Why Is It Important To Know My Essence?

In Parts 1 and 2 of What Is My Essence?, we discuss scriptural and practical evidence and also exercises to help us realize that we are neither the mind nor the body. Both the mind and body are made of material energy. But we are the spiritual self (atma) that inhabits the body for some time, then leaves it. The atma does not cease existing when the body is left behind. Rather, we continue on and take on a new body according to the condition of our consciousness.

Why is it important to know our essence?

Because who we know ourselves to be is the basis for all the choices we make in life.

If we mistakenly believe that we are the material body, then our entire life will be based upon this fallacy. We will look for happiness, love, meaning, and satisfaction based upon bodily identification and be continuously disappointed and unfulfilled – no matter how hard we try or how determined we may be or how many self-improvement classes we take or professional life coaches we hire. If we think that we are the body or the mind and this is our sole focus for improving our condition, we will discover time and time again that there is no lasting joy or actual satisfaction to be found there. We may find temporary or superficial happiness, but we will not find the deeply satisfying and lasting joy, purpose, peace, and love that we seek in our heart of hearts because it is simply not there on the material level. Material pleasures do not touch the soul, they only temporarily gratify the body and mind. Because we are the non-material self (spirit soul, atma) we can only be satisfied by that which is made of the same energy that we are – by that which is transcendental, or spiritual, in nature.

There are countless incidences of people throughout history with extraordinary material opulence (beauty, fame, power, wealth, etc.) that were extremely depressed and miserable – some even committed suicide. Even though they were successful on the material level, they were devoid of spiritual fulfillment, so they suffered intensely. And in today’s societies, even though many countries are far advanced in material opulence, the citizens are so empty inside that they are miserable, sick, depressed, anxious, addicted to legal and illegal intoxicants, engaging in violent behavior, destroying themselves, each other and the environment. Even people who put themselves forward as being “spiritually advanced,” if they are not actually understanding and applying the knowledge that they are not the material body, then they are still in misery trying to satisfy a thirst unquenchable through material means.

It is one’s actual condition of consciousness that determines whether a person is truly happy or truly miserable – truly full with joy or mostly anxious and fearful with intermittent, fleeting moments of pleasure. Again, who we know ourselves to be determines whether we pursue happiness through material means or through spiritual endeavor.

If we know ourselves by the mistaken belief that we are the body and mind, we will pursue happiness through the body and mind, even if we put a spiritual label on what we are doing.

If we know ourselves as eternal spirit souls only temporarily housed in the body and mind, we will automatically and naturally pursue happiness through actual spiritual endeavor, even if it appears to others that we are just ordinary persons living ordinary lives.

It is the consciousness of the person that makes the difference, not the externals, not the label.

This is why it is so very important to have a real understanding of who we are, of what our actual essence is. Even if we only have an intellectual understanding in the beginning, that is enough to start applying this knowledge to the choices we make.  And if we continue to apply this knowledge in ways which will deepen our understanding, we will then be able to go beyond an intellectual understanding to the level at which we are naturally living it, naturally and spontaneously making our choices from the solid platform of knowing ourselves as eternal spirit souls. This is obtainable by anyone for it is simply a realization of our own true nature – natural living is the truest sense of the words.

To make steady progress in this area, it is recommended to apply ourselves sincerely and humbly, following in the footsteps laid out by great self-realized, saintly persons and the instructions of bona fide scriptures.

In this day and age, the recommended path is very simple and anyone can begin simply by adding to their daily lives the practices of kirtan, japa yoga, and/or Gauranga Breathing. Because these meditations are so transcendentally potent, even a small amount of dedicated daily practice will enable a person to gradually realize their truest nature on the deepest levels and actually become happy and fulfilled.

What Is My Essence? (Part 2)

natural living sunlight meditation

In Part 1, we discussed practical, scientific, and scriptural evidence that you are not the physical body. The next question to ponder is, if you are not the physical body, then…

Are you the mind?

According to the Vedic scriptures, you are not the mind either. The mind is also a body you are wearing, but it is made out of subtle material energy so you are not able to see it under normal circumstances. The gross physical body is like outer clothes and the subtle mental body is like underclothes. In both cases, you are the person who is temporarily wearing these bodies. But unlike the physical body, the subtle body generally stays with you, continuing to cover you after you leave your physical body at death.

