समानुभूति
Samānubhūti

June 24, 2022

Commentary by Ami Bansal and Garima Borwankar

Part VI

In Part I of this commentary, we, Ami and Garima, outlined five aspects of samānubhūti, the virtue Gurumayi gave for her birthday on June 24, 2022. To date, we have put before you our understanding of the first four aspects, and now, in the next two parts of the commentary, we will focus on the fifth aspect:

Samānubhūti is responding to others with gentleness and nonjudgment.

To start, wouldn’t it be useful to probe what it means to respond?

Let’s look at the word for “response” in the Hindi and Sanskrit languages: pratikriyā. This word is made up of the prefix prati, which in this context means “toward” or “in answer to,” and kriyā, which means “act” or “action.” Pratikriyā—or a response—therefore refers to a broad category of actions taken toward or prompted by someone or something else.

Now, the specific nature of the response can and will vary widely. It will be informed not just by what the other party is saying or doing, but also by one’s own attitude, one’s own approach, one’s own presence of mind (or lack thereof), and—as a Siddha Yogi—the fruits of one’s sādhanā.

We want to take a moment now to share with you the guidance we have received many times over the years from Gurumayi, and which many of you have also heard Gurumayi speak about. This guidance is that regardless of whether you have ten minutes or several hours to do sādhanā on a given day, regardless of whether you’re doing one practice or multiple practices on a regular basis, regardless of whether you stick to a set schedule of practices or you have to be more fluid with when and how you practice—you will accrue fruits from your sādhanā, and those fruits will be available for you to draw upon as you go about your life. No effort you make in sādhanā goes unseen by the benevolent eye.

Returning to our discussion: we mentioned that “response” is a broad category of action. There is a whole range of ways in which you can respond to someone or something. You can, for example, respond reactively, driven purely by your emotions or past impressions. Or you can elect to respond prudently, from a sacred place inside of yourself, from a place of greater centeredness within and in a manner that exhibits the virtues you are cultivating.

When your response is alloyed with the virtue of samānubhūti, it possesses unique qualities. Two of those qualities—and the qualities we are highlighting now—are gentleness and nonjudgment. In this part of the commentary, we will study the quality of gentleness in more depth. (In the next part, we will turn to nonjudgment.)

We are certain that all of you are familiar with the quality of gentleness. We say this because as children, gentleness is a quality that we were all able to find in ourselves in the blink of an eye, or, as we’d say in Hindi, palak jhapakate hī.

A staff member in Shree Muktananda Ashram, with whom we’ve been in touch as we’ve been writing this commentary, shared with us a story she’d heard from Gurumayi. We were so chuffed when we heard this story—it came our way so easily, so readily, and at just the right moment. We looked at each other and simultaneously said, “We’ve got to share this story with everyone!”

So now, with great delight, we’ll do just that:

Gurumayi was once playing with a young child who was about four or five years old. He could be rambunctious—even a bit rough—when he played, as children should be.

It was early evening, and they were at the boy’s home. At one point, the boy told Gurumayi that he wanted to show her a gift that he’d received from one of his relatives. He disappeared into a closet, telling Gurumayi not to follow him and instead to stay in the living room.

In no time at all, the boy emerged from the closet, having donned a very special outfit. His pants were a tawny brown in color, with a print that mimicked the texture of bamboo. He wore a matching button-up shirt that had all sorts of fun images on it—silhouettes of elephants, giraffes, and other animals, and even an image of a pair of aviator sunglasses. On his head was a safari-style hat with the brim folded up on the sides, and both his shirt and hat featured a bright white placard that read: “ZOOKEEPER.”

The sun, which was streaming in through the windows, dipped toward the horizon. In the evening light, the thin, summery cloth of the young boy’s outfit took on a diaphanous quality. The grain of the bamboo print gleamed as though it had been threaded with gold. The boy shone.

Gurumayi was in disbelief upon seeing the transformation that had come over him—and just like that! This young child wasn’t just wearing an outfit; he had become the zookeeper. He stood a little taller, and his whole body was palpably suffused with the warmth of his heart. At the same time, his voice became a shade more authoritative; he began walking with his arms out to the sides, as a person does when they are feeling like they’re in command of something, and when they’re about to exhibit their hard-earned accomplishments.

The boy invited Gurumayi to his library-playroom area with these words: “Follow me. We’ve got work to do. There are so many animals needing our attention.”

