Thursday, September 18, 2008

SRCM: The Living Tradition of Sahaj Marg

The Living Tradition of Sahaj Marg
The Raja Yoga system known as "Sahaj Marg" is still relatively obscure in the West, even among Yoga aficionados. This is largely due to the fact that Sahaj Marg has been a low-key, word-of-mouth practice. Works by the lineage of Sahaj Marg Masters, published under the auspices of the Shri Ram Chandra Mission (SRCM), are difficult to locate, and beyond the abhyasis or practitioners of Sahaj Marg, few are aware that SRCM centers have been established worldwide since the Mission was founded in India fifty years ago.
What is Sahaj Marg? There are no easy answers to this question, just as there are none for questions like "What is Zen?" or "What is Sufism?" Sahaj Marg (which may be translated as "Natural Path" or "Simple Way") has no surface and its habitat is Infinity; thus by definition Sahaj Marg resists definition. Given the hopelessness of description, then, we must remain content with classifying, comparing, and giving historical accounts. These are outer matters and have little to do with the essence of Sahaj Marg, for spiritual Sadhana is not only a "study" but also a "practice," and as such can be understood only through actual experiment.
Though its method may seem novel to some, those acquainted with the great Dharmic traditions will find Sahaj Marg a natural extension of the continuing refinement and accommodation that living yoga has always emphasized. Sahaj Marg is a practical method designed to give the direct experience of realization, right here, right now, in the midst of our daily situations. This has always been the heart of all spiritual traditions, as Vivekananda observed: "Religion consists in realization. We all know as a fact that nothing will satisfy us until we realize the Truth for ourselves. However much we may argue, however much we may hear, but one thing will satisfy us, and that is our own realization; and such an experience is possible for every one of us, if we will only try."
All religions begin with the experience of God, the realization of a single person such as Christ or Buddha or Mohammed. After the founders pass on, their followers codify their teachings, and if these teachings are deep and true and helpful enough to stand the test of time, eventually they crystallize into a religion. But the original experience of its founder remains the bedrock of each religion, and to the degree that his followers can partake of that experience themselves, the religion remains valid and transformative, rather than degenerating into a set of mechanical rituals or a dry body of moral rules and social expectations.
We should not denigrate religion, for religions are regulating systems for societies and the preparatory schools for spirituality. My Master is of the opinion that while it is a wonderful thing to be born into a religion, it is a tragedy to die in a religion. We must transcend mere belief and conformity, and experience the Truth of the scriptures for ourselves. My Master told me that Christ, for instance, to keep his experience alive and to pass the light along, had to transmit this experience to someone, a human being who then would be the temporary vehicle of the essence of his Master, until he in turn passed it on to the most fit of his own disciples, who would pass it on again, and so on, down through the ages. Whether Christ actually transmitted this to Peter we do not know, but the Catholic Church has at least recognized the necessity for a living Master and the reality of such transmission in the doctrines of apostolic succession and the office of the pope as vicar of Christ.
Sahaj Marg also affirms the necessity of a realized Master in human form to assist most people in their journey Home. A true Master comes to serve, not rule, for as my Master's own Master taught, "God is the real Guru or Master and we get light from Him alone. But as it is extremely difficult for a man of ordinary talents to draw inspiration from God directly, we seek the help of one of our fellow beings who has established his connection with the Almighty." In Sahaj Marg, "Master" simply refers to one who has mastered himself, and who has the ability to make Masters like himself. Thus, though the Masters of the Sahaj Marg lineage are each unique in terms of physique, personality, taste, and temperament, in their most essential Nature they are one and the same person.
Sahaj Marg is usually presented as a refinement of Raja Yoga. Ultimately, however, it must be understood as a distillation of the yogas of Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti as well. As outlined in the Bhagavad Gita, these four primary yogas (there are dozens of other yogas in India and the West) are suited for varying natures. Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of love and devotion, is designed for those with strong devotional or emotional temperaments; Jnana Yoga, or the path of discriminating intelligence, is said to be the path for intellectuals and philosophers; Karma Yoga is for those with active natures who are inclined toward activity and service; and lastly, Raja Yoga (called the "King" of yogas, as it involves the mind or "king" of the body) uses an experiential approach through which the yogi directly realizes oneness with the Absolute.
The fallacy common to the Aristotelian Western mind is to separate these paths into four rigidly exclusive systems. The fact of experience is different, for at a certain level these four paths all intersect and blend: Jnana or knowledge pushed to its extreme becomes Bhakti or love, which at its fullness is wisdom; Karma Yoga in its highest form is but the expression of Jnana and Bhakti. The sincere practice of Raja Yoga very quickly dissolves into the other three, since only a fool would attempt this practice without a qualified guide, and soon the techniques of Raja Yoga are lost in the greater truth that is the love for the Master, a merger in Him which is expressed by the great dictum of the Bhaktas, the All-embracing Tat Tvam Asi, ("That art thou"), and propelled equally by the discriminating wisdom of negation expressed by the Jnana Yogis as Neti, Neti ("Not this, Not this").
