Monday, October 30, 2006

Divine Stability
I posted this on the EZ Board months and months ago, but I'll resuscitate it here because the ashtanga vinyasa practice is woven with stories, and who doesn't love a good story?

Vishwamitra is one of Hinduism’s most venerated rishis. He was a kshatriya warrior-king by birth, but became a rishi through thousands of years of hard penance. He is also known for discovering the Gayatri mantra.

In the Ramayana, Vishwamitra trains Rama and Lakshmana in the use of the devastras, or celestial weaponry, and guides them to kill powerful demons.

Although “Vishwamitra” means “friend of the universe,” one of the rishi’s chief faults was his short temper. He was quick to anger and often cursed hapless victims, thereby depleting the yogic powers he’d obtained through much tapas.

As per a reader's edit, "it should be noted that Visvamitra became a brahmin-rshi, not just a rshi. A significant difference is there. As for his name, it can mean "friend (mitra) of the universe" or "enemy (amitra) of the universe."

Vasishta was chief of the seven venerated rishis and the preceptor of the Ishvahu clan, also referred to as the Surya dynasty. He was thus the guru of Rama and Rama’s father Dasaratha. Vasishta is Brahma’s manasaputra, or “wish-born son.”

Pattabhi Jois highly recommends reading the Yogavasishta, an Advaita Vedanta text in the form of a dialogue between Vasishta and his student Rama.

According to the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Puranas, Kasyapa was the son of Marichi, the son of Brahma. Kasyapa, which means “tortoise,” was one of the seven great rishis. He had numerous and diverse offspring, including demons, nagas, reptiles, birds, and all kinds of living things. He was thus the father of all, and as such is sometimes called Prajapati.

According to the legendary history of the Chan and Zen schools of Buddhism, a monk named Kasyapa received dharma transmission directly from the Buddha at the famous flower sermon. The Buddha silently held a flower before his students and only Kasyapa smiled. The Buddha remarked that Kasyapa alone of all his students had received his teaching for that day, and thereafter should be known as Mahakasyapa.

Alectoris graeca, the Himalaya partrdige, lover of the moon, said to feed on moonbeams. A favored pet of Lakshmi. The eyes of the chakora are said to turn red when they look on poisoned food.

Bhairava (the “wrathful”) is one of the more terrifying aspects of Shiva. He is often depicted with frowning, angry eyes, sharp tiger's teeth, and flaming hair, stark naked except for garlands of skulls and a coiled snake about his neck. In his four hands he carries a noose, trident, drum, and skull. He is often shown accompanied by a dog. Bhairava is the embodiment of fear, and it is said that those who meet him must confront the source of their own fears.

In one version of the Bhairava myth, Brahma and Vishnu were disputing with each other for the status of supreme god and appealed to the testimony of the four Vedas, which unanimously proclaimed Shiva as the Ultimate Truth of the Universe.

Brahma was scornful of that answer, however, and his fifth head taunted Shiva: "I know who you are, Rudra, whom I created from my forehead. Take refuge with me and I will protect you, my son!"

Overflowing with anger, Shiva became Bhairava and severed Brahma’s head with the nail of his left thumb.

In another version, Brahma lusted after his mind-borne daughter and grew four heads in order that he might continually see her. Embarrassed by his attentions, his daughter ascended heavenwards. Brahma then manifested a fifth head and reached out to 'cohabit' with his daughter. Upon seeing this, Shiva became Bhairava and cut off the fifth head of Brahma with his sword.

The severed head immediately stuck to Bhairava's hand, where it remained in the form of the skull and served as his begging-bowl. Shiva as Bhairava then roamed the world as an ascetic, pursued by a female fury, to atone for the sin of brahminicide.

Skanda is more commonly known as Kartikeya. He is a son of Shiva and was born without the assistance of a woman. The universe was being terrorized by the asura Taraka, and only a son of Shiva could destroy the demon. The other gods orchestrated Shiva’s marriage to Parvati, yet no child was born of the union.

