Category Archives: Philosophy

Pilgrimage to the Heart of India 2018

19 day pilgrimage to Varanasi, Omkareshwar, Ellora & Ajanta Caves, Maheshwar, Mandu and Indore

20 November – 8 December 2018

Dear Friends,

It’s about time I bring a group of friends to see some of my favorite pilgrimage places in India: Varanasi, Shiva city, the spiritual centre of India famous for tantra and pilgrimage; Omkareshwar and Maheshwar on the Narmada river are major centres of the 3.5 year pilgrimage that sees a steady stream of devotion. Ellora and Ajanta are both ancient monuments of devotion and wonder. We will make a stop by Mandu for a day of cycling, frivolity and wandering thru villages and Mugul ruins scattered across the country side. The final stop will be in Indore to visit a couple important tantric temples and enjoy the comforts of the city before going our separate ways.

The trip will include:

  • Land travel within India, most meals, room, guided tours, yoga & astrology
  • Traditional Hatha Yoga practice including asana, pranayama, mantra, meditation. Bhakti, Raja, Hatha, Jnana, Tantra  and Kundalini yogas will all find expression over the course of this trip.
  • A detailed Vedic Astrology reading and remedy coaching.
  • Six nights in a simple, traditional forest ashram over-looking the  holy Narmada river
  • Five nights in Varanasi over looking the Holy Ganges river
  • A small group of six allows for deep integration of the practices and teachings.
  • Excellent introduction to India for those who wish to continue traveling the country
  • A unique yoga pilgrimage
  • Deep introduction to yogic philosophy and Vedic way of life.
  • Suitable for anyone who is a pilgrim at heart. No prior knowledge or experience is necessary. Sincerity towards the method is the most important attribute.

Basic Itinerary

20 November – 8 December 2018

20 November 2018: Arrival in Varanasi, rest, short evening yoga and meditation next to the river.

While in Varanasi: Morning yoga, site-seeing tours, boat rides, lots of free time, meeting Shiva devotees, astrology charts will be completed for each person.

25 November: Train to Khandwa; jeep to Omkareshwar, take rest and get settled at the Gayatri Forest Ashram, easy evening yoga and meditation.

While in Omkareshwar: Two yoga classes per day. Learning traditional stories, parikrama (walk) around the island,  visiting important pilgrimage sites, pilgrims and sadhus. Spending time in nature, swimming, enjoying.

02 December: Jeep to Ajanta. While in Ellora/Ajanta trip we will take our yoga where we can get it. There is often an opportunity to practice among the caves.

03 December: Jeep to Ellora and then to Maheshwar, take rest, get settled in the guest house.

While in Maheshwar: One to two yoga classes per day, visiting special holy sites, boating, swimming, meeting pilgrims, singing, & enjoying nature.

07 December: Jeep to Mandu, cycling/site-seeing, and then jeep to Indore.

08 December: Visit Mahakala and Bhairava temple before departure. The tour will end on this day and departures will go from Indore.

  • Note: let us know if we can help to arrange transport and lodging before and after the trip.

By the end of this trip participants will have gained deep knowledge of Yogic, Vedic and Tantric practice and lifestyle. One will have gained an appreciation for simple, prayerful living and will have a good foundation to continue a personal sadhana (spiritual practice). You will also gain valuable travel experience and a deep humanistic education as we travel on and off the tourist trail thru the heart of India.

Anyone with a sincere desire for self knowledge thru yoga and traditional knowledge are welcome. Yoga classes are easily modified to be accessible to everyone as well as challenging for every level of fitness and concentration. Much of the philosophical content will be organic (arising from the circumstances and questions) so this too will be both accessible and challenging for most anyone.

India can be a challenging country and we will be living very simply as pilgrims ourselves for parts of trip. This simplicity of nature will hopefully counterbalance the sensory and emotional over-load that Delhi and Varanasi are known for in different ways. Travel can be slow and frustrating (most times) and there will a few arduous days of travel, lots of walking, and a group of eight people traveling and living together for 19 days (18 nights). We hope that lots of free time, optional tours and practices, and flexibility by everyone, will allow everyone to get the flavour they are seeking from life.


This package tour includes:

  1. 19 days/18 nights in various guest houses and ashrams may be shared occupancy (approx. $400)
  2. Many meals, lots of chai and snacks (approx. $200)
  3. One train ride, two or three jeep rides, four or five boat rides, several auto-rickshaw rides, a bicycle ride  and possibly one state bus ride (approx. $300)
  4. Vedic Astrology consultation. (I typically offer 2 hour consultations for $250 and more extensive three part (6 hour) consultations for $500, but over 19 days we will have opportunity to explore the Vedic and Tantric sciences, cultures, philosophies and spiritual remedies quite deeply.)
  5. Classical Hatha Yoga classes at $10/class  (approx. 23 (1.5 hour) classes $230)
  6. Guide fees $400
  7. Additional administrative fees, organization costs, booking fees, travel expenses, baksheesh & diksha donations to temples, pilgrims and ashrams in the name of the group (booking fees $350 – last minute booking fees $550)

Prices are quoted at approx. 50 rupees to the dollar. Currency fluctuations of more than 5 rupees could change the cost.

