Tulsi Dass, best known as the author of a popular version of the Indian epic, Ramayana, was a great believer in the potency of the practice of japa, repetition of the names of God, as a method of spiritual accomplishment. So great was his faith, it is said he cured people of their diseases by praying and simply saying, “Rama,” the name of the hero and namesake of the Ramayana, who many believe to be an incarnation of God.
Tulsi Dass had a son named Tarak, who followed in his father’s footsteps and also became an accomplished yogi through faith in the repetition of God’s names. Once a group of lepers came to Tarak and asked him to heal them of their disease. The young man prayed deeply and quietly said, “Rama, Rama.” Lo and behold, the lepers were cured!
Some bystanders who witnessed this miracle ran to Tulsi Dass and described the great deed his son had performed. Tulsi Dass did not, however, respond in the manner they expected. Rather than being proud, he hung his head and muttered, “After all my teaching, my son disgraces me.” The astounded bystanders asked Tulsi Dass how, in what possible way, had his son failed him? Tulsi Dass replied, “Alas, my son’s faith is so small that he found it necessary to repeat ‘Rama’ twice.”
In the yoga tradition, the nature of faith is described as being two-fold. First, one must hold on to God like a baby monkey clings to its mama. The little one hugs his mother so tightly that he is virtually joined with her and is never alone in the vast jungle. She can even swing on vines; so long as he maintains his grip he will be secure. Second, one need feel that he is like a baby lion cub near his mother. As a cub, his life is one of play and adventure; the mother lioness is responsible for watching him and keeping him safe. If he wanders into danger, it is she who must pick him up by the scruff of the neck and return him to safety.
In the example of the baby monkey, the aspirant is guided to remain steadfast in devotion and spiritual practice. He is to be disciplined and firm in his commitment to spirituality if he wishes to remain safe in the world and mature spiritually. In the illustration of the lion cub, the yogi is taught to be light-hearted and carefree, for it is God who is responsible for his well-being and spiritual development. These two bhavas, spiritual attitudes, may appear to be distinct and contrary, but on closer examination we find that they are complimentary.
I recently had an experience in which I found it necessary to contemplate both the baby monkey and the lion cub. My wife, Ambika, our six year-old son, Jahnu, and I arranged to travel from our home in Vermont to my in-laws in Colorado. We awoke at 4:30 am to catch an early flight that would bring us to their doorstep in the middle of the same afternoon. To make a long story short, after delays, cancellations, thunderstorms, an unplanned overnight in Washington, D.C., and various mechanical problems including having to de-board a plane because a foul smell led the crew to believe there might be a fuel leak, we arrived at our destination a mere forty-six hours later. We could have driven to Colorado in that time. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but those of you who have had similar experiences with airports, especially if traveling with a young child, might appreciate how we felt like we had entered some horrible twilight zone in which nothing ever goes right, or may ever go right again.
When we arrived in Colorado, I tucked my wife and exhausted son into bed and then went to sleep myself. I only slept for a few hours, however, before waking up feeling miserable. My nervous system was taxed and I had hardly eaten or slept for two days. I got out of bed and thought to myself, “This is the worst I have felt in years.” I am used to a peaceful lifestyle, absorbed in yoga and the beauty of Vermont’s Green Mountains, not the bustle of commuter life. I realized I had become somewhat spoiled, feeling immune to the bumps and bruises of modern life. Well, I had gotten walloped around pretty good the past two days and I was spent.
I did the only thing I know how to do in such situations: I sat down on the floor to pray and meditate. I knew I needed to ignore my throbbing head, aching back, and burnt-out nerves. Like a baby monkey I needed to cling to my meditative focus and not be distracted. In addition, like a lion cub, I needed to free myself of self-concern and trust that the practices and blessings could heal me.
I sat for a period of time, then did some yoga. As the sun rose in the morning sky through the window in my room, I also dawned with a new vigor. I could hardly believe it, I felt great. Not just good, great. I thought to myself, “This stuff really works!”
If it sounds funny to you as a reader that a committed yogi would be surprised his practices produced such positive results, it sounded even funnier to me as the thinker. The main feeling, though, was the contrast between how awful I had felt when I awoke, and then after practice, how terrific. It was like a switch had been turned on in my being and my inner light had come back on, quickly, remarkably, at full force.
Since that morning, my faith in the power of yoga has been amplified and, even more significantly, I find myself feeling more compassionate towards people who are experiencing the pressure and stress of modern life. I feel more committed to sharing with them the healing art and science that is the yoga tradition.
Prem Prakash is the director of the Green Mountain School of Yoga in Middlebury, VT. For further information visit www.gmsy.org.
Published in Light of Consciousness Vol 21#4, Winter 2009