Pain, Suffering and Healing

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Yoga Practices

For many years, I had a condition known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, where the fingers and toes when exposed to cold will turn completely white, numb and in short succession, very painful. It had progressed to the point where, over the last two years, even in the peak of summer, reaching into a freezer at a grocery store would immediately result in vasoconstriction (contraction of the blood vessels due to spasm). While it occurs commonly with autoimmune disease, Raynaud’s can occur in isolation with no inciting cause, as it was in my case. It had progressed to the point where I considered taking medications for it.This past winter and in the middle of the polar vortex that chilled the Midwest (as well as other regions), I rushed out of the house one morning forgetting my gloves. It was a day I needed to get gas in the car in subzero temperatures. Dreading it, I stood by the pump, waiting for the tank to fill. The numbness began immediately. But instead of squirming around as usual, I stood quietly as my being became completely still. From this standpoint of total stillness, I observed the sensation without labeling/rejecting/attaching coloring but simply noticed it all with innocent curiosity. The stories of the mind associated with the pain also came and went. Within minutes, the sensation changed, turning into warmth and gradually faded. Gas filled, I got in the car and drove away without the usual drama of “need to thaw my fingers” that could normally go on for about 30 minutes. It immediately became clear that with every episode, the sensation (pain) was the reality of the moment while the emotional response to it (suffering) was baggage added to it.

That day, I began to ask in samyama, “show me where this comes from”. Two days later, an image appeared out of nowhere while deep in meditation – it was of me standing at a bus-stop on a very cold day with no gloves, nearly 17 years ago. That was the time I had arrived in the US and was living in a small and quaint Northeastern town. Extenuating circumstances had led me there, where I was renting the attic of a kind couple, working three jobs and managing with just enough money for one strategically thought out meal per day (and certainly not for warm clothes). Until then, I had not known temperate cold weather, or the experience of utter, total despair and loneliness, with my beloved family and friends thousands of miles away. Every evening was spent sitting alone in the attic, thinking incredulously about how I had gotten here, from being a star student, high-school valedictorian and role model. Every morning, I waited for the unreliable bus service, sometimes for two hours, with no gloves and fear of frostbite. By the end of that year, the tears had dried and fortunes had shifted; but it became clear now that the pain had never been released.

Thus, the memory that held the belief of Raynaud’s in place was shown when asked. The memory was colored by the pain of loneliness, the sense of having failed,  and the blow of utter and total despair. As the scene came up, it was suddenly clear that it was nothing but a memory that existed no “where”. It was inherently empty. The only thing arising in the present moment was merely a thought about the past. Yet, it had been carried as a deep belief and.. a very real disease.

A week later, I walked a long way to my car in the biting cold, got in and then realized I had forgotten my gloves again. I looked at my fingers – they were cold, but not numb or white or painful. The rest of the winter was spent in awe at this magic of experiencing cold without Raynaud’s.

How much does pain and suffering arise from deeply held beliefs? Is healing as simple as letting go of such beliefs? My humbling experience would indicate that suffering is unnecessary, created by our own selves with circular thinking revolving around the “me”. We continuously seek to push away or resist any sensation that is labeled as pain or unpleasant, and desperately seek what we label to be pleasant. It is this never-ending and exhausting business of labeling, seeking and resisting that creates suffering around all of our experiences. However, as soon as we begin to allow things to just be, the circular thinking around the “me” dissolves. Seen in a spirit of innocent curiosity, it becomes clear that all sensations arise, stay for a while and fade. Stories of why something “should” or “should not” be as it is create suffering and prolongation of the inciting sensation.

Such is the power of surrender.

Miraculous healing? Yes. Impossible? No.

The “Where Am I?” Game

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Life Lessons

A few months ago, I was cooking while my children sat at the kitchen table working on their homework. As usual, they began bickering about something, and I heard one of them say, “No, this is mine. I have had it for months..”

The following arose as a jovial conversation between the younger child and me:

Me: “Are you sure it is yours?”

Her: “Yes.”

Me: “What makes it yours?”

Her: “Because as I said (with a look of ‘poor dumb Mommy’), I have had it for months. Besides, because I say so.”

Me: “Hmmm.. so it belongs to you.”

