The Inspired Wisdom of Lalla Yogeshwari: A Commentary on the Mystical Poetry of the Great Yogini of Kashmir by Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke)
Lalla Yogeshwari, also known as Lalleshwari or Lad Ded (Mother Lalla), was a great fourteenth-century yogini of Kashmir. She created a form of mystic poetry called Vatsun or Vakhs (from the Sanskrit Vak, which means Speech) that were the earliest compositions in the Kashmiri language. Swami Nirmalananda’s commentary of these Vakhs mines the treasures of Lalleshwari’s mystic poems and presents his reflections in an easily intelligible fashion for those wishing to put these priceless teachings on the path of yogic self-transformation into practice.
Part 3 – Vakhs 62-90
The pathway of jnana is a vegetable garden;
Fence it with self-restraint and pious deeds.
Then let the goats of former karma browse in it
And fattened be as animals fit for sacrifice at the altar of the Mother.
True jnana is possible of attainment only to the yogi. It has nothing to do with empty scholarship and equally empty philosophy. It is a path of yoga sadhana. When yama-niyama are observed and the righteous life lived, the “goats of former karma” become ready for the “sacrifice” of annihilation at the hands of the Cosmic Mother, Mahashakti. Jai Ma.
Who can stop the eaves’ drip during the frost?
Who can hold wind in the palm of his hand?
Who can see the sun in the darkness of night?
He who holds his senses under control,
Can in the dark catch hold of the sun.
The yoga siddha alone can do all these things through intense sadhana that reveals his Self. Such a one literally seizes and enters into the blazing sun of the Self.
“The Atman is the light: the light is covered by darkness: this darkness is delusion… When the light of the Atman drives out our darkness that light shines forth from us, a sun in splendor, the revealed Brahman” (Bhagavad Gita 5:15-16).
“By the single sun this whole world is illumined: by its one Knower [the Atman] the Field is illumined” (Bhagavad Gita 13:33).
“Flying from fear, from lust and anger, he hides in me his refuge, his safety: burnt clean in the blaze of my being, in me many find home” (Bhagavad Gita 4:10).
Like water in a colander are name and fame: they do not last.
Whoever in his fist can hold a storm,
Or tether an elephant with a hair of his head,
‘Tis he whose name and fame endure.
A sieve will let out the water the moment it is poured into it. There is no grasping or holding on to it possible. It is gone in a moment as though it were never there. So is the respect and honor of this world. They evaporate eventually, and disrespect and dishonor often take their places. So the liking and respect of the world and the worldly are doomed to annihilation, but disrespect and dishonor can live for a long time, even centuries. As Napoleon said, “History is a lie agreed upon.” This is usually true. The lesson in this verse is to be indifferent to the praise and blandishments of this world and move on secure in our own integrity, knowing ourselves as what we really are: the Self.
We cannot grasp the wind or bind an elephant with one hair of our head. Therefore lasting “success” in this world means nothing. It is just a mirage like the world itself. The wise turn within and find the real everlasting life. “Only that yogi whose joy is inward, inward his peace, and his vision inward shall come to Brahman and know Nirvana” (Bhagavad Gita 5:24). “Then he knows that infinite happiness which can be realized by the purified heart but is beyond the grasp of the senses. He stands firm in this realization. Because of it, he can never again wander from the inmost truth of his being” (Bhagavad Gita 6:21).
This is the only goal worth seeking.
It covers your shame,
Saves you from cold,
Its food and drink–
Mere water and grass.
Who counseled you, O brahmin,
To slaughter a living sheep as a sacrifice
Unto a lifeless stone?
It seems to be the nature of human beings to sink into degradation and take their religion along with them. And since the killing of animals, eating their flesh and wearing their skins is an act of utmost degradation, their religion engages in animal sacrifice. Apparently harmless sheep were favorite victims at the time of Lalla, who lists all the benefits given to humanity by the sheep which would be killed to placate a lifeless stone image in an equally degraded temple.
The idol is but stone,
The temple is but stone,
From top to bottom all is stone.
Whom will you worship, O learned Pandit?
