Astanga Yoga London

30th of June 2020
30th June 2020

Why do we practice? It’s that age old ‘to be or not to be’ sort of question. And there is certainly a passing resemblance between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Bhagavad Gita. ┬áBut I want to through something completely different in the pot. Karma. Yes of course we practice because of our past karma. But more importantly yoga burns karma up.

One of my lock-down luxuries has been watching more tv than normal. My latest pleasure has been on more 4. Amazing places. I love small spaces and I wonder if building a home is some instinctive thing. Not that I could ever be an architect.

Going back to our animals in Indian philosophy. Indian stories are full of animals from worms and ants to snakes and a 5 trunked elephant. Too many to count. So here are a few and their stories.

Matsya, the fish. When Shiva was explaining yoga to Parvati, Matsya was listening in. Matsya often gets depicted with a horn, for pulling Manu’s boat along during the great flood. The flood story is repeated in many cultures. And of course Matsya is Vishnu’s first avatar. Matsya is the constellation that we call the plough or great bear. What’s interesting is that we know that the two last stars point to the north pole star. But few know that the inner two stars point to what was the north star 5000 years ago it’s called Thuban or Dhruva in Sanskrit. How did the pole star change? You’ll have to look up precession.

Frogs represent the rising sun, I suppose like we have cockerels to wake us, in India it’s frogs. Elephants and turtles don’t normally go together but in Indian mythology the world is supported on four elephants standing on a turtle. Now that takes a lot of imagination or soma. And of course Terry Pratchett used the concept for his Disc world series. Indra rides on Airavata the elephant with five trunks and ten tusks. And most obviously we have Ganesh. Who rides on a mouse called Mushika and Ganesh is very protective of Mushika and Mushika reminds Ganesh not to eat too much (he’s not very successful).

The different Gods ride on different animals Shiva has his bull Nandi and Vishnu has Garuda his eagle, Saraswathi has a swan and Yama the god of death has a donkey.

We’ve already talked lots about Hanuman the monkey/vanara and we’ve covered a lot about snakes/nagas.

So our final story is Narasimha. Nara means man, simha means lion. So he’s usually depicted as half lion half man. There are many stories of half animal half human and just like in school plays no one wants to play the donkeys arse. The human bit is always the head end. That is apart from Ganesh, who’s original human head wasn’t up to much.

Narasimha is an avatar of Vishnu. There is this demon called Hiranyakashipu which means clothed in gold. Which signifies too much wealth and power. He has been granted a boon that he can’t be killed by man or animal, in the day or at night, inside or outside. So pretty tough demon. He also has a son called Prahlada who worships Vishnu, much to Hiranyakashipu’s chagrin. One day he asks his son ‘So you say your god is everywhere’ pointing to the front doorpost. ‘Yes he is in everything’ Prahlada replies and with that Hiranyakashipu smashes the doorpost. But hiding in the doorpost is Narasimha, neither man nor animal, the doorpost is neither inside or outside, and you guessed it’s twilight. And so Hiranyakashipu gets his arse truly kicked.

There are many more Indian stories to tell. But I think it would be good to look at the yoga sutras. Tomorrow…

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