Total cost: 

  • Early bird, before August 15 – $1976 (special rate for making my job easy). A $600 deposit will hold this space for you.
  • The hesitant bird, between August 15 – October 1 – $2380 (this is regular price if you add all of the above figures)
  • The free bird, after October 1, $2580 (there is an extra fee for making my life difficult)

Stipulations

  • Limited to six people. Must have at least 4 people signed up by October 1 for the trip to proceed. Full refunds will be given if it’s cancelled for this reason. I expect it will sell out fast.
  • One place will have preference for someone with knowledge in Ayurveda and/or Jyotish and would like to do a mentorship in astrology over the 19 days of this pilgrimage.
  • Unless your seat can be sold to someone else we may only be able to refund 50% of the fee in case of cancellation. There will be an administrative fee retained in any case, but we look vary favorably upon those who find someone to fill their place for them.
  • Bring a friend and save $100 each (not available for early bird pricing). Bring two or more friends and save $200 while each of them save $100.

What is not included, and why?

  • Many meals, snacks and chai throughout the day since you will be on your own.
  • Baksheesh, diksha payments, tips to temples monks, sadhus and service people which are best given by your own heart & hand
  • Flight to India, travel insurance, immunizations are all your responsibility.
  • Souvenirs, personal items, personal travel or personal entertainment.
  • No certificates will be available as this pilgrimage is meant to be a personal healing, learning & potentially transformational journey. If you want a certificate, go to Rishikesh.
  • If you are unsure about what may or may not be included, please ask before departure.

Your host and guide:

Mike Holliday has had a deep spiritual and personal connection with Varanasi, Ganga & Narmada since 2007. He has been teaching yoga around the world for almost ten years and offering philosophical/spiritual coaching and counsel for over half that time. He has guided many people thru Varanasi and well as thru Indian culture and a few have even come to experience the magic of the Narmada river with him. He is an engaging teacher and story teller; a very knowledgeable guide thru the unknown; a sincere, grounded friend and adviser & he has a strong passion for sharing traditional knowledge. He is an off the beaten path teacher who mostly follows orthodoxy but does not not believe it is necessary.

For more information:

  • holliday.michael@gmail.com
  • 778-266-1316

Healing from Within

I was about 9 years old when I was walking thru a frozen forest, shouldered my pellet gun, and discovered the great transformative silence of death as a chickadee fell from the branch.  In 2003, my father was killed in a work accident. Later in life I came to live and practice in a holy place between the cremation grounds of Varanasi, India; the chosen abode of Lord Shiva. When my grandfather passed away, we shared our fear of death and brought peace to the whole family. That light and purity of a new born baby also shines in the eyes of those who burn for that final release from the wheels of time. All of our lives we seek the flavour that will quench our thirst, but eventually, we thirst for the most unthinkable mystery; death.

The movement of the breath is controlled by the Great Spirit in the Sky of Consciousness and it comes and goes; starts and stops only by that ultimate grace. The power of Great Spirit is raw and pure when we go thru the great transformations of birth and death. Between these two great moments lie all the smaller cycles of the breath and the days and the seasons and so much more that we can experience fully and deeply as we experience that great birth and death of the body. This is the experience of reality.

Yoga and spirituality suggest we can experience a deeper reality  if we look at life beyond our individual experience and experience life in relation to the universal expression of consciousness; of spirit; of spanda; Shiva’s self expression thru his powers; his Shaktis. We are so much more than these limited bodies and the experiences we have in this lifetime; we are intimately connected to the whole span of time and everything that has and will exist. We are not just a part of this universe, we are this universe. The truth is so mindbogglingly beautiful and wonderful that we can only experience it as that…… astonishing beauty, dazzling amazement and wonder. We’ve all felt this as some time in our lives. This is the experience of reality,

There is little difference between letting go of our egos so that we can transform ourselves in this life, or doing so so that we can prepare for the next life. In either case, we want to turn our awareness towards the truth of who we really are here and now releasing ourselves from the past and the future; releasing ourselves from our own stories. Each time we transform ourselves we seek to reach a higher consciousness; we want that positive growth which which will benefit not only ourselves, but our families and communities and the universe as a whole. It’s that universal connection and experience of non-difference that we seek, but which remains, for most of us, just out of reach. Like a shy damsel, ultimate reality casts only the most fleeting glimpse from the corner of her eye. And this is were we must also seek out that ultimate reality: in those dark corners of our mind and along the edges of our breath and our thoughts and between all things which seem distinct.

Between you and me is some chemistry which brings us into perfect and blissful union because it allows both of us to taste the ripened fruits of our individual karma while contributing, each in our own special way, to the collective karma that ties us all together. We call activity karma when we experience it a force of limitation that separates; but when we experience activity as a force of freedom and play arising and falling away from the same place, bringing everything together, activity is then called Kriya (the spontaneous activity of one who experiences life as universal agency (the actor) and preceiving subjectivity (the witness)).  This is the experience of life; reality; divinity.  ​

We are all on this path of healing together. Together we will grow and evolve; find the courage to face our fears and overcome the false limitations we put on ourselves. To do this we practice being open and honest to the reality of the moment while applying our most sincere efforts to whatever activity is at hand. This sincerity is especially important for healing and spirituality, since it provides us with the impulse and the will to gather the necessary knowledge and put it into a meaningful action. Tapping into this personal sincerity for healing is what we mean by healing from within.

The Most Essential Quality

 What is Prana Vayu?

hanuman, bhima, madhvaPrana is life force or vital essence. Vayu is air and movement. Pranavayu is the movement of vital energy. Western Yogis have been talking about prana for many years already and it’s a relatively common term now. Modern Sanskrit scholars now tell us that we may have misunderstood the meaning of this word (see Wallis or Dyczkowski for confirmation).

Yoga teachers will commonly cue student to “inhale the prana” and “to visualize prana coming down into the body to give it energy. Ayurveda has followed with this classification of prana being a downward movement connected with the inhalation. Prana vayu is actually a bit of an awkward arrangement of terms since anything with prana moves and anything that moves has prana. This means we can refer to all five movements of the prana  vayus as movements of ‘prana;’ we can also drop the use of prana and just call these movements the vayus.