Her: “You’re not listening mom. Yes, it does.”

Me: “To whom?”

Her: “Me.”

Me: “Ok, where is this me that has this?”

Her: “Right here in this chair.”

Me: “Where in the chair?”

Her: “In my body.”

Me: “Where in that body?”

Her (thinking a bit): “In my brain.”

Me: “So will I find you if I cut open your brain? Remember the pictures of brains you’ve seen? By looking at those pictures, can you tell who they belong to? Was the person in the brain?”

Her: “Ahh, no. In the heart then.”

Me: “I show you live pictures of hearts all the time. Is the person ever in the heart?”

While the above was transpiring between this younger child (age 9) and me, the older one (age 11) sat listening quietly. At this point, her eyes widened with absolute disbelief and recognition. The following is the conversation with her:

Her: “Gosh, mommy! I’m not in my body at all!!”

Me: “Where are you then?”

Her: “Must be in my mind!”

Me: “Where is this mind where you are?”

Her: “In my brain.”

Me: “In those pictures you’ve seen of brains, is there a part called mind?”

Her: “No.. So, am in my feelings?”

Me: “Do your feelings come and go?”

Her: “Yes.. Ahh.. so I cannot be in my feelings because I am here even when the feeling goes away.. Tell me then mom. Where am I??”

Me (big smile): “Sorry, can’t do. You have to find out for yourself.”

At this point, I just laughed and changed the topic. A few days later, I was driving the older child back late at night from an activity.. After several minutes of silence, she began:

Her: “Mommy, can we play the where am I game again?”

Me (taking several minutes to figure out what she was talking about): “Sure.”

Her: “So, I am not in my body, mind or feelings. But I know I’m here. Where am I then?”

Me: “You tell me.”

Her: “Why am I not my thoughts again?”

Me: “Do you know you are thinking?”

Her: “Yes. Always.”

Me: “So are there two of you? The one that thinks and the one that knows?”

Her (momentary disbelief again): “Gosh! No. I am the one that knows. Because even when thoughts don’t come, I know there are no thoughts.”

Me (heart bursting with joy): “Yes!”

Her: “When did you figure this out mom?”

Me: “Certainly not at your age.”

Her: “Does everyone figure out that they are not in their body or mind?”

Me: “Eventually.”

Her: “If I am not in my feelings, that is amazing. I don’t have to worry about being sad.”

Me: “Exactly!”

After several moments of pregnant silence,

Me (mostly to myself): “The most important question you can ask is who you are. And the first step in that is to ask where you are. Nothing else you achieve in life will come close to knowing where you are not.”

Her: “This is so cool, mommy. Can we play this game every time we are alone?”

Me: “Yes. Any time you want to.”

Just like that! And it took me a few decades to “get” this even intellectually..

My children, my greatest teachers.

Mantra Sadhana (Japa)

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Supportive

Mantra sadhana or japa has been a constant in my path, a practice common to all spiritual traditions and faiths. Sharing here some of the incredible benefits noted over the years..

Memorizing complex Sanskrit hymns is something I enjoy tremendously. Thus, although I grew up with commonly chanted mantras accompanying worship and rituals, it was in high school that I discovered my innate love for chanting. My math teacher, a Sanskrit scholar and jnani, insisted on teaching me Bhagavad Gita chanting for local competitions. Although at the time I didn’t grasp the meaning of the verses I was memorizing, I discovered that Sanskrit enunciation came quite effortlessly and there was deep peace in losing myself in the rhythm and intonation of the verses.

In college, I discovered the Hanuman Chalisa, being intensely drawn to Hanuman. I would chant the chalisa day and night, and it would go on in the back of my mind automatically during daily activities as well as in dreams. Through this, I began to feel Hanuman’s powerful presence everywhere, never feeling alone. Looking back at the most difficult times, there is only one pair of footsteps in the sand – His. And it was with this that I came to understand the power of japa.

The Vishnu sahasranama – the thousand names of Vishnu, was the first long hymn that drew me mysteriously into its fold, taking nearly a year to perfect and finding that doors would open in all aspects of my life. While trying to recall the source of all the goodness that has come my way in the last 20 years or so, I realized that it was after I began chanting this supreme hymn that things shifted drastically, including meeting gurus and being guided from everywhere.

