Monday, 1 November 2010

Srivatsa Ramaswami"s November 2010 Newsletter-Yajnyavalkya- also includes a response from Eddie Stern regarding 'Rest' days

Dear Friend;

Hope this finds you well.
I am going to India for about three months from late November. During
and Rishikesh organized by LMU, in LA. Please contact Alana Bray at
LMU at


A few years back I wrote an article about my Guru Yogacharya Sri T
Krishnamacharya which appeared in Namarupa magazine. It contains a few
exclusive pictures of him from my personal album. Here is the link.

Like stories? I wrote the “Story of Patanjali” in my book “Yoga for
the Three Stages of Life” published in 2000 by Inner Traditions. In
Google books I was able to access it (free) pages 21 to 29. It also
contains many nice hand drawn sketches to go with the story. I hope
you can find these pages here.


In one of my earlier newsletters I had written about “anadhtyayana”
days as follows

Certain days in the month are considered “anadhyayana” days. Some
people ask if Yoga should not be done on these anadhyayana days.
During my studies with my teacher he did not specify any days when we
should not practice Yoga. Anadhyayana is usually associated with study
of the vedas and anadhyayana days are days one should not study the
vedas, presumably with the teacher. In short we may say that the veda
pathasala or veda schools would be closed on these days. I started
learning veda chanting (with my father) when I was about 10 years old
and I had a teacher who would come to our house at about 5 in the
to teach vedic chanting. But he would not come on these
“anadhyayana” days. The smritis say that vedas should be chanted daily
(vedam nityam adhiyetaam). So we may say that the prohibition is with
respect to studying, perhaps new lessons but not chanting the portions
already learned (swadhyaya). On anadhyayana days like the new moon
day, one may refrain from learning with a teacher new vedic lessons,
but may chant what one has already learnt. It is a moot question if
this restriction applies to yogasana learning and certainly does not
appear to apply to home yogasana practice

Here is a response from Eddie Stern, a long time disciple of Sri
Pattabhi Jois
and also editor of Namarupa magazine

Dear Srivatsa Ramaswami,
Thank you once again for your latest newsletter, which is, as usual,
very informative and a delight to read.

I had one friendly comment to pass on about the 'anandhyanana' days:

