A lot of people might be turned off or feel uncomfortable about reading about Hindu Gods and Goddesses. I can assure you that this is not an attempt to convert anyone from their existing religion to a different religion. They are stories, like the stories of Jesus or Muhammad or stories from The Talmud that guide us in the right direction. I hope in the writings I do here to include lots of traditions whose teachings lead to a better life.
I would say that the one thing that may be different from a typical Christian practice might be that I hope to invite people to witness and experience ‘The Divine’ very directly. That all these stories can, universally, be applied in a way of direct experience, and that, I feel, is the difference between yoga and other practices.
Ram Dass wrote, once, about going into a Christian church and noticing that the rituals were beautiful, but that they seemed mundane and ‘routine.’ He went to another church where the rituals were the same, but they were vibrant and active and that made the whole experience different and more authentic.
At the heart of the texts about yoga, there is an allusion to God, who its called Ishwara. They define Ishwara as being beyond time. Other than that, there is no real description. As an ancient, Chinese text, The Tao Te Ching says ‘The Tao (The Way) that can be named is not The Eternal Tao.’ So, yoga establishes that there is something that unites us, and that we probably all share a single consciousness, but it allows for everyone to interpret and define that thing for themselves. It, also, says in The Tao Te Ching that a bowl is an important tool, but the most important part of the bowl is the empty place inside. We get to fill the bowl that is yoga with what defines us – Christ, Buddhist Emptiness, Shiva, Yaweh, Allah, what or whoever.
It is in this light that I share these stories and interpretations. Like we can learn from each other, we can learn from inside and outside our own tradition.
Today’s story is about offering. We make offering in all traditions. When we are in a state of offering, we are at our finest. When we are doing something not just for ourselves – when we are doing it for those we love, when we are doing it for whatever is divine, it takes on a whole, different, meaning. As we get into the seasons of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and our other winter festivals, the common theme is giving and accepting. My parents gave me the same lessons as probably most everyone received about how giving during this season is more meaningful that getting. We all know this to be true.
In the early days of the world, people were just populating the planet and finding their paths. Most people went about doing their chores, caught up in the drama of their mundane lives, searching for food and pleasure – like we still do.
But there were a few -seven – people who noticed that there must be something more to this life and world than the daily activities. They noticed that there was something about quiet and contemplation and stillness that ran totally counter to all they were taught from the other people about life, but that was profound. In those moments of silence and stillness, there seemed to be a view of a purpose of life that was obscured by the hustle and bustle of everyday living.
In the space of the quiet and stillness, there people could better understand themselves, and got a sense of a ‘still quiet inner voice’ which they called Shiva – ‘that which is,’ or ‘that which possesses life!’
Over time, seven of these people found each other, and they shared their experiences of their inner learnings. They started practicing silence and stillness together.
Slowly, they started receiving some teachings and messages from the silence. These were the first teachings of yoga:
Yoga is Now.
Yoga is stilling the wandering and churning of the mind.
Yoga is the abiding in one’s true nature.
Yoga is the elimination of violence toward oneself and others.
And so on.
For eighty years, these yogis, known as The Seven Accomplished Ones, or, in Sanskrit, The Sapta Rishis, studied until they mastered their cravings, yoga postures, turning inward, meditation and achieving high states of bliss and ecstasy.
Then Shiva, the name they had given the silence, told them that it was time for them to start spreading what they had learned to others throughout the world. That they were ready. They were enlightened masters who, now, had a duty to share the value of these practices with others, so that others, also, could receive the benefit of what they had learned.
The Risihis readied themselves, and, just before setting out in all the directions, came together one last time to say ‘goodbye’ and to practice in the silence together, one last time.
Shiva told them how accomplished they were, and he insisted on one last thing: an offering.
Shiva did not insist on this offering for any personal gain. After all, he was consciousness, stillness, silence, aliveness. There was nothing beyond these things that he could ever want. But he knew that if the Rishis set out with a sense of giving, of offering, that they would be more inspired and their teachings would have more value.
The Rishis sat together contemplating the offering. Like Shiva, they had renounced all the worldly things. They had no possessions or any thing they could offer.
Then they realized that what they had was what they had learned. They had the teachings they were preparing to set out to share.
So, they offered them. They offered their knowledge and understanding. They gave all that they had – all their intellect and wisdom – up to The Divine.
In doing so, they became completely empty.
And in this emptiness, their wisdom was magnified many fold, and they achieved states of enlightenment they did not know was possible.