During my monastic training in India the 1980s, I became intimately familiar with Pashupati—the Lord of the Beasts. It happened while I spent time alone as a sadhu, meditating and begging for my food near Pashupatinat, a Shiva temple located in the small town of Deopatan, to the east of Kathmandu. This ancient temple is a major destination for Hindu pilgrims from all over India and Nepal. It is situated to the south of a gorge carved out by the Bagmati River. Pashupatinat, often crowded by both pious pilgrims and wild monkeys, resides by the river, above the sacred funeral ghats where the dead are cremated daily on top of large piles of burning wood.
Snaking along the Pashupatinat temple walls, the Bagmati is considered as sacred as the Ganges itself. For Hindus, to bathe at Pashupatinat on particular phases of the moon is to ensure a place in Shiva’s Paradise, Kailash. For Tantric yogis, however, all rivers and places are sacred, and Shiva’s Paradise is to be realized within each yogi’s own heart, not in some distant place in the afterlife or at a sacred site.
Like the Indus Valley seal, the Nepali temple is dedicated to Pashupati. Pashu means “beast,” or “animal,” so the esoteric meaning of Pashupati in Tantra is “the controller of animal instincts.” In other words, in order to become free, we must redirect and become free from our instinctual tendencies, our psychological bondages. According to yoga, there are eight bondages, or asthapashas, which includes fear, shyness, doubt, pride of heritage, pride of culture, vanity, and backbiting, as well as the six enemies or sadripus, which includes lust, rage, greed, attachment to objects, pride, and envy. Lord Pashupati is thus a symbol of someone who has overcome these inner beasts, and Tantric yoga is a spiritual path whose ultimate goal is to overcome, or not be controlled by, these “wild beasts” of the mind.
In the evening, that first day at Pashupatinat, I was walking by the river, careful not to step on meditating or sleeping yogis. I noticed a group of half-naked bodies sitting in a circle around a towering figure with long, matted hair and beard. He was seated, like Shiva himself, in lotus pose. A few of his words, drifting in the smokefilled breeze, caught my attention. “Astapasha and sadripu…” Then he recited them, first the eight bondages— bhaya, ghr’na, lajja, shamka, kula, shiila, mana, yugupsa. Then the six enemies, kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, matsarya. The ancient Sanskrit flowed out of him like poetry. And even though I did not understand the Hindi commentary that followed, I sat down to join the small circle of yogis around the glowing embers from the dying fire. After some time, the yogi on the tiger skin became silent. His eyes of piercing kindness looked into mine for a moment. Then, oblivious to the chatter and commotion among the pilgrims along the river, he closed his eyes and began to meditate.
A few days later, I walked down a street near the temple toward the fireplace where I prepared my one meal for the day. My cotton shoulder bag contained two potatoes, a handful of rice, a few coins, some matches and one red chili. The meager collection from my begging round that morning was not unusual. Most shopkeepers thought it rather unlikely that I, Westerner, could be a wandering sadhu, a true holy man. Thinking I was a fraud, they often refused to give me anything. They were partly right, of course. As part of my monastic training, I was a wandering beggar, but only for a while, not for life.
An old woman, a real beggar, suddenly stopped me on the street and held out her hand. I was not allowed to speak during my begging period, so I gestured with my hands that I did not have anything to give her. My answer did not satisfy her. She became very angry, waved with her hands and pointed at my tan yet unmistakably white skin. Obviously, she was unable to tell that I also was a beggar, even if only temporarily. To her, I was simply a “rich Westerner.” So, I gave her my last few coins, which I usually used to buy matches and cooking oil with. Not satisfied, she threw them on the ground and spat on them. Disappointed, I asked her to open her own bag, and I emptied my own bag of goods into hers. Potatoes, rice, chili, matches, coins—all my money and my one and only meal for the day—it all disappeared into the old beggar’s dilapidated bag. That, I thought, was a truly benevolent act. I had given up all my food for that day to an old woman, a beggar for life. I was proud of myself for accomplishing such a great act of unselfish service, despite my rather meager condition.
After the old woman looked into her bag, she became more furious. She was truly insulted. How could I, a rich Westerner, give her so little? She stomped her bare feet; she spat; she held up the two potatoes. Then she threw both of them on the ground and walked away.
My inner beasts, especially the fetters of pride and rage, were cruelly awakened that day. When I finally succumbed to my day of hunger and meditation, and my anger subsided, I was humbled, truly humbled. I had yet to learn the art of true selflessness, to give the gift of love and compassion without expecting anything in return. But since Tantra teaches us that our problems are our best friends, I eventually learned to look at that old, angry beggar as a great friend and teacher.
(Excerpt from A Brief History of Yoga, by Ramesh Bjonnes. A free download of the book is available when you register for Ramesh’s 5 week course entitled, Yoga to Live By: The Philosophy and History of Yoga)
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ramesh is the Director of the Prama Wellness Center where lifestyle is considered our best medicine. Ramesh is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He studied yoga therapy in Nepal and India, Ayurveda at California College of Ayurveda and is a certified yoga detox theraphist from the AM Wellness Center in Cebu, Philippines. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of four books, including Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra:The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India).