Friday, 1 July 2011

July 2011 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami—Trivikrama

July 2011 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami—Trivikrama

Greetings from Los Angeles. I will be teaching a two day workshop on
Vinyasakrama  Asanas and Pranayama at Anada Ashram in New York State
on 26th and 27th of July 2011

We are almost four weeks through the 6 week 200 Hr Teacher training
Program at Loyola Marymount University in  Los Angeles. We have
completed the 60 hour Vinyasakrama Asana Program a 20 hr Pranayama
Program, a further 20 hr Yoga Sutra course and a 20 hour program on
study of Sri Krishnamacharya's works—The Yoga Makaranda and Yoga
Rahasya and also a 20 hour program on Mantras and Meditation based on
my studies with Sri Krishnamachaarya. It is a very nice group of
dedicated participants, some are experienced teachers themselves..
Like last year and the years before it is a wonderful group blossoming
into a nice cohesive one.  Whether it is doing 80 pranayamas at a
stretch or staying and doing vinyasas for 10 minutes in Sarvangasana
or meditating for 15 minutes and chanting the Atma Suddhi and
Pranayama /Gayatri mantras they show equal facility and interest. I am
enjoying being part of the group. I hope the remaining two weeks will
be equally satisfying and peaceful.  We have three from Brazil, three
from Mexico and a couple from Singapore/Thailand. There is one each
from Portland, New Jersey and Texas. And of course a few are from Los
Angeles/California as well. There are 18 participants for the whole
program and a few have signed for individual courses making it a
compact group of 20+ participants for all the courses.

Trivikrama—the  Lord who stooped to  conquer

Last year around this time I wrote narrating some stories from the
Puranas. With the program at LMU going on I thought of the easier
option of story time for this Newsletter. In one of the earlier
articles I wrote about the story of Prahlada as an outstanding
instance of selfless bhakti. Even though he was a danava (demon) he
developed a great devotion for the Lord even as a child and the
beautiful story of him is narrated as a source of great inspiration
for Bhakti yogis. When I was young there used to be popular plays
enacted on Prahlada as “Bhakta Prahlada” sometimes the plays running
all through the night on special occasions for worshiping Vishna. As
his name would indicate he was absolutely blissful (pra+hlada). And he
proved to be an absolutely adorable king.

His grandson was also an exceptionally great King called Mahabali. He
would be referred to as Bali chakravarti (emperor). Bali as a demon
king (danava) performed an elaborate  vedic ritual called 'Viswajit',
meaning conquering (jit) the Universe (viswa). Out of the sacrificial
fire, it would appear there emerged a golden chariot, armor and a coat
of arms. With the guidance and goading  of his preceptor Sukracharya
he went on a Digvijaya or conquest of all directions. Soon the
Universe came under his control. He banished even Indra the chief of
the devas (angels) to the netherworld. He became a benevolent king
though his usurping the territories of devas was considered adharmic
or unlawful. He took over Mayapuri the heavenly capital city of Indra.

He became well known for his charity all over the universe. But his
adharmic karma of usurping someone else's possession was waiting in
the wings to fructify. In the meantime Indra complained to his
preceptor Brahaspati about his pitiable condition. Brahaspati
counseled him to wait and said any misdeed like willful disobedience
of his preceptor would cause the downfall of the mighty emperor.

Aditi was considered to be the mother of Devas. In fact one name for
the sun is Aaditya, meaning the offspring of Aditi. When the mass
banishment of the devas to the netherworld took place due to the
actions of Bali, sage Kashyapa,  Aditi's husband had gone out for deep
meditation and was unaware of the happenings in the outside universe.
So when he returned home, Aditi narrated to Kashyapa all that happened
during his absence. Kashyapa contemplated deeply and decided to
approach Lord Vishnu to rectify the situation. He and Aditi decided
then to take a great vrata (penance) called Payovrata ot subsisting on
milk alone for the entire duration of twelve day period of the penance
to propitiate Lord Vishnu, the Lord who is credited with 10 avataras
or incarnations to restore dharma in the universe periodically. At the
end of the vrata, Vishnu appeared before the couple and inquired about
their wish and Aditi and Kashyapa narrated the unfortunate happenings
in the Universe. The Lord who is omniscient listened to them carefully
and indicated that He earlier took the avatar of Narasimha (man-lion)
to protect Prahlada the child born to a demon but yet a great pious
soul, would have to take another avatara to punish Prahlada's own
grandson due to his misdeeds. The Lord promised that he would be born
to them as their last child and would do the needful.