It is possible that the student who asked you about any prohibition of
practicing yoga on the full or new moon days was doing so because of
the observances of Pattabhi Jois. Much has been made of this
observance, with all sorts of ideas about why he does this, and what
significance it may have. However, the matter is quite simple. As you
know, the Maharaja's Pathashala (Sankrit College) was closed each
month for classes on the moon days, and the day before and after.
Studies were continued by the students, but no new lessons taught. One
reason for this was that on amavasya and purnima, certain rituals had
to be performed by the teachers and students alike, who are all
brahmins - for example, the pitr tarpana which needs to be performed
on amavasya, and the ritual bathing the day after the moons - all
these things take time to be performed. As well, though I have never
been able to find the reference, Pattabhi Jois used to quote to us -
and I also heard this from my old Bhagavad Gita teacher in Mysore -
that if a teacher teaches new subjects on the moon days, his knowledge
will decline, and on the day before or after, the knowledge of the
student will decline! Perhaps you might know where this reference
comes from? When I spoke to Pattabhi Jois's astrologer while
interviewing him for the "Guruji" book, he concurred with the idea
that it has something to do with the idea of as above, so below: our
mind is the moon, and waxes, wanes, and retains information in a
similar cycle as the moon in the sky.
Since Pattabhi Jois was a student at the Maharaja's Pathashala, and
then was the Professor of Yoga there from 1937 to 1973, this became a
habit and observance for him. Since he held the view that yoga was a
practice of Vedic origin, and that the knowledge of the Upanishads was
to be accessed only through the doorway of asanas and pranayama, he
ascribed the same observances to teaching them as he did to teaching
Veda. He further used to say that on the full and new moon days, there
was a particular conjunction of nakshatras that made it easier to get
injured, and that the injury would take longer to heal. I have never
been able to verify this through jyotish; perhaps this is something
that he learned from his father, who was an accomplished jyotishi.
Pattabhi Jois knew quite a bit too - the name Jois is a South Indian
corruption of Jyotish, and astrology was in his family tradition.
I say all this to make the simple point that Pattabhi Jois had certain
habits from the time he was 14. Why he had these habits is
interesting, and though we may not be brahmins, or even Indian, as his
students it is good to understand why certain things were done by him,
and accept that if he felt them important enough to follow, that they
are applicable to us too. But we should not go making a big thing of
it and creating all sorts of fantastical ideas! Below is a funny story
to illustrate what happens when we (for example, Ashtanga Yoga
students!) do not take the time to investigate simple things in a
rational manner:
A saintly scholar used to give a class on Bhagavad Gita each evening
beneath a tree near a village. He had a pet cat, and this cat would
sometimes run through the crowd, making a disturbance. As a result the
sage began to tie the cat to the tree during the class. After some
time the speaker shuffled off his mortal coil. One of his disciples
continued to give the Bhagavad Gita class under the tree, and
continued to tie the cat to the tree during the class. After some time
the cat passed away, and the disciple bought another cat. After three
generations a disciple wrote a paper on the sacred tradition of tying
a cat to the tree while giving a class on Bhagavad Gita.
So, all that being said, I think that the moon day/practice observance
should be followed by the Ashtanga Yoga students out of respect for
Pattabhi Jois and his methods. The purpose of following these things,
and submitting ourselves to a lineage, is to create humility and
thoughtfulness in the student. We will (most likely) not go to hell if
we practice on these days, but surrendering oneself to a lineage has
its own charm and effect on our character, so why should we not try
it? I do not believe that all yoga students should refrain from
practice on these days - they too should follow the observances of
their teachers, and hopefully by aligning our minds with higher
principles, will we all find happiness in our practices. On moon days
or not!
Thank you very much.
I hope that I did not go on for too long, or present any
Yours truly,
Eddie Stern


Sage Yajnyavalkya sat down with his two wives, Katyayani and Maitreyi
to discuss something very important. Katyayani was the typical
obedient wife and would abide by everything her husband would tell
her. She had three children and was generally a very contented person.
Maitreyi was an intellectual and had married the sage due to his
brilliance. She adored him for his wisdom and enormous scholarship,
debating abilities and spiritual achievements. The sage said without
beating around the bush,”I have decided to take the fourth stage
(ashram) of life, viz., sanyasa or renunciation and live alone in the
forest. I will divide my property between you two equally.” Katyayani
said that she would abide by her husband's decision, as Yajnyavalkya
would do the right thing. Maitreyi thought for a moment. My husband,
this Yajnyavalkya is no ordinary man. He earned a huge amount of
wealth, with his scholarship and supported the family admirably. He
had a very large number of milch cows, landed property and even pots
of gold, perhaps he was the richest 'scholar' on earth. If he should
renounce all this which he had righteously earned and assiduously
nurtured, there should be something greater he was going after. It is
said that she asked him what was that he was going after which was
higher than the huge wealth he had earned. She asked him, “Will all
the wealth you give me make me immortal?'' “No, no!” said
Yajnyavalkya, it will only make you a mortal, a rich mortal. Wealth
can not give one immortality” In that case I am not interested in this
wealth, she said, please tell me about that which would give
immortality, that you are going after by this renunciation. Teach me
that which gives that wisdom. Yajnyavalkya was mighty pleased with his
beloved wife's earnest query. “Yes, I will tell that momentarily and
listen to me carefully”, he said. After you hear it, sit down and
think about it, ponder over it with a concentrated mind until it is
unambiguously clear to you. Then never deviate from It.