Finally, Shiva handed over his semen to Agni, the only god capable of handling it, but even Agni was tortured by the semen’s heat, and was forced to hand it over to Ganga, who in turn deposited it in a lake in a forest of reeds, from whence Kartikeya was born. As he was born from the life-source that slipped (“skanna”) from Shiva, he is named “Skanda.”

The child Kartikeya was born in this forest and then suckled by the six Kartikas, or Pleiades. He developed six faces for this purpose, and has twelve arms, hence the name Kartikeya, by which he is commonly known and worshipped. He was made head of the army of gods, and, according to the Mahabharata, defeated Mahisa and Taraka, who through their tapas were threatening the gods.

One of the major Puranas, the Skanda Purana, is dedicated to him. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, explaining his omnipresence, says, "Of generals I am Skanda, the lord of war."

According to the Shiva Purana, Durvasa was an incarnation of Shiva. When Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were sent by their wives to test the chastity of Anasuya, the wife of Atri, she turned them into three infants. Pleased with her, they granted her a boon, and she chose that the three gods should be born as her children. In due course, Brahma was born as Chandra, Vishnu was born as Dattatreya, and Shiva was born as Durvasa.

Durvasa became a great rishi in his own right, although he was infamous for his extremely short temper. When he became displeased, which was often, he would curse the person who caused him anger, and his curses were frequently potent. People dreaded his arrival.

In the Ramayana, Rama has an important meeting and asks his brother Lakshman to stand guard at the gate. In the William Buck version, Lakshman in his zeal declares that whoever intrudes on Rama’s private conference would be slain.

Unfortunately, Durvasa appears and demands admittance, and rather than disobey the rishi, Lakshman himself is forced to disturb Rama. True to his word, Lakshman surrenders his life and goes to heaven.

Urdhva Kukkuta
Urdhva: “upward,” kukkuta: “rooster.” The kukkuta can symbolize the eternity of time, and also adorned Kartikeya’s pennant.

Galava was a rishi and pupil of Vishwamitra. According to the Harivansa, Galava was Vishwamitra’s son, and that rishi, in a time of great distress, tied a cord round Galava’s waist and offered him for sale. From his having been bound with a cord (gala) he was called Galava.

Eka Pada Baka
Eka pada: “one foot,” baka: “crane,” a kind of heron or crane, Ardea Nivea. Also a name for Kubera, and also the name of an Asura said to have assumed the form of a crane and subsequently defeated by Krishna.

Koundinya was a rishi and the author of a commentary on the Pashupata Sutras. Also, the kingdom of Funan in Cambodia was founded in the first century A.D. by a Hindu named Koundinya. The Koundinya gotra exists in India today.

Incidentally, one of the five ascetics who became the first disciples of the Buddha Shakyamuni was named Ajnata Kaundinya. In the Lotus Sutra it is predicted that he will become a Buddha called Universal Brightness.

While still in his mother’s womb, Astavakra would listen to his father’s recitation of verses from the Rig Veda, and at one point, he told his father, “You’re reciting mere words. There’s no substance!” Astavakra’s father became angry, and he cursed his unborn son.

Thus, when Astavakra was born, he had eight distortions in his body — eight, astau, and crooked, vakra.

Despite his father's cruel curse, Astavakra remained a faithful son. When the boy was 12, his father lost a priestly debate and was banished to the watery realm of Varuna, lord of death.

Astavakra then undertook an epic journey — is there any other kind? — and traveled to King Janaka’s court to challenge the man who had bested his father. Janaka and his courtiers saw Astavakra’s deformed body and ridiculed him — but only until Astavakra opened his mouth, at which point the King and his court discovered Astavakra was a true sage.

Astavakra debated the priest who had bested his father and triumphed, winning his father's freedom. The people who once mocked him became his disciples, including King Janaka.

Pattabhi Jois also highly recommends reading the Astavakra Gita (or Atavakra Samhita). It’s an important treatise on Advaita Vedanta that consists of a dialogue between Astavakra and Janaka on Vedanta philosophy.