Once they were in that room, the boy led Gurumayi over to a big white canvas bin that was brimming with many small animal stuffies he had received on different occasions from Gurumayi, as well as from his family and friends. He then curved his body over the bin, which was only a few inches shorter than he was, and slowly pulled out the first stuffie, nestling it in the snug little hollow of his chest. For a few moments, he simply stood there, cradling this stuffie—his body, the expression on his face, his whole being metamorphosed by what can only be described as an unspeakable tenderness. All traces of his roughhousing, which had been on full display just moments before, had vanished.

He very delicately placed his ward on the ground and then repeated this with several more of the animals in his care—the lions and tigers and whales and bears. He cradled them and set them down, one at a time, explaining all the while to Gurumayi exactly what kind of attention each animal required. As Gurumayi watched the boy tending to his animals with such love, such care, such softness, her eyes became moist.

The young boy was so present, and so intent on making sure that Gurumayi felt included—that she felt she was part of the zoo scenario that he was in charge of—that he soon picked up a little bird stuffie and asked Gurumayi to hold it carefully. He instructed Gurumayi to stroke the bird if she wished.

So, Gurumayi took the bird and kissed it. The boy, whose head was bowed while he was busy tending to other animals, happened to catch a glimpse of what Gurumayi was doing. And Gurumayi knew that this zookeeper was pleased, since she saw the corner of his mouth lift into an enchanting smile.

After this, he declared that all the animals were feeling better, and that it was time to move on to other important things.

What a wonderful story, right?

Ami said it immediately took her back to Gurudev Siddha Peeth, to when she was a child offering sevā cleaning and mopping the courtyard with her friends. The courtyard is adjacent to Baba Muktananda’s Samadhi Shrine and Bhagavan Nityananda’s Temple, and it is a place where Gurumayi has given darshan and held satsangs on countless occasions. For Ami and the other children, the Ashram and especially the courtyard were Gurumayi’s home; they emanated the shakti of Shri Guru. They would always jump at the opportunity to join the adults in cleaning this area. Ami recalls cleaning every marble tile and wiping down every tree ring of the mango trees as gently and attentively as possible so as not to disturb the sanctity of this sacred place.

Garima said the boy’s story brought alive for her the memory of when she was ten years old and would read to her mother every day after school. Her mother suffered from chronic migraines and would often have to lie in bed, sometimes for days on end. At such times she wouldn’t be able to do anything—not even read or write, which were her absolute passion. So Garima, as just a young child, would sit next to her and read. Those moments were always quiet and restful, and Garima’s mother would listen with her eyes closed and her hand on Garima’s lap, an expression of peacefulness spread across her face.

We are certain that each one of you reading this commentary will have had similar experiences as children—times when you watched that instantaneous shift to gentleness happen within yourselves. Don’t you see? Gentleness is something that we all know about, something we have long understood on a deep and instinctual level.

Still, that’s not to say we can’t get even more familiar with gentleness, that we can’t learn even more about it—especially since it will have been some time since we were children and this quality came to us with such immediacy. At any age, the strength of gentleness cannot be underestimated.

The word for “gentleness” in the Sanskrit and Hindi languages is saumyatā, and it carries connotations of komalatā (softness and tenderness, like the feel of the fluffy down that covers a baby bird) and sheetalatā (coolness, like the touch of moonbeams). In its adjective form it becomes saumya. Saumya and saumyatā are derived from soma, a name for the moon, as well as a word for “nectar.”

You seek the company of a person who is saumya because they have many of these qualities. Their presence is soothing. When you’re with them, you feel safe and reassured. If your temper is flaring up, you find that being with them cools you down. Their presence alleviates any agitation or anxiety that is whirling around inside of you; it helps you return to a state of calmness.

For us, Ami and Garima, the feeling of saumyatā brings to mind the practice of darshan. On the Siddha Yoga path, we have all come to love darshan—the Guru’s darshan. One of the reasons why is that when we are in the presence of the Guru, when we are gazing at the Guru, all of these qualities arise in our hearts—gentleness, softness, coolness, nectarean joy.

To help you to better appreciate the many shades of meaning inherent in saumyatā, or gentleness, we would like now to share with you a number of words in the Sanskrit, Hindi, and Urdu languages that relate closely to saumyatā. We have learned from Gurumayi how enormously useful it is to explore the varied definitions, connotations, and synonyms of terms such as this one, which are key to our sādhanā.

