Yoga in ‘Char Dham’- the four abodes of God

We human beings are amusing creatures; trapped within the illusions of our own mental prison! We surround ourselves with umpteen materialistic milestones in a bid to achieve a sense of success and satisfaction. Our eternal industry seems to revolve around being socially worthy in terms of those material achievements. And yet, we seem to be forever searching for something more… We are forever on the move, achieving one goal after another, not feeling the adrenaline rush that we were expecting on achievement of our goals. What is the reason that this quest for peace and happiness are always elusive? We will need to travel back in time to understand this elusive nature of human being’s spiritual progression.

Indian philosophies articulate the goals of humankind as ‘Purusharthas’ – the blueprint for the fulfillment of human birth. Purusha is the individual, and Artha signifies the objective, meaning, or pursuit of that individual. The four stages of Purusharthas are Dharma (Righteousness), Artha (pursuit of material Wealth), Kama (fulfillment of Desires) and Moksha (Liberation). To reach the ultimate destination of ‘Moksha’, the barrier of the first three aspects of life must be crossed. Therefore, while the race for material possessions that humankind indulges in is required, peace can only be achieved when we break free of this cycle to amass physical wealth and strive towards self-knowledge, leading to self-realization. But how do we achieve freedom from worldly attractions, and how do we work towards self-realization and ultimate salvation?

The ‘Char Dham’ pilgrimage marks a special significance amongst spiritual seekers as it is considered as one of the ways of reaching this stage of liberation. The literal meaning of ‘Char Dham’ is ‘four abodes or seats of God’. The actual ‘Char Dhams’, or abodes of God, as coined by Indian Sage and philosopher Sri Adi Shankaracharya, are situated in the four directions of India – Badrinath in the North, Puri in the East, Rameshwaram in the South and Dwarka in the West. There is also a ´Chhota Char Dham´, or a smaller circuit, comprising of four famous holy destinations in the north of India, namely Yamuotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. They represent all three major sects of Hinduism i.e. ‘Vaishnava’, ‘Shaiva’ and ‘Shakta’ traditions. Seated in the backdrop of epic, mythology and culture, these destinations attract millions of pilgrims every year; some, walking barefoot on the sheer wings of faith.

The pilgrimage starts with Yamunotri Dham, the source of the sacred Yamuna River. It is believed that anyone taking a dip in the Yamuna achieves salvation. From the origin of the Yamuna, pilgrims walk to the origin of the Ganga river – the Gangotri and Gomukh. The story goes that King Bhagirath meditated for thousands of years to bring the river Ganga to earth and grant life to his children. The Ganga is believed to be so holy that one dip in her waters is supposed to wash all sins of believers.

Shri Kedarnath, a prominent pilgrimage and one of the twelve ‘Jyotirlingas’ (Radiance of Lord Shiva), is the next stop of this pilgrimage. The present temple here was built by Adi Shankaracharya, and stands adjacent to the site of an earlier temple built by the Pandavas.

Shri Badrinath is considered as the most sacred among the four shrines. It also forms a part of the larger Char Dham circuit. The shrine of Lord Badrinath is made of Shaligrama, a highly sacred stone, worshipped for six values of life – righteous living, creation of wealth, protection, sound health, pleasures and spiritual attainment. The Badrinath temple opens only for six months and is closed during winters. A small lamp is always left burning inside the temple, and is found burning even when the temple is reopened after six months of winter. Also, the flowers that are offered to the deity in the temple remain fresh during this time. This is considered a miracle. This region is also believed to have witnessed the Adi Shankaracharya attaining freedom from the process of reincarnation.

Nestled in the lap of the mighty and mesmerizing Himalayas, the ‘Char Dham’ journey truly opens the traveler to the minuteness of human existence and spirit. The sheer altitude of the mountains, lush green forests and the freshness in the unadulterated atmosphere with the thick layer of soul-soothing air of divinity crafts a perfect meditative atmosphere.

This phenomenal journey also trials the seeker in countless ways. Human frailness comes to fore as the multitude of furious rivers. The known appear unfamiliar; strength is tested to limits. And when one is on the verge of defeat, a stranger lends an encouraging hand. The simplest gets hardest and the hardest part of the journey brings calmness. In the silence of nature, thoughts start clamoring for attention; and amidst the loud drumming of bells and chants it gets still as the stretches of eternally frozen glaciers. Treading these routes, in this quest towards salvation, one travels to the unexplored places within; uncovering one’s TRUE SELF! … Isn’t that what Yoga is really all about??