Some years ago, I was drawn to the magnificent hymns from the Rig Veda (the oldest of the four Vedas) – Purusha Suktam, Narayana Suktam and Sri Suktam. It was with Sri Suktam, a hymn dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi that ecstatic energetic movements first began along with moving visions of the radiant mother, resplendent in her shimmering form, showering her abundance beyond anything I could have asked for.

There is a peculiar phenomenon I’ve observed with respect to mantras and hymns.. It seems that they pick the person, and “click” as they wish, or not. There are many hymns and mantras I have wanted to learn or practice but could not proceed. The hymn would seem to slip easily from my memory, rendering memorization impossible. Months or sometimes years later, the attraction to the mantra would arise again automatically, when it would seem miraculously easy to memorize and practice, as was the case with the Sri Rudram, a Vedic hymn.

The power of japa has been written about extensively by Mahatma Gandhi and by beloved teachers like Ram Dass and Eknath Easwaran. The incredible power of the Jesus Prayer is described in the spiritual classic, “The Way of the Pilgrim”, where a simple peasant in 19th century Russia discovers the true meaning of unceasing prayer first-hand . Japa is unceasing prayer that is established deep within the psyche and transforms one from within. It does not have to involve complex words; the simple name of our beloved ideal is enough, as described in Swami Ramdas’ elucidation of his extraordinary pilgrimage with his chosen mantra -the monosyllable “Ram”. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna lauds japa as the most supreme of worship or meditative practices (BG 10:25).

Discovering Eknath Easwaran’s teachings years ago, I was inspired to pick a “permanent” mantra, and “Om Namo Narayanaya” was chosen. In the years that I’ve used this, it has been interesting to notice how japa “settles” into one’s being. At first a conscious effort that is noticed at the brain/thinking mind level, it settles gradually into the throat chakra and finally into the heart. Once at the heart level, the dynamic changes entirely – at this point, the mantra moves by itself, arising in conscious and subconscious levels of its own accord (known as ajapa japa). It is the first thing that arises between sleep and wakefulness and the last thing that is noticed before deep sleep, arising automatically in dreams and turning them lucid. This mantra has become integrated into the very fiber of my being, and seems like it is being embedded into the deepest recesses at a primordial, cellular level.

The technique for mantra sadhana is simple. The first step is to pick the mantra or let it pick us. We then set an intention for transformation and begin the practice. For mantra “siddhi” (the power of the mantra) to occur, it is said that at least 125,000 repetitions are necessary. While this number may be arbitrary, the more we repeat it, the greater is its ability to settle into our psyche. Thus, it is helpful to set aside time everyday to chant/practice. A rosary or mala can be used if that is helpful, using the beads for counting; malas with 108, 54, or 27 beads are most commonly used. In addition, the mantra can be chanted during activities like cooking, cleaning, showering, waiting, exercising and others. It can be remembered upon waking up and before falling asleep, and any time emotions get the better of us. The first sign that the mantra is beginning to settle within is when it comes up on its own at unexpected times.

There is an incredible power associated with mantra sadhana that is easier to experience than to describe. It has the ability to transform life into a stream of miracles.

Dasha Mahavidya – The Ten Great Sources of Wisdom

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

The central theme of traditional tantra is the knowledge of the Self through adoration of Shakti; Sri Vidya Sadhana is one such path to the Self. Along this path of diving deeper into one’s own self, Shakti manifests in several forms of knowledge/intuitive wisdom. These forms are known as “Dasha Mahavidya”, where ten primary forms/sources of knowledge are known deeply personally and experientially.

These Mahavidyas are: Kali, Tara, Tripurasundari, Bhuvaneshwari, Tripura Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati, Baglamukhi, Matangi and Kamalatmika.

They are called “maha” (great) because each is a complete path and destination. Each one opens to knowledge of the remaining nine, as well as the Bindu of the Sri Yantra. It is said that devotion to and practice of any one of these will reveal our true nature and the reality of all of creation.

