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There is a simple technique, a part of Yoga, which can be used as a stress busting technique and to add positively to our overall happiness.

This is called the `Sukha Pranayama’. Sukha means happiness, pranayama means control of Prana. Prana is an esoteric concept of Hinduism, for now we can take it to mean control of breath.
So Sukha Pranayama means the exercise of controlling our breath which gives us happiness.

It is really very simple. We can do this at any time and place, any number of times we wish to do during the day.

It consists of sitting up straight so that our back is very straight. Preferably we should sit in the Padmasana posture, a Yoga pose which is actually quite simple and consists more or less of a cross legged sitting position. We can sit in this way, but it doesnt matter if we are sitting in a chair in the office or lying down in the bed. This is not a strenuous exercise and any posture will do, the only essential is that our back should be straight. This is considered necessary for the flow of `Prana’ along our spine.

We then breathe in slowly in and out. We should draw the breath in first as slowly and evenly as we can. There is no need to put stress on ourselves by drawing it too long, this is not a test. We should just try to be comfortable. After drawing it in, we then expire in the same way, slowly and evenly.

The main point of interest is not the breathing in or out but the gap in between the two breaths. This period is called `Kumbhaka’ and it is very important for Pranayama, in fact this is the most important period in Pranayama. The aim is to prolong this period between the two breaths.

In Hindu logic and Yoga, it is always the gap between two opposite movements which is the most important, such as the gap between the night and the day. Such moments are considered to be very `still’ movements, and hence the closest to the Absolute. Thus the dawn and the evening are considered to be the most conducive for Yoga.

In breathing, it is the Kumbhaka which is considered the most important. As our breaths become slow and even, the kumbhaka also will become prolonged, but we should not exert ourselves over this and try to prolong it artificially. The movement at all times should be natural.

Our mental state during this Kumbhaka is the vital part of Sukha Pranayama. The aim is to put ourselves into a happy state during this moment, as it is the calmest moment in our movements.
To do this, we are encouraged to think of anything which makes us happy. For Bhakti yogis, this would mean thinking about God and the love of God. But by no means is it confined to this. We can think of anything which makes us happy – some time spent with our family, watching the sunset at the beach, a particular song or piece of music, etc. It could even be a risque joke. It does not matter what it is as long as it is something which gives us happiness.
Filling our minds with this happy thought, we then gently let out our breaths.

This is all there is. We need to repeat this as many times as possible, as often as possible. The time and place does not matter. Any time is a good time for at least one exercise of Sukha Pranayama.

This simple exercise is enough to radically transform our lives. We will find our minds getting lighter and happier, and we will be more easily able to bear the griefs and worries of life in the world. This exercise should form an important part of our arsenal to tackle the world.

~

P,J,Mazumdar is the author of “The Circle of Fire”, a book on Advaita Vedanta and Yoga.

To read further on Advaita Vedanta philosophy, please go here for an overview of the basic principles and logic of Advaita:

-> Advaita Philosophy

To read more articles on various aspects of Hinduism, Enlightenment, Upanishads, etc. from the website thecircleoffire.com, please click here:

-> Advaita Vedanta Yoga

You can look up the book on Amazon here: The Circle of Fire.

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Through all ages and cultures, people have always sought to know that which is the ultimate constituent of the universe.

The Vaisesikas in India were the first to propose that the final constituent was a particle, the atom, which they called ‘anu’. This atom was indivisible, it was a fundamental particle. In the Vaisesika theory, there were four classes of atoms, earth, water, fire and air. Space, the final constituent, bound these atoms together in different compositions to form all the matter of the universe, including us. This theory was later adapted by the Greeks through Pythogoras who visited India and later proclaimed in Greece that he had learnt much of his science here.

The search for the fundamental particle has continued since then. Theories of the atom has come and gone. At present the branch of science that deals with the fundamental particle is called Quantum Physics. Present day quantum physics also has an atomic theory as its fundamental theory. A large number of ‘atoms’ of different varieties are believed to form the universe at its most fundamental level. This set of atoms is called the Standard Model.

The Standard Model contains atoms not just for matter but for forces as well. The atoms for matter are called Fermions and comprise quarks and leptons. The particles for force are called bosons. There are a large number of quarks, leptons and bosons, more than 50.

The Standard Model works perfectly in predicting various reactions. But the Standard Model is already known to be not complete in itself. Due to various inconsistencies, the most glaring of which is that it does not explain gravitation, theories are being proposed which explain nature at a more fundamental level, ‘below’ the Standard Model. Many such theories are being proposed like the String theory, Technicolor theory, etc.

All these are still ultimately atomic theories, like the String theory for example, which proposes that there are tiny strings which vibrate in different modes and form the particles of the Standard Model like quarks and leptons.