Purna Matsyendra
“Purna”: full or complete. Matsyendra, “Lord of the Fishes,” appears to have been an actual historical person. Born in Bengal around the 10th century c.e., he is venerated by Buddhists in Nepal as an incarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. As with most Indian myths, there are many versions of the story of Matsyendra's metamorphosis into a realized adept.

In one popular version, the infant Matsyendra is thrown into the ocean because his birth has occurred under inauspicious planets. Swallowed by a giant fish, he overhears Shiva teaching the mysteries of yoga to Parvati in their secret lair at the bottom of the ocean. Matsyendra is spellbound. After spending 12 years in the fish's belly exploring yoga's esoteric practices, he emerged as an enlightened master.

A name of Brahma, with a suggested translation of “vira,” great, and anchy, “five,” “Great Five Elements,” which were generated by and are contained within Brahma. This may be folk etymology.

Viparita Danda
Viparita: “inverted,” danda: literally “staff” or “stick.” A staff given during investiture of the sacred thread. A staff or sceptre as a symbol of power and sovereignty.

In the Devanagari script, the danda is a punctuation character. The glyph consists of a single vertical stroke. In Hindi, the danda marks the end of a sentence, a function which it shares with the full stop (period) in many written languages based on the Latin, Cyrillic, or Greek alphabets.

Because of the shape of the danda glyph, the word danda is also a slang term for penis.

Eka Pada Danda
Eka pada: “one foot,” danda: “staff” or “stick.”

Viparita Salabha
Viparita: “inverted,” salabha: “grasshopper” or “moth.”

Ganda Bherunda
Ganda: “whole side of the face, including the temple,” bherunda: “terrible, formidable, awful;” in the Mahabharata, “a species of bird," the garuda pakshi or the eagle. A mythical two-headed bird that fed on elephants. The gandabherunda was used as an insignia by the Mysore royal family.

Durgaam kaj jagat ke jete
Sugam anugraha tumhre tete

Supta Trivrkrama
Supta: “prone” or “lain down to sleep (but not fallen asleep),” Trivrkrama: A name of Vishnu. A demon named Bali had conquered the four directions and driven Indra and the devas before him. Due to the peculiarities of his powers, he could only be defeated if and when his guru cursed him for disobedience. It was a situation that could only be contrived by Vishnu the preserver.

Thus Vishnu was born the youngest son to the rishi Kasyapa and his wife Aditi. The baby grew to be a dwarf and was named Vamana. Vamana visited Bali, who promised to give the short-statured Brahmin anything he could.

Vamana said that he wanted as much land as he could take in three steps. Bali agreed. His guru Suracharya, however, realized that Vamana could only be Vishnu, and begged Bali to retract his promise.

Bali replied that there could be no greater glory than if Vishnu himself were to seek alms from him. Suracharya became angry and cursed Bali.

At that moment, Vamana grew and grew in size — his first step encompassed the Earth and his second measured the heavens. He asked Bali where to take his third step. Bali bowed low and offered his head.

Digha: “long.”

Incidentally, the Digha Nikaya is the first division of the Sutta Pitaka in the Buddhist Pali Canon. The name literally means the “long” or “longer collection,” based on the fact that all of the suttas contained in are typically longer than their counterparts in the other sections of the Sutta Pitaka.

The Digha Nikaya includes a number of prominent and well-known teachings, as well as a significant amount of biographical information about the Buddha.

A name of Vishnu. See above.

A name of Shiva as raja, “lord,” of the nata, “dance.” Nataraj, the dancing form of Lord Shiva, is a symbolic synthesis of the most important aspects of Hinduism, and the summary of its central tenets. This cosmic dance is called 'Anandatandava,' meaning the Dance of Bliss, and symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death.

Raja Kapota
Raja: “king” or “lord.” Kapota: “a dove, pigeon.” In the Vedas often a bird of evil omen.

Eka Pada Raja Kapota
Eka pada: “One foot.” Raja: “king” or “lord.” Kapota: “dove, pigeon.”