a specific goal with a detailed plan on how to attain it. It is written down, signed, and then given to a spiritual preceptor or teacher.

photo by Mia Park
photo by Mia Park

This practice is part of the yogic observance of tapas, or purifying austerities. Tapas falls into three categories: austerity, worship, and charity. It can include practices to be taken up or habits to be given up.

“That which purifies the impure mind is tapas,” said Swami Sivananda. “That which regenerates the lower animal nature and generates divine nature is tapas. That which cleanses the mind and destroys lust, anger, greed etc., is tapas. That which destroys tamas (dullness) and rajas (impurity) and increases satva (purity) is tapas.”

What you choose to do for Guru Purnima should be something that is reasonable given your particular circumstances. It should also be somewhat challenging. Usually, we have an idea floating around the back of our minds. If that is the case, write it down and visualize how it could be put into action. Remember, it should be appropriate for your particular stage of spiritual practice, and that yoga is, ultimately, about authentically wanting to clean up your act

Once you figure out what your commitment will be, write it down, sign it, and put it into practice–not just for the guru or teacher, but also for your own spiritual unfoldment.

Because ultimately, the real guru is right there, seated in your own heart as your inmost Self.

Choosing–and Keeping–Your Sankalpa

It is best to write down the vow that you wish to keep for Guru Purnima. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to follow through. Include the steps you will take to accomplish it. Sign it and give it to someone you believe in, or burn it. Then, keep quiet about it and do the work.

If you do not have any ideas, here are a few places to start:

  • Give up a bad habit that is not serving you, such as bed-texting, having a glass of wine before bed, eating junk food, gossiping, or spending time with people who bring out the worst in you.
  • Spend five minutes a day reading the Yoga Sutras or other scripture.
  • Keep a daily spiritual diary, and write down your practices and how well you kept (or didn’t keep) yama, yoga’s ethical foundation. For more ideas, read Swami Radha’s 1996 book, Time To Be Holy.
  • Repeat a certain number of rounds of mantra each day, using a mala (a 108-bead rosary used for meditation). “A rosary is a whip to goad the mind towards God,” said Swami Sivananda in his book Japa Yoga (available for free, at dlshq.org/teachings/ japayoga .htm ).
  • Develop a home practice. Resolve to do 20 minutes of asana, 12 rounds of pranayama, asana , and/or 20 minutes meditation each day. Or promise yourself that you’ll go to class a certain number of times each week.
  • Give up eating meat. If this seems too drastic, consider going vegetarian once a week (for more info, visit meatfreemondays.com or vrg.org).
  • If you are not yet ready to deepen your yoga practice, perhaps there is something in your life that needs to be resolved first. Consider diving into that project you’ve been avoiding, such as putting your finances or house in order, or clearing out a practice space in a bedroom or corner of the living room.
  • Consider volunteering once a week or month through selfless service or Karma yoga, which should be performed without attachment to results. For example, resist the urge to brag about it or put it on your résumé. For ideas, visit volunteermatch.org and read Ram Dass’s 1985 book, How Can I Help?
  • Take a weekly Internet and smartphone fast, or practice silence once a week. Or vow to eat a meal in silence–no TV, no talking, no texting or reading–once a day or once a week.
  • Give away one object you no longer use each day or week. Give the items to charity, or post them on freecycle.org.
  • If you have a tendency to run behind schedule (i.e., you are always late), vow to arrive five minutes early to each of your appointments.
  • Put the Yoga Sutras into practice. Read Yogi Cameron Alborzian’s new book The One Plan: A Week-by-Week Guide to Restoring Your Natural Health and Happiness. And do the exercises.

 

Cara Jepsen

Kali Om (Cara Jepsen) , E-RYT 500, is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra and has been teaching yoga since 1998; she is the senior teacher of Dharma yoga in Chicago and has completed Sri Dharma Mittra’s LOAY 200-, 500-, and 800-hour trainings. She will lead yoga and meditation retreats November 1-2, 2014 at the beautiful Port for Prayer in Frankfort, IL and in Belize February 7-14, 2015. For more information, visit yogikaliom.com.