There are volumes written about the Dasha Mahavidyas, encompassing points of view of the yogas, tantras and the Upanishads. Scholars spend their entire lifetimes dedicated to understanding and grokking the significance of each of these Mahavidyas. My somewhat hesitant writings here thus pale in comparison. Everything expressed here is what has risen from my own practice of tantra, usually in times of intense clarity and insight that happen spontaneously. As with all of the paths of self-unfoldment, these insights will also evolve and refine.

The basis of these writings are the tantric practices of Tattwa Shuddhi and Sri Vidya Sadhana. Tattwa Shuddhi (literally, cleansing of elements) comprises of dissolution of elements corresponding to the various chakras into progressively subtler elements and then into the mahatattva (great element), Prakrithi (Shakti) and Purusha (Shiva). After internal cleansing rituals, the elements are returned to rest in the opposite direction.

In the “dissolution” part of this practice, it gradually becomes intuitively known that Shakti/Prakrithi is the witness, the first separation from the Absolute. Even when we become aware of “witnessing”, there is a sense that it is not all, or the final “it”. With deepening inquiry, one is eventually propelled to ask, “Who is aware of the witness?” and in time, we open up to the direct knowing of this awareness, that is, Purusha/Shiva. While it feels that Shakti is the “individual” witnessing principle, with a retained “I” in it, the individuality of the witness collapses as Shiva, and there is only knowing awareness that is not fixed to this and that, I and not I.

In witnessing, there remains an experience, and a knower of the experience. However, with further openings and deeper delving into this knowing awareness (Shiva, in this analogy) to be one’s true self/identity, we gradually come to see that every experience that arises is awareness itself, only seemingly separated from the knower. In every experience, when we look deeply, the “knower” is added ad hoc, in a swift play of illusion by the mind, the master magician. If we can stay with the experience, free from the mind’s interference, the knower is not seen to be separate, but known directly to have risen as the experience itself. Thus, Shakti is never separated from Shiva. If Shiva is the void, Shakti is what makes up the contents of the void, giving it form; yet, the void and the form are known via each other. Shakti is indeed Shiva, like the waves of the ocean being the ocean itself.

As in Tattwa Shuddhi, we then return to daily life, elements aligned once again as before. However, there is a distinct difference in how these elements are “held” in experience; they are transparent and not as solid/real as they did on the way up. The borders between “in here” and “out there” become blurred and disappear.

Along this path of openings and awakenings arise the Mahavidyas, setting the inner void ablaze with intuitive arisings and wisdom. They reveal themselves as the inner essence of time, vibration, space, silence, wisdom, compassion, oneness, dissolution, eternity, and beauty. Each of these powerful forms of Shakti is a complete path, leading to Shiva and back into Herself; each will bring the sadhaka to his/her knees in awe and surrender.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Action and Inaction, Doing and Nondoing

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Living the Bhagavad Gita

On the path of karma yoga, the crux of existence comes down to how we perform actions at any given moment. On the surface, the journey is always from here to here, as Yogani wisely says. However, this path is very often convoluted, and takes unexpected turns and twists despite our best intentions to “do” karma yoga. In these twists, we come to understand first-hand the true meaning of nondoing in doing and inaction in action as explained in the Gita.

Once the process of unfolding begins, it takes its own uncharted course. For me, that course has been a deep dive into the subtle and causal bodies, coming to rest often in ever deepening pools of stillness and peace. Sinking here in meditation, there is a freezing of the body in a paralysis-like state often associated with cessation of breath and loss of consciousness. Coming out of it, there is deep peace untouched by any activity going on around me. This “state” frequently wafts into daily activities where there is a sort of jarring out of a deep reverie wondering what I’m doing or why I’m there, amidst conversations or other activity. Thoughts, sensations and emotions are seen like passing clouds and bubbles, not touching the deep stillness. This is all associated with a loss of drive and ambition, related most likely to loss of fear and anxiety around being “someone” with specific qualifications or achievements, title or status. The deep peace pervades the waking, dreaming and deep sleep states, unshakeable and groundless. Increasingly, it is difficult to relate to the rat-race of the marketplace – not particularly conducive to one with a busy career and family.

