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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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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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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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When did Yoga start? The origins of Yoga are lost in antiquity. According to tradition, the Samkhya philosophy along with the Yoga school are considered to be the oldest among the six schools of Hindu philosophy, older even than the Upanishads. This however does not give us much information because there is controversy about the dating of the Upanishads and other Hindu scriptures like the Yoga sutras, with dates ranging from 1500-500 BCE (according to Western experts) and 4500-3000 BCE according to Indian tradition.

Proto Shiva Yoga seal from Mohenjodaro

Yoga seal from Mohenjodaro

In this context, this image is very important (image from here). The image is from a seal from the Indo-Saraswati civilization, from the city of Mohenjodaro. It shows a figure in a Yogic posture. The image is quite clearly an image of the God Shiva, the God of Yoga. Various aspects point to this, like the three faced image, the crown with buffalo horns and three peepul leaves, etc.

The image is undoubtedly in a Yogic posture. Since the date of the Mohenjodaro civilization is quite well established (more…)

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In trying to form a metaphysical explanation for the world, we can argue through these four steps which lead ultimately to the Advaita Vedanta conception of god.

1. The world is a non-absolute or relative reality.

2. There is an absolute principle which exists beyond the world.

3. This absolute principle also forms the basis for existence of the individual consciousness.

4. The individual consciousness can ‘touch’ this absolute consciousness for a mystical experience.

4 Steps to Brahman

4 steps to God/Brahman/Absolute

1. The world is a non-absolute or relative reality.

This is something which is pointed at by quantum mechanics, relativity, etc. which all show that the world does not have an absolute reality. Of course, this has also been argued quite effectively by Advaita Vedanta and also western philosophers like Hume. Advaita Vedanta has always said that the world is only relatively real. This was considered a play of words by other philosophers or something which was too high to understand. But now modern science through Quantum Physics and Relativity has said exactly the same thing.

Because science has proven this step of logic of Advaita Vedanta, there is often a tendency to say that science has proven Advaita Vedanta in total. But I would not like to claim this. In my view, it is only this first step that has been proven till now by science, the further steps of Advaita Vedanta philosophy are something which science has not gone into as yet, although we can hope that perhaps this too will happen someday.

2. There is an Absolute Existence beyond this worldly existence.

Let us take an example. Take a candle which burns from wax and dissipates into smoke and heat. Now as the candle changes its form, we know that there was one thing which was constant, it was the matter in the form of molecules and energy. It was this matter-energy which was initially in the form of a candle, later in the form of dissolved wax, smoke and flame and finally dissolved altogether into the air as smoke. So in this, it was matter-energy which was the constant, the absolute reality behind the ‘fuzzy’ reality of the candle. I am using the word ‘fuzzy’ here to show the non-absolute reality of the candle, in that it can change its form and disappear.

Now, we know from physics that matter and energy are two ends of the same spectrum of existence, they are like two sides of the same coin. They are equivalent, and this equivalence is determined by E=MC2. So this suggests that there must be something which is common to both. Now we know that matter and energy has opposite properties in the present universe. So that which is common to both must be neither but something from which both can be manifested, hence it must be something which has the absoluteness which can manifest both these contradictory properties. It has to be something which is ‘beyond’ both matter and energy, which lies at the base of matter and energy. (To read more on matter-energy equivalence, please go to my website article, Mass-Energy Equivalence.)

Similarly, we know that time-space is connected to matter-energy, it is related only to this, and time-space is relative. So that from which matter and energy is manifested has also time-space manifested at the same time. So the absolute is something which lies ‘beyond’ time and space, something from which time and space are manifested. It is this Absolute which is the Brahman or the Absolute Principle of Advaita.