The Search for Peace

by Marci Moberg 

©Enid Johnstone

Everyone is searching for peace –peace within themselves, with others, in their environments, and in their homes.  Still, somehow peace escapes out the back door, and continues to elude people.  The search for peace faces multiple obstacles along the way that block the path and keep serenity at bay.  One supporting mechanism to finding peace now is through the practice of ahimsa.

Ahimsa, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is one of the five yamas, or ethical practices, that together form the first limb of the eight-limbed path of yoga.  While often translated as non-killing, the concept carries more nuance and depth.  

 

Sri Swami Satchidananda describes ahimsa as not causing pain. What he means by that is not causing pain in thought, word, and deed.  While many think of this as an externally focused practice, it is just as much an inside job, because neglecting the practice of ahimsa towards one’s self can create harm to others. 

Practicing ahimsa in one’s every day life may seem simple at first. On the surface it appears easy to not harm others and cause them pain.  People easily identify avoiding physical harm, using words unwisely like slandering another person, and other deeds that appear to overtly create pain and harm to another person.  

This makes the initial layer of the practice easy for many to adopt.  But the practice is deeper.  First the practice should include beings other than human beings.  This includes not killing or harming insects, eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, and even being mindful of the treatment of plants and trees. 

Second, the practice should include the way our words and deeds affect others in subtle ways to cause harm that may otherwise not be obvious to us.  The effects of our actions on others are subtle and easily missed if we are not mindful of another person’s perspective and the potential ripples our actions may create. 

While we may have the best of intentions, beautiful intentions do not always result in beautiful action.  It is this delicate balance that makes practicing ahimsa a true art, rather than a hard science. 

While practicing ahimsa with word and deed can be challenging in subtle ways, even more difficult is the practice of ahimsa in thought.  The ego rarely comes up with something nice to say about another person.  It often moves us into a place of survival, protection, and defensiveness automatically without even taking pause. 

 

One of the beings it often most attacks is one’s self. I discovered that practicing ahimsa with one’s self truly requires a careful look at one’s thoughts throughout the day and the subtle messages we tell ourselves that perhaps are not so helpful.  Sometimes the thought is obviously harmful, like telling ourselves that we are unintelligent for forgetting to do something.  Other times the language is subtler. 

When I started to watch my own thoughts I discovered that negative messages that were harming me were sneakily sliding into what otherwise appeared to be efforts to be productive.  For example, when trying to get myself to focus on something like my research for my dissertation, I would tell myself internally that I was banned from checking e-mail or prohibited from calling a friend back so I would finish the task. 

This harsh language with myself set me up for an uncomfortable reality where I felt like doing my dissertation or any other task was punishment.  It drained all the enjoyment out of things I needed to spend my time on that I truly loved.  Sometimes it caused rebellious behavior in me as I rebelled against my harsh instructions to focus and checked my e-mail anyway, like a teenager rebelling against her parents.  In the end, this harsh internal language to myself was not helping me be productive, nor nurturing me. 

 

And the ripple effects it created were probably more harmful than I am even aware of now, and a pattern I continue to watch and slowly undo.

It is said that when the Buddha and other saints practiced ahimsa in the forest, animals would only kill if they were hungry and would otherwise dwell peacefully together.  The practice and non-practice of ahimsa I believe has more subtle energetic affects on the environment and relationships around us than we realize, especially with ourselves. 

SriDharma Mittra always emphasizes that what we focus our thought on is also where we direct our prana energy. As a result, it is key that we are sensitive to where we are directing prana.  In the end, if someone wants to truly experience peace with others, with his or her environment, and above all within his or herself, ahimsa is an essential element in unlocking the serenity we seek.


 
Marci Moberg came to yoga, meditation, and mindfulness through her own spiritual and healing journey.  First connecting to yoga in college as a form of exercise, she later connected to its deeper roots as an avid student and practitioner of many ancient contemplative traditions.  Marci is grateful to be a dedicated student of Felix Lopez, a former Buddhist monk and energy healer.  She is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) and is currently completing the 500-Hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training with Sri Dharma Mittra.  She teaches yoga, meditation, and mindfulness in the greater Washington DC area.  Off the mat and cushion Marci works in international development, is an experienced conflict resolution practitioner, and a doctoral candidate at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.  You can learn more about Marci and find her reflections on the study and practice of different spiritual traditions here: abhidhammayoga.com and seekreflectimplement.com