Saumyatā is associated with prashānti, or tranquility, and with dhīratā, patience and strength. It encompasses santulana, balance; mrudulatā, tenderness; and narma-dilī, soft-heartedness. It implies vinamratā, humility; dayālutā, kindness; sharāfat, honor, good manners, politeness. It is also associated with bhadratā, or goodness, and insāniyat, a sense of humanity. In one who is saumya, all of these stellar qualities shine forth like rays of moonlight—chandra-prabhā—and they soothe and bring luminosity to the world.

In her book Enthusiasm, Gurumayi has dedicated an entire chapter to the quality of gentleness and the necessity of cultivating this quality when doing Siddha Yoga sādhanā. In this chapter, Gurumayi says:

When you are able to convey gentleness, when you are able to exhibit gentleness, when you are able to speak from gentleness, when you are able to act from gentleness, it removes fear. It removes fear in others, and it removes fear within yourself. It opens your heart. Gentleness allows you to trust and move forward. Gentleness relaxes your entire being so that you are able to appreciate the innate goodness of the universe.1

Who doesn’t want to overcome their fear? We all want to do this. In the age of social media, “FOMO”— the fear of missing out—has become pervasive. Many times this fear is just something we ourselves have created. Nevertheless, we let ourselves get ensnared by its tentacles.

According to the Indian scriptures, the feeling of fear arises from the illusion of separateness. This “separateness” refers to the perception and belief that we are cut off from the supreme Self, from God, from our own higher Self. In the mundane world, this fear is often linked to a sense of isolation, a feeling that we are separate from others, that others have something better than we do.

Gentleness has the opposite effect: it forges connection. With that comes untold advantages, such as fostering feelings of calmness, self-confidence, and togetherness with others. Gentleness allows the one who is receiving gentleness to once again experience their connectedness with their heart, with their true Self.

It is no wonder, then, that gentleness is an essential component of any response that demonstrates samānubhūti. As we explain in Part I of this commentary, the sama in samānubhūti refers to the awareness that everything is, in fact, equal, connected, an expression of the same Self; this awareness is, by definition, the antithesis of fear. When you act in a way that exudes samānubhūti, whoever is receiving your goodwill feels that connection. Samānubhūti connects you to you, it connects you to others, and it connects others to themselves.

So, the question is: How do you ensure that you remain limber in your ability to stay in touch with gentleness? How can you store the sensations, the textures, the feelings you associate with gentleness in your awareness, so that gentleness is always available to you?

First, it is essential to recognize and remember what we mentioned earlier—that the quality of gentleness is intrinsic to your being and to everyone’s being. Now, some of you may protest upon hearing this statement. You might say, “Well, maybe once upon a time I used to be gentle, but I don’t think it’s in my nature anymore—I’ve grown to be more of a bold and assertive kind of person,” or “I wouldn’t say I’m gentle—everyone is always telling me how loud and fierce I am.”

Like all positive qualities, gentleness is something that needs to be nurtured and honed. There is instinctive gentleness in the smile of a newborn baby, for example. Yet as the baby grows up, that same gentleness may not always characterize their smiles (unless they make the concerted effort to be genuine in their expressions). Nonetheless, this does not change the fact that every living being has the capacity for gentleness. Gentleness may go underutilized or wholly unused, but it never really goes away for good.

In the Sanskrit text Shrī Lalitā Sahasranāma, “The Thousand Names of the Supreme Goddess (the Supreme Shakti),” one of the names given for the goddess is Saumyā, the “embodiment of gentleness.” This supreme Shakti, the all-pervasive Consciousness represented by the goddess, dwells within each one of us as the prāna-shakti, the power of the life force. So, if saumya is one of the qualities of the supreme Shakti, and this Shakti abides in each of us as our life force, then it follows that the quality of gentleness infuses our being.

And yes, this applies even to those among you who identify as “loud” or “assertive” or “strong,” or anything that might be mistaken as being in conflict with gentleness. In Enthusiasm, Gurumayi teaches that when you are feeling gentleness, what you are actually feeling is great strength within yourself.

Consider the breath, which is one of the main forms in which we experience the prāna-shakti in our being. Just think about how gentle the natural flow of your breath is. It is so gentle, it moves so softly and rhythmically, that most times you hardly notice it as it’s flowing in and out.