This phase appears to be quite common. I was discussing this with a dear friend, Anurag Jain, a wise yogi, fellow-lover of the Gita and founder of Neev Forum for Integral Living. In his characteristic and unassuming fashion, he asked me what I thought about Krishna’s words in the 4th chapter (4:16), where he discloses the secret of karma yoga – inaction in action. Like a complicated lock falling into place with the right key, I immediately “got” what he was referring to.

As discussed here, the evolution of karma yoga involves losing identity as the doer of action. And this evolution requires the additional yogas of bhakti and/or jnana. With deepening self-inquiry, one dives into the subtle and causal bodies, with a shift in identification from the limited body-mind to a greater, non-localized sense of being. The distinctions between “inside” the body and “outside” blur and fade and this shift is often accompanied by subtle and not-so-subtle movements of Shakti (energy), intuitive openings and a growing sense of “knowingness”. The sense of doership simultaneously fades, since the sense of being is no longer associated with this particular body-mind. Most traditions talk primarily about this part of the journey; to see that we are not the limited body-mind. And this is where many can get stuck, as I’ve experienced. The bliss and deep peace of being are so vast and all-encompassing that there is no compelling need to “do” anything (since I’m not the doer anyway). Engaging in the world becomes difficult and a chore. It takes supreme effort to be interested in clothes and cars and titles and statuses and paychecks and who-is-doing-what.

The conundrum is this – many of us are prompted to enter the spiritual path after we have established careers and long-term goals and have committed to partners and family. And we never count on drastic changes that can (and do) occur on this path; of phases of craving solitude more than anything, of deep confusion and pain of the so-called “dark night of the soul”, of the terror and fears that surface as the subconscious mind is churned, of the need to stand and face oneself and one’s own perceived utter failures and disappointments and to own it all. We assume that the spiritual path will make us holy and serene like in the pictures; moreover, our family members assume these qualities for us – and thus, we are all shocked when we are less than holy or serene at times. Mostly, we do not count on going so deep within that the surface ripples do not even touch us – we certainly do not count on losing the identity as the doer and what that really means in the context of a busy life.

Going from doing to nondoing is only half the journey. The other half involves returning once again to doing. But this time, the doing is different, for while it appears that one is doing, he/she does nothing at all and the action flows through him/her. Life and its processes become the Sri Yantra – stillness of the Bindu amidst dynamic activity of the intersecting triangles. In this (necessary for many) hiatus resulting from this shift of identity to not being the doer, the only thing to do is to surrender all vestiges of personal will. And to submit to Shakti to use this body-mind in any way She chooses. Inaction in action is this exactly – just like the heart and the digestive system work without volition, external actions also just happen with this body-mind being the vehicle for it without any personal ownership of it all. How long this “return journey” will take, I do not know.

Yet, there is a deep trust in the process and in Her. For it is now evident that the secret to inaction in action is surrender.

Dasha Mahavidya – Kali

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

Kali is the first of the ten Mahavidyas, representing time (kal/kaal = time).

She is depicted as a dark goddess, ferocious and terrifying in appearance. She wears a garland of human arms for a skirt and human heads as a necklace. She lives in cemeteries and graveyards – wherever there is death and decay. She has piercing eyes and her tongue lolls out of her great mouth. She carries several weapons in seven of her ten arms (the scimitar being the one of her choice) and a freshly severed human head in the eighth. The lower two hands form the mudras of protection and boon-giving. She is intoxicated from the continuous consumption of blood and dances wildly upon corpses and her own beloved Shiva, who lies completely still and seemingly powerless under her forceful steps.

Kali is the first among the Mahavidyas because the process of creation begins with time. From a macrocosmic perspective, in the beginning there is only Purusha – undifferentiated, timeless potential. The cosmos begins with the “Big Bang”, and simultaneously, linear time and along with it,  all duality. Light and dark, good and evil, high and low, truth and untruth – each is made possible only because of its counterpart. For creation to be sustained, death is necessary – life is only possible through death. What is born must necessarily die in time. Time and death are thus synonymous. The linear sequence of time is maintained only with dissolution of one moment to give rise to the next. Maya thrives thus as a sequence of time-related phenomena, each event dependent upon all the other events, nothing occurring independently and everything influencing everything else and the whole. The cemetery is the perfect representation of this process.

