The Mother Divine
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by Suman Satishchandra Rao
Suman Satishchandra Rao

ALL beings are in the process of dying. The play of Nature in creation and destruction, of which we are a part, makes one wonder at it all. Where everything is uncertain, the only event certain in life is death. The saints, the seers, the mahatmas…they make jocular remarks regarding death! Some of them might instruct you that death is a means to the immortal state! An ordinary soul will want to at least live the life wisely; however what are the ingredients of this wisdom? Why do the worldly-wise differ so much on this issue? Then, what really is ‘immortality’?
Death and Pranayama
Pranayama belongs to the realm of Hatha Yoga. Pranayama slows down the process of decay and destruction of the bodily systems. Death is the exhaustion of the total number of breaths the living being is destined to take. A slowing of the speed of inhalation and exhalation results in fewer breaths being expended in a given unit of time, accounting for the longevity of practitioners. The purpose of such longevity is to give the practitioner more time to achieve moksha. Breathing may slow down due to Pranayama, due to meditation or Japa and due to the pursuit of a contemplative life involving intellectual, philosophical or artistic pursuits. All these result to a greater or smaller degree, in the slowing of breathing to the point of temporary suspension that is, sahaja kumbhaka.

Pranayama involving the regulation of breath makes for slower breathing. If you observe the successful practitioner of pranayama, he or she breathes slowly, even under provocation. Slow breathing confers a balanced emotional life. Such practice endows greater detachment. Karma yoga is performed automatically, even without an express intention to do so. The accumulation of sanskaras/karmas is a natural process through life. Such are lasting imprints on the consciousness of the soul. Being dynamic imprints, these are meant to continue to act out in lives, till they come to a natural conclusion. The minimizing of such impressions is a sure way of cutting short the painful procession of lakhs of rebirths. At the least, one may hope for the next birth into fortuitous circumstances which are conducive to greater purity of one’s actions and thoughts.

Pranayama has been described as a jet set method in spiritual activity. Many enthusiastic but untrained practitioners have been forced to stop Pranayama due to ill effects on health. More interestingly, many practitioners are forced to stop because they are unable to handle the rapid progress of experiences of kundalini arousal which involve a paradigm shift. The fear of losing sanity and of nameless sufferings may prevent the practitioner from resuming Pranayama. Unfortunately, these are the very persons who are evolved and are standing on the threshold of the higher spiritual life. Training given by a Siddha Guru involves using a charged mantra during exhalation and inhalation, and also preceding and post the Pranayama. An excellent example of Pranayama charged with mantra is SKY (Siddha Kundalini Yoga) Pranayama, given by the Siddha Guru, Sri Vitthal Ramanuj. A practitioner may pursue SKY Pranayama with a light heart, secure in the protection of the Guru. The essence of SKY Pranayama is that impurity is exhaled and purity is inhaled. Constant practice results in the mantras becoming installed, as it were, in the exhalation and inhalation process, so that the natural breathing is also charged with the same. This is a natural Ajapa (Japa happening without doing Japa), which is a great boon to the practitioner.

Pranayama with a small natural suspension of breathing occurs in the action of singing too. The singer, who sings daily, finds that exhalation and inhalation are regulated by the rhythm, the cadence and the pauses in music. Soon comes a stage when the song enables the singer to, almost without being conscious of it, conserve breath in a pause or sahaja kumbhaka. If the music is yoked to a Divine name, the singing becomes equated to breathing charged with mantra. The singing of Hare Krishna Naam or the name of other beloved divinities is a case in point. In addition such singing can be equated to Naad Yoga in a preliminary form. Naad Yoga in its higher form is designed for realization of Aumkar, that is the sound of Aum.
Death and Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti Yoga is described by some as the childhood of spiritual pursuit. The intellectually inclined may even dismiss the intensely devotional fervor towards deities as characteristic of the unquestioning and naïve mind. Derogatory descriptions e.g., kitchen religion, are given to the simple minded practice of setting up of little altars in the kitchen by housewives who find the kitchen the best place to make food offerings to the deities, before offering these as Prasad to the rest of the family. I would like to put forward the following propositions in favour of Bhakti Yoga:
  1. A dismissive attitude arises from lack of expertise and experience in performing the other yogas. The practitioner of any other specific yoga, say Hatha Yoga or Kriya Yoga, on gaining some expertise, automatically gains access to the remaining forms of Yoga. The classification of Yoga into different types is meant only for intellectual convenience. In actual practice, while one or the other may predominate, Yoga is of an integrated nature.
  2. Being childlike, unquestioning and naïve makes for and is the result of inner purity. Such is not a disqualification for spiritual pursuit, but rather the other way round.
  3. Sometimes great intellectuals and scientists are seen to possess a highly devotional attitude without harbouring a sense of contrariness. They surely are not naïve.
  4. Very few can practice meditation almost throughout the day. Still rarer are those who can be in Samadhi throughout the day. The Bhaktas are enabled to be attuned to the Divine much of the time due to the various joyful practices followed through the day. The emotions and sentiments are channelized into a spiritual direction so that worldly affairs may be addressed with greater equanimity. Meditation, contemplation and devotional practices are complementary, not mutually exclusive.
  5. The daily ritual of worship involves the offering of things which correspond to the different chakras and the tattwas they represent. Mild or intense awakenings of the chakras may take place depending on the degree of heightened sensitivity of the individual.
  6. The seers have seen the deities in their different mudras. The deities which we see in the temples have been sculpted after the images seen by these seers in deep meditation. The highly evolved individual who lives as an ordinary person working out his karmic obligations is helped by the blissful forms of deities to overcome problems that deeply affect him or her. They manifest in the third eye, giving messages that may be symbolic and cryptic with many layers of meaning, or very clear in speech or in a written form. Often the future course of events is foretold or the past explained. Limitations of time and space here do not apply.
  7. Bhakti involves the chanting of shlokas (verses in praise of deities) and singing of/ listening to bhajans. It also involves use of lights in different ways. Thus Naad and Jyoti are invoked and accessed through simple actions.
What of it all? What has this to do with dying, immortality etc. etc.?

The enduring practice of Bhakti Yoga enables a dying person to cling to the image, and corresponding mantra, of the divine being long held dear. The practice has served as a rehearsal becoming a deeply ingrained habit. Such clinging to the vision or the corresponding mantra helps the dying person to remain conscious through the process of dying. Such continuity of consciousness is a precondition for attaining moksha. In fact all the practices are aimed at enabling such continuity of consciousness while dying.
Death and Immortality
Immortality is understood by the ignorant as the prolongation of life, for hundreds of years or forever. The advanced seeker knows of immortality as the result of the final death i.e. the foreclosure of rebirths. Death occurs due to birth. When the soul is not cast into a mortal mould, death becomes irrelevant. But then where does the soul go if it is not reborn? The soul which is not reborn has lost its characteristic of individuality. That is to say, its ego or self-consciousness has melted completely into the vast sea of consciousness which is described as ‘Brahma’. An ‘avataar’ is one who has been returned by the will of God to the earthly plane.

Death is an opportunity for the soul to merge itself into this vast sea of consciousness. However when faced with such a possibility, it shrinks back in great fear, thus losing the opportunity and then facing the grim prospect of rebirth. Notably, Christianity and Tibetan Buddhists insist that the dying soul be guided through the various realms it passes through, so that it may not experience fear and reach the immortal plane. Ordinarily, the being simply faints due to shock at the complete paradigm shift in the nature of experiences during the process of dying. By holding on to consciousness firmly through the trials of the dying process, the dying may achieve ‘immortality’.