Sashtang Pranam, Strengthening the Bond with the Teacher
The following teaching is from a talk given by Shri Anandi Ma in 2002.
In the Guru Gita, Lord Shiva teaches that one can transcend obstacles on the spiritual path through the practice of the sashtang pranam, bowing down to the Lord and Guru with the two hands, the feet, the knees, the chest, the eyes, the head, mind, and vacan, or word. Further on in that scripture Lord Shiva clearly states that the “Guru is my form,” and later Shivaji tells Mother Parvati that She also is His form. So when you pranam to the Guru, you are also bowing down to Lord Shiva and to Shakti, the Divine Mother, simultaneously.
Each of the eight limbs of surrender of the pranam holds a special significance:
- When you pranam, your two hands hold on to the Guru’s feet, signifying your humility. Whenever you want to achieve anything from a higher authority, a higher energy, a higher being, it is a scientific principle that you need to start a lower level, at a lower state. Energy flows from a higher potential to a lower one. So always mentally hold on to the feet of the Guru and allow that divine energy to permeate your being.
- The feet, which represent the second limb of the sash-tang salutation, indicate that you should definitely never fail to take those priceless steps toward the Teacher, toward God. It is a reminder to discard the tendency to be lazy, and become active and hardworking for your spiritual goal.
- The knees signify steadiness and firmness. The asan, the seat of spiritual practices, needs to be steady, the inner determination needs to be unshakable. Only then is it possible to reach God.
- The chest, or heart, indicates the aspect of devotion, the ability to surrender. Most important in many ways is self-confidence, having faith in oneself that “I will be successful. I will reach the goal.” One has to believe in oneself; that is self-confidence, and that is the seat at the heart.
- The head is the seat of ego, so when you bow down, when through that gesture you offer your very head at the feet of the Lord, at the feet of the Guru, you open yourself up to surrender completely, to allow the ego to be dissolved. The head is also the site through which energy can enter the body, so when you are bowing down, you receive energy through the top of the head.
- The physical eyes are there to constantly cultivate the tendency to look upon the Lord and have darshan in an external way, but go to the subtlety of the third eye itself. Work hard to open that energy center up so that you may have unity with the Divine. This is the process of understanding and uniting with God and Guru and eventually attaining that very state of realization, of unification. *
- The mind, as you all know, is the seat of both negative and positive aspects. So offer the mind itself at the feet of the Lord, allowing the energy an opportunity to help remove negativities, particularly doubt and lack of faith. Let in the other extreme of tremendous faith and trust, constantly knowing that God and Guru are doing whatever is best. Take steps in your lives, no matter what happens, to never lose faith. Know that God and Guru have the insight and understanding that whatever you have to undergo is for your own inner growth.
- You need to do the sankalpa, to internally speak the words and make that promise to yourself that: “Oh Lord, Oh Guru, I am not going to rest, I am not going to sit down until I attain You.” That level of faith and determination needs to be adopted. As Guruji Himself has stated, “This body should be useful and utilized to reach the goal of life and realize God. If not, it can perish, it can be destroyed, I don’t care. Do or die.”
In this way, through the physical body and its subtle aspects, Lord Shiva has taught humanity the way to simplify and reach the goal by the performance of pranam. Through the devotion of bowing down, obstacles on the spiritual path are slowly but surely resolved.
At the same time, the Teacher has the opportunity to work with the student and manifest for him or her certain siddhis. I don’t mean siddhis in terms of powers, but of understanding, having the clear-cut ability of the buddhi, or intellect, to discriminate at the absolute level. Such discrimination allows you to negate or put aside everything that is binding and restrictive and to be able to fully understand, use, explore, and finally reach the goal.
But of all the siddhis, the only one the disciple really needs is the grace of God and Guru flowing in unlimited amounts, without stopping. If the student practices according to the path shown by the Teacher, everything will open up, the Grace will flow, and the goal will be achieved. The complete way of bowing down through the eight limbs of surrender — the sashtang pranam — serves as a strong medium to deeply, subtly strengthen that connection between the Teacher and the student. It optimizes the level at which the Teacher, the Guru, can work for the disciple. If the student can surrender and cultivate an inner level of trust, faith and devotion, then the heart of the Teacher can melt all other restrictions, boundaries are removed, and the Teacher can do a lot more at much deeper levels.
So it is not just the physical act but the inner intent of completely bowing down, completely surrendering to the Guru, that bonds Teacher and student, allowing the Guru to work completely.
Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, Sarve santu niramayah, Sarve bhadrani pashyantu,
Ma kascid dukhabhag bhavet, Ma kascid dukhabhag bhavet, Om shantih shantih shantih.