What modern scholars tell us is that the word ‘prana’ actually refers to the upward outward movement of our exhalation rather than the downward inward movement of our inhalations. The implications of this research is just starting get filtered down to us ordinary yogi and even very respected Ayurveda Institutes have still not taken the time to consider their own teachings and understanding of this topic.

I have written elsewhere about the ignorance of the colonial mindset so I won’t talk about it here. Most ordinary yogis in the west are so far removed from the yogic scriptures that such finely tuned understanding of the terms they use is of little importance. The larger institutes and colleges are typically more concerned with reputation and profits they have little incentive to seek after the truth. It almost seem to be a kind of “little mans syndrome” of academia. Only the the great scholars care about such things and nobody listens to them since we can find the (wrong) definition of of prana anywhere on google.

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So, getting back to exhalation which is connected with prana vayu. When we exhale, our vital force goes out thru our breath and the five senses to illuminate the world much like the Sun as it follows it’s daytime course thru the heavens. It’s rises with the beginning of our exhalation and moves thru the sky (of consciousness) until setting in the 12 finger space above the crown of the head to give way to the movement of the moon which rises full when the sun sets. This is where the exhalation has ended. As we inhale to passively and graciously receive the gift of life one nitya (goddess) leaves the Moon and enters into our bodies to nourish us and give life to the soul (the Sun) thru the body until she is herself drained of life, dark and dry as the Sun gains exaltation begins to penetrate the cold darkness of death with heat of life and the illumination of consciousness.

This is also the meaning of pranayama (prana + ayama): the life force which defeats death bringing life to the sense, allowing them to move. Prana brings movement and warmth to whatever is inert, cold and dead. (I have also seen the opposite interpretation (prana + yama) suggesting that we do the breathing practices in order to still the breath, slow all the vital functions, an ultimately ride the breath to the heavens leaving the duality of earthly existence behind. Of course we continue on with our life, but without attachment, free of the limitations of the three gunas and they individual vital breath. One moves instead in perfect harmony with the universal flow of consciousness.

Kal Bhairava takes over for Yama in Varanasi.

When we exhale prana, that life force which was given to us by god, reaches out to the world through our senses to colour and flavour the objects with whatever flavour we might crave; whatever we have inside of ourselves at the moment reaches out to the world to create a counterpart. When we inhale and bring back all of that sensory material we generally forget that we have just created it, so we react. We forget that we always get back whatever we give. As long as we have forgotten this fundamental rule we will suffer from our karma; once we learn it, life becomes a spontaneous play whatever might be your circumstances.

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“The vital breath is essentially a state of consciousness which manifests as the movement of two breaths; prana and apana (exhale and inhale).” This is a major theme of Tantra: that one thing  appears to be two separate things; or, as is the case in waking life, as a multiplicity of distinct objects. As we look at things more and more closely and understand them for their subtleties rather than accepting them at face value, they begin to merge together as though they were never separate. As it says in the Stanzas on Vibration:

“Whatever else may exist apart from you, if subjected to sound reflection, simply disappears like the fables palace of celestial musicians and you alone, changeless remain….” Stanza 10 goes on to say that , “then the soul realizes that his true nature (dharma) is universal agency and perceiving subjectivity, and so he knows and does whatever he desires.” ~Stanzas on Vibration~

In yoga we often talk about the body, mind and soul. We can think of this as three worlds or three layer of our being. The vayus live in the intermediate region of our highest intelligence but they move between the heaven and earth; the soul and the body; the subject and the object. Vayu is Air and Ether, which allows it pervade and move between all 36 tattva.

11TH_Rudra_Shiva_HanumanThe prana vayus are known as the vehicle of Rudra, an ancient name for lord Shiva that means “the Howler.” Rudra is known as the “Lord of Beasts.”  He is often associated with the 11 Mahurts which signifies his rulership of the mind and the 10 indriyas (5 sensory and 5 motor functions).

There are 5 Prana-vayu (movements of essential vital force), the sacred spaces associated with them. I have described them both in Tantric terms as well as in terms of Ayurveda

  1. Prana: Represented by the Sun. Prana is moving when we exhale; this is a movement upward & outward from the body, when the vital force of the senses reach out to their object. This is the expression of our life force to penetrate the world and forever leaving our mark up it (which will come back to us again thru the 5 fold cycle of the vayus). Prana also represent what we give to the world. Many people who belong to traditional cultures will begin a deep breath with an exhalation whereas modern people are much more likely to inhale straight away when told to take a deep breath. In the later Tantras, this movement became associated with the pingala channel of the nadi system.

  2. Apaana: Represented by the Moon.  Apana vayu is the inward & downward movement which first comes to us thru the crown of our head in the form of grace or shaktipat as we receive the gift of life. In Ayurveda it’s the downward movement that aids elimination.  and moved down the body Ayurveda they say move downward and outward. Like for the elimination of bodily waste. In later Tantras this became associated with the Ida channel of the nadis system.

  3. Samaana: According to Ayurveda, it moves inwards, spinning towards a centre point like meditation. In the waking and dream state, prana-apana is active, however in states of deep-sleep samaana (the Equalizing breath) balances the inhalation and exhalation. The call it the equinox

  4. Udaana: The Ascending breath. This is the central channel; the shushumna. This is the upwards rising force. According to Ayurveda, it also moves outwards like speech.

  5. Vyaana: expansion in all directions radiating from the navel outward in all directions. Often considered as the nadis energy system similar to the meridians of Chinese Medicine.