The importance of Advaita Vedanta in this is that it proposes that at the ultimate level, nature is not atomic, it is not composed by discrete separate particles, but that instead it is composed of a single ‘substance’, a continuous homogenous individual substance from which is constituted all the particles that we see today. This single substance is called Brahman or Oneness in Advaita Vedanta.

This is the stand taken by Advaita Vedanta where quantum physics is concerned. Advaita Vedanta would not say that the Standard Model is wrong, nor that the String theory, if it is someday proved, is wrong, but only that there is a deeper level to it. Different models can work at different levels, for example, structure of materials is sufficient to explain the engineering of a large building, the molecular level is sufficient for most chemistry, the atomic level for  genetics, etc. Similarly the Standard Model is sufficient for the present level of experiments in quantum physics but does not explain all the reactions that are possible. An atomic theory would never be complete in itself, there would always be inconsistencies in it and things it could not explain, because it is only when such a Oneness is proposed as the final theory will everything be explained.

Thus Advaita Vedanta as a theory is not something which is unexplained or beyond scientific or rational examination. In fact, it is very much something which can either be explained or rejected by science. This will depend on what scientists arrive at as the most basic constituent of the Universe. Hence the theory of Oneness of Advaita Vedanta is falsifiable by science.

To read more on the relevance of quantum physics and science in Advaita philosophy, you may go to my book, The Circle of Fire.

To read the full article, please go to Advaita Vedanta and Quantum Physics.

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Work for work’s sake

Another important teaching of Hinduism is Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga is a guide to a way of living life and has a whole philosophy and structure beyond it.

But its most important teaching can be summarised and followed without worrying about the whole aspect of this path.

This teaching is: work for work’s sake, ie, while working, pay attention to the work itself and not to the results that it may bring about.

This is a very important lesson. When doing something, we are usually not concentrating on our work itself. Our minds wander off, or we may be thinking of the results of the work that we do.

But, Karma Yoga says, we can only be sure of the work that we do and not of the results. There are an infinite number of factors that can affect the results of our work, so that we can never be sure of the results. The results are not in our hand.

Therefore it teaches us not to think of the results. At any time we should be thinking only of what exactly we are doing at that moment and of nothing else. The action that we are doing may be something like our professional work, our studies, etc. or it may be simple household work, or something like eating or taking a shower.

Whatever the work is, karma yoga says that we should be paying attention only to the work that we are doing. This is specially important when we are doing something critical.

By paying attention to the work itself, we can be assured that we will do the best work possible under the circumstances. When our concentration is on the work itself (more…)

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Meditating on Beauty

Another way to attain inner peace and fulfillment, in Hinduism, is to meditate on beauty.

Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram, is a Hindu saying. It means, the Truth is Shiva, and Shiva is beauty. In our appreciation of beauty, we can find the highest truth.

Meditating on something beautiful is an important meditation used by many Raja Yogis in their search for truth. Thus they would meditate on a crystal, precious stone. This was a quite common form of meditation. Or sometimes it might be just a simple intricately shaped stone picked up from a stream.

Swami Vivekananda recounts meeting a sage who resided besides a grand waterfall, and from dawn to dusk would gaze on the waterfall saying, ‘ how beautiful! how wonderful!’ This was his meditation.

Now meditating in search of the ultimate truth may not be possible for all of us as we would hardly be able to make all the sacrifices required for this.

Yet we can achieve something at least of the inner fulfillment that can be achieved by such meditation. For this we just need to learn to appreciate beauty.

This beauty is all around us. It is around us in the flowers, in the trees, in  paintings and sculptures. Even the commercially made knick knacks we keep in our drawing rooms have a whole story to tell of beauty.

The secret is to meditate on this beauty. Meditation is nothing but thinking, when we think intensely and continuously of something, that itself is meditation.  When we recieve a bouquet of flowers, we say, ‘how beautiful!’, then put it in a vase and forget about it.

But we can easily turn this into a meditation on beauty. Every single flower is beautiful, and the secret of its beauty is locked up within it. We can take up a single flower and gaze on it, and examine each of its intricate parts, noting the beauty inherent in every part. This itself is meditation. (more…)

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Sukha Pranayama

There is another simple technique, a part of Yoga, which can be used as a stress busting technique and to add positively to our overall happiness.

This is called the ‘Sukha Pranayama’. Sukha means happiness, pranayama means control of Prana. Prana is an esoteric concept of Hinduism, for now we can take it to mean control of breath.

So Sukha Pranayama means the exercise of controlling our breath which gives us happiness.

It is really very simple. We can do this at any time and place, any number of times we wish to do during the day.