At the same time this prāna is powerful enough to sustain your very life. To get a glimpse of the immense power of the prāna, some people who are serious hatha yogis will learn certain prānāyāma, or breath-control techniques. One such powerful breathing technique is bhastrikā, also known as “the bellows breath.” In bhastrikā one vigorously and rapidly inhales and exhales, pushing air in and out of one’s lungs and abdomen. This kind of breathing generates heat inside the body, much like a steady flow of air fans a fire. It has multiple benefits, including warming the body, clearing the air passages, and stoking the inner digestive fire. (Please note that if you are interested in doing prānāyāma exercises, including bhastrikā, it is important to do so under the supervision of an expert.)

A similar analogy is that of a spider’s web. The silken strands of a spider’s web may look delicate, but their appearance conceals an immense strength. According to scientists, the silk from a spider’s web can withstand five times the tension or stress that the same thickness of steel can withstand.

The gentlest things, therefore, are often the strongest. One way that you can experience your own innate gentleness and the strength inherent in it is by becoming aware of the natural flow of your breath. This will automatically help you become centered in your own Self. You will observe, and feel firsthand, how the breath is gentle, how the breath is powerful, and how gentleness is powerful.

To bring about calmness before responding to someone or something, take the support of your breath. It’s there—for you. We spoke earlier about the distinction between a reactive, emotional response to a situation and a more measured and conscientious response. Making the switch from the first type of response to the second—and thereby developing your ability to respond in a way that communicates samānubhūti—can be as straightforward as taking a moment

                                             to pause,

                                                            to connect with your breath,

                                                                           to experience its gentleness,

                                                                                          and then to proceed with your response.

In her Message for 2018—Satsang—Gurumayi invited us to carry out the resolution to Pause and Connect. “At any given moment,” Gurumayi said, “at any given place—pause and connect.”

When you pause before you respond, you get in touch with yourself first. (This coming into communion with one’s own Self is a form of satsang—which is why Gurumayi taught about it in relation to her Message for 2018.) By pausing in this way, you better ensure that you don’t get swept up in whatever emotions may be evoked by the situation. You are equipped to support whoever is in need, to be present with and attentive to them, without taking on whatever it is they’re feeling. It’s like what happens when you’re waiting on the side of a dirt road, looking to cross, and a car drives by. As the car passes, it blows dust all around. The natural thing for you to do in the moment is step back and wait for the dust to settle before you cross. This is because you don’t want to get covered in the dust. Similarly, when you observe that someone is getting caught up in their swirling emotions, it is wise to pause before taking any action, to do what you need to do to ensure that you won’t be unsteadied by their emotions. Then you can respond with your gentleness.

Another way you can reunite with your own gentleness is by practicing a dhāranā. In Part IV of this commentary, we shared with you that Gurumayi has given dhāranās as a means to practice the virtues, to connect with what they feel like in our minds and bodies and to better understand how we may demonstrate those virtues. We led you in a dhāranā on compassion, which is a key aspect of samānubhūti. Now, we will lead you in a dhāranā on gentleness, another essential quality of samānubhūti.

Previously, we had referred to the gentleness that was so familiar to all of us as children. We hope that this dhāranā will give you a head start in reconnecting with your own gentleness.

Choose a private and quiet space to do the dhāranā. Be sure to give it your full attention. You should not engage in this practice while doing any other activity.

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Stand in place.

 

Take a moment to lightly stomp your feet on the floor.

 

While stomping in this playful manner,

               shake your arms, like they’re leaves on a tree rustling in the autumn wind.

As you continue to lightheartedly stomp and shake your arms,

               turn your head easefully to the left and to the right.

 

Stand still once more.

Become aware of your breath as it swells and recedes within you.

 

Now, bring your awareness to your ribcage.

Feel how it expands with your inhalation

               and releases with your exhalation.

 

Now bring your attention to your abdomen

               and feel this area rising with your inhalation

                              and subsiding with your exhalation.

 

Continue to focus on the natural flow of your prāna, your breath.

Simply enjoy its movement.

 

Observe how you are feeling inside your being.

               Are you feeling refreshed?

                              Are you feeling relaxed?

                                             Are you feeling energized?

               Are you feeling like you have access to your inner world?

 

Take a seat.

               Establish a comfortable posture.