A simple and practical exercise to see that you are not the mind is called the Silent Witness Technique.

Begin this exercise by sitting comfortably in a chair or on a cushion on the floor, with your back supported if possible. Close your eyes. Touch your thumb and index finger together and place the backs of your hands on your knees, palms facing upward. This is position is called chin mudra and it helps to relax the body.

Become aware of how the body is breathing automatically. Do not try to force or control the breath in any way. Simply observe the body breathing in a detached way. Say to yourself, “I am watching my body breathe, I am not the body.”

Now do the same thing with your mind. Focus your attention on the river of thoughts flowing through your mind, but don’t attempt to control the thinking process by trying to think certain thoughts and not think others. Instead, just watch the thoughts in a detached way. In the same way you might sit on the bank of a river, watching leaves, sticks, and other debris floating down the river – just sit silently on the river bank of your mind and watch thoughts, emotions, images, desires, fears, etc. just float by like debris in the mind river. Watch your mind and become aware of how you are actually aloof from the thinking process. Say to yourself, “I am the silent witness. I make no effort to think, but thoughts come automatically. I am watching thoughts flow through my mind, but I am aloof from them. I am the silent witness to my mind’s activities.” In this way, you’ll be able to experience that you are separate from the mind.

Through this exercise, you can experience that you are not the material mind or any of the thoughts and desires that flow in the mind. Rather, you are the self, the one who sits beside the constantly flowing mind-river – you are next to it, but separate from it.

You, the self, are actually made of a different type of energy than the body and the mind. According to the Vedas, there are two types of energy that make up everything in existence. One type is material energy. Material energy is dead matter. The other type of energy is life or spiritual energy. Life energy is always alive. Material energy is always dead. But when the two energies come together in a living organism, the material body inhabited by the life particle temporarily takes on characteristics of life. It appears to be alive, but that is only because the life particle or atma (self, soul) is occupying it and infusing its qualities throughout the material structure of the body. As soon as the atma leaves the material body, the body resumes its natural condition, which is that of dead matter. At this time, the physical body decomposes very fast and reverts back to the simpler elements from which it was constructed. We can observe this in all life organisms – plants, animals, humans, etc. – and so we can know that the atma inhabits all these organisms for some time, then leaves.

From the above information you can understand that your essence is life energy, or spiritual energy. Life energy is always alive and so, you, too, are always alive. You exist eternally. Your material body will at some point become useless to you and when you leave it, it will revert back to its original characteristics – that of dead matter. But you will continue on – usually in your subtle material body – and take on a new body in accordance with the condition of your consciousness.

Now that we know – intellectually, at least – that our essence is life or spiritual energy, how can this help us in our quest to experience our true nature?

To be continued in Why Is It Important To Know Our Essence?

 

What Is My Essence? (Part 1)

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Knowing who you truly are is essential to realizing what it is that will actually make you happy, and bring meaning and fulfillment to your life. There are volumes of books and countless self-improvement and self-help magazines and websites dedicated to the subject of making changes to the self in an attempt to affect some kind of benefit. But without correct knowledge of the self – of “who” it is that you are trying to improve or help – you will have only temporary or shallow results at best.

So who are you? If you ask a person to answer this question, to write down a paragraph describing who you are, most people will immediately begin to describe their body. They may say I am a woman, 23 years old, Italian, five and a half feet tall, with a light complexion, brown hair and green eyes. Or, I am a 30-year old Portuguese man with a muscular build, six feet tall, with black hair and brown eyes. Perhaps they will describe their occupation. I am a teacher. I am a scientist. Or family relationships. I am a mother, a father, the middle child of three. All these descriptions are descriptions of a person’s body, but is this really who they are?

Is this who you are? Are you your body? How can we tell if we are?

According to the Vedic scriptures, you are not the body, but rather the person who is temporarily wearing the body, in the same way a person temporarily wears a set of clothes. When a person is finished using a particular body and/or if the body is damaged beyond usability, the person inside leaves that body and obtains a new one. Again, very much like a person discards a worn out, damaged, or undesirable garment.