We all love several beings and objects outside of us. The reason why a
wife loves her husband is not for the sake of the husband per se, but
because basically the wife loves her Atman, herself. Likewise a
husband loves his wife not merely for the sake of the wife but
because he loves his own atman, his self. Yagnyavalkya gave a number
of examples in our daily lives. The implication is that we love beings
and objects like the spouse and wealth because they give us happiness
and comfort. Everyone basically loves oneself and subconsciously
works for one's own happiness. All our lives we act to bring
happiness to ourselves and remove unhappiness. However there are
differences among people as to what would give them happiness. Some
people, satwic people appear selfless and go out of the way to help
others. The reason they do it is because making others happy makes
them happy. There are a few others who may perhaps derive pleasure at
the misery of others and tend to even cause pain to others or
subjugate others to pain to get happiness for themselves. But
basically everyone looks for happiness as everyone loves oneself. Here
the purpose of this narration is not to merely talk about what one
should do to just change oneself so that one may get happiness due to
right conduct (dharma). What the sage wants his wife to know is that
since everyone is after one's own happiness, one should really
understand/ know what constitutes the real self for whose happiness
one strives hard all through the life. According to the scriptures
especially the Upanishad and Patanjali's Yoga, there is a complete
misunderstanding (avidya) about the nature of one's self and the
scriptures by several means or vidyas try to help lead the earnest
seeker to understand the true nature of one's self. Here the sage
tells his spouse to understand the nature of the self from the
scriptures (srotavya), then deeply analyze and contemplate upon it
(mantavya) and then remain completely established in it
(nidhidhyasitavya). Since the real self is established by these
scriptures as pure, non- changing or immutable consciousness, the
self is considered immortal. Inference and meditation of these sayings
through different vidyas help one to remain well established in the
Self itself.

The sastras that exhort the aspirants to go by this path are called
nivritti sastras and also known as adhyatma vidyas or the subject
dealing with the nature of the Self. Among the foremost of this group
of philosophies is Yoga, Raja Yoga. Others include the Upanishads,
Samkhya, etc. Even though there are differences among these sibling
philosophies, these are supposed to lead one to immortality as the
Self is immortal and knowing, identifying with the Self leads to
immortality, as the Upanishad says “Mrutyor ma amrutam gamaya” or lead
me from death to immortality. Sage Yajnyavalkya urged his wife
Maitreyi to follow the spiritual path. And that was his answer to her
regarding immortality. He also answered her further queries.

Sage Yajnyavalkya was a very revered person in the vedic lore. Brash,
brilliant and benevolent his incisive understanding of the vedic
wisdom brought him fame and some trouble. When young, he studied the
three different Vedas—rik, sama and atharva-- from three different
masters then finally settled down to study his own veda, the Yajur
veda under his maternal uncle Vaisampayana, who was then an authority
on Yajur veda.

Yajavalkya was just exceptional. The Uncle was pretty pleased with the
capacity of his nephew. He not only got the entire Yajur veda by heart
but also went into details of the philosophies and the minute details
of the various rites described in the Yajur veda. There were other
students in Vaisampayana's ashram, but none was comparable to him.
Slowly the young student started helping the uncle in the performance
of various religious rites. Initially everything was honky dory.
Slowly the young scholar started finding some infirmities in the way
the uncle was handling the teaching and using the vedas. He found that
in the branch of yajur veda Vaisampayana was teaching, there was
mixing up of the ritual portion and the mantra portion. The uncle was
slowly getting restless with the brilliance of his nephew, the
adoration was giving way to apathy and then anger and then jealousy.
There was a time when Vaisampayana was wanting to perform a particular
rite to expiate an adharmic action, but Yajnyavalkya who had studied
the other vedas opined that the proper propitiatory act was only in
another veda the atharva veda and what his uncle was contemplating
from yajur veda would not work. That was the last straw. Vaisampayana
shouted at his nephew to leave his ashram. As Yajnyavalkya was walking
towards the door, the uncle angrily said that since he had no respect
for what he taught he could as well return the knowledge. The young
man withdrew all the knowledge he learnt from the uncle and threw it
up, as it were. Vysampayana then directed his other disciples to
swallow it and they took the form of tittiri birds and swallowed what
was discarded by Yajnyavalkya. The tittiri birds got back the human
forms and chanted the whole veda which came to be known as taittiriya
branch of Yajur veda. This portion of yajur veda contains the famous
taittiriya upanishad which contains the panch kosa or five sheath
vidya, with which many yoga students are familiar.

