Freedom Found in Yogic Rituals
When I was young I was introduced to the concept of the soul. I was told, “The soul is the most sacred part of you. It is the essence of the Self within.” When I naturally became curious to learn more about the topic, I was often met with confusion on the part of the adults around me. They were flustered and weren’t sure how to access it or what even was the value of connecting with the soul. I was instructed to pursue it “at a later time” or “around the time of my death.”
Fortunately, in my early teens, I met a wise yogi named Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati. I called him Guru ji, which means respected teacher. Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati wasn’t flustered by any question about the soul. In fact, he was interested to show me about the soul essence within me. He didn’t push away my soul questions, instead he encouraged them. From the first moment that we met, he set out to instruct me in how to have genuine connectivity with my soul. He used yogic practices, such as meditation, yoga philosophy, daily fire Puja and Mantra recitation to help me build channels of understanding within me.
Yogic Practices for Accessing the Soul
Sanskrit, meditation, yoga philosophy, and Fire Puja… Day in and day out I studied. Days became weeks and weeks became months and months became years. Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati never taught me to work with any of the yogic practices in a ritualistic way. I was instructed to use each ritual as a doorway into greater understanding. But, above all, to be natural in the engagement of them. In other words, it was important for me to sit for meditation each day, but the discipline, while it needs to be regular, it must not become strict. I was shown the Sanskrit language, with its beautiful rhythmic chants and its intricate grammatical structure. I was taught to chant properly and to work with the grammar of Sanskrit, but to simultaneously stay close to my heart and the reality that Sanskrit is a sacred language. I was shown Sanskrit as a language, which would provide me with a deeper understanding of my soul. I learned about Sankhya Yoga and Vedantic philosophy, but was told that while I could use the mind initially in this pursuit, ultimately I needed to experience that I was not the mind. That the truth of my own existence lay beyond the confines of thought. Shri Ramana Maharshi calls this being with the silent mind or being with the place where no thought exists.
Freedom in Structure
Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati taught me that while yogic rituals and practices have their precision, ultimately they exist to support me in soul-discovery and in feeling real happiness. He instructed me not to become ritualistic. Instead, I was taught to hold to yogic discipline as an important part of my growth, but to be aware that a discipline that becomes strict and unyielding will be a trap for an aspirant. The trap, he told me, was that when we become strict with the discipline, on a deep level, we believe that the practice is the goal, not the connection with the soul through the discipline. This can happen sometimes out of fear—the fear of connecting with one’s essence within. In other words, when we become overly strict in our discipline, it is a manifestation of our fear. At this juncture, we have lost sight of the goal of yogic practice, which is to use the ritual to be with the soul. Under my teacher’s tender guidance, yogic practice and its rituals flourished in my life and my soul discovery expanded.
Manorama’s Glossary of Sanskrit & Yogic Terms:
- Prana – energy, force
- Veda – book of knowledge
- Sanskrit – language of light
- Mantra – refers to Sanskrit chants
- Guru – respected teacher
- Soul – inner fire, awareness within, essence, being
- Yogi – a unified being of light
- Puja – celebration, offering
- Sankhya Yoga – Philosophy
- Vedanta – Philosophy