A practical way to think about the question of are you the body is to think about each of your different body parts and ask yourself, am I this body part? If I were to lose this body part, would I still be me? Am I the hand? If I was to lose my hand, would I still be me? And of course, it is obvious that without your hand, you would still be the same person, just without one of your hands. Some people have actually lost hands, legs, ears, eyes, all different body parts and if you ask them are you still the same person, they will say, yes, I am still me. I don’t have my hand anymore, but it is still me inside this body.

And, in fact, if you are to look at the question from a molecular or atomic perspective, you will see that the body you have now is completely different from the body you had just five years ago. Dr. Paul C. Aebersold of Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center discusses in the Annual Report for the Smithsonian Institution that scientific studies have revealed that about 98 percent of all the atoms in a human body are replaced every year. You get a new suit of skin every month and a new liver every six weeks. The lining of your stomach lasts only five days before it’s replaced. Even your bones are undergoing constant change. The bones you have today are different from the bones you had a year ago. Experts in this area of research have concluded that there is a complete, 100 percent turnover of atoms in the body at least every five years. In other words, not one single atom present in your body today was there five years ago.

According to these studies, the atoms in your current body are completely different from those in the body of five years ago, yet you are the same person. You are the person who was wearing the body five years ago and it is you who is wearing a completely different body now. Same person, different bodies. If you were the body, then you would also be a completely different person. You would have no memory of experiences five years ago if you were that body because you would be gone now with that body, scattered about in innumerable different places and reabsorbed by other bodies. But you are still here, wearing a body made up completely different atoms. So you can see from a scientific perspective that you are not the body.

So, if you are not the body, are you the mind?

To be continued in Part 2 of What Is My Essence?

Joyful Gauranga Breathing

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Gauranga Breathing is another type of yoga mantra meditation. Like kirtan and japa yoga, this meditation uses transcendental mantras to gradually purify your consciousness, allowing you to more and more experience the peace and joy of your natural condition, of your natural loving nature.

Gauranga Breathing can be done either alone or with others, as part of a daily practice and also whenever you are feeling anxious or disconnected and want to be more in a calm and connected state of mind and heart. The benefits of Gauranga Breathing increase and deepen with regular practice, but any amount of time you dedicate to practicing this beautiful meditation is invaluable in helping you to realize your true nature.

Sit comfortably in a chair or on a cushion, with your back supported if possible. If you can comfortably sit cross-legged, this is a good position for meditation – just make sure you are comfortable and your back is supported if you need the support. Close your eyes. Touch your thumb and index finger together and place the backs of your hands on your knees, palms facing upward. This is called chin mudra and it helps to relax the body.

Become aware of your breath. Breathe naturally, deeply, in a relaxed way without forcing the breath Draw your mind away from all other thoughts and focus on the feeling of the breath as it enters and leaves your body. When you find that your mind becomes distracted onto sounds or thoughts, don’t fight with the mind, just be aware that it has wandered and very gently bring it back to what you are doing.

On each outward breath, allow your body to relax. Feel relaxation spreading throughout your entire body as you breathe. You may, if you like, focus in your mind on relaxing each of your body parts, or just allow your body to relax as a whole.

The inward breath draws prana or chi into the body and rejuvenates you. Feel your entire body being rejuvenated, refreshed by the inward breath. Focus on the effect of the breath on your body, feeling it expanding with each inward breath, relaxing with each outward breath.

When you feel relaxed and your breathing is coming naturally and deeply, you are ready to begin the Gauranga meditation. (It is not totally necessary to do the pre-meditation breathing relaxation before you begin the Gauranga Meditation, but most people find it helpful.)

Now you will begin to meditate on the Gaur-ra-ang-ga mantra. Inhale deeply – and as you exhale,  chant/sing aloud “Gaur-ra-ang-ga” – drawing the mantra out over a long exhalation. Allow your mind to become fully immersed in the sound of the mantra, feeling the vibration throughout your body as you chant. Continue to feel this vibration as you inhale slowly, deeply. On the next exhale, again chant/sing aloud “Gaur-ra-ang-ga” – drawing the mantra out over a long exhalation. Repeat 10 – 20 times.

After you have stopped chanting the mantra, keep your eyes closed and be fully aware of your relaxed body, your calm and focused mind and the mantra resonating thoughout your entire being. The Gaur-ra-ang-ga mantra is the focus of your awareness and meditation.