Let prana and the mind unite (as an offering to your God).
We must not mistakenly think that Lalla is propounding the mistaken idea that an image is only stone, so is the temple, and therefore only stone is being worshipped–and not God. (I well remember how annoyed I was when an ignorant Indian Christian said to one of the monks of our ashram regarding Hindus: “They worship a stone.” Not so!)
However, if a priest (pujari) or worshipper is not a yogi and therefore sees only stone, then he does only worship stone. But Lalla gives the solution to such persons:
Uniting the pranas, the subtle life forces which comprise our various bodies, with our focused mind (chitta) through Soham yoga sadhana, we will begin to see truly with the “eye” of the spirit-Self and therefore perceive that everything is consciousness and not “dead matter” as we presently think and therefore experience. It is like the parable of the blind men who had all kinds of opinions on the nature of an elephant when only a person with eyesight could really see and know the nature of the elephant.
Those who are blinded by ignorance (maya) understand nothing of reality, outer and inner. But those who are awake in their total being can truthfully say with Swami Sivananda’s poem: “Only God I Saw.” When people who thought themselves jnanis–enlightened non-dual philosophers–would complain to Anandamayi Ma about image worship as idolatry she would simply tell them: “You must come to see the Divine Consciousness within the image.” The problem was in their limited awareness.
“Therefore be a yogi” (Bhagavad Gita 6:46). True sacrifice is the diligent practice of sadhana in which the life forces and the mind unite as one and merge with the Self as the only fit offering to the Absolute.
He does not need the kusha grass, nor sesame seed;
Flowers and water He does not need.
He who, in honest faith, accepts his Guru’s word,
On Shiva meditates constantly, His is the true worship of the Lord.
He, full of joy, from action freed, will not be born again.
All the paraphernalia of ritualistic worship are not needed by the yogi. (Notice that Lalla does not denigrate them in relation to the non-yogi who can only worship with such items.)
He who has been shown the yogic path and follows it by the constant fixing of his consciousness on the Infinite through continual japa and meditation of Soham, is thereby made “full of joy, from action freed, [and] will not be born again.” This is the true religion.
Who is the florist, who the flower-girl?
With what flowers should He be worshipped?
In what water should He be bathed?
With what mantra should we awaken Shankara,
Who abides in the Self?
Mind is the florist, devotion the flower-girl,
who bring flower-wreaths for Him.
He should be worshipped with the flowers of faith,
And bathed in the nectar of the Mystic Moon.
Silence is the mantra that awakens Him.
The external, material objects so prized for ritualistic worship in homes and temples accomplish absolutely nothing for the awakening of the Self in the practice of yoga, the only true worship and religion. Faith and union with the yogi’s Self which is the reflection of the Supreme Self and which is beyond all words is the Shiva-Self which must be awakened.
Thou art the earth, Thou art the sky,
Thou art the air, the day and the night;
The sacrificial grain Thou,
And anointing with the sandal-paste.
Thou art the water, Thou art the flowers,
Thou art all these and everything.
What may I, in worship, bring to Thee?
Only our Self, purified and illumined by perfection in yoga.
He who knows the Dvadashaanta Mandala as the abode of God,
And knows the constant Sound that is borne upon the prana rising from the heart to the nose,
All vain imaginings flee from his mind, without effort, naturally;
He knows no God other than the Self, nor need he worship any other god.
The dvadashanta mandala (yantra) is a diagram engraved on a metal plate or formed by auspicious elements on a plate before or on which ritualistic of a deity is performed.
The Sound is the ajapa japa mantra of Soham.
Those who know that both are essentially the Self of the yogi and therefore continually fix their minds on the mantra Soham will find that all worthless things depart from their thoughts spontaneously–though this does take some time of practice! Soham Bhava, the essence of his own Self embodied in the mantra Soham, is the only deity the yogi can either worship or know.
He in whose inmost being constantly abides none other than the eternal Soham,
Who builds a bridge between his own [consciousness] and Cosmic Consciousness,
By making his mind one with this mighty mantra–
What need has he for a thousand other mantras?