Similarly, at the level of the individual, the separate “I” or ego is born and sustained through events in time. The ego is born in early childhood prior to which an infant has no concept of itself as an individual. With unfolding of life events, influences from society and development of memory and imagination, the identification as this “I” becomes stronger. As the separate self, the individual is propagated through thoughts and memories of the past and projections into the future, both of which are illusory and nonexistent. Attaching the “I-ness” (and it’s related emotional signature) to an event creates a vasana, and through the Maya of Kali as time, the ego becomes enmeshed within this web of vasanas. Such a separate self is dragged helplessly through time, circling again and again from life to death and back to life. Kali dances in this cemetery of one’s being where the separate self that is born (in every moment from the actions and impressions from the last moment) dies and is reborn again. Every desire arising from a vasana gives birth to the “I-thought”, which then dies temporarily with the fulfillment of the desire, only to be born again with the next vasana-driven thought/desire. And on it goes, with Kali dancing merrily, cutting off the head of the I-thought and feeding upon the lifeblood of the separate self again and again, nudging Shiva to wake up from this apparent identification with the ego. She repeatedly severs the hands that represent vasana-driven selfish actions, pointing the way to action that can arise from wholeness with the death of the separate self. The compassion of the Divine Mother is so infinite that she provides the opportunity to step out of her illusion and the quagmire of samsara in every single moment. With every step of her dance, she destroys the moment before and holds the future in darkness, allowing one to be reborn forever into the eternal now. She remains willing to continue the dance as long as identification with the “I-thought” continues, patiently waiting for the sadhaka to wake up to his/her true (Shiva) nature.

The sadhana of the Mahavidyas is not for the weak of heart. Each of these forms of Shakti represents an aspect of creation at both the macrocosmic and individual (ego) levels. While some worship the Mahavidyas for power, dark magic and siddhis, they get further enmeshed in her Maya and succumb eventually to her insurmountable power. It is not possible to win her grace through force or cunning. Only the willingness to give up the “I-ness” enables her grace to shine forth. This is the secret of tantra – one’s spiritual progress is in direct proportion to the degree of surrender. Moreover, it is not necessary to worship all ten Mahavidyas – each is a gateway to liberation, opening to the grace of all the others. After all, she is one manifesting as all.

Kali is known for cutting through the ego’s ties quickly and efficiently. However, she does not concern herself with the comfort of the ego. She is therefore not particularly interested in granting boons of wealth, relationships and other superficial matters pertaining to the separate self. In fact, these matters can frequently take a turn for the worse when her sadhana is taken up. Her only interest lies in liberating her devotee from Her own snare. To such a devotee that desires nothing else, she reveals her softer side as Bhadra Kali (Bhadra = auspicious) – calm, serene and radiant.

My sadhana took a dramatic turn when seemingly out of the blue, Kali beckoned me into her fold. Even as the heart melted in devotion to her fierce form, all external aspects of my life took a beating in the form of deep cleaning. Nonserving relationships were cleanly severed and let go of, even seemingly treasured ones. Only in retrospect was I able to see that hanging on to them was obscuring the way ahead. All ambiguity and less-than-clear aspects of life were shaken off (and continue to be). Everything related to “I-ness” was swept away mercilessly, without care for how painful it was at the time. Simultaneously, I sank deeper and deeper into Her dark, silent fold where finally time stood still and the false “I” was seen through. She hovers over my being, relentlessly guiding, shoving and manipulating, wanting nothing but to experience her Shiva through this body-mind. At last, the unease of being in her ferocious presence has been replaced by gratitude and love, and willingness to be decapitated by her merciful blade once and for all.

Kali’s bija (seed) mantra is “klim”. When thus invoked, she withdraws Her Maya of time and liberates one from linear time-related phenomena and all dualities associated with it. Free from incessant thoughts of the past and anxieties about the future, the sadhaka blessed thus by Kali is open to experience the primordial vibration represented by Tara, the second Mahavidya.

(Image: Kali by Raja Ravi Verma. Source: Wikipedia)

Dasha Mahavidya – Tara

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

Tara is the second of the Mahavidyas, representing the Eternal Word.