To come out of the meditation, slowly open your eyes and bring your awareness to the feeling of peace and rejuvenation throughout your body, the feeling of calm and warm happiness in your heart. Continue breathing naturally, deeply. If you like, you can bring the palms of your hands together in prayer mudra (anjali) over your heart, allowing yourself to feel thankful for wonderful gifts of this meditation and the opportunity to recover your natural, joyful state of being.

I highly recommend watching this very short demonstration before you begin practicing: Gauranga Breathing Meditation video

Gauranga Breathing can be practiced anytime. It is very nice to practice first thing in the morning, helping to bring you into a relaxed, rejuvenated and connected state of being, which you can then reconnect to throughout the day. It is great to do after work and will help relax, rejuvenate, and center you after a stressful work day. It is calming to do before bedtime and will help you to de-stress, relax and have a more restful sleep. It is also an excellent way to end a physical/asana yoga session and many yoga practitioners do Gauranga Breathing meditation during or just after savasana pose.

Gauranga Breathing is a wonderful gift, freely available to any person with the willingness to accept and use it. May it help you to realize a more fulfilling and harmonious life – the life of freedom, love, meaning, harmony and joy that you long for in your heart of hearts.

P.S. You can also sing the Gauranga mantra to music or use it as a mantra for kirtan and japa yoga.

Deepening with Japa Yoga

Japa yoga natural living

Kirtan was my first introduction to mantra meditation and I was immediately attracted to it. Japa yoga was a practice I started about five or six months after I came to kirtan because it was so highly recommended. At first, it was pretty difficult for me to do. I had a hard time sitting and focusing my mind for any significant length of time. And often, I would start feeling very sleepy as I practiced the meditation.

Then a friend introduced me to walking while chanting japa (japa walks) and that was much easier for me. I would chant in rhythm to my arms and legs moving as I walked and that would keep my mind more focused on the mantra. It also helped motivate me to do it every day because walking every day was also something I wanted to do. I would wake up just before dawn and would walk into the golden light of the rising sun – feeling a golden light rising in my heart and mind as I walked. Regardless of the mood I started out in, I would almost always return refreshed and revitalized, happy and ready to face whatever tasks or challenges presented themselves for the day.

There were occasionally times when I could not go out walking, either because of rainy weather or injury or some other reason. On those days, I practiced japa while sitting and found it to be much easier than it had been when I first started. I had developed more control over my mind and also a taste for japa meditation through the japa walks and so it did not matter so much whether I was walking or sitting. In fact, I began to prefer sitting while chanting japa because it allowed me to go much deeper into the meditation. While I was walking, I would have to pay attention more to my surroundings in order to keep my body safe or would be distracted by people or things that I encountered. But when I practiced japa yoga at my house, sitting in solitude, I could completely relax into the sound and feel of the mantra as I chanted it. This opened up a whole new world for me. I began to have (and still do) the most amazing and joyfully sweet experiences while engaged in japa yoga and it keeps getting better and better. It is funny because it is the most simple meditation, yet over time, it has become one of the most profound  practices of my life. I practice every day – sick, well, busy, super busy, vacation, work, happy, sad, any condition and every condition.

I almost always wake up and chant japa first thing in the morning because I know if I wait until later, it is easier for other things to get in the way. I have never before been one of those people who gets up before the sun rises in order to meditate, but now I am one of those people. Not because it is easy, but because it is worth it. If you stick with it long enough, you will know this, too.

Here’s how to practice japa yoga meditation:

Using the mantra: Haribol Nitai-Gaur, Nitai-Gaur Haribol 

This meditation can best be practiced sitting in a comfortable position with your eyes closed, although some people prefer to walk along the beach or in a park.

Using a set of japa beads, the method is to repeat the mantra while holding or touching one bead at a time. Japa beads are a set of 108 small beads, plus one large bead (called the head bead). They can be purchased or you can make your own.

Take your set of japa beads and start with the first small bead on either side of the head bead. Hold it between the thumb and middle finger of your right hand. As you hold this bead, softly say the mantra and then move your fingers onto the next bead and repeat the mantra again. Remember to chant loud enough for your own ears to hear the mantra, and try to pronounce each syllable clearly. Continue chanting the mantra on each bead until you come back to the head bead. You have just completed one round of japa.