Here we have the complete picture. Soham is already the inmost being or essence of the yogi. Soham sadhana “builds a bridge between his own and Cosmic Consciousness, by making his mind [consciousness] one with this mighty mantra.” What purpose could any other mantra have for him? Soham Kevalam: Soham Alone.
Shiva or Keshava or Jina,
Or Brahma, the lotus-born Lord,
Whatever name He bear,
May He remove from me
The sickness of the world!
It may be He or He or He
(For He is One though called variously).
There are literally thousands of designative and descriptive names of God the Nameless and Unnameable. Here Lalla is saying that God may be thought of in the context of Shaivism (worship of Shiva), Vaishnavism (worship of Vishnu or his avatars), Jainism, or Hinduism in general. But the prayer of the wise among them all is this: “May He remove from me the sickness of the world!” Continual rebirth in relative existence, and especially in this world of constant birth and death, is the samsara (life through repeated births and deaths; the process of earthly life) that is truly a disease–a plague, rather. Suffering of mind and body is the keynote of the entire situation, based on confusion and ignorance of our true Self. From life to life we have no idea how or why we are here, or even what “here” really is. The ocean of samsara casts us up perpetually on the shore of birth and then takes us away with the tide of death. Over and over this happens to us, and we in our insanity both suffer from it and yet long for it, fearing that if it ends our existence will end.
Part of the answer to our sickness is to become through wisdom “sick of the world” and strive to cure ourselves and get released from the “contagious ward” that is the world. When Yogananda was creating the Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades many residents of the ashram worked there. One morning a boy who was living there with his mother and going to school daily, expressed his wish to Yogananda that he could go and do some work at the Lake Shrine. “Call up the school and tell them you are sick,” replied Yogananda. “But I am not sick,” protested the boy. “Yes, you are,” said Yogananda, “You are sick of the world.” A blessed sickness, indeed!
Whatever name or title or concept of God we may hold, it does not matter. May he heal us of the disease of bondage in and to this world and liberate our Self from all the illusory bonds that do not even really bind it!
I, Lalla, searched and sought for Him, and even beyond my strength I strove.
Finding His doors bolted and barred I longed the more;
And firmly resolved, I stood just there with longing and love,
Fixing my gaze upon His door.
In the mortar of love I ground my heart,
I parched and burnt and ate it out.
Thus, all my evil passions removed,
I sat serene and unperturbed.
Yet still I doubt if I can know
Whether I shall die or I shall live.
Not by ascetic practices is the Self realized;
Nor by desire can you gain the Portals of Release.
In contemplation you may be absorbed as salt in water,
Yet hard it is for you to gain the true knowledge of the Self.
Even over-reaching our strength and will cannot by its limited nature open the doors to liberation into the Absolute. So Lalla “stood just there with longing and love, fixing my gaze upon His door.” And seeming non-doing was the most potent action, for it was the total fixing of the will power upon the portal of Self-realization.
Lalla burnt up and ground to powder her heart–the deep inner mind, the very bhava of her existence. But although all passions dissolved and she attained undisturbed inner tranquillity, she could not discern if she would have succeeded in conquering inner, spiritual death and becoming immortal, for ascetic practices cannot reveal the Self, nor can mere desire or yearning (whose value the bhakti school exaggerates to an absurd degree) or seeming profound absorption in meditation. (Once I saw a woman faking such meditation until Anandamayi Ma came up to her and literally shouted in her face to get up and get out! She did. Immediately. But she was later to show up in Brindavan and during morning meditation begin shouting “Jai Ho!” over and over while rolling around on the floor. Ma immediately said that she should be picked up and thrown out of the hall. That was done, and at the end of meditation when Ma came out of the hall she went up to woman who was lying immobile in the blazing sun with closed eyes. Ma gave her a quick look of indifference and walked on.)
Gaining the true knowledge of the Self is a long road and impossible to gain by the fake-or-non-yogi.
Plump and comely were they born,
Causing their mother’s womb great pain;
Yet to the womb they come again.
Shiva indeed is hard to reach;
Pray, heed the doctrine this teaches you.
