November 2021: On Sacrifice

Today, 7am on 8 November 2021.

On Sacrifice

Last Saturday, I finished a course on the Mṛtyuñjaya mantra with Lucy Crisfield. Over the weeks, we have gone deeper and deeper into the meaning, language and tone of this beautiful passage of the Rg Veda.

The mantra, traditionally understood to be about overcoming death, is also about sacrificing, surrendering, letting go and giving ourselves to the energy of Shiva, the destroyer. In the mantra, this is contained in the word yajāmahe (see below), which has the same root as the word yajña, which I wrote about in April 2020. What does it mean to sacrifice? The root of the word  asks us to make our acts sacred. In India, it is common to sacrifice into a consecrated fire, offering ghee and fruit.

It might seem that the act of sacrificing is related to religion. It can be, but this is not the only way it is expressed. Making sacred can be secular too. It arises a feeling of value, respect and reverence, a feeling that there is something higher than us. God is a possibility, but so is nature, for example. Sacredness gives us beauty, purpose, and wellbeing. But this letting go and offering can also be very hard when we are depleted.

The philosopher Shankaracharya had an interesting definition of sacrifice, one that perhaps can offer another way into it. He thought that, instead of giving up something, to sacrifice was to step into wholeness. Indeed, the ultimate sacrifice is to leave behind the belief that we are separate and independent individuals and to embody and live our interconnectedness.

I am not saying Shankaracharya’s practice of wholeness is easier than letting go, but the idea that in order to sacrifice something, to make it sacred, I can access something that is already here makes it less effortful, more restful and more caring. And as we move towards the winter solstice effortless, caring sacredness and wholeness, is what I crave.

Laura x

What I have been listening
Yotam, on his Mantra project, chose the Mṛtyuñjaya as the second track. His sound arrangement and the beautiful voices of the singers Vasuda Sharma and Soojin Chang are so soothing. Indeed, this is a mantra that is profoundly healing so Yotam’s work, like that of a good teacher, takes care of our nervous system and helps us along on the path to wholeness.
What I have been pondering

This is the story of the Mṛtyuñjaya mantra:

The sage Mrikandu and his wife, Marudvati, who were childless, undertook a long period of worship to Shiva in the hope of earning the the boon of a child. In time, Shiva appears and grants their request but with a condition. They can either chose a child who is a brilliant spiritual light but whose life would be only sixteen years, or they could raise a long-lived child who would be witless and self-absorbed.

They chose the child with spiritual virtue, and Marudvati gave birth to a boy they named Markandeya. The couple decided not to tell him that he would have a short life span, but as he approached his sixteenth birthday his parents’ growing sadness betrayed them. And when he asked them to explain their downcast mood, they told him what Shiva had said. Already an accomplished yogi, Markandeya continued to dedicate himself to his practice. On the day of his sixteenth birthday Markandeya took refuge in a temple and sat next to a symbol of Shiva to meditate. When the messengers of Yama, the god of death, arrived to take him away, they found him so absorbed in his prayers, they could not complete their mission.

Returning to Yama, they described their dilemma. So Yama himself traveled to the temple to accomplish the task. He urged Markandeya to follow the natural laws of life and death, and to come willingly, but Markandeya wrapped his arms around the symbol of Shiva and surrendered himself to its protection. Yama threw his noose to gather Markandeya in, but the noose encircled the symbol of Shiva as well, and immediately, Shiva, dwelling in the image, emerged in a rage. Yama had thrown his noose too far, for he had no authority to encircle Shiva himself.

Yama was killed with a blow from Shiva’s foot as the other gods looked on in dismay. Fearing that Yama’s death would upset the order of the universe, they implored Shiva to bring him back to life—and in the end, Shiva complied. But he pointed out that Markandeya’s devotion had protected him, and he was blessed to remain a sixteen-year-old sage eternally. The ancient belief is that Markandeya still lives in the Himalaya to this day.

What I have been practicing

This is the Mahā Mṛtyuñjaya mantra, which Markandeya recited as he sat next to the symbol of Shiva to meditate:

ॐ त्र्य॑म्बकं यजामहे सु॒गन्धिं॑ पुष्टि॒वर्ध॑नम् ।
उ॒र्वा॒रु॒कमि॑व॒ बन्ध॑नान् मृ॒त्योर्मु॑क्षीय॒ माऽमृता॑॑त् ।।

Tryambakaṁ yajāmahe sugandhiṁ puṣṭivardhanam ।
urvārukamiva bandhanāmṛtyormukṣīya mā’mṛtāt ।।

I sacrifice into Shiva, the three eyed one who is fragrant and increases our nourishment. May I be freed from the bondage of death just like the ripe cucumber –freed effortlessly from the vine – but not from immortality.

I invite you to listen to Yotam’s track and slowly learn the words, letting them echo and vibrate through your body. Practice as a sacrifice, making it sacred, stepping into wholeness. Observe what happens.

Yoga Philosophy session ONLINE

Thursday 09 December
18.00 – 20.00 (UK time)
Donation based

Yoga is a tradition with a lineage that goes back to ancient times. In these sessions, I will explore some of the most important texts of yoga philosophy: the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Bhagavad Gita. These scriptures outline what yoga really is about, on the mat, the cushion and life. They also provide a practical guide on how to do it. These sessions offer another way to approach and experience yoga, as a complete practice.The first session in June 2021 looked at the question of what Yoga is. For this December 2021 session, we will explore what is a practice. What makes what you do on your mat a practice and not an exercise session? How is one meant to practice yoga? Sacrifice and devotion are parts of this and we will explore how. There is no need to have attended the first session as I will provide a summary. All sessions are a good entry point into philosophy and everyone is welcome.

Yoga philosophy is very inclusive: there is no right or wrong. We will create a space for exploration, going from the teachings to discuss its practical application on and off the mat. There is no need to read or understand the texts in advance. Everything you need will be provided in the session. Come, deepen your knowledge of yoga and be inspired to continue on your journey.

Our programme at Yoga Moves Glasgow is in full swing. I teach LIVE at the Arlington ever Thursday morning. If you want to come, please book in advance as we are still restricting numbers for safety and comfort. And for those of you who cannot make it, Tuesday mornings (including pranayama, for now) are still online. Best of both worlds!
Tuesdays, 07.15 – 08.30/09.00, ONLINE | Yoga (Led into Mysore) 
Thursdays, 07.15 – 08.30/09.00, LIVE | Yoga (Led into Mysore)**PRANAYAMA (Breathing) first Tuesday of every month

07.15 – 08.30

I am also available for pranayama one-to-one sessions online (introductory or following up your practice). Reply to this email if you want to find out more.
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland classes for staff are up and running until 6 December. Contact HR for details. Classes for students will resume soon, hopefully from January. Keep an eye out for announcements.