As you softly repeat each mantra try to keep your mind focused on the sound and gradually you will experience more control of your mind, as well as a welcoming sense of inner peacefulness and joy.

It is  recommended that you allocate a certain number of rounds to complete each day. Each round will take approximately four to five minutes to complete. Start with two to three rounds, then gradually increase the number of rounds to six or more as your ability to focus improves.

I chant japa for at least one hour every day. I find this is a good amount of time for me as I can steadily maintain it on a daily basis and have been able to do it for years now. Not struggling, but not super easy either with my very full schedule. Sometimes I chant more, but never less. It is good to start with a smaller amount of time – maybe 15 minutes and maintain it daily for at least a month. Chant longer if you like, but never less. Then gradually increase the time, but not for more than you can maintain realistically on a daily basis. Most important is that you be able to practice steadily and daily. After many months, you will likely find your sweet spot and will be able to maintain your daily time or number of rounds for years and hopefully for the rest of your life.

Whatever you do with your senses affects your consciousness. Therefore, the senses should be engaged in ways to help a person remember their real identity. Through japa yoga, the senses can be redirected and utilized to purify your mind and heart, thus helping you to realize  your natural, joyful state of being.

Who Am I – Answers in the Vedic Scriptures

yoga-meditation natural living

If a person is seeking to purify themselves of what that is unnatural, then the question of “what is natural for me?” arises. To know what is natural for you, you must first know who you are.

To completely know a object, there are three essential aspects that must be known: What is its essence? What is its position (in relation to others and the whole)? What is its function?

The same is true for knowing yourself – you must realize the answer to these three vital questions.

If someone were to ask me these questions many years ago, I would only have been able to answer them on a superficial level. I would only have been able to answer in terms of the body and mind. I had an incomplete understanding of my self, of who I am, and so was basing my life choices on a false idea of myself. This led to me experiencing a constant underlying sense of uneasiness, anxiety, bewilderment, imbalance. I could not solve this problem until I became aware that a deeper understanding of my identity was possible, an Absolute  understanding.

I needed to understand not my temporary identity, but eternal identity. I needed to know who I am eternally, always, regardless of external circumstances.

For this level of understanding, I needed to look to a higher authority.

The Vedic scriptures are unique in many ways. They are written in the ancient Sanskrit language, which is an extremely complex and highly polished language. The Vedic verses have a particular form and meter that has them fit together so precisely that any alterations would immediately stand out. Thus, the Vedic scriptures remain in their pure and original form even to this day. Secondly, they contain very detailed information about the nature and make up of the living being, the material world, the spiritual world, and the Original Source of all. These were certainly not the only factors that led me to look for answers in the Vedic scriptures, but they are perhaps the most compelling ones for many people.

Some people become interested in the Vedic scriptures and what they have to say due to positive experiences with kirtan and other practices from the yoga system. This was more the case with me. I experienced first-hand the profound positive effects of kirtan and japa yoga and became very interested in knowing more about these practices, where they came from, and any other useful related information.

So it was in the Vedic scriptures that I began to look for the answers to my essential questions about life in general and about my life, in particular. And as my consciousness gradually became more clear through yoga meditations like kirtan. japa yoga, and Gauranga breathing, I began to really understand what I found there. The intellectual understanding came first, but it was not until I was able to reach a deeper understanding through my own personal realization that I was able to apply the answers. My actual identity – the answer to the question of who am I – began to unfold itself within me and with it came the meaning and connection I had longed for all my life.

In the future articles we will discuss both the answers available through authoritative sources such as scriptures and great saintly persons, and also practices which enable a person to realize this knowledge on a personal level. Both are important and helpful in the quest to live a life in harmony with one’s true nature, a life of actual and lasting joy and fulfillment.

Switching to a Vegetarian Diet

vegetarian eating natural living

Vegetarian eating has become increasingly popular in today’s world, which has made it easier and much more convenient for people to switch to a vegetarian diet. Because more people are choosing to eat vegetarian, more vegetarian options are available in grocery stores, restaurants, cook books, schools, and elsewhere in mainstream society.  A vast wealth of vegetarian information, ideas, products, and recipes are now available on the Internet.

