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The Vakhs of Lalla Yogeshwari: An Introduction

Lalla Yogeshwari Book–The Vakhs of Lalla Yogeshwari

Next month we hope to publish the latest book by Swami Nirmalananda Giri: The Inspired Wisdom of Lalla Yogeshwari–A Commentary on the Mystical Poetry of the Great Yogini of Kashmir. Below is a commentary on the first of the vakhs of Lalla Yogeshwari.

Lalla Yogeshwari, also known as Lalleshwari or Lal 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.

Lalla was in the tradition of the Nath Yogi Sampradaya whose meditation practice is that of Soham Sadhana. An accurate understanding of Lallaji’s words is not possible unless they are studied in the context of her personal sadhana–Soham Sadhana, the Original Yoga first taught publicly by the Nath Yogi Masters, Sri Matsyendranath and Yogi Guru Sri Gorakhnath.

Vakh 1.
With a rope of loose-spun thread am I towing my boat upon the sea.
Would that God heard my prayer and brought me safe across!
Like water in cups of unbaked clay I run to waste.
Would God I were to reach my home!

See how different are these words of a perfect paramhansa yogini from the self-congratulatory boasts of false yogis and gurus that love to spin poetic rhapsodies of their supreme realization for the admiration of their hearers and readers! She honestly and clearly describes the condition of all who find themselves in the ocean of samsara we call “the world.”

And although established in the non-dual state of nirvikalpa samadhi, she is keenly aware of the difference between herself and Brahman the Absolute, and of her utter dependence on Brahman as the essence of her existence as a conscious entity.

  • With a rope of loose-spun thread am I towing my boat upon the sea.

The “rope of loose-spun thread” is the store of our accumulated karmas, positive, negative and neutral. The boat of our life is being propelled upon the sea of continual birth and death by the force of those karmas. They are tenuous (loose-spun) because although karma is an absolute, it yet can be directed and modified by subsequent actions (karmas), especially by the practice of Soham yoga sadhana.

Everything that happens to us from life to life is not from outside ourselves, but from within, for karma is a creation of our will and our desires, our attachments, our attractions (raga) and our aversions (dwesha). Therefore we are towing our own boat of our embodiment in this world.

Everything that happens to us is in a sense all done to us by ourselves through the karmic force we have set in motion in the past and which has created our present. Everything anyone has done to us in this life is exactly what we have done to others in a previous life. When Jesus said, “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12), he was not giving some noble ideal, some “golden rule” of high virtue, but was telling us how to create our karma: what we want to be done to us we should do to others.

The ego does not want to admit the truth that our own actions come back to us exactly in the actions and words of others toward us. People who cannot face their own negativity become very upset at hearing this truth spoken.

Once someone wrote asking me why people were sexually molested in their childhood. I wrote back the truth: those who are sexually molested in their childhood have molested children themselves in a previous life. Explosion! I was summarily informed that she was molested in childhood so she would be able to help those who had been so molested. God save us from such saviors!

I have known several people who believed in karma but adamantly refused to even consider that negative things came to them because it was their own past-life negativity returning to them. This is a trait of serious spiritual sociopathy.

On the positive side is the fact that great positive spiritual karma is created by us through Soham meditation, spiritual study, good deeds and a genuine positive attitude toward others. But especially through Soham meditation.

  • Would that God heard my prayer and brought me safe across!

Here we see that Lalla is no simplistic book-advaitin who does not realize that although her Self is eternal and one with Brahman, it is finite and Brahman is infinite–and therefore she is utterly dependent on the Absolute. References to God hearing prayers and answering them is usually considered a characteristic of the followers of bhakti, and it is when it is meant in a childish, dualistic sense.

But Lalla is a perfect jnani who sees the relationship of the finite with the Infinite in a correct perspective. They are one, but not the same (identical), they are different–distinct from one another–but not separate. Only the yogi really comprehends this, for it is a matter of perception-experience, not mere intellectual conceptualization.

Nevertheless we see that Lalla prays to the Infinite and fully believes that she can be delivered from the ocean of samsara by the action of God–for this is the only way it can happen, since all occurs according to the divine order which is itself a manifestation of God. Lalla clearly sees the One in two, and the two in One. “This is the knowledge above all other: purifier and king of secrets, only made plain to the eye of the mystic” (Bhagavad Gita 9:2).

  • Like water in cups of unbaked clay I run to waste.

Lalla means that without the insight she has just expressed, instead of remaining in unity with the Absolute she would become merged with samsara in ignorance, for water in unbaked clay eventually becomes absorbed by it and only a worthless mess remains. Wise are those who know the perils of immersion in relative consciousness to the exclusion of the true knowledge of the Self.

  • Would God I were to reach my home!

Even an enlightened person cannot be fully at rest in the world because the Self is alien to this world. It belongs in the depths of the Absolute, not floating about in the fluctuations of samsara. The Self is essentially real and the world of relative existence is essentially unreal–illusory. So although the liberated person may rest in the Self, there is still a shadow of his dislocation from the transcendental realm.

For all of us the situation is like that described in the poem in Mahler’s Second (“Resurrection”) Symphony.

Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest pain!
How I would rather be in heaven.
There came I upon a broad path
When came a little angel
And wanted to turn me away.
Ah no! I would not let myself be turned away!
I am from God and shall return to God!
The loving God will grant me a little light,
Which will light me into that eternal blissful life!

Further Reading (and Listening) Related to the Vakhs of Lalla Yogeshwari:

Grow your Spiritual Library–This week’s recommendation:

The Bhagavad Gita of Awakening: A Practical Commentary for Leading a Successful Spiritual Life


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