Lalla now considers “darling little babies” whose advent into this world causes their mothers indescribable pain. And the little pudgy ones hurt the most because of their size. Yet what lasting value does their mother’s pain have? They eventually die and come right back again to cause anguish to another mother. I know how horrible this is because when I broke my legs in an accident during my second visit to India I was put into a private nursing home next door to the delivery room. Hearing those mothers crying out in panic and pain over and over–some of them calling for their mothers–was heartbreaking. My Aunt Faye more than once said to me, “Your mother went into the valley of death to bring you life.” She wanted me to get the full picture of “blessed events.”
Itself a part of the rocky earth,
It is the self-same stone that makes
A pavement, seat or pedestal,
Or a mill-stone for a grinding mill.
Shiva indeed is hard to reach;
Then heed the doctrine this teaches you.
Our bodies are of the earth, earthly, destined to return to their original form as earth. We make many forms from life to life, but are encased in the same perishing substance. The lesson is clear: Shiva indeed is hard to reach–then heed the doctrine this teaches you.
Will the sun not shine on all alike
But give heat only to holy lands?
Will Varuna not visit all homes alike
But visit only the homes of the good?
Shiva indeed is hard to reach;
Then heed the doctrine this teaches you.
Does not the sun shine with blasting heat on the both the virtuous and the vicious equally? It is impartial. Do not virtue and pardon of sins come to all and not the good only through the instrument of karma? Shiva indeed is hard to reach–then heed the doctrine this teaches you.
If I knew how to control my nadis,
How to sever them from the pull of desire,
How to bind them to the inner Self,
How to cut the bonds of sorrow,
I should have known how to compound the Elixir of Life.
Shiva indeed is hard to reach;
Then heed the doctrine this teaches you.
Those who know how to master and direct the flow of the life force through all the nadis–subtle energy channels–of their bodies can sever themselves from all the controlling action of desires and bind themselves to the inmost Self and thus cut the bonds of sorrow, actual and potential, forever. And when that is accomplished, then create the compound of immortality. But how is it to be to be done? Through Soham sadhana alone. Shiva indeed is hard to reach–then heed the doctrine this teaches you.
As mother a woman suckles a baby,
As wife she dallies amorously in love,
As maya she takes one’s life in the end–
And yet in all these forms a woman she.
Shiva indeed is hard to reach;
Then heed the doctrine this teaches you.
Mahashakti, the feminine power inherent in all relative existence, both gives and nourishes life, only eventually to take away life. Yet she is always what she is: the creative power of life. Shiva indeed is hard to reach–then heed the doctrine this teaches you.
Like a tenuous web Shiva spreads Himself,
Penetrating all frames of all things.
If while alive, you cannot see Him,
How can you see Him after death?
Think deep and sift the true Self from the self.
The Paramatman pervades all things, but its abiding time is tenuous since all things arise and dissolve perpetually. Therefore he only tenuously holds things before they are gone forever. If in this life the yogi does not find Shiva who is behind his life, how can his mind be developed enough to see Shiva when he is ejected from this world after death? Only those who can perceive and separate the true from the false Self in this very life can do so.
When water freezes in the cold, it turns to snow and ice.
Reflect, O man, that one becomes three different things;
And when the sun of pure Consciousness shines,
The world of living and lifeless things,
the universe and whatever exists,
are, in the Supreme, seen as one.
When Self-knowledge, Atmajnana, becomes supreme, everything is seen and known as the Self. Though there appear to be many modifications, especially the three gunas, its essence is but one. The Supreme Self, the Cosmos, and the individual Self are realized as truly The One. For the universe and those evolving within it are always one with the Source of All: Brahman. When the light of the Self shines in our consciousness, then we know this Unity to be the only truth/reality of all things, including our Self. Thus all is summed up in the single word: Shivoham–I Am Shiva. I Am That: Soham.
Laughing sneezing, coughing, yawning,
Bathing in sacred pools,
Going about throughout the year,
He is about you all the time–
In all these forms recognize Him.