Why the switch? People are switching for personal health reasons, environmental health, ethical, theological, and even financial reasons. (This excellent Vegetarian Times article goes into more detail about why many people make the switch.)

In the ancient yoga texts, it is explained that the type of food a person eats cultivates a certain type of consciousness. Vegetarian food (which in the yoga system includes dairy, but not eggs) is said to cultivate a Sattva type of consciousness. Sattva mode of consciousness is the “mode of Goodness.” It is a calm, peaceful, harmonious state of consciousness. When in Sattva mode, one can cultivate a more peaceful and harmonious lifestyle and can more readily grasp higher wisdom. This is not to say that simply eating a vegetarian diet will automatically put one in a peaceful state of mind and body, but switching to a vegetarian diet (especially a whole-foods diet) can greatly assist a person in cultivating a more peaceful and harmonious life.

If switching to a vegetarian diet is something you are wanting to do, here is some advice for making the switch.

Write down your reasons. Figure out why you, personally, are choosing to switch to a vegetarian diet and write your reasons down on paper. Post the paper in your kitchen (or in your personal space) and also make a copy to carry with you. If there are times when you are tempted to give up or go astray, re-read your reasons – remind yourself why it is important to you to be doing what you are doing and allow yourself to honor your higher aspirations. If transitioning to vegetarian with your whole family, this is an activity you can do together. Make a colorful poster together or inspiration book with hand-drawn pictures. You can even do a blog or Facebook page of your journey to encourage and inspire  others.

Be realistic. Are you the type of person who can make drastic changes easily? Or are you more successful with gradual change? Are you making the switch by yourself or are you transitioning as a family? If you are choosing the gradual approach, you may want to start with one or two days per week of eating vegetarian then gradually increasing the number of days per week until you are eating completely vegetarian. Another gradual approach is to remove one animal the first week, then one additional animal per week until you are eating completely vegetarian.

Keep your eye on the big picture. In the larger scheme of things, you probably want not only to be eating a vegetarian diet, but a healthy vegetarian diet. However, in the beginning, be especially easy on yourself. Take advantage of vegetarian food in restaurants and the amazing variety of pre-made vegetarian food at local grocery stores to assist you in staying on track. If treating your family to their favorite meatless pizza a couple times per week, using premade meat-substitutes, allowing kids to top foods with ketchup or grated cheese, or having a  ice-cream sundae celebration at the end of each successful week of vegetarian eating makes it easier for you to maintain and more fun for everyone, then it’s healthful in the bigger picture. Experiment with easy vegetarian whole foods recipes and healthy condiments along the way and make your own recipe book full of the well-liked ones. Remember, especially in the beginning, make it as easy as possible. You can fine-tune your eating as time goes on. 

Make the switch with a friend. If possible, find a friend or even a Facebook buddy to make the switch with you. Not only will you be encouraging to each other, but you can share ideas, recipes, and maybe even dinner once a week at your favorite vegetarian-friendly restaurant.

Learn the plant sources for your essential nutrients. Some people are concerned about not getting enough protein or iron or B-12 in their diets on an animal-free diet. If you are concerned about not getting enough of a particular nutrient that you were previously getting through animal sources, simply do a little research on the Internet. Whatever nutrients you can obtain through eating animals are also available through plant-based sources. You can also take whole-food supplements or buy vitamin-enriched vegetarian foods.

Keep it simple. Stick to quick & easy recipes, especially in the beginning. There are plenty of easy vegetarian recipes available for free on the Internet. And there are many vegetarian meals that can be made with the same basic ingredients – such as rice & beans, pasta & tempeh, tofu & veges – then just add a tasty sauce and viola, you have a delicious new meal. Take advantage of pre-made sauces or make your own!

Have fun! Think of it this way, by switching to a vegetarian diet, you are walking into a whole new world of culinary delights. Explore, experiment, and enjoy!

Remember to nourish yourself spiritually. If you are nourished and happy on a spiritual level, it will help you to make healthy choices for your mind and body. When we are satisfied in our hearts, feeling full of love and peaceful in our hearts, we are less likely to be swayed by cravings for foods and activities that are undesirable. Fill yourself spiritually every day and you will find it much easier to be satisfied on other levels.

