The holiday season has begun for many. The ritual of fasting these nine days of detox and clean the body as also to clean the house to get rid of clutter is followed in many cultures.But what is the true significance of this cleaning and also of the annihilation of Ravana,which we have been taught since childhood is the victory of god over evil. These practices or rituals may have a clear and practical message for a peaceful mind. Mental turmoil is clearly not just a contemporary affliction!
The mythical tale of the popular Indian festival of Dussehra also known as Vijaya Dashmi, like other major world holy days, is seen as a metaphor of mental reflection and clarification of our own minds. Swami Satyananda wrote in Yoga Magazine, October 2008:
“In the present day, the demons that we need to deal with are ignorance, corruption and terrorism that are rampant in the entire world. They are the Ravanas of today. Therefore, the destruction of Ravana should not be seen as a mere symbol. Ravana or Mahisasura should not be simply relegated to Puranic tales or history; their annihilation should be real for us. That is the significance of this festival.
It denotes that you will remove ignorance and lack of awareness from your mind. That is when you will be truly able to say that Ravana or Mahisasura has died.”
The aim is to get rid of attitudes, thinking, behaviors that become obstructions to a peaceful, harmonious, and joyful life. These are universal concepts and the stories help bring them to life.
This is the time to reinforce the discipline of practicing the “YAMAS and NIYAMAS”as cited in Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga that of “Swadhyay”,to understand and observe one’s habit patterns which bind us to our personalities and hinder our progress.
That of “TAPAS”,to keep the fire ignited which will burn our samskaras and drive us to a better “we”.
Arguably, the core of our yoga practice is the work that we do to purify, reforge, and replace the inner patterns that in Sanskrit are called samskaras.
Samskaras are the accumulated impressions—in scientific terms, the neuronal patterns—that create our character, our ways of thinking and acting, and our perspective on life.
The word samskara can be translated just the way it sounds in English: as “some scars.” Samskaras are energy patterns in our consciousness. I always picture them as mental grooves, like the rivulets in sand that let water run in certain patterns. Samskaras create our mental, emotional, and physical default settings.
The tendency to think “I can’t do this” when you’re faced with a new challenge is a samskara, and so is the confidence that develops once you’ve mastered something that was hard for you. The tension lump that shows up in your right shoulder when you feel stressed is a samskara, and so are the song lyrics that pop into your mind unexpectedly and—in my case at least—often reveal themselves to be the perfect comment on the situation that you’re in at the time.
Neurophysiologists mapping neural pathways in the brain report that each time we react in a certain way—getting angry, for instance, or procrastinating yet one more time—we strengthen the power of that pathway. The yogic texts make the same point. The bottom line in each case is that the way we feel, the way we react, and the behavior we manifest at any given moment are the result of samskaras, or neural connections, operating under the surface.
Once the samskaric pathways have been set, most people just keep running down them, like rats in a maze, reacting with the same old patterns and feelings every time they find themselves in a situation that seems to mirror whatever the original trigger might have been.
You probably know, intellectually at least, how this works. When you’re feeling abandoned because your friend hasn’t called you in two weeks, you might understand that it isn’t because he’s stopped liking you. You may even realize (especially if you’ve done some therapy) that his silence is triggering one of your old samskaric grooves—perhaps a childhood memory of abandonment. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily stop you from reacting. Samskaras are powerful, which is why knowing better does not always change our behavior. There’s a weight to those accumulated impressions. They are, on a daily basis, the reason we think and feel the way we do.
That’s both good news and bad news. The bad news about samskaric grooves is that as long as the negative ones are in place, it’s hard to escape the limitations imposed by our personal history. The good news, however, is that we can change those grooves. The brain is so fluid and malleable, so prone to take and hold impressions, that when we keep leading it into new pathways, the accumulation of new insights, practices, and experiences will eventually overwhelm the old ones and, given the right circumstances, even eliminate them entirely.
Create New Grooves
One of the best ways to create new samskaras is to keep consciously shifting your behavior and ways of thinking out of negative patterns and into positive ones. This idea is the basis of many of the transformative practices we do in yoga—for example, the practices of truthfulness and loving kindness, or Patanjali‘s practice of countering a negative thought or feeling with a positive one. Suppose that every time you feel angry, you make a point of remembering love, or of finding the energy behind the anger, or of looking inward and asking, “Who’s angry?” or even of reminding yourself that there might be another way to look at the situation. After doing any of these for a while, you’ll notice a shift in yourself. You might still fall into the anger groove, but along with the anger samskaras, you’ll have developed an alternative set of samskaric grooves that will rise up along with your anger and remind you that there are more expansive ways of approaching the situation. Your practice will have created a positive “field” inside you that, in time, will become as strong as the negative one. You now have more choices about how you react.
Moreover, most of the core yogic practices—asana, meditation, study, mantra repetition, visualization, Pranayama—not only create new, positive samskaras, they also have the power to wash away the old, limiting, pain-producing ones. Here, meditation is especially effective because it can literally flush old samskaras out of your unconscious. When mental static or strong emotions surface during practice, beginning meditators sometimes think they’re doing something wrong. In fact, a rush of thoughts and emotions is part of the natural process of samskaric burn off, in which some of your layers of buried impressions come up to be released. There’s a reason why a period of meditation or yoga will leave you feeling calmer, clearer, and less emotionally cluttered—even if your mind did not become noticeably calmer during the meditation itself. Simply practicing has cleansed your unconscious of some of its burden.
There are many stories of Dussehra. All Indians know the story of Rama and Ravana. Rama was the king of Ayodhya who had been sent into exile (accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Lakshman). Ravana was the king of Lanka who abducts Sita. Rama is the symbol of light and harmony, or sattwa. Ravana is darkness and disharmony, or tamas. They battle at Lanka when Rama goes to rescue Sita. Ravana has ten heads and is finally vanquished. The day of conquest is celebrated as Dussehra (destruction of ten heads–dass/ten, hara/ cut or destroy).
Symbolism Of Ravana
“Ravana is depicted as the king of Raakshasas [demons]. He is said to have ten heads. He was not born with ten heads. Who is this Ravana and what are his ten heads? Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Moha (delusion), Lobha (greed), Mada (pride), Maatsyasya (envy), Manas (mind), Buddhi (intellect), Chitta (will) and Ahamkara (the ego) -all these ten constitute the ten heads. Ravana is of all the ten qualities. Each one can decide for himself whether he is a Ravana or Rama according to his qualities.”
The redemption suggested in yoga is abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment) as explained by Swami Satyananda,
“Vairagya…. is the ability to disconnect the present from the past. Past events disturb one’s present life. All that you ever see or hear accumulates in your mind. Your grandfather may have died five years ago, but you still think of him. The connection of the past with the present needs to be determined by every individual for himself. We are not able to do this, and therefore our minds remain disturbed.”
So this Dussehra,let’s work to clear and destroy the darkness within and open up to a more aware and conscious “us”.
BY PRATIBHA AGARWAL
ANAHATA YOGA ZONE
(inputs from swami satyananda’s teachings and yoga journal)