Lack of absolute reality as in Quantum Physics and Relativity means not in the sense that the world or particles do not exist, but that theories like quantum physics ascribe opposing properties to particles which are paradoxical and  which cannot be explained by the present theory in itself . To explain such phenomenon, quantum physics would have to define something beyond the phenomena itself, a theory at a deeper level, just as relative mechanics lies beyond Newtonian mechanics, particles lie beyond atoms, etc. In this way,  physics would have to go on defining more and more general theories till one day it comes to a theory of an Absolute Field. The theory of an absolute field of Brahman would be consistent by explaining such phenomena. (To read more on the interplay of Advaita for quantum physics, please go to my article, Advaita Vedanta and Quantum Physics.)

As can be seen from this definition, the Brahman here is not a creative God, it is not a God to whom we can pray or ask for blessings. It is a principle only. In fact, any scientist can believe up to this point and still consider himself or herself an Atheist. It is only when going beyond this stage that Advaita Vedanta becomes a spiritual path and not a physical explanation for the world.

The alternative to this explanation is that ‘there is no Absolute beyond this worldly existence’ This is an alternative conclusion and is also a valid conclusion. This is the Buddhist conclusion. Starting from here, Buddhists go on to explain that since there is nothing permanent, sorrow also is not permanent, hence can be got rid of following the eight fold path and so on. Some atheists can also follow this conclusion and follow alternative paths of their own system of ethics and philosophy.

There is really no third conclusion, once we accept that the world which we experience has relative reality, (more…)

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Positions taken on determinism in modern times invariably have to contend with the fact that indeterminism has been proved quite comprehensively in the quantum world.

Determinism however is maintained for the world at large by saying that quantum indeterminacy is a strange little phenomenon that is confined only to quantum events and has no relevancy at all for our macroscopic world. Quantum indeterminacy is thus boxed in in a safe little world of quantum events and is not allowed to intrude into the discussion about determinism at large.

But when there is indeterminacy at any level, it is bound to cause the hole chain of determinacy to collapse. Determinacy involves arguments regarding cause and effect, a chain of cause and effect tightly following each other. After Hume of course, the very mention of a cause and effect relationship ought to raise a red flag. Determinists would argue that when an ocean wave crashes on the shore, each bubble is ultimately dependent on factors involving the formation of the wave and there is no random event even here. Thus events since the big bang itself have ensured that a particular wave would crash at a particular shore causing a particular amount of bubbles.

However, quantum indeterminacy can and does intrude into this cozy chain of cause and effect.

For example, when we take a kettle boiling and ultimately blowing off its lid, we have an example where activity at the quantum level intrudes ultimately into the macroscopic world. As the temperature of the water rises, the electrons absorb energy and buzz around, jumping from lower to higher orbits, and ultimately the atoms in the steam vibrate with a great deal of energy. As these atoms vibrate, they vibrate as molecular phenomena and the element of indeterminacy is present in their interactions, until the point when the vibrations burst off the lid.  When the kettle blows off its lid, the angle is determined by randomness. No determinism in larger events outside determine this and quantum fluctuations certainly play a large part. The final vector of force which acts on the lid is the sum of all the random vectors of each molecule, and this is entirely random.

These systems also work in other macroscopic events. In analyzing volcanoes, we can infer that there must have been millions of such ‘kettle pot’ phenomena deep inside and these random phenomena finally decided when the volcano was going to go off and on which side the lava would flow.

Similarly, the direction taken by a spark when two quartz are rubbed together, determines a fire in a forest.

Also, in a wave crashing on a shore, we can infer millions of such miniature ‘kettle pot’ events which would ultimately determine the events, so that the bubbles would truly be random.

Thus randomness in quantum events cannot be confined to quantum levels only. This randomness no doubt determines events in the macroscopic world too, and so maintaining a position of determinism for the macroscopic world when we know that it does not exist for the quantum world is untenable.

If you wish to read more on this topic,  you can look up my book, The Circle of Fire- the Metaphysics of Yoga. You can also look up topics on the relation of science and Advaita Vedanta like Advaita Vedanta and Quantum Physics on my site, www.thecircleoffire.com

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