What is the most essential quality?

The first story

The Trio Brahma vishnu mahesh cute picturesOnce upon a time all of the organs and functions of the body got into a debate about who was most essential. Many were praising the the way the skeletal system gave shape and standing to the body, or how the blood carried nutrients to maintain the body, others marveled the how the heart pumped blood and how the lung found it’s own way to pump air, then pranavayu came along and everyone silent, for they knew that without the warmth of prana and the movement of the vayus that all life would stop. The hearth would not beat, the blood would pool and go stagnant, and the breath stops; the body becomes cold and inert.    

The second story

Once upon a time, the Gods entered into a timeless argument over who was most powerful and essential for the functioning of life and this universe. Shiva happened to be moving about rather than sitting peacefully upon the peak of Mount Kailash. Something always seemed to be happening whenever Shiva was moving about. When Shiva came across this childish argument he sought to quell it by simply pointing out that none were as powerful as him and they should all just go home and forget this pettiness. Of course some of the big gods who were standing around took offense to this; namely Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu, the preserver. To their protests, Shiva merely revealed his true form as a mystical shaft (lingam) of light and said, “see if you can find where I end.”

shiva1The two who remained standing there laughed at the challenge and quickly set off in opposite directions to find those loose ends, finish off the argument, and, for once, make Shiva look live the fool; because after all, everything has to come to an end. But after eons searching thru the vastness of Shiva’s light they finally decided to meet back in Kashi where it all began. When they got there, Vishnu immediately fell to his feet to offer his most respectful pranam to Shiva. But Brahma, who, despite his capacity for creation, has no eye for consequences, lied and said that he had found an end. It was just over the horizon not so far and it had only taken so long to return because he had decided to rest there for a while and fell asleep. 

Almost nothing enrages Shiva like arrogance and upon this insult all of his his most fearsome aspects rose to the surface and with an upsurge of impulse he chopped of one of Brahma’s five heads. The greatest crimes in India are those that go against pure knowledge and wisdom; they call this killing a Brahmin. Even the Gods are subject to karma so this fierce form of Shiva, whom they call Bhairava, took up the skull and walked the four corners of India for the next 12 years. This is the version of Shiva most emulated by modern Naga babas and Aghore: naked, fearsome to behold, covered in the ashes of the funeral pyre where he makes his bed. Every part of his external image brings fear and revulsion. But if we take the time to get to know a true aghore we will get to know and over come our own fears. For that’s the social role of the Aghore, to show us that this is the worst it can get; this is our greatest fear; but actually, it’s not so bad. 

Aghore
Aghore

After 12 years of wandering like this, Bharava returned to Kashi, and not far from the train station washed himself in a small pond. All of his impurities (malas) dropped away along with the skull which had been his companion for 12 years. He once again brought balance to the three gunas within himself, overcoming their excess and deficiencies freeing himself from the wheel of time and the cycle of cause and effect. In short, even the most fearsome evil was able to overcome the inner turmoil of self and social recrimination and realize himself as that same light of the universe that is in all things without distinction of good or bad or any of the other opposites.

Head Chopping in Hinduism

Ravan tapasya
Ravana offering his own head to Shiva.

In Kashi, whenever Shiva takes this fierce form and starts chopping off heads they call him Bhairava and have given him a rather bureaucratic job of welcoming and signing in all the pilgrims to give them access to the spiritual vision necessary “to cross the river that is so hard to cross.” You could say that he does this by metaphorically chopping off their heads. This head chopping metaphor is a relatively common one in Hinduism. Shiva chopped Ganesh’s head in Ujjain. They have built their own Bhairava temple there to commemorate the great event. Of course it was a little bloody and gruesome, but due to that Ganesha received blessings from all of the gods and was given guardianship over the directions. Kali is also famous for her necklace (mala) of heads. Ravana, the main antagonist of the Ramayana was given his great powers by Shiva when he cut off his own head in offering to Shiva. My teacher once told me that “only Ravana can cut off his own head and get away with it.” Due to his great power of penance his head grew back every time. Ravana was actually said to have ten heads due to the vastness of his knowledge and wisdom. All of this suggests that a jnana yogi needs to acquire, by penance and blessing, knowledge which faces in all ten directions.

kali maIn Jyotish we also have the story of Rahu and Ketu, the north and south nodes. This all happened in the very beginning when the gods and demons (the bureaucrats and bohemians) figured out that they had to work together to retrieve the elixir of immortality by churning the ocean of milk; pretty much all the divine being had to help in some way. In their greed to get the amrit, they didn’t think much about the side effects which was the creation of the physical universe and it’s cycles. Laxmi and Kamadenu came from this churning as did some great toxins that Shiva was able to swallow to save everyone. When the amrit arose and they were getting ready to pass it around a beautiful dancing girl appeared, seductive and scantily dressed. This was a ploy by the gods who knew the demons could be easily distracted by their senses. From the start, they never intended to share the amrit with the demons from. Swarbhanu was watching and saw all of this happening so he disguised himself as one of the gods and lined up with them for the amrit while the rest of the demons were being pushed to the back of the line. But just as Swarbhanu was taking a drink Sun and the Moon alerted Vishnu who swiftly cut off his head, but it was too late, the amrit had made it down his throat and both halves of him were immortal. The called the head Rahu and the body Ketu and gave them an abode in the starry heavens with the planets. The continue their vendetta against Sun and Moon whom they’ve never forgiven. At the time of the eclipse they get their chance to exact revenge thru various methods of disruption. Rahu brings intense desire while Ketu brings an almost equal intensity to his ambivalence. While Rahu brings our focus to the material world an ensures that the wheel of karma keeps turning; Ketu cuts us from our material ambitions allowing us to surrender to what is. 

