Understanding the Upanishads – A Practice in Jnana Yoga to Shape Your Life
- January 30, 2018
- Posted by: admin
- Category: Featured Content,
By Nicole Yong
The Journey Begins
When working in a chaotic, fast-moving environment, the normal stresses of life get multiplied and bring more stress, both to body and mind. A few years back, I joined the Hatha Yoga classes as they allowed me to de-stress outside of work.
It looked like a culture shaped to physical perfection. I remember being naïve. I felt a bit intimidated by people wearing tank tops with fancy stretchy yoga pants looking like magazine models. Comparatively, I felt my own body was slightly flabby and neither flexible nor strong at that time.
I felt more confident after completing the International Yoga Instructor Course with MAYI Yoga Academy, I continued as an apprentice teacher, working on physical Asanas, Pranayama and Yoga Nidra, which helped me improve my practices and general wellbeing. I also joined the Malaysian Yoga Society’s (MYS) Karma Yoga projects like the National Yoga Camp for teenagers.
During the course, we were introduced to Yoga Sutra and some ancient yoga texts. I understood that the final goal of all practices was liberation, or Moksha in Sanskrit.
Small Upanishad Seed Appears to Sprout
Some months later, after completing the Kriya Yoga course, I joined the Kriya revision classes for two semesters. Here, Master Manisekaran covered the Upanishad texts after the classes. I loved listening to him. This is when the small Upanishad seed started to sprout in my mind day to day. So, I bought “The Twelve Principals of Upanishads” by Dr E. Roer, and started reading it to gain deeper knowledge on the subject. It felt like a rich diet for my mind, but I did not force myself to memorise any of the verses.
Later, I found that when I read the texts again, I could appreciate them more. The understanding of yoga reached an entirely new level. I learnt that the Upanishads raised and broadened the human lens of perception and self-awareness.
So what is the meaning of the word “Upanishad”? The Sanskrit word literally means sitting close to.
Uh-huh…. definitely not sitting around to gossip all day long! From my understanding, through the guidance of my Master and the reference book, Upanishad meant sitting close to the Guru with the willingness and sincerity to listen and learn the philosophy on how to live and how to be.
Let’s Get More Personal
This is from the opening of Isa Upanishad, which begins with this verse:
Om! whole is that, whole (too) is this;
From whole, the whole cometh;
Take the whole from the whole, (yet) the whole remains.
Om! Peace, Peace, Peace, Hari Om.
The first time I read the Isa Upanishad, I realised something about the universe. Out of curiosity, I did some research via documentaries on YouTube and read articles on some websites, including NASA, to know more about the Universe.
We all know the solar system has one sun and nine planets, including one moon and earth, that’s all. But after I dug more into the info and photos of the galaxies on the NASA website, I was beyond amazed. Huh, one light year is equivalent to 10 trillion kilometres (1,000,000,000,000, which has 12 zeros)?! The Milky Way Galaxy is about 100,000 light years across?! Our sun is just one of the stars among the hundreds of billions of stars in our Milky Way Galaxy, and the Milky Way is just a small part of the Universe?! There are a few hundred suns in the Milky Way Galaxy?! What is this Universe, time, space and life?!
Oh, I feel dizzy already. On earth, it takes 286km to drive from Kuala Lumpur to Komtar in Penang. Looking at all these numbers is essential in understanding how huge the Universe is. On one clear dark night I quietly looked up and realised the change in my perception: the majestic Universe is infinite, no matter plus or minus, the infinite remains.
I thought my existence in my family is very special, but Isa Upanishad and science show how totally insignificant I am. I’m thinking about the facts and trying to visualise the truth. Compared with the vastness of the Universe, how big are humans? Even collectively, we are as big as a dust… temporarily living on a very small planet orbiting a bright star in one stunning galaxy… among billions… in a supreme Universe that is a billion years old.
The Nature of Reality is Cosmic Love
The entire Universe is in motion. All the creations have their duties. The Universe lets the sun revolve around the centre of the Milky Way galaxy where there is a mass of gases, stars, asteroid, comets, planets and other objects.
The Universe allows earth to rotate perfectly on its axis. It is bound by gravity and moves along with the Sun. If it moves slower, we can be frozen or toasted by the Sun, depending on which side of earth we’re on. If faster, the strong winds would blow the humans away.