In due course Aditi gave birth to a beautiful child but in due course
he grew up to be a dwarf, a dwarf Brahmin. He also chose to remain  a
Brahmachari, a celibate. He was revered for his scholarship and the
knowledge of Dharma-- of what is right and what is wrong.

By then Mahabali at the prompting of his clever preceptor Sukracharya
decided to do the ultimate vedic ritual called Aswamedha or the horse
sacrifice, so that he could establish legitimacy over his usurpation
of the kingdom of gods the devaloka apart from the rest of the
Universe. The pygmy Lord, called Vamana then decided that it was time
to make the move. He slowly wended his way to the palace of Mahabali.
It was the time for the asura king to take his food and the small
statured, harmless looking Brahmin boy stood there begging for a boon
from the mighty King. One of the greatest virtues of Mahabali was the
charities he gave which endeared him to many of his subjects in the
Universe. Seeing the hungry looking but illustrious boy the Emperor
Mahabali was highly impressed and told him to ask for a boon. The boy
hesitated but the King made an irrevocable offer and said “Ask
anything you want and it shall be given—cows, ornaments, horses
anything at all”

“None of it whatever” said Vamana. I just want land measuring three
paces of my feet. Some say he wanted land equal to the three  measures
of his feet . Though Bali was disappointed by this inconsequential
request, nevertheless agreed and asked his wife to bring the pitcher
containing water. In those days the donor pours a small quantity of
water into the cupped right palm of the  donee as an affirmation of
giving an irrevocable gift. Sukracharya, Bali's preceptor immediately
smelt a rat. He at once turned to Bali and advised him not to give
into the request of the innocuous looking boy. He said that the
brahmin boy was none other than the Lord Vishnu Himself and that
acceding to his request will spell disaster to the King. The King in
an expansive mood brushed aside the warning. He was overpowered by the
arrogance of the power, the power of giving charity even to the Lord.
He contemptuously ignored the warning  of his preceptor and proceeded
to consecrate the gift. He forgot the vedic exhortation of developing
humility even while giving. As a last ditch effort Sukracharya
quickly took the form of a roach, got into the pitcher and blocked the
beak of the pitcher so that the formal completion of the gift would be
prevented. Vamana sensing trouble from Sukracharya, took a strand of a
twig and inserted it into the beak of the pitcher. Promptly the strand
pierced one eye of the roach Sukracharya and blinding one eye. Stung
by both the physical injury and the arrogance of his own ward,
Mahabali, Sukracharya cursed Mahabali that he would fall from the high
pedestal he was at that time. As the physically and emotionally
injured Sukracharya instinctively withdraw inside the pitcher beak,
water flowed from Bali's pitcher into the begging hand of the Lord
thus completing deed of the gift.

Lord Vishnu decided it was time to strike. The pygmy Vamana suddenly
grew in size to become a colossal giant. With one foot he covered the
entire earth. The second leg he raised and the entire heaven was under
his other foot. Still the gift was not complete. Bali had no further
place to offer for the third leg of the gift. Now Bali who arrogantly
looked down upon Vamana earlier stood before the Lord a completely
vanquished soul. Then he begged the Lord to place the third step on
his head, a complete reversal of fortune in no time.  The Lord placed
His foot on Bali's head and banished him to a netherworld called
sutala. The Lord due to this feat came to be known as Trivikrama or
the one who conquered three worlds, the earth, heaven and the ego.

Yogis who were impressed by this form of the Lord with one foot on the
ground and the other on heaven have created a most exquisite asana
called Trivikramasana.  The Lord took the avatara of Vamana, the dwarf
and stooped before the asura King and then turned the tables on him
and conquered him squarely. You can view the majestic pose in the Yoga
Makaranda of Sri Krishnamacharya—page 139.

Pandits debate whether it was dharma on the part of the Lord to be
manipulative  to conquer Bali. Some aver that for the overall good, in
a situation of dharmasankata (conflict of dharmas) one has to choose
the lesser of the two evils. In this situation who knew what was
right? God knows, God only knows I guess!

With best Wishes

Srivatsa Ramaswami

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