It consists of sitting up straight so that our back is very straight. Preferably we should sit in the Padmasana posture, a Yoga pose which is actually quite simple and consists more or less of a cross legged sitting position. We can sit in this way, but it doesnt matter if we are sitting in a chair in the office or lying down in the bed. This is not a strenuous exercise and any posture will do, the only essential is that our back should be straight. This is considered necessary for the flow of ‘Prana’ along our spine.

We then breathe in slowly in and out. We should draw the breath in first as slowly and evenly as we can. There is no need to put stress on ourselves by drawing it too long, this is not a test. We should just try to be comfortable. After drawing it in, we then expire in the same way, slowly and evenly.

The main point of interest is not the breathing in or out but the gap in between the two breaths. This period is called ‘Kumbhaka’ and it is very important for Pranayama, in fact this is the most important period in Pranayama. The aim is to prolong this period between the two breaths.

In Hindu logic and Yoga, it is always the gap between two opposite movements which is the most important, such as the gap between the night and the day. Such moments are considered to be very ‘still’ movements, and (more…)

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Ethics and Morality

Following ethics and morality in our daily life is another Hindu belief for happiness.

The laws of ethics and morality as described in the Yoga sutras are the the ayams and the niyams: the do’s and the dont’s.

The basic rules are pretty much the same as in all religions and cultures, like truth, kindness, non-violence and non-discrimination,  and the control of passions like lust, greed and anger.

There is not much that is unique in these ethical rules by themselves, they are found throughout the world and it is not these laws themselves which are special. It is the reason why they are advised which is different than in other cultures.

Although we have all heard about the virtues of these ethical rules, we may not be all convinced that they work under all conditions or that they bring happiness. We are all guilty of having broken the rules quite often.

But the reason that Hindu religion says they bring happiness is a bit special: it says that breaking these rules ‘tie a knot in the heart’. If we stick to the rules, our heart remains free as it were, and this is what keeps us happy.

Now what are we to understand by ‘tying a knot in the heart’?

To understand this, let us take a look at a modern invention, the lie detector. Now you may know already how a lie detector works. Basically the person being questioned is hooked up to a series of machines which measure his heart rate, BP, sweating, etc.

The machine works because when a person tells a lie, his heart rate, BP and sweating goes up, while there is no change when we tell a lie.

This gives an important clue as to why sticking to ethics and morality can make us happy and what the Hindu scriptures mean when they say breaking these rules tie a knot in the heart. It is basically this disturbance that occurs inside us whenever we do something not according to ethics or morality that is meant by ‘knots’. It is more than likely that not just telling lies but other transgressions also affect us in the same way.

Perhaps this originated during our evolution, as beings who had such effects were more likely to stick to such rules which meant an overall benefit for the society.

But what this means now for us is, that as long as we stick to this ethical rules, we will be at peace internally. There are then no ‘knots on our heart’. This then increases our happiness.

Thus ethics and morality is advised in Hinduism, not just as a religious doctrine, but for practical purposes also, in aiding our search for happiness.

If you wish to read more on the search for bliss in Hinduism,  you can look up my book, The Circle of Fire- the Metaphysics of Yoga. You can also look up here for different articles on my website, also in sections like discussion.

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Giving Love

We all want to be happy, to have a happy song always playing in our heart. Yet it is not possible to be happy always. The factors determining our happiness are complex and often beyond our control. Death, financial insecurity, relationships that break off, etc. are things which can make us unhappy over which we have no or at best marginal control.

Yet there is one thing that we can do a lot about and that is our happiness level. A lot of research is being done now on happiness and one thing that most researchers are agreed upon is that each individual has a ‘happiness level’ like the temperature level of a thermostat to which he or she returns and stays at after each high or low of our life.  To an extent, this level is probably genetic, but a large part of it is within our control. We can also order our life so that we can stay above our ‘set level’ of happiness.

Religion and spirituality is well recognized to have a very important function in our happiness. This has been well proven by modern research. No amount of decrying of religion by atheists can challenge this. So religious people do win the ultimate battle over atheists after all, because they are more happy!

Hinduism also offers many ways of being more happy. Among some of the thoughts on this, I would just like to highlight 5 points:

Point 1: Love others.

Now, this may seem the biggest cliché of all. A number of quick repartees come to our mind when we hear these words. In this big mean world, people who profess to love others would seem to be putting themselves at other’s mercy. There is no guarantee that if you love others, others will love you in return, and so you seem to be giving more than taking, a definite disadvantage.

But this is the wrong way to look at this. In Hinduism, and in Yoga, we give out love, not because we expect love in return, but because it enriches our own selves.

This is the secret of giving out love, it is not because the world will love us in return but because loving in itself brings happiness to our hearts. A good man or woman (more…)

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