Here are a few more web resources to encourage and inspire you:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

No Meat Athlete 

Zen Habits

People have been eating healthy vegetarian diets since time immemorial – you can, too. 

What Is Kirtan

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Kirtan is a type of yoga meditation. It is the most-recommended type of yoga meditation for this day and age because it is so easy and accessible to everyone.

Usually, when people think of meditation, they think of sitting still and silent, while focusing the mind on a particular object. In the ancient  yoga system, the act of concentrating the mind one-pointedly on an object is called Dharana. It is actually considered to be a pre-meditation technique. Once a person mastered Dharana, they could then proceed to Dhyana which is when a person uses this ability to fix their mind one-pointedly on the Transcendent. (In yoga, to be considered meditation, the object that is being focused upon must be the Transcendent. Yoga meditation is transcendental meditation.) Yogis who were successful in this type of meditation were extraordinary individuals who lived in solitude under very austere conditions because that was what was required to bring the mind under control to the extent that a person could hold it in a single fixed position for extensive periods of time.

This exceptional level of mastery over the mind and senses is just not practical or even really possible for people in this day and age. Fortunately, there is a type of yoga meditation that is both practical and very accessible to all people…kirtan meditation. Kirtan is an ancient form of yoga meditation that became very popular in India over 500 years ago due to the influence of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who created a spiritual phenomenon that has since spread around the world.

In kirtan, people gather together to chant or sing transcendental mantras. Kirtan can be accompanied by traditional or electric instruments, drums and percussion, clapping of hands or no music at all. In a kirtan, usually one person sings the mantras and then others respond with the mantra going back and forth between leader and responders.

A transcendental mantra is described as being the descent of the Divine in the form of sound vibration making it possible for us to experience yoga or union with Supreme. Hearing and repeating such spiritual sound vibrations has the gradual effect of reawakening one’s natural spiritual love.

Not only is kirtan possible for everyone to engage in, but it is also very enjoyable. The teachings of yoga recognize that we all have a natural tendency to enjoy singing, playing music and being with other people. The practice of kirtan perfectly harmonizes these natural tendencies into a spiritually uplifting activity.

People of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, lifestyles, physical and mental abilities can engage in kirtan. There are no qualifications or lifestyle rules necessary for kirtan. Kirtan is for everyone and anyone. Even if a person is not particularly interested in spiritual life or is not very developed intellectually (as in the case of a baby or a mentally-impaired person), they can still benefit from kirtan and experience happiness and healing from it because kirtan is transcendental. It works on the level of the soul, gradually clearing away that which interferes with one’s experiencing the peaceful, joyful, loving nature that is innate within every living being.

Finding Kirtan

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From the very first time I encountered kirtan, it held an attraction for me that I could not explain. Before I had attended, I had heard that kirtan was spiritually beneficial and certainly that was something that attracted me. And I very much enjoy singing and dancing to beautiful music and being in the company of other spiritually-inclined people. But the attraction that I felt was on a totally different level. It was not intellectual, not something I thought about. It was just there in the way that something that has always been there suddenly reveals itself to you. And you can not help but recognize this something because it naturally belongs with you. Like breathing. You never think about your attraction to breathing because it so naturally belongs with you. Finding kirtan for me was very much like finding my breath and realizing that I had been holding myself from it for my entire life.

The more I participated in the weekly kirtans that were being held in my community, the more my attraction and appreciation for it grew. I felt my heart healing and opening to new levels and experiences of love, joy, peace, and understanding. For me, finding kirtan was the end of a very long search. I had spent my life searching for something I could not name. In the experience of kirtan, I found what I had been looking for.

So what is kirtan, you may now be asking. There are many ways to try to understand the answer to this question.

You may have heard that kirtan is the group singing or chanting of transcendental sound vibrations, or yogic mantras. That it is a spiritual activity which purifies the mind and heart, bringing with it deep states of joy and peace. That it is an eternal love song between the soul and the Supreme Soul, a form of musical meditation that has the gradual effect of reawakening one’s natural spiritual love.

Kirtan is all of these and more. And it is the most natural inclination of the soul.

(More on kirtan in the next article…What Is Kirtan?)