Yajnyavalkya, a perfectionist, vowed he would never again go back to a
human Guru. As said in the sutra Ishwarapranidhana, he decided to
surrender to the Lord. He did intense tapas or penance to Surya or Sun
god, the Almighty manifest. Ultimately he reached the world of sun and
directly imbibed the yajur veda in its purest form. Upon his return he
wrote the entire yajur veda which because it was said to be pure, came
to be known as shukla or white/pure Yajur veda. In contrast the
vaisampayana's older version was known as krishna or black yajur veda
as it was contaminated. But in practice Krishna Yjur veda is the one
that is in vogue in most part of India especially South India. My Guru
and my family belong to the Krishna Yajur veda school. People who
follow the shukla yajur veda are not too many. But it is a beautiful
work. Unlike the krishna yajur veda which uses three notes or swaras,
this has two notes like the rhythmic notes of a horse trot. The two
outstanding upanishads of this veda are the Brihadaranyaka (the great
forest) and isavasya upanishad, both of which are highly venerated and
are part of the top ten upanishads. Yajnyavalkya also became one of
the foremost vedic scholars excelling in all aspects especially the
spiritual aspect of vedic knowledge. Yajnyavalkya means one who is
clad (valkya) in the yagna or the vedas. Yajnyavalkya=clad in vedas

The name Yajnyavalkya is found in several old texts, the smritis, the
vedas, upanishads, the puranas and other works. So, many conclude that
Yagnyavalkya became the name of a particular lineage and there were
many great personages with the same name. It is believed that one of
the oldest works on Hatayoga was authored by Sage Yajnyavalkya. It is
known as Yoga Yajyavalkya or Yoga Yajnyavalkya samhita and gives
detailed description of ashtanga yoga. This work can be considered as
one of the works which could be helpful for those who would like to
find material for therapeutic yoga. He says “That all internal
diseases and toxins are destroyed by the practice of asana, yama and
niyama” and that pranayama (breath practices) is said to destroy
diseases in all three doshas (psycho-physical body constitutions). It
describes the marmasthanas or vital points, the important nadis their
locations, and kandasthana, kundalini and other details. The detailed
descriptions of all the eight angas and a close affinity to vedanta
makes it an exceptional work on Yoga.

Traditional followers of Yajnyavalkya call him Yogeeswara
Yajnyavalkya. He defines Yoga as the union of the individual soul and
the supreme soul, following the vedantic school.. I studied both Yoga
Yajnyavalkya and several upanishad vidyas from Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad from my guru Sri Krishnamacharya.

It is said that Yajnyavalkya was also well versed in classical Indian
music and perhaps played an old string instrument called Veena, still
very popular . Veena is mentioned in the vedas. It is said that
playing the veena gives spiritual experience. As per an old sloka
attributed to the sage, one who plays the veena with the correct
knowledge of the instrument, well versed in swaras or notes (raga)
and rhythm or beats(tala), reaches the ultimate Brahman effortlessly
(veena vaadana tatwajah, swara sastr visaradah| talgnascha aprayatnena
parabrahmadhi gacchati.) Sri Krishnamacharya was able to play the


A few days ago I had gone to my son's house to spend time with my 3
year old grandsons (twins). They said that they were in preschool.
They were rattling on about what went on in the school and suddenly
one of them lay on the back on the floor, drew the feet close and
pressing the feet and back of the head and neck, lifted the hips.
Looking at me he said that he was doing ‘bridge’ and asked me, “Can
you do it thatha (grandpa)”?


Any comments or suggestions may be sent to

If you wish you may reproduce my letters and articles in your e mails
or webpage or blogs.

You may access the articles contained in the earlier newsletters---
click on newsletter tab in my website
Thanking you,

With best wishes
Srivatsa Ramaswami

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