                              Close your eyes.

 

And now the journey begins.

 

Your mind will take you back in time to your childhood.

Imagine that you are standing on a wide-open expanse of land

               that is covered in wildflowers.

                              The entire landscape is awash with

                                             blues and pinks,

                                                            yellows, oranges, and reds—

                                                                           flowers of every color imaginable.

 

You are about to embark on your journey.

 

To make this journey,

               you place your mind in a flying chariot,

                              like the pushpaka vimāna,

                                             the chariot used by the gods and goddesses

                                                            in the Indian scriptures.

 

However, this chariot, in your imagination, is unique to you.

               It can take on any appearance you wish.

               You may adorn it in any way that you choose.

 

Now the chariot is bedecked with the embellishments of your choosing.

 

The chariot is ready to move forward.

               It is moving.

                              It is rapidly gaining momentum,

                                             and now…

                                                            it lifts off!

Up, up, up into the iridescent sky it soars.

               It keeps rising through the bright white clouds.

 

You look down and notice that you are passing over

               majestic mountain peaks and winding dales,

                              over turquoise lakes and emerald-green forests,

                                             over sapphire oceans and white sandy beaches.

 

All around you is exquisite beauty,

               the gorgeous terrain of your memory.

 

The chariot keeps gliding through the ether,

               as your mind goes back to a memory from your childhood

                              in which you expressed your gentleness

                                             to someone or something.

 

Suddenly the most familiar fragrance wafts your way, carried on the breeze.

It is a fragrance you associate with your childhood.

This scent gets stronger and stronger as you near your destination.

 

And now, finally, you have arrived at the age you have chosen to revisit.

 

Survey the landscape.

 

Where are you?

               Are you inside your house

                              or someone else’s house?

               Are you outside—

                              somewhere in nature?

               Are you by the ocean?

                              Or perhaps in the mountains?

               Are you in your school

                              or on a playground?

 

Notice where you are in the world of your childhood.

 

What is the weather like?

               Is the sun shining and warm on your skin?

                              Or is there a chill in the air?

               Is the sky overcast?

                              And is it raining?

 

Are you by yourself?

               Or are there other people around?

 

What objects do you see around you?

 

Now, as you are revisiting your childhood,

               allow yourself to zoom in on the exact moment

                              in which you happened to be expressing gentleness.

 

Observe the details of this memory.

               Who or what are you conveying your gentleness to?

 

Is it a person you love dearly?

               Or is it an animal?

Is it a special tree or a plant?

Is it a character from a story you have heard,

               or from a story you have created in your imagination?

Is it an object that you’re being gentle with?

               Perhaps it is your favorite toy or stuffie.

 

Notice who or what it is that you are expressing your gentleness to.

 

Connect with the feeling of gentleness in your being.

How does gentleness feel in your body?

               In your forehead?

                              In the muscles of your face—your eyes, your cheeks, your jaw?

               How does gentleness feel in the back of your neck?

                              In your throat?

                                             In your shoulders and arms?

                                                            In the palms of your hands

                                                                           and your fingers?

               How about in your back?

                              How does gentleness feel in your upper back?

                                             Your mid-back?

                                                            Your lower back?

               How does gentleness feel in your chest?

                              In your solar plexus?

                                             In your abdomen?

               How does gentleness feel in your pelvic bowl?

                              In your thighs?

                                             In your knees?

                                                            In your calves?

               How does gentleness feel in your ankles?

                              And in your feet, all the way to your toes?

 

And now, have you checked the sensation on your skin?

               How does gentleness feel there?

 

Oh, yes! How does gentleness feel in your heart,

               in the core of your being?

 

How does gentleness feel within?

 

Stay with this feeling of gentleness. Saumyatā.

 

When you are ready, you may open your eyes.

 

You may continue to practice this dhāranā—revisiting such moments of gentleness from your childhood and from throughout your life.

This will fortify your relationship with gentleness.

As you know, whenever you think or do something repeatedly—especially with conscious awareness—it becomes second nature to you.

Let gentleness become your second nature.

Let your expression of samānubhūti be replete with gentleness.

 

To be continued...

Dhāranā read by Ami Bansal
1Swami Chidvilasananda, “The Marvelous Balance of Gentleness,” ch. 10 in Enthusiasm (S. Fallsburg, NY: SYDA Foundation, 1997), p. 126.