These four yogas arrive at a place where all paths end and merge, which we may call whatever we please, since words don't matter at this point: the kingdom of God, the Source, the Center, or the Impersonal Absolute. This is why Vivekananda advised yogis to be like a bird, have Bhakti Yoga as one wing, Jnana Yoga as the other wing, and Raja Yoga as the guiding tailfeathers. We could extend his metaphor and imagine the manifestation of flying as Karma Yoga.
Sahaj Marg reminds us that yoga, and in particular Raja Yoga, is a not and never was a frozen practice, fixed at some point in the distant past and codified by Patanjali around the Second Century AD in his Yoga Sutras. Even the highest concepts and most honored methods must evolve as the situations of men change. Methods which were suitable for a bull-cart society may not be so suitable in the vastly different world of the late 20th Century. The Way to the living God is not a Procrustian bed that forces all to fit into its fossil methods or die trying. One of the reasons the Divine descends again and again in the form of Masters is to provide us with an approach that is more natural to our time and place, to enliven the great traditions and honor the spirit of the methods by bringing a flexible and workable revision to the letter of those traditions. After all, the purpose of any method is to bring men and women back to the Source from which they have come. A method has no value beyond that. Indeed, as Buddha taught, the method may be dispensed with once that goal is accomplished, just as the boat is left behind once the river has been crossed.
Those acquainted with Raja Yoga will be familiar with Patanjali's Eight Limbs, the Ashtanga steps of Raja Yoga. These have usually been viewed as steps leading to the final union of self with Self, of human with divine -- which is what the word yoga, or "yoke," implies. Whether Patanjali ever intended his "Eight Limbs" to be considered as sequential and consequential stages is debatable, but Sahaj Marg takes a simultaneous and global approach to the practice of Raja Yoga. A classic image of the practice of Raja Yoga is that of climbing the rungs of a ladder: First one works on Yama and Niyama (the moral and ethical limbs), then Asana (posture), then Pranayama (movement of energy through breath), then Pratyahara (withdrawal from senses), and then Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation) to culminate finally in Samadhi (absorption). An image more apt for the practice of Raja Yoga under Sahaj Marg might be that of a sphere expanding from its center, for Sahaj Marg begins at Patanjali's Seventh Limb, Dhyana or meditation, and allows the rest of the practice to grow naturally from this seed.
Contrary to some notions, Sahaj Marg teaches that meditation is easy and requires no preliminary steps for anyone who has a normal state of mental health -- in fact, Sahaj Marg teaches that only by meditating can we learn to meditate! The psychologically dangerous aspect of Pranayama has been superseded in Sahaj Marg by Pranahuti (prana-ahuti, literally "offering Prana"), by which an individual can transmit spiritual reality directly from the center of his or her existence to the center of another individual's existence.
Pranahuti should not be confused with the more familiar spiritual transmission known as Shaktipat. Pranahuti is an extremely subtle transmission, described as a "forceless force" or "powerless power," and is devoid of all qualities, including even the Shakti (power) that informs Shaktipata. Nor is Pranahuti equivalent to what is termed Diksha, since Pranahuti does not confer or connote initiation by the Guru. In short, it is the utilization of Divine energy for the transformation and evolution of human beings into Divine beings. Pranahuti is a very gentle process and is imperceptible to all but the most sensitive recipients, although anyone can sense its effects as they gradually unfold over time. As my Master told me, normally we do not feel Pranahuti; we feel only its results.
The yogic transmission of subtle or Divine energy by one whose own life-force, or Prana, is realized at such a high vibratory level that it can awaken the dormant Prana in others across any distance by the merest thought or Sankalpa was known to adepts in the distant past, but had fallen into a sort of honored disuetude until it was re- discovered as a useful technique for 20th Century by Shri Ram Chandra of Fatehgarh (1873-1931). Lalaji, as he is affectionately known, is said to have attained realization of the Absolute in a period of just seven months, to have had no Master, and no former incarnation. Lalaji remains a mystery; he was known only to a few in Uttar Pradesh, but was beloved by both Sufis and Hindus.
The art of Pranahuti was transmitted by Lalaji to his most fit disciple, who by coincidence also bore the name Ram Chandra. This disciple, now known as Shri Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur (or more simply as Babuji, since he worked all his life as a "babu," or clerk) perfected the practices of Sahaj Marg, distilling a natural and simple method of meditation from the traditional procedures of Raja Yoga, established the Shri Ram Chandra Mission in 1945 in honor of his guru, and upon his death or Mahasamadhi in 1983 transmitted his essence to his disciple, Shri Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari.
Chariji (b. 1927) now embodies the Master and carries on the work of Shri Ram Chandra Mission. Like the other Masters of his lineage, Chariji is a family man and had worked all his life in an ordinary job until his retirement a few years ago. The usefulness of ordinary life is emphasized not only in the philosophy of the practice, but has been demonstrated practically by the Masters of Sahaj Marg.