This journey is incomplete without the mention of Dheersingh ji (the man in pic)
Himalayas represent nothing less than the crowning apex of nature’s grandeur. It’s laden with adventure & scenic magnificence. But, it also tests your mettle against some of the most treacherous & crisscrossed tricky terrain. The single-lanes, steep cliff, unpaved passes have absolutely no runoff and no guardrail for if one gaffes. A flash’s slip-up means you’ll be tumbling down thousands of feet, never to be heard from again!
Dheersingh’s flawless and vigilant driving skills is the reason I am still around 😉 Being his co-driver, I also picked up a few mountain driving tricks…
1. Use 2nd gear while ascending; it gives enough low end grunt to the vehicle
2. While descending again use the 2nd or the 3rd Gear to have better control of the Vehicle & Engine breaking will be on your side for need for a sudden halt
3. The most sensitive part – Chamber or the Sump needs to be kept away from the nasty stones and bumps on the road.
4. On the widening roads always anticipate by looking at the Road as far as you can especially when going downhill as reversing a Car uphill on a narrow Road with a steep fall on one side can become somewhat of a task. It’s better to just stop at a broader part of the Road to let the vehicle pass.
5. Never overtake anything on a blind curve. It’s better to be late than never!!!

*Google.com

Yoga in Bhagavad Gita

The term Bhagavad Gita, means ‘The Eternal Song’ and is the very essence of ‘Mahabharata’ – an ancient Indian epic poem. It has 700 verses covered in 18 chapters. Each chapter is called ‘Yoga’ – the science of individual consciousness attaining communion with the Ultimate Consciousness. Each chapter is a highly specialized Yoga revealing the path of attaining realization with the Ultimate Truth. The first six chapters have been classified as the ‘Karma Yoga’ section – dealing with the science of attaining communion ‘through actions’. The next six are designated as ‘Bhakti Yoga’ section – attaining this communion travelling the ‘path of devotion’. The final six chapters are regarded as ‘Jnana Yoga’ section- the science of this communion ‘through the intellect’.

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ShatKarma – The Six Yogic cleansing

Those shatkarma which effect purification of the body are secret. They have manifold, wondrous results and are held in high esteem by eminent yogis.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2:23

The first step to gain mastery in Yoga is through purifying the body of toxins. Shatkarma (sometimes referred as Shatkriya) consist of six groups of purification practices. ‘Shat’ means ‘six’ and ‘Karma’ or ‘Kriya’ means ‘art’ or ‘process’. The word kriya or karma is used in Hatha Yoga in a special technical sense regarding the techniques of cleaning. The practice of shatkarma is also used to balance the internal disorders (doshas) of the body i.e. kapha – mucus, pitta– bile, and vata – wind. According to both Ayurveda and Hatha yoga, an imbalance in the doshas results in illness. The aim of Hatha Yoga and, therefore, of the shatkriyas is creating harmony within the major energy channels (ida & pingla) thereby attaining physical and mental balance.

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Ayurveda and Yoga

Ayurveda is the most ancient science of all the medical sciences. Like Yoga, it is also based on Samkhya philosophy of creation and manifestation.

The union of body, sense organs, mind and soul is called ‘Ayu‘; ‘Veda‘ means knowledge. Thus, ayurveda is the ‘science of health’, ‘science of longevity’, ‘science of life’. Ayurveda therefore is not simply a health care system but a form of lifestyle adopted to maintain perfect balance and harmony within the human existence i.e. from the most abstract transcendental values to the most concrete physiological expressions based on premise that life represents an intelligent coordination of the soul, mind, senses and physical body.

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Samkhya Philosophy – Theory of Yoga

Samkhya means ‘right knowledge’; it also means ‘numbers’. Samkhya is one of the oldest systems of Indian philosophy. It occupies a unique place among the six systems of Indian philosophy. Almost all branches of Indian literature reflect the influence of Samkhya Philosophy. This system is sometimes, described as the ‘atheistic Yoga’ as distinguished from Yoga Philosophy, which is also referred as ‘Theistic Samkhya. This system is accepted as the main opponent of Vedanta Philosophy which is a non-dualistic philosophy; whereas, Samkhya maintains a clear-cut dualism between Purusha (Pure Consciousness, soul) and Prakriti (nature, manifested being, mind-body complex); further maintains the plurality of Purusha, and is silent on God. It is often also referred as pluralistic spiritualism, an atheistic realism and uncompromising dualism.

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