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Vedic Astrology: What is it? Who benefits? How to get a reading?

Who can benefit most from Vedic Astrology?

A wide variety of people us Vedic astrology for many reasons, but most of the people who come to me are looking to deepen their spiritual practice; or understand their place in society thru wealth, marriage, career; or perhaps they are concerned about their health, or their state of mind, or their family. 

Astrology shows how everything and everyone is connected so there are always things we can do to strengthen what is good in us and loosen our attachments what is dark and draining.

For remedial measures to work, we have to understand how and why they work, and they have to be something we are likely to follow. 

Like everything astrological, remedial measures have to be suited for this time and place.

What is Vedic Astrology?

Commonly known as Vedic Astrology because of it’s connection with Ayurveda, the science of life, Jyotish is the science of light. This science, as it’s practiced today, has it’s base in the Hora Shastra by Sage Parashara. The original book was written over one thousand years ago and my teacher still tells me to consult it before asking him questions.

Vedic astrology is unique from western astrology in several ways. The most obvious is that Parashara teaches us to use the sidereal chart which locates the true position of the planets in relation to the the time and place of ones birth. This means that compared to Topical chart used for western astrology, all of the planets will shift about 24 degrees (almost a whole 30 degree sign, x 12 gives us 360 degrees)). For example, in western astrology my Sun is in Sagittarius, but in the Vedic sidereal my Sun is in Scorpio. My Moon, however, is well advanced in Gemini in the western topical chart so it remains in Gemini in the sidereal chart, but at very low degrees. 

One of the other major differences is that the position of the sun is generally considered of lesser importance in Jyotisha than that of the Moon or the ascendant (rising sign). The ascendant changes sign every 2 hours, the moon every two days and the sun once per month, so it’s obvious where we will find the most individual and personalized reading. 

Jyotisha also has a system of planetary cycles called dashas that is missing from Western astrology which uses progression of planets to time predictions which is more cumbersome and does not offer the consistency of results offered by the dasha system.  The dashas allow for precise prediction and greater understanding of the cycles of this incarnation. We are connected to the planets as existing within ourselves and we are within them. All of the light which shines to illumine this world before us shines and is directed from within. We are that Shankara who is the source of the power of the wheel of energies. When we praise that Shankara, we praise the highest expression of our own selves by whose contraction and expansion this whole world comes into being and goes out again. 

The most important feature of Vedic astrology is how it works with Yoga, Ayurveda and Tantra to offer numerous remedial measures that can be personally tailored for anyone depending on their own will to gain the Supreme knowledge that nourishes, heals all wounds, allows us to form a union with ourselves, freeing us of all limitation.

How does Vedic Astrology differ from Western Astrology?

Vedic Astrology, known as Jyotisha, is the science of light which has been followed since ancient times in and around India where astrologers are still considered teachers, guides and counselors. The Vedic system of Astrology differs from the western system of Astrology by using the sidereal chart that accurately charts the locations of the planets which means that the planets in your charts will be shifted by about 24 degree. Considering each sign takes up 30 degrees, this means that the western topical astrology charts are out by almost an entire sign. This why many people find that their moons, for example, are in different signs in the two systems.

Vedic Astrology uses the rising sign chart, the Moon chart, the Sun chart and the Navamsha chart to uncover the mysteries of an individuals universe. Western astrology uses only the sun chart. From the Vedic perspective the sun is the soul of man, this makes it more difficult for us to understand than our mind, represented by the moon, and our physical existence, represented by our rising sign chart. It’s only a few who are blessed to not only recognize their own, but to be able to articulate it as well. Our mind and our body we can generally have a coherent conversation about, this is why Vedic astrology generally discusses only these more manifest karmas.

Vedic Astrology has a dasha system that allows for accurate prediction of events on a time line. The dashas are the periods of our life that are ruled by the different planets. The Vedic system uses 9 planets: the seven main ones (Sun , Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn), and Rahu and Ketu (the north and south nodes), dark spots in the sky that cause eclipses whenever they come over the sun or moon. These nine plants each rule over a span of years which combines to 120 years. Saturn, for example, rules over 19 years. Within Saturn’s 19 years, each planet again rules a period of time so that the time periods of all nine planets equals 19. So the 19 year dasha period of Saturn has nine sub-periods, each sub-period again has nine sub-periods. The dasha‘s are used to understand more specifically what karmas are arising at different periods of your life.

The predictive capability allowed by the dasha system is how Vedic astrology proves itself. When the dasha periods are combined with the transiting planets, astrological prediction can be amazingly accurate. But making such predictions does not necessarily serve the client or the astrologer. The more specific an astrologer tries to be in their prediction, the more likelihood there is of making an error and leading a client down a wrong path. Also, in most cases, one cannot be sure of an exact birth time or location coordinates which will always have a subtle effect on a chart and a life. But more importantly, not all karmas are so fixed as to be certainties.

Free will plays a huge role in how we are affected by karma. One of the main jobs of an astrologer is to help people use their free will most effectively by pointing out the benefics and malefics in their life and suggesting subtle remedies based on the desires and abilities of the client. The predictive capabilities of Vedic astrology should not be taken to suggest that we are completely ruled over by fate, but rather we could be if we don’t maintain some kind of vigilant awareness of our mind, body and spirit.

Vedic astrology can be an excellent tool for such personal awareness, especially when combined with the complimentary tools such as yoga, Ayurveda, and other spiritual practices.

If you have any questions about Vedic astrology please contact me at holliday.michael@gmail.com

Om Namah Shivaya

How does a reading work? 