Ordinary life is the accepted arena of spiritual practice under Sahaj Marg. As a bird needs two wings to fly, so a human being needs two wings of existence, the spiritual and the material. If either is neglected for the other, life becomes exaggerated and unnatural. Neglect of the material existence results in dependence, and neglect of the spiritual results in a fundamental unhappiness. To realize complete perfection, we must balance both sides of our lives, and treat everything that comes our way as part of our spiritual Sadhana or practice. Sahaj Marg emphasizes that realization is for everyone, not just for sannyasins, lamas, monks, or nuns. Indeed, family life in one's own home is an ideal ashram for learning sacrifice and love. Sahaj Marg flatly rejects the romantic notion that to realize God or Self we must renounce society and adopt arduous practices. God dwells not in the Himalayas, Babuji used to say, but in the human heart.
Sahaj Marg insists that the highest spiritual attainments can be realized by anyone at any time in any place. In recognition of this understanding, Pranahuti or yogic transmission can be received not only directly from the Master, who is an adept in the art, but also via preceptors who have been personally prepared by the Master to serve as conductors of Pranahuti. Over 900 preceptors now serve worldwide. These preceptors can be likened to transformers in neighborhoods that direct and regulate the energy from a distant power plant for indivi- dual use. Preceptors are themselves abhyasis (practitioners) who are still evolving at varying levels of spiritual maturity. It's entirely possible for a preceptor to give a sitting to someone who is at a much higher stage than the preceptor himself. The term "sitting" is used in Sahaj Marg to describe a meditation in which the Master or a preceptor meditates in the presence of a group or with an individual to clean the subtle body and transmit Prana. This is normally done while sitting face to face -- or more precisely, heart to heart.
Those who have attempted to establish themselves independently in a longterm daily rhythm of meditation may appreciate Babuji's observation: "Serious difficulties arise when meditation is practiced independently in accordance with methods prescribed in books. One has to keep on struggling with the mind in order to suppress its unceasing activities. This continues all the time and there is practically no meditation at all, since all the time given to meditation is lost in struggling against thoughts and tendencies. What Pranahuti does for the spiritual uplift of a person and removal of complexities in a short time, independent efforts cannot achieve even in a full decade." In Sahaj Marg, this "removal of complexities" is called, simply enough, "cleaning." The habits, tendencies, and hardened impressions (Samskaras) which defeat our efforts toward realization are gently yet thoroughly removed. The effectiveness of subtle cleaning cannot be understood until it is experienced.
What, then, does one actually do in Sahaj Marg? According to the teachings of Sahaj Marg, God is simple, and the Way to God may also be simple. Thus there are no rituals in Sahaj Marg. Do's and don'ts are few. There are no secret mantras or mudras, no arcane Asanas, no special clothes, no changing of names. Really, there is nothing about Sahaj Marg to believe or disbelieve, because the practice involves direct experience. Sahaj Marg asks us not to believe, but to observe; not to trust, but to test. Anyone over 18 years of age who is willing to give a sincere effort is invited to do so. One can begin the practice by contacting a preceptor for the introductory sittings. No fee or "love offering" is asked for these or any other sittings from a preceptor. Sahaj Marg teaches that spirituality cannot be sold any more than the sky can be sold, for no one owns it.
The daily abhyas or practices are quite simple. The abhyasi is asked to sit comfortably and meditate at the beginning of the day for at least 30 minutes, eventually for an hour if possible, focusing on the heart (a preceptor can detail the method). At the end of the day, sit again for at least 30 minutes, but this time, the purpose is for cleaning, and again the technique is quite simple. Weekly Satsanghs or group meditations are helpful, along with individual sittings from preceptors. Abhyasis are encouraged to keep a diary of their inner life, and most soon notice a feeling of Shanti or peace, a sense of lightness, and an awakened intuitive ability. Though these experiences are not uniform, they are common in the beginning, and many other experiences and conditions will follow. Sahaj Marg recognizes a plexus of subtle Granthis or knots beyond the traditional Chakra system of Kundalini and other yogas, and abhyasis during their practice make the Yatra or voyage through various spiritual regions as they approach the Center. At various stages obstacles are encountered, sensations occur, and visions or dreams may be seen, but with the guidance of the Master the abhyasi will not be distracted and can move on toward Reality.
So the basic practice takes about one or two hours a day -- we begin our day with meditation, end it with another, and enter sleep in a state of prayer. By an art called "Constant Remembrance" the abhyasi can eventually extend these meditations to 24 hours a day. Curiously enough, many find that the simplicity of the practice is its major difficulty, especially since Sahaj Marg claims to aim for a level of human perfection beyond that which even Patanjali described. This claim can be easily tested, for Sahaj Marg was designed so that even the busiest person could integrate a profoundly transformative spiritual practice into his or her daily life.
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