The guardian planets of Jupiter and Saturn are mighty huge and in the right size – enough to protect earth by shielding us from the comets. The moon stabilises the tilt of the earth and stabilises the wobble of earth’s spin, thus indirectly helping to reduce the fluctuating temperature on earth. The natural existence such as the gases in the earth atmosphere, like oxygen and carbon dioxide, the plants, water, soil and the living beings, are in the exact right proportion to sustain all life on earth.
Even if there are a few percentages of changes in any of these, humans can be wiped off. It seems that the Universe has humbled itself to love and harmonise the whole world. It has allowed the evolution of life on earth to take place. Earth is a school for us to learn and attain higher fulfilment. What is human compared with the Universe?
Sometimes a lot of questions run through my mind.
“Why do people value their careers blindly, while chasing after money and fame?”
“Why do people seek superficial glamour?”
“Why do they believe they are “special” and associate only with other so-called special or high-status people?”
“Why do people crave for respect and recognition?”
Financial success is a powerful motivator, but in the journey of chasing after financial success, the real meaning of life might go unnoticed. It would influence the values one has and the relationship between family members and people around them.
Some of us think that human life is difficult, having to face high stress, disappointments, diseases, poverty, disasters, arguments, disputes, fights, depression and so on. Perhaps the Universe does show the truth to humans. But can humans see and listen through a pure loving heart? When people are exposed to the same messages, they may leave with different understandings and meanings, which are according to their own beliefs and perceptions. People with over-inflated egos tend to confuse themselves. Their minds would be “overflowing” with their own needs and opinions. They see their desires as more important than the wellbeing of those they are supposed to love.
The Universe has given each of us a unique combination of abilities, interests, skills and talents
Whether we are housewives, husbands, mothers, fathers, cleaners, teachers, cooks, doctors, painters, musicians, businessmen, etc., we are serving our family members and the community. No one is superior to anyone else. Life is a continuous flow with exchanges of giving and receiving.
If we think our talents and skills are simply to make a lot of money and fame… and then retire, we might be facing a lot of misery in life. The addiction to material stuff and wealth can lead to diseases; things that you own, may end up owning you. The Universe shaped us and all the arrangements are the best arrangements. We are not as special as what we think. Whatever we do, work heartily to serve others and it is enough to make a difference. I truly realise that serving enables me to be aware of who I am. The Universe gets the credit.
I realised that I love my family members and also all my friends. Just like the warmth of old friendships amongst us, there’s more joy and harmony – deep and full. Home is the first place for us to learn how to love. When love is in the house, it helps mould caring relationships that can last for lifetimes. Later, we will naturally humble ourselves… giving a smile, a hug, encouragement, prayer and a helping hand to someone in need. We start to volunteer ourselves to join the local community. As we uplift others and they find healing, we are consoled. Our hearts gradually will soften too. With the blessing from the Universe, this is how humans evolve gracefully… and live a “rich” and “fulfilling” life.
Therefore, if you think that yoga is just the practice of advance yoga postures or breathing techniques only, the most meaningful definition of yoga is easily lost.
I remember my Master told us what the great ancient sages taught… there are several paths we can follow in order to reach the goal of Self-Realisation. Thus, Hatha Yoga emphasises cleansing techniques and yoga postures, which lead to the steadiness and comfort of the body. Then follows Raja Yoga, which involves breathing techniques that help to expand the prana within the body and lead to a calm state of mind; and meditation practices help to master our minds.
Next, Karma Yoga is the path of unselfish actions of serving others without expectations or craving for rewards, recognition and name. It helps to purify the mind. Finally, Jnana Yoga the yoga of wisdom. The study of Yoga Sutra and Upanishad broaden our understanding on the essence of Yoga.
Yoga philosophies act like the Global Positioning System, which shows the direction and deepens our awareness to know about the Self.
These four paths can be a perfect combination of practices that lead to a life full of love and mercy… eventually becoming a part of our consciousness. Yes, it is a matter of experiencing and feeling… and not knowledge. The Upanishads give my study of yoga a warmer and sweeter feel. Squeezing the image of the Universe in my mind, I know I am part of the Universe. Truly thank you my Master, the yogis and the Masters of all the yoga philosophies.
Om ! Peace, Peace, Peace, Hari, Om.