The first items on this list occur at random to anyone, and the sacred baths are prescribed at specific times throughout the years. But since we are surrounded at all time by God in his manifested form we must learn to perceive him.
The sun sets, the moon begins to shine.
The moon sets, the mind alone is left;
The mind dissolved, nothing remains;
Bhur, Bhuvah and Swa depart.
The sun sets, the moon begins to shine. When the experience of and absorption in perception of the external objects was transcended, then heightened awareness of our internal, subjective makeup and life came into the fore.
The moon sets, the mind alone is left. When internal awareness faded away, then the mind, the organ or faculty of perception of external and internal things, remained aware of itself and functioned increasingly by intuition–direct impression without an intermediary.
The mind dissolved, nothing remains. For what remained to experience objectively, either inner or outer? Consciousness itself prevailed, of which it would not be correct to say it ever came or could possibly go. This is the eternal No Thing that is self-existent, yet whose essential existence is far beyond the “existence” of any object. Rather, it is eternal Subject. Therefore as as consequence:
Bhur, Bhuvah and Swa depart. The three worlds, material, astral and causal disappear or dissolve because they were never really there at all except as ideas arising in the principle of consciousness itself.
When Anandamayi Ma visited the Ramanashram in Tiruvanamalai, the residents there who had lived with Sri Ramana Maharshi considered her to be exactly the same as Sri Ramana and pled with her to remain with them and never leave. (When some years later in Delhi I spoke with Ma Telyarkan, one of Sri Ramana’s closest devotees who was living then in Tiruvanamalai, she told me: “I found my Bhagavan in Ma.”) Hearing their appeals, Ma simply said, “I neither come nor go.” They understood.
I burnt the foulness of my soul,
I slew my heart, its passions all,
I spread my garment’s hem, and sat just there, with bended knees, in utter surrender unto Him.
My fame as Lalla spread afar.
Lalla burnt all the impurities of her inner and outer being, including the core of her being, and the passions and delusions that darkened them. Then she modestly spread out her clothing and sat there in meditation posture, uniting herself to the Infinite. Then she became famous and sat there in indifference, for nothing remained to be gained or lost.
The soles of my feet wore off on the roads while I wandered in search of Him.
Then lo! on a sudden, I saw that He was all and everywhere, I had nowhere to go in search of Him.
This was the Truth of a hundred truths.
Whoever learns of it, will they not wonder? Will they not be mad for joy?
Those who ceaselessly seek God until they can go no further, then learn that he has been with them always and everywhere. This is one of the tests of the evolving universe. It reminds me of the maxim: “Banks only loan you money if you can prove you don’t need it.” Only those who learn that lesson will find permanent wonder and joy.
In the last watch of the moonlit night,
Remonstrating with my wayward mind,
I soothed my pain with the love of God.
Gently, gently, accosting myself,
“O Lalla, Lalla, Lalla,”
I woke my Love, my Lord and Master,
In whom absorbed, my mind was cleansed
Of its defilement by the Ten.
Evolution moves in unalterable phases. There is no Short Path except in false religion and false yoga. Certainly yogis traverse the path in differing speeds according to their diligence, but the distance is the same for all.
When she got to the last phase of the moonlight night of her mind Lalla realized that only her love, her fervent attraction for enlightenment in God, would suffice. Invoking her own Self, she awoke the deity within whose advent in her consciousness purified her inner and outer being which had been defiled by the illusions and resulting ignorance produced by her liveslong involvement in and addiction to the action of the ten indriyas (organs). They are the five organs of perception (jnanendriyas), the ear, skin, eye, tongue, and nose; and the five organs of action (karmendriyas), the voice, hand, foot, organ of excretion, and the organ of generation. Then only Spirit remained. Or had ever really been there.
Let go the sacred text, the holy books,
Only the mantra sound remains.
And when the mantra sound departs,
Only the chitta is left behind.
Then lo! the chitta itself is gone,
And there is no thing left behind;
The void (shunya) merges in the Void (Shunya).
