Samsara – the yoga of birth and death

Samsara
niḥ-śreyase jaṅgali-kāyamāne
saṁsāra hālāhala mohaśāṁtyai
Ashtanga opening prayer

According to the Ashtanga Yoga opening prayer our Guru can save us even from the illusory circles of Samsara, and our practice offers a special recipe for this. It is called sadhana, which involves a daily practice and the following of certain ethical guidelines. So the Guru gives us the key for liberation, but in the end we are the ones alone who have to do the work. As Guruji said: practice, practice, practice: you take practice!

Therefore anyone who would like to be cured from the disease of illusion accepts the Guru’s advice and starts practicing enthusiastically and persistently. After some years most of us come to the same conclusion: this sadhana is actually the map of our lives: if we happen to have any recurring problems, such as making the same mistake over and over again, we will recognize the exact same pattern during our practice. But the beauty of the fix series of asanas is that we cannot sweep our problems under the rug; we can either take an asana we love or another one that we hate, we still have to stay in the posture for five deep breaths, and only then can we move on. This teaches us to breathe and do our duties without being attached to the results – no matter if there is joy or suffering during our practice. The strength and devotion we gain by this attitude will surely percolate to our everyday life.

There is a slightly more abstract interpretation of the series that has occurred to me. The asanas are named after different things; there are some completely impersonal forms (such as trikonasana – triangle pose), animals (krounchasana – heron pose), natural phenomena (vajrasana – thunderbolt pose), saints (Marichyasana – the pose of sage Marichi) and different appearances of Gods (Bhairavasana – the pose of the furious Shiva). In the rolling wheel of Samsara, we could also take births as humans, animals or even heavenly creatures, but sometimes we submerge into the deep ignorance of matter. When we are given a new asana, we usually cannot find our place in it for a while, we experience new kinds of sensations, we feel a lack of balance and our breathing becomes uneven. But regardless to all, we keep practicing it every day. Eventually the breathing calms down, and we learn how to find stability and comfort in the posture, and by the activating mula bandha we return to our centre. The goal is to learn the lessons that the new asana offered us: we might have had to open up to certain directions, or to become a bit stronger or to find balance in a given situation. When we succeeded, we can move on to the next teaching. Although there is one thing in common in each and every asana: the presence of the mula bandha – as Guruji and Sharath have always been emphasising it, we have to hold it all the time. Whatever may be happening to our bodies, may it be in some twisted posture, we still have to feel the presence of this bandha; even if everything changes, this must be the only permanent sensation.

Similarly, we change our bodies life after life, and every body offers us a certain lesson. We learn during our practice not to avoid the inconveniences, but to take some deep breaths and dive into to the depths of pain. Eventually we will do the same in our lives as well. We will begin to search for the things that do not work properly, the fields in which we have to open up, strengthen or find more balance, and we keep working on these fields as long as we finally solve the problems. And when we successfully go through all the lessons of this life, the vinyasa count continues: by jumping back we leave this body to put on a new one with the birth of jumping through, so that we have the opportunity to work on other issues. Each new body uses the experiences gained in the previous lives. As we cannot skip any asana in the series, similarly we cannot get a body, which we are not ready for. Most importantly, even though the bodies are in constant change just like the postures, deep inside there is something permanent in all of us, just like the mula bandha in the asanas. To search for this immutability is our eternal task, our Svadharma. Once we find that, which is always present, which is never born nor does it die, then we will know that we have reached our final destination.

But where is the end of this series of new bodies? We begin our practice in Samasthitih with a prayer, and this is the exact point where we come back in the end: standing in Samasthitih and chanting a prayer for the happiness of all living beings. So we have to go back to where it all began, to the state in which our Selves dwell in their own Nature and nothing is contaminated by our material desires and the consequences of our past deeds anymore. And the fact that we always arrive back here after every practice predicts that our series of lives will end one day, and by our Guru’s grace we can disengage from the wheel of Samsara.

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