|YOGALife - Spring 1996|
|Table of Contents|
Memories of Swami Vishnu-devananda:
- A Different Kind of Swami
- The Spirit of Renunciation
- Cherished Memories
|·||The Yogi: Portraits of Swami Vishnu-devananda|
|·||Swami Vishnu-devananda speaks: Questions and Answers|
|·||How to Get Vairagya|
|·||Sex is not compulsory|
"Those who observe Ekadashi will be freed from all sins..."
is a Sanskrit word meaning 'eleventh'. On the Hindu calendar, the term is commonly
used to refer to the eleventh day of each of the two fortnights of the lunar
month. Thus Ekadashi takes place twice per month - once in the bright fortnight
and again in the dark. These two days are considered especially auspicious for
the practice of fasting, or abstinence from food.
In India it is routine for many people to practice restraint in diet, even if they are not able to observe a complete fast, on these days. Grains, in particular, are avoided on Ekadashi. But, the spiritual significance of Ekadashi observance is not the mere physical act of fasting, though this is an important element. The fast itself is a practical expression and a symbol of something deeper which is going on within the psyche.
Astronomy, which studies the inter-relatedness of planets, shows us that the
Earth and its inhabitants are essential units of a system of planetary motions.
We are not unrelated bodies moving about with no organic link. We belong to
the Solar System - a huge family with the Sun as its head and the planets as
The Sun guides the activities of this celestial family and we, being part of this system, cannot avoid its influence. There is no use imagining that the influence of planets takes place only somewhere out in space. Their pull is felt everywhere.
Our interest in the effect of the operating laws of the universe has lead to the development of the science of Astrology.
Whereas Astronomy studies the movements of planets and stars, Astrology looks how this affects the inhabitants, particularly human beings. One astrological phenomenon, Ekadashi, is based on the observation of the effect the Moon has on the mind. The influence is so powerful that the Moon is viewed as the presiding deity of the mind.
The mind, which is not spiritual but material by nature, is formed and nourished by the subtle portion of whatever is assimilated. The subtle essence of the food we eat, as well as everything taken in through the senses, contributes to the make up of the mind.
To understand the relevance of Ekadashi in the relationship between the Moon
and the mind, we must understand that it is mediated by the energy centres within
the body known as Chakras (meaning wheel or circular motion). These whirl in
a spiral shape, as water whirls in a river. The Chakras are not physical, but
psychic and psychological in nature.
They are neither in the mind nor in the physical body, but in the pranic sheath of the astral body. The Moon physically influences the body by affecting the Chakras and, through them, the mind. The mind moves as a result of the stimulation of the Chakras.
As the Moon waxes or wanes, the mind is vehemently influenced. For this reason,
people with mental problems are found to suffer more severely on the full-moon
and new-moon days. More crimes, public disturbances and mental breakdowns occur
on these days.
This fact may be verified by hospitals and police stations. Even those of us who are strong in body and mind are unknowingly affected.
Although it may be difficult see the Moon's influence on the Earth because it is solid by nature, we are well aware of its influence on the oceans as they are liquid. The movement of the waters, the tides, are a result of the Earth's relationship with the Moon. As our bodies are 75% water, the effect of the changes of the Moon may be observed in them as well.
Without awareness of the influence of the Moon on our bodies and minds, many
aspects of our lives seem beyond control. We are dragged along by the forces
of Nature. But a person, who understands the effect, and uses it to empower
his/her life, may be said to be practising Yoga.
We can be involuntarily dragged from place to place, or we can develop the strength to walk in the direction we choose. The difference comes from a proper understanding of the situation.
An important aspect to understand is that the seat of the mind is twofold. In the waking state, the mind resides in the Ajna Chakra, the subtle spot in the astral body corresponding to the point between the two eyebrows. In deep sleep the mind rests in the heart centre, the Anahata Chakra. If the mind is midway between two, the dream state is experienced.
The mind finds itself in its "homes", the Ajna and Anahata Chakras, on the
eleventh day. Here the mind gets focused more easily. This experience, noted
by ancient yogis, should be put to its best advantage by Sadhakas. The mind,when
out of tune, cannot easily be concentrated, but when it is in its preferred
location, contemplation is easier.
On the Ekadashi days of both fortnights the mind finds itself in its own place - in the bright fortnight in the Ajna Chakra, and in the dark fortnight in the Anahata Chakra. Yogis take advantage of these two days and try to practice deep meditation. Many treat Ekadashi as a very holy day and observe a fast.