There are generally five parts to a reading. First, I take the birth data you give me and caste the chart. Next, I look into your past to find details about your life and family so that we might gain confidence in the data, and the client can be assured that astrology is a working science. The third step goes thru a broad array of past and future and personal characteristics. Vedic astrology loves specific questions that it can answer clearly and directly so we address these in the fourth part of the reading, as well as philosophical questions that this science often provokes from people. The last part is the most important part where we discuss remedial measures. 

What kinds of remedies are available?

The astrology chart is like a doctors pathology report. For the client, much of the karmic script is just meaningless data; what’s important is the medicine. “What can I do?” This is what is most important: what can we do to help ourselves, to help others, and to help this world. Thru the remedies, astrology shows us the ways we can connect to that universal energy in order be more effective in the three worlds.

Vedic astrology is supported by all of the remedial measures of yoga, tantra & ayurveda. Classical remedies include gem stones, metals, colours, weekdays, mantras, offering service, charity or donation, or actively harmonizing with some part of nature, giving worship to specific deities. I can also offer individual advice for meditation and asana practice. Some generalized health, diet and lifestyle advise is also possible.

Reading
Mike Holliday at his desk in Varanasi, India.

Astrological Services

Initial Consultation: 1.5 – 2 hours ($50 – $300) 

  • Full chart assessment of the past, present and future karma

  • Evolution of consciousness

  • Major life themes

  • Remedial measures suited individuals in the modern world

  • Includes one Skype call (or detailed e-mail), one e-mail with basic information before the call and another follow up e-mail to address question afterwards.    

Follow-Up Consultations: 1 hour ($50 – $200) 

  • To answer specific questions 

  • To give an annual report

  • These can be completed by call or e-mail.

Chart Matching to assess suitability for marriage and advise on relationship challenges that the individuals are likely to face, both as individuals and as a couple. Traditionally this is used for partner selection, but it can also be a great relationship tool for couples to understand what brings then together and the lessons they are here to learn thru their relationships. I also give advice on marriage gem stone selection since diamond is not always the most supportive gem stone for marriage. (Average donation $250 for both charts.)

Payments can be made by e-mail interact transfers or PayPal.

For information about astrology readings, courses and information sessions please contact me at holliday.michael@gmail.com 

 

 

 

 

The Ground of Yoga: Why is yoga different from everything else we do?

What is the ground of Yoga? What is it that makes yoga unique and special setting it apart from all the other activities we perform on the course of the day or throughout our lives?

According to Patanjali, Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.

yoga cittavrtti nirodaha

Thru tradition we are advises to ground ourselves in our practice in a similar way.

Om shree ganesha namaha

Any kind of spiritual exercise begins with supplication to Ganesha, famous as the remover of obstacles, and our mind being the biggest obstacle to spiritual realization. The little rat (rodent) he uses as a vehicle is always chewing like the mind. You’ll also see his image or some symbol relating to him at the entrance ways of temples and some homes.

 

A fairly famous way of opening into a spiritual practice like yoga and meditation goes like this:

Om shree ganesha namaha

Om aparvitro pavitrova sharva vashtang

gato o piva yashmaret pundari

kaksham asavantra suchii

Om madhai namaha

Om keshai namaha

Om Rishikeshai namaha

Om pundari kakshan punatu x 3

Om apsarpantu te bhuta, ye bhuta bhuvi sanshitas

ye bhuta vignakartarste nashyantu

Shiva jnana

Om namaha shivaya

After supplicating Ganesha, it goes on to purify the body internally and externally thru supplication to Vishnu the great preserver and operator of the three gunas within the main trinity of gods at the level of Ishwara. After the purification rights (pundari kakshan punatu), we insist that ghosts, latent desires (apsar) and mental impressions of the past be banished from disturbing us from our practice. This will happen by reaching the level of Shiva knowledge (Shivajnana); universal consciousness. So from this we want to practice from a ground of Shiva consciousness.

As we continue our contemplation of the earth tattva, we have to remember that Shiva descended as far as earth and then stopped. He could have descended further, he can do as he likes, thus they say, he likes earth the best. Shiva descends to the most impure gross dense point of earth before making the ascension back thru the tattva.

In this regards, I think of all these people who ask about past lives and such things. If we consider the tattva of tantra, the individual soul exists below the maya tattva, so even our soul is subject to time and the rest, which allows for linear progression and thus past lives. Time, of course takes on a different dimension relative to the birth and death of that soul so when we think about past lives we need to consider that that soul too will make a complete cycle from purity to impurity to purity once again. Such a realization might be the Sankya ideal of kaivalaya for the duality is still there, but Tantra advises to press on beyond the knots, otherwise known as the universal womb, that separate us from from the supreme consciousness, which is the realization of the non-difference between the universal and the individual: moksha; liberation in this life. Patanjali’s yoga cittavrttinirodha is both the the definition of yoga and the means to stopping the fluctuations. We stop (nirodha) the fluctuations (vrtti) of the mind (chitta) by bringing them together in union (yoga). You could say that the project of yoga is to harmonize the mental fluctuations; the cittavrtti.

Going back to the original question of this article, what makes yoga unique. Yoga shares many similarities to creative projects like dance and the arts which also seek a kind of harmony between the artist and the mythical spirits which moves his hand to draw of feet to dance. But there is a subtle. Of course, one could make arguments for dancers at the highest levels reaching a kind of samadhi; but this says little stress, tension and competition that mark the a climb. The truth is that dance very typically has numerous undesirable side effects related to vata and pitta excess and diminished kapha. This is the exact opposite of what yoga is trying to do: cool, calm, lubricate and nourish the body and ultimately the universe. Harmony is something we seek on all levels, but only when we act for something far greater than ourselves or our limited sphere of perception to we strive for yogic perfection: balanced body, balanced mind, balanced spirit.

