Friday, March 19, 2010

A lesson from the story of Nataraja...offer something authentic

I have been learning about the story of the Nataraja, and listening to the lecture Douglas Brooks has on CD and re-reading The Yoga Sutras. I love how every time I return to this wonderful story a different part of the myth sticks out and teaches me a different lesson. Today this is what I was reminded of:

Shiva comes in three forms, a riddler, a gambler, and a dancer. The story of the Nataraja is the story of Shiva as the dancer. In this story Shiva dances the cosmic dance the ananda tandava (the blissful dance). At the beginning of the story a serpent is laying with Lord Vishnu, and Vishnu starts to weigh more and wiggles around. The serpent was startled and asked Vishnu why he was wiggling. Vishnu smiled and said “I am witnessing Lord Nataraja dancing the Ananda Tandava or Ecstatic Cosmic Dance in Tillai Vanam on Earth. This is making Me expand in bliss. That is why you feel that My weight has suddenly increased. Why don’t you too watch this glorious vision and enjoy the bliss?” After hearing this the serpent decided he must too experience this blissful dance. However in order to experience the dance you must have 5 senses and be human. Through performing anjali mudra the serpent turns into Patanjali, a sage who is half man and half snake. Patanjali then went to the pine wood forest where Vishnu said Shiva danced the ananda tandava.

Patanjali searched for a very long time, looking all over the forest trying to find Shiva. One day Patanjali came upon a Shiva lingam. A Shiva lingam is a holy symbol for Lord Shiva that is considered sacred and worshipped. This lingam that Patanjali came across in the Pine forest was especially worshiped, adorned with ashes, incents and flowers. Patanjali noticed particularly beautiful orchid flowers, he had never seen such beautiful flowers and he decided that he wanted to offer these same beautiful flowers to Shiva because he thought they were so magnificent. He wandered the forest looking everywhere for these wonderful flower, but he couldn’t find them anywhere. Instead of getting frustrated, Patanjali realized that the flowers were someone else’s authentic offering and that he needed to find something authentic to himself to offer to Shiva. Since Patanjali is half snake he borrowed deep into the forest floor and found seeds, a very rare sacred seed, and he offered these lovely seeds to Shiva.

We later learn that the sage who offered the orchids for Shiva was the Vyaghrapada, the tiger-pawed saint. Since he had tiger paws he can climb to the top of the Tillai trees that make up the pine forest and at the top of these trees is where the rare orchids grow. So both the Vyaghrapada and Patanjali made an authentic offering to the Shiva linga. When the two sages meet at worship at the linga in the pine forest with their offerings, the linga exploded into the form of Nataraja, the dancing Lord Shiva.

I think this is a important part of the story to remember and practice in our yoga asanas, and how we live our life. When we practice yoga asana it is easy to want to look like our neighbor, the teacher, a person from a magazine… But this isn’t necessarily authentic to you. Every yoga pose we do is an offering, it is an opportunity to express a heartfelt quality of the heart and shine this beauty outward. When we try to make the same offering as someone else we go against ahimsa (non-harming) and staya (truthfulness) even if we can push into a pose that looks more like someone else’s offering, it’s not authentic and is not a pretty offering. It is so much more beautiful to respect where we are in yoga asana with a compassionate nonjudgmental heart. While here we can cultivate an attitude of santosha (contentment) knowing that where we are in the pose when practicing authentically is so, so wonderful and so, so magnificent, just like the Vyagarapada and Patanjalis offering! And since yoga asana is such a great way to practice for life, we can also practice this off our matt. Maybe we want to look like someone else, or draw like someone else, or sing like someone else….These are all offerings, but when we want to offer what someone else is offering it diminishes our own shine, and we all have something so beautiful to offer, that no one else can offer, becuse its ours!

So smile and shine and know that you are beautiful, magnificent, radiant, and lovely, and no matter what others offer, you also have something to offer that is so special and so unique to you. Be proud and shine it out!

(I am thankful to my wonderful Sources: Douglas Brooks, The Yoga Sutras,, Zhenja La Rosa blog)

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