Gratitude, the Beach & A Verse to Dakṣiṇāmūrti

Fall has come to Northern California. Ok, well yesterday was close to 100 degrees, but there was a crispness to the night air when the heat of the day broke. That has to count for something…

I went to Stinson Beach to escape the full force of the weather and walked for miles on the beach with my feet submerged at water’s edge. Hearty-sized waves crashed and rolled to the shore. Seagulls rode on the streams of air and sandpipers scurried along, seeking some morsel of invisible food. The feeling of peace was palpable —as if the harmony of reality was revealing itself in full splendor. All sense of separation disappeared, and I was at one with the natural world around me. There was no effort to sustain this state of experience. I guess the only effort would have been to try to pretend that it was not true. Now I don’t have this experience everyday, but oh, what a blessing when I do! And who knows why it happens? Perhaps it has something to do with a conjunction of sensation that allow beauty to dance?  It reminds me of the beginning of a Rumi poem that says “No one knows what makes the Soul wake up so happy. Maybe a dawn breeze has blown the veil from the face of God…

Suspending, releasing, and surrendering the sense of separation is a profound practice, but one that can awaken the deepest sense of joy and gratitude. It is, in many ways, at the heart of Yoga. When I studied pranayama and yoga philosophy with Richard Miller, one of my favorite quotes from him was his definition of yoga. He says “yoga is the bringing together of that which was never separate.” Words to come alive by, for sure.

One beautiful stotram (selection of verses) that remind me of the illusion of separation and entice me to sink into the truth of oneness, is the Dakṣiṇāmūrti Stotram. Dedicated to the Southward-facing śiva (who teaches through silence), this stotram was composed by the great advaita master, ādi śaṅkara. Its 10 verses (the shortest of all of the stotrams written by śaṇkarāchārya) contain the essential teaching of advaita. It is written in an exquisitely beautiful, albeit it, challenging metrical form called śārdūla-vikrīḍitam, which consists of 19 syllables (12, the first line, 7, the second and then repeated.)

The first verse speaks of the illusion of phenomenal reality (the play of māyā) which is held within the deeper truth of oneness, which can awaken at the time of spiritual illumination. This verse is chanted by my dear friend and teacher, Vyaas Houston, who continues to inspire me on a daily basis. The translation is from the book, Hymns and Prayers to Gods and Goddesses (formerly called ‘Altar Flowers’) available online from the Vedanta Society.

Dakshinamurti Stotram verse 1

Viśvam darpaṇa-dṛśyamāna nagarī

tulyam nijāntar-gatam

Paśyann-ātmana māyāyā bahirivod

bhūtam yathā nidrayā

Yaḥ sākṣāt-kurute probodha-samaye

svātmānam-evādvayam

Tasmai śrī guru-mūrtaye nama idam

śrī dakṣiṇāmūrtaye.

Seeing the Universe contained within himself/herself, like a city seen in a mirror

but appearing as if produced outside through māyā (or illusion)

as in sleep—as being really in the Self.

One, who at the time of spiritual illumination, realizes their own immutable Self, alone,

to that one, incarnate as the blessed teacher,

to śri Dakṣiṇāmūrti, is this salutation

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