Like Kali, Tara’s ferocious form is enough to startle one in sadhana. She too stands upon the supine, corpse-like Shiva, and is often shown to wear a garland of human skulls and with a tongue that lolls out of her great, blood-stained mouth. Unlike Mother Kali who is black, Tara is dark blue representing limitless space; she wears an animal skin instead of human arms and in her four hands she carries a sword, a pair of scissors, a human cranium and a lotus. The weapons symbolize the destruction of the ego while the lotus promises unconditional protection. While Kali’s hair is wild and disheveled, Tara’s is tied in a single topknot, representing one-pointedness and austerity. Her big belly represents her hunger for selflessness and the blood dripping down her sword represents the cutting off of all doership, freeing her devotee of samsara.

A beloved ritual of aghoris (fearless tantrics) is to practice at the stroke of midnight in a lonely crematorium surrounded by pyres burning lifeless bodies. Sitting naked in this lonely place, the aghori performs his/her rituals for one sight of beloved Mother Tara, known in this form as Smashan Tara (smashan = crematorium). Invoked thus, she is said to appear dancing upon a burning corpse with one foot upon the its heart (representing desire, the root of the birth-death cycle) and the other upon its legs (representing worldly ambition driven by greed, hatred, jealousy and selfishness). Manifesting thus, she takes it upon herself to school the aghori for the rest of their life and sadhana, setting him/her upon her cosmic lap and taking care of his/her every need. The test of strength for the aghori is to adore this ferocious and powerful form of the Divine Mother without a shred of fear or repulsion.

Tara is known in three different forms – Ugra (ferocious) Tara, as described above and very similar to Kali, Nila Saraswati (blue Goddess of knowledge) and Ekajata. The word “tara” has several meanings, one of which means “to cross”. She is the vehicle for crossing over from ordinary consciousness to super-consciousness, from the mundane to the spiritual, from the ordinary to the extraordinary. However, this crossing is not one-way; she is the vehicle for crossing back from self-realization into living fully in the world. She facilitates both the ascent as well as the descent of Kundalini in yogic and tantric sadhana. Another meaning for “tara” is star. Thus, she acts as a beacon on a dark night, guiding the lost soul to herself. While known as the goddess of protection, Tara represents another seemingly disparate concept – knowledge. She is closely associated with the power of speech, and this is how she is hailed as the second of the Mahavidyas.

The first movement of creation is a stir, a vibration or a throb. This primordial throb begins a series of vibrations that take the form of sound, the precursor of all objects. This primordial throb or vibration is represented by the sound “Om” or “Aum” and is known as the Eternal Word or “nithya vak”(John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”). It is this primoridal throb that yogis aspire to reach in perfect stillness. Knowing this and resting in direct and continual submission to this, all desires find root in it and the separate self is seen through. Sense organs return to their origin as do the organs of action; in time the egoic doer is destroyed and actions arise directly from this primordial throb. Unhindered by the ego’s demands, Shiva and Shakti come together and flow through the sadhaka’s being, creating and manifesting in divine harmony. Tara is this primordial throb, and she as Om is the vehicle for “crossing over”. As Om, she is Nila Saraswati, the blue goddess of knowledge that bestows the true understanding of this sound and taking the aspirant beyond the shackles of worldly existence. Nearly all mantras begin with Om; thus is Mother Tara revered and worshiped in many great faiths and religions.

Some schools describe Tara as appearing to be white, blue or multi-colored. White Tara represents the primordial throb in its pristine form. Her blue form symbolizes her descent from her white purity into creation, while her multi-colored form signifies her infinite forms that make up all of the cosmos – the good, the bad and the ugly. She is all, in and through all. As Ekajata (“single mat/braid of hair”), she represents the single force of creation behind its myriad forms.

Mother Tara appears in yogic sadhana first as the awareness of the sound of “Om”. This sound is truly indescribable. A vibration arising from the depths of the being, it is most akin to the sound made by the strings of the Veena. When it first arose in my awareness many years ago, it was at once disconcerting and miraculous – a loud, continuous hum that persisted through wakefulness and sleep, a form of ajapa japa. In silent meditation, it would roar through the body; it would seem that all the cells were vibrating in tune with this soundless sound. It dominated the contents of the mind, forcing its way into the thought stream to silence the mind noise and throwing out waves of joyful ecstasy. Eventually, one does get used to this sound that comes to underlie even the most hectic activity, and the humming gets woven into the fabric of daily life.