For the purpose of meditation, there is a great advantage to keep the body
light and the stomach free. When food is eaten, there is an increase in blood
supply to the digestive organs. This decreases the blood circulation to the
brain. You tend to feel sleepy; the thinking faculty diminishes. There is no
advantage to giving the body the work of digesting food at times when you want
to do intensive Yogic practice.
The body's energy will be distributed equally to the entire system, as long as no portion is given too much heavy work. In fasting, when the digestive system is not allotted any work, the energy is free to be distributed equally. However, one should be careful not to overdo this. Fasting is supposed to cause a buoyant feeling, not a mood of fatigue and sorrow.
People who are sick and cannot observe a total fast may take light foods on Ekadashi days. People who are in good health and are keen on pursuing a vigorous spiritual life, may observe a complete fast. This tapas (austerity) helps in gaining control of the mind and strengthening the will power. It is also important to occasionally give the body a rest.
Most people, have the tendency to overwork the system by over-eating or eating the wrong things. Many dietary mistakes, conscious or otherwise, made during the fourteen days (the fortnight of the lunar month), can rectified by a day of fasting.
Fasting controls passion, disciplines the senses and purifies the mind and
heart. A multitude of sins are destroyed. Fasting controls the tongue , one
of the deadliest enemies of Sadhana (spiritual practice). Fasting overhauls
the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and urinary systems. It permits and
hastens the elimination of impurities from the body, destroys all sorts of poisons
and encourages the rapid expulsion of uric acid deposits.
Just as gold is rendered pure by being melted in a crucible again and again, so also this impure mind may be rendered purer by repeated fasting. The system is rendered calm so that one is able to practise more rigorous meditation. Avoid excessive fasting which produces weakness.
If you cannot fast for the full 24 hours, try 10-12 hours and then take some light food. Gradually increase to 15 hours and then up to 24 hours. Fasting makes a person strong, both spiritually and mentally.
The great Hindu lawgiver, Manu, prescribes fasting for the removal of the five
capital sins. Diseases that are pronounced incurable by doctors may be cured
by fasting. A complete fast gives a rest to the internal organs and helps in
the maintenance of celibacy. Many diseases have their origin in overeating;
fasting is an excellent cure.
Fasting helps to control sleep, it works better than drinking tea or coffee. You will not gain spiritual strength by depending on external agents. During fasting try to keep solitude; avoid unnecessary company. Utilise your time in Sadhana. When breaking a fast do not take a big meal or heavy food that is difficult to digest.
Moderation in eating and withdrawal of the senses in Yogic meditation are the obverse and the reverse of the same coin. Moderation means taking enough food and water to keep the body in good working order.
In the Bhagavad Gita we find: "Verily, Yoga is not for him who eats too much, nor who abstains to excess, not who sleeps too much, nor to the excessively wakeful".
In this Kali Yuga (Iron Age), even if just one Ekadashi is observed with dispassion, faith and devotion, with the mind wholly fixed on God, one is freed from Samsara (the rounds of birth and death). If the Ekadashi fast is observed regularly, sins are destroyed; the body and mind become purified. Devotion gradually develops and love for God becomes intense.
King Ambarisha was a great devotee of Lord Hari
(Vishnu). He observed the Ekadashi Vrata (vow) diligently for one year and obtained
His Grace. On one occasion Ambarisha fasted for three consecutive days. As he
was about to break his fast the prescribed time, Rishi Durvasa appeared as his
guest. The king received him with due respect and offered him food.
The Rishi wanted to take a bath first and went to the river. The king waited patiently for a long time, but the sage did not return. Time was running out; if the king did not eat anything before the auspicious time ended, his Vrata would not bear fruit. But if he ate, he would be showing disregard to the Rishi, his respected guest. As a compromise the king, on the suggestion of his advisors, took a little water to serve both the conditions.
When Durvasa returned, he knew exactly what had happened and became angry. He tore a hair from his tuft and turned it into a demon, whom he ordered to kill Ambarisha. The king was unmoved. He was protected by the Sudarshana Chakra, the weapon of Lord Vishnu, which destroyed the demon. The powerful chakra then began to chase Durvasa; it followed the Rishi wherever he went and tried to destroy him.
In fear, Rishi Durvasa went to first to Brahma
and then to Siva for help, but to no avail. He went to Lord Hari who said to
him, "I am dependent on My devotees. My heart is in the possession of My devotees.
It is best if you go to Ambarisha and beg his pardon. This is all that can save
Ambarisha thereupon prayed to Sudarshana Chakra (the Lord's weapon) to desist from its course, and saved the Rishi. Durvasa thanked him from the bottom of his heart. This story demonstrates the great spiritual power generated by the observance of Ekadashi.
The upcoming dates for Edashi are:
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