Sankya will take you to a firm notion of duality, while Vedanta will soften that sense of duality with the Brahman, but will maintain some sense of maya, while Buddhism is said to take you to the void, Tantra is said to carry us beyond the void to the very source of the arising, sustenance, falling away of every mental impression, experience, and the whole universe. I suppose you could say that dance will allow one to harmonize with some few others, Sankya will aid in harmonizing with most others, but only Tantra seeks harmony with the entire universe.

Freedom

I found predictive astrology while I was searching for freedom. As I came to better understand the limits to my freedom it just made sense that astrology would work. I was fortunate to have Sanjay close to give a demonstration and then, of course, to guide and teach me this fascinating science. There is nothing mystical about astrology except this view by even the most rational western scientists that it is indeed mystical. Science is observation and hypothesis for the purpose of prediction; astrology is no different. This is also how I came to astrology: I made a hypothesis that it should work, I tested this with Sanjay’s astrological knowledge, and now I am also capable of using astrological calculations myself for prediction – anyone who took the time to learn Astrology could too.

But astrology only shows how we are limited; it does not shoe us how be free. In regards to the tattva (the elements of existence), astrology represents the lower thirty one from kala to earth. This represents all of manifest existence within the realm of duality. In modern terms, this would include everything that is ruled by the natural laws of physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics and the rest. All this change and diversity we experience is a result of these natural laws.

According to materialist philosophy, this is all there is. And regarding most orthodox spiritual paths which take the tattva into account, this divisioin represents the separation of God and Man; spirit and matter.

Tantra takes us further. And truth be told, even the Upanishades take us deeper though it’s rarely discussed. Beyond the tattvas of material existence are the tattvas which connect us to divinity. But we should be clear that the lower tattva are not in any way disconnected from the divine. ALL OF THIS is the Brahman. “I am Shiva; I am all of this.” Nothing is really separate from the Brahmin. All of this matter, all of this activity that we carry out is all the activity of Brahmin.

The duality is not a true duality, but only apparent duality. It seems to be that way because the limited body provides a limited perspective, but if we take the time we can learn to view the world in a more expansive, holistic, inclusive way. (It might be more correct to say that we can unlearn this world of division that we have become so accustomed to).

What does Tantra teach?

I often refer to Tantra as the Science of Freedom. This is not a hedonistic sort of freedom as practiced by the neo-tantrics (India has it’s own version of materialistic hedonism called Charvak). The freedom we can gain thru Tantra is directly related to the level of personal responsibility we are prepared to take.

The only value that is really taught in Tantra is a deep love and respect for material existence. If we consider that everything arises from within, this becomes a quest for self love; the world is merely a reflection of what we have inside.

That we are Shiva and this world is merely Shiva’s play is a fairly famous concept. But this universal Shiva nature that is dancing creation, maintenance, and destruction is not dancing in this world but upon the stage of our inner selves. It’s not others who are watching the play but our own senses who are the spectators. This is clearly stated in the Siva Sutras.

Why is Tantra the science of freedom? Because it empowers us to take command of our lives and follow what is in our hearts rather than merely reacting to what the world throws at us. We can either be bound by material existence, or we can be set free by it. This may be the only real choice we ever face. Every moment the choice must be made again. Are we free humans capable of directing our own fate, or are we bound pashus (no different from a draft animal yoked to the plough)?

To be empowered thru Tantra does not make one the slave master profiting from the ignorance of others. Love is never greedy and selfish; love is giving and accepting. If Tantra could be measured, we would be advised to look at how much one is capable of giving rather than the modern measure of success which is accumulation.

As we begin to discover some kind of spiritual truth, the only fitting response is worship of that great Lord from whose body the entire universe arises, is sustained and then falls away. Only by grace will our own Shiva nature will be revealed.

So, we can be bound like a draft animal or we can be lord of the universe. If we wish to be lord of the universe we only have to give up the farm; give up everything we have in this life to worship and we will achieve the whole world.

Shiva is free; just as we are free. There is no bargain going on. Shiva is not bound by any agreement; Shiva is not bound by anything. This means that there is no one thing that can be done to coerce his grace to fall upon us. Shiva reveals and conceals out of freedom of the will. He needs no reason to reveal and he needs no reason to conceal.

This is the great play of Lord Shiva.

Om namah shivaya

 

Yoga Therapy Client Relations: Homework

  1. What does it mean to create a safe container?

Every sort of therapy, regardless of the intensity requires the client to feel a sense of safety and security in the space and in the presence of the therapist. W

One of the main roles we play as yoga teachers and traditional therapists is just to see people for who they really are; which from my perspective is Shiva; lord of the universe. The truth being that everyone is filled with divine beauty. Darshan is the Hindu expression for divine vision: they go to the temple to both give darshan and to receive darshan; to see god and be seen by god.

Darshan involves seeing without judgment; acceptance without condition. People can feel this and they generally feel safe in such an atmosphere. This sort of attitude of acceptance also involves ensuring that our expectations are balanced so that the client may feel empowered to take control of their own lives and be successful on their own terms.

I think it’s equally important for students and clients to understand that they are the ones doing the work and that healing will arise from within. It certainly is not the role of the yoga instructor to take any credit for any changes (or healing) that takes place. People who praise us for our helping hand would be better to direct their praise to that Shankara who is lord of the wheel of energies. This is just our luck to be present and to be used as a instrument for healing.