Tara is known for her benevolence – one need only ask and she readily provides. So great is her compassion that it is said she is one of the easiest Mahavidyas to connect with. Her sadhana therefore is relatively easy. She shies away from insincerity and dishonesty. She adores the devotee that remains rooted in speaking the truth, who keeps his/her mind guarded against jealousy, greed and hatred and is equally unaffected by praise or blame.

Tara’s bija (seed) mantra is Om. Adoring this great Mother thus, the sadhaka of the Mahavidyas traverses to the next phase of sadhana symbolized by the radiant form of Tripurasundari.

(Image: Uploaded by Dhruvjeet Roy. Source: Wikipedia)

Date-Nut-Ginger Laddoos

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Healing Recipes

Date-nut-ginger laddoo
Serves 5
This is a super healthy dessert and sattvic for special occasions, especially if prepared lovingly.. This was prepared in a jiffy for Krishna Janmasthami.
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Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
15 min
  1. 1.5 cups pitted dates
  2. 1 cup mixed nuts (I used almonds and cashews)
  3. 3-4 slices candied ginger (I used an organic brand)
  4. 0.5 cup coconut powder
  1. In a food processor, add the dates, nuts and ginger and pulse until fine.
  2. Add a few drops of oil if desired.
  3. Take a handful of the mixture and roll by hand into tightly packed balls.
  4. Roll the balls in coconut powder.
  5. Viola!
  1. Candied ginger and coconut powder are not necessary although they add unique flavors.
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The Delectable Monk Salad

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Healing Recipes

The delectable monk salad
Serves 4
Mung beans are my favorite to sprout - they are easy to sprout and burst with flavor "as is" or sautéed gently with spices. While I normally combine kale with quinoa for a filling meal, this salad substituting sprouts for quinoa is absolutely yummy!
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
20 min
  1. 1 cup washed kale, torn into bite-sized shreds
  2. 1 cup freshly sprouted mung sprouts
  3. 1 tbsp peanuts (or almonds)
  4. Handful of cranberries/raisins or prunes
  5. Salt to taste
  6. Juice of half lemon
  1. Heat a tsp of EVOO, and sauté peanuts.
  2. Add half tsp each of fennel and ajwain seeds.
  3. Pour over kale-sprout mixture.
  4. Add salt and lemon juice.
  5. Toss well, making sure the kale is coated with the warm dressing.
  6. Fold in the craisins.
  7. Let mixture sit for 30 minutes before serving.
  1. A meal to be had in silence and solitude.
  2. Gratitude for life's bounty is sure to arise.
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Multigrain Mung Khichadi with Greens

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Healing Recipes

Multi-grain Mung Khichadi
Serves 5
Sattvic, three dosha balancing, heart healthy and super easy to prepare.. My all-time favorite comfort food, the go-to choice during intense sadhana and energetic imbalance, as well as after long trips away involving frequent eating out..
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
25 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
25 min
  1. 1/3 cup each of quinoa, cracked wheat and brown rice
  2. 1/2 cup each of whole green gram and split mung
  3. 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  4. 1/2 inch ginger, finely minced
  5. 2 cups mixed greens (I used kale, spinach and mint)
  6. 1/2 tsp each of black pepper, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, coarsely ground
  7. 1 sprig curry leaves
  8. 1-2 dried red chillies (optional)
  9. 1 generous tsp turmeric
  10. Salt to taste
  1. Wash quinoa several times in tepid water separately. Wash other grains together. Keep aside.
  2. Easiest when prepared in a pressure cooker - on sauté mode, heat a tsp of EVOO and add a few black peppercorns and curry leaves, red chillies, celery and ginger. Sauté until tender.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and sauté for 1-2 min and add 6-7 cups of water.
  4. Close lid and cook on choice of setting until tender.
  5. Open lid when ready, and mix in the greens.
  6. Serve hot.
  1. Best eaten in solitude and silence, savoring every mouthful
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