The words of the scriptures have meaning and value for us for a while, but just as babies must be weaned from the breast, so we must become free of continual involvement with them. Then only one Word remains: Soham. And when Soham is revealed/experienced as not a word or a mere sound at all, but the state of liberating enlightenment, the pure awareness of that remains until it, too, is absorbed into Primal Being. That which is beyond all word and thought and thingness merges into its infinite prototype, the Supreme Self. Then the yogi discovers that no thing is left behind, for the all-embracing No Thing is the essence of all things left behind. So he has it all, but in its reality.
Further reflection: This does not mean that scriptures will be disregarded or considered without value. Rather, the Wisdom which is the source of the scriptures will appear in the consciousness of the yogi spontaneously and he will become himself a living scripture, an embodiment of spiritual wisdom. But the mantra Soham will remain as his sadhana continues in that high state of being.
Those with an instinctive allergy to genuine sadhana and the changes it produces in the consciousness of the yogi, are enamored with the myth of “The Silence” which supposedly replaces the japa and meditation of Soham which “spontaneously drops away”–they hope. But what this really means is that the Soham mantra transforms the mind into Soham itself and is revealed as the Soham Bhava–the consciousness that is the Self and therefore liberation. No differentiation of subject-object remains. Only the Eternal Subject, the eternal Self that itself has always been Soham, will remain and not be seen as an object, but experienced as True Being: Parabrahman about which nothing can be said except that nothing can be said about It.
“The Void” is another ideal and obsession with those spiritual nihilists who cling philosophically to fundamental unconsciousness and non-existence of the Self as an ideal. But this means that the individual Self which has never been anything else but itself, and is exclusive of all that is not itself, becomes one with the Supreme Self. The dewdrop slips into the shining sea, but does not “lose” itself. It “finds” itself: the Self of its Self. As Yogananda wrote:
I will lose myself in my Self
In savikalpa samadhi yoga.
I will find myself in my Self
In nirvikalpa samadhi yoga.
There is no use trying to figure this out intellectually. We must become yogis and experience it and live it.
Realization is rare indeed: seek not afar, it is near, by you.
First slay Desire, then still the mind, giving up vain imaginings;
Then meditate on the Self within, and lo! the void merges in the Void.
The first two lines are easily read or said, but how is it done? By becoming fulfilled and content in the Self and knowing that nothing else can fulfill and satisfy but the Self. For it is not love the whole world is seeking but their own reality: the Self.
Knowing the nature of the Self we seek that alone and never mistake the not-self for the Self. And though we will not despise or hate the things of the world we will know that they can never satisfy the innate attraction to the Self. So we will seek the Self above all else. “Self-controlled, cut free from desire, curbing the heart and knowing the Atman, man finds Nirvana that is in Brahman, here and hereafter”(Bhagavad Gita 5:26).
When we do not know the true nature of either our Self or the things of the world–that the Self is immortal and the entire world is perishing continually in its ever-present fluctuations and failings–we have all kinds of illusions about the world that are only fever-dreams, potentially deadly in their effect on us.
The knowledge of the Self is itself immortality and peace. That alone will satisfy us and calm our raging addictions to the ephemeral things of the world. “When he has no lust, no hatred, a man walks safely among the things of lust and hatred. To obey the Atman is his peaceful joy; sorrow melts into that clear peace: his quiet mind is soon established in peace” (Bhagavad Gita 2:64-65). “He knows peace who has forgotten desire. He lives without craving: free from ego, free from pride” (Bhagavad Gita 2:71).
“Behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21), for the Self is within you. Therefore: “Only that yogi whose joy is inward, inward his peace, and his vision inward shall come to Brahman and know Nirvana” (Bhagavad Gita 5:24). For Brahman is within each one of us as the core, the center, of our Self.
We have already considered the wrong and right understanding of “void.” Shunya, the No-Thing, is the Emptiness which is the only Fullness, for all things have come out from It and eventually remerge with(in) It. Our true nature is pure spirit–nothing more. And so is the Supreme Spirit in which we live eternally even now. The No-Thing is Everything and Nothing at the same time. It all depends on our viewpoint. That is why the Buddha said, “Turn around and lo! The other shore.”
Next Chapters: Vakhs 91-137