  1. Telling a student what is best for them vs encouraging them to find out for themselves?

This issue has been raised many times in different ways throughout the workshops I have been attending at Ajna. On the one hand, the body is incredibly strong and can handle almost any posture that we enter into voluntarily, on the other hand, the body is an incredibly fragile thing that can be injured for almost no apparent reason.

Yoga relies on several forms of knowledge including scriptural (knowledge of the experts) and experiential (knowledge gained thru our own experience). As yoga teachers’ people come to us because we have prior experience and study of a practice they would like to incorporate into their lives. From this perspective, it’s our job to advise them based on our own experience or personal study of the scriptures (modern scientific research on yoga could be considered scriptural knowledge in the modern context since modern scientist often play the role of guru these days).

However, telling people what we have learned thru experience or scripture is only half of our job. We must also inform students that if they have any doubt about our teachings, they should discover it for themselves either thru their own personal experience contemplative meditation.

The examples from Patanjali emphasis surrender to that divine will which is always guiding our material being, but there is another side of yoga that emphasizes personal responsibility. If everything is arising from within then the truth is that we cannot blame any of our injuries on our yoga teacher; we have to take responsibility for that. (We cannot blame anything on anyone else for the events of our lives or the way we perceive them). We cannot expect to be healed by our yoga teacher, as this is also our own responsibility.

…. This will be continued in the answer to question #4: “owning” ones own practice.

  1. How does my awareness of privilege (or lack of privilege) affect my actions?

By all appearances I am a middle aged white male; top of the heap.

I’ve spent considerable time traveling places like India where my white skin quickly distinguishes me as a wealthy and privileged person of this world. Add this to a society where the “guest is god,” then I most certainly take a privileged position in Indian society. In Canada, this travel is seen as leisure, which also creates an appearance privilege (how many times have I heard: “You’re so lucky.”)

On the other hand, I’m hard of hearing, metis, forest loving traveler following some foreign beliefs. I can let my appearance get pretty rough, and of course isolation has it’s own effects. Other than being a white male, whatever privileges society offers are swept away in the way marginalized people get swept away in almost any society.

Perhaps I’m especially privileged that I can choose one appearance over the other. Knowing I can choose, I generally prefer to choose the role of marginalized. It’s part of the lesson for people to look beyond appearances. On the other hand, it can be very useful to play into these appearances, polish myself up and assert my privilege to get what I want from society.

The important thing is to recognize that the world of appearance does not change what we have inside, which is where our true strengths and weaksnesses lie. We cannot take it personally when someone gives way to our privilege, nor should we take it personally when someone takes advantage of theirs. It’s always give and take and it all arises from within.

  1. How to empower our students to “own” their practice?

I often tell my students that my role is only to teach them yoga so that they can go back home and make their own practice in the bedrooms and private spaces. I teach pretty close to the same routine every class and try to remind them (and myself) that it’s their class; I can adjust to what they want. I often tell them that listening to me is actually taking away from a much greater inward experience that they could have at home. I ask them about their own practice (yogic or otherwise) and encourage them to follow that and perhaps discover the yoga in it even if it doesn’t seem at all like a yogic activity. I try to inform clients on the various kinds of yoga that are not necessarily asana based and encourage them to connect with those things that bring them a clean and clear sense of joy. It’s also not uncommon for me to go to people’s homes and practice (or teach) yoga with them there. And of course always trying to direct their awareness inward where they can experience their power and realize their own personal responsibility.

  1. Strengths based practice: how does this intersect with how I’ve been taught to teach yoga?

This field is perhaps one of the main ways that yoga and other forms of traditional healing differ from healing in the west. The experience of most traditional healers that we are not really healers at all; but perhaps, at best, we are instruments of healing in the same way almost anything can act as such an instrument when the time for healing comes. The true healing, of course, comes from within the individual. I have often been taught that my job is just to do my job to the best of my ability and not worry about results. Not everyone will get the same results and certainly not everyone is looking for the same results; they will get from me whatever they have in them to get and I will get the same from them.

This is traditional ways: give up seeking results, give up your attractions and repulsions, forget your prejudices, be aware and see people deeply for who they really are which in yoga essentially means to see ourselves deeply for who we really are: we are that shiva nature, that consciousness permeating everything, that joy and freedom that underlies everything. Be aware of who you really are and then express that in the therapeutic model that resonates with you, master your own practice (whatever that is) and share it with others, it will resonate with some people and others will be repulsed by it. This is not personal.

Yoga talks about the different kinds of students, this relates also with healing: some will be healed miraculously from the slightest hint, some will need some explanation, some will need practice and explanation, some will need even more work for just the slightest understanding, others will never get anything from us; some might get a small token, others a fortune. These things are not for us to be concerned with; this is all karma. By some combination of their luck and our luck things will happen. However, we are still very much personally responsible, so, in the context of yoga therapy our job is twofold: 1. to keep up to date with the latest therapeutic models; and 2. to cultivate inner yogic awareness. Put another way, we must be aware of all the tattva (which is all this science and nature we are studying from this guruji who has so many impressive years of experience); know them by scripture (specialists) and know them by personal experience. These classes are modern form scripture, however life experience is always the highest knowledge.

We will heal to that tattva for which we have awareness. The more pervasive our awareness the deeper is our ability to heal… ourselves….. and then we see that we are not different from those who come in front of us.

Our job is not to heal, but to be ourselves to the greatest possible degree. If our dharma is too heal, then we have a particular responsibility to be the absolute best version of that healers self we can be. If we want to teach empowerment we have to realize it in ourselves. Prove that the method works on your self and then teach that method to others.

I would love to hear your comments.