Akhilandeshwari, an Invitation to Srividyalaya

I met Douglas Brooks in 2001 when he first started teaching his lineage of Rajanaka Yoga to enquiring minds like mine.  He used to come down to New York City practically every other month in those early years. Ah, the salad days! I had completed my first Anusara Yoga Teacher Training with Amy Ippoliti at Virayoga in early 2002, the culmination of which was teaching one single solitary pose! (This was obviously long before Anusara’s era of Immersions and extensive teacher training curriculum.) A few weeks after completing this original training I was invited to teach several classes a week at Virayoga by founder and friend Elena Brower. Elena, also a student of Douglas Brooks and others, offered me some sweet advice before my first class. As I remember it, she said that she’d hoped to create a studio in Manhattan where we might all discover our distinctive voices, as teachers and as students of life.  She said it was an ever-evolving process that would lead me, and all of us, to places of insight and experience we had yet to imagine.

 

What a sweet reflection that conversation was for me when I watched Elena teach the Guinness Book of World’s Records LARGEST yoga asana event in the history of the world a few months ago.  I participated in that event alongside her son, off stage right and protected from the elements – and the crowd – by the trees of the Central Park Pinetum. (You may have heard that the heavens poured down on us that evening.) Yoga has taken a deep hold in New York City, and I’m so proud to be part of the teaching community at Vira. The studio is the manifestation of Elena’s original wish, and more. She and I are both parents now, and our lives as parents and teachers of Anusara Yoga continue to unfold in ways I could never have imagined. We truly are the company we keep.

 

Douglas used to say that 90% of learning his lineage is simply showing up. I’ve been showing up as much as I can over the past decade.  I even showed up to his home for a winter retreat just 5 weeks after my son was born. That was a pretty bold commitment if I do say so myself – we had barely left the house for weeks and then we’re on an epic upstate winter wonderland of a roadtrip. The very act of heading out of town at that particular moment reminds me of one of the hallmark catchphrases of Rajanaka Yoga: subvert your expectations! Expectations are always fixed and finite, whereas hope springs eternal. In fact, I might even call Rajanaka Yoga, itself, the yoga of hope.

 

To engage hope, as a process, is to invest in the very nature of the world as it playfully unfolds. By that I mean to say that the Universe itself is basically, well, singing a song that’s unfinished, without beginning or end. Or it’s like a cookie crumbling. I love that metaphor too: I love cookies! Contemporary physics describes the unfolding Universe as infinitely expanding in every direction. This is very good news indeed. If the Universe is unfinished, then so are you. The song of your life can evolve – and you can sing it in ways that enrich you. In an infinitely expanding Universe, the center is anywhere you choose.

 

So the question becomes, what’s enriching? What’s worth centering on? As yogins, we can learn to sing WITH this unfolding, AS the evolution. We can BECOME the cookie crumbling! That’s the process of hope as I define it: a promise of abundance and value that unfolds beyond our ordinary expectations. What we have to do in this yoga is learn how to listen. And ask. And since we’re also talking cookies here, it’s also about learning how to savor. Srividyalaya is the opportunity to ask and listen and evolve and learn and savor. I can’t wait til we start this together in February next year!  

 

The other day, my son Jasper was playing with a flat puzzle of the world. You know the kind, big wooden pieces for toddlers. Australia is a singular piece that fits clearly and easily into the flat board holding it. Jasper tossed that part to one side and then mushed together the continents on the carpet. “Look papa, isn’t that so cool?” Looking down to discover South America wedged nicely against Africa I had to laugh. My 3 year old can also distinguish the difference between a parallelogram and a trapezium thanks to online games, some involving Elmo. See, consciousness is evolving and expanding infinitely!  This kid can, and will if you ask him, tell you why a hexagonal bolt is a good idea for your plumbing needs.  And how a tetrahedron is a specific type of polygon, whereas a polygon is any multi-sided shape.  Internet learning is, fer sure, changing the landscape of what we know learning to be.

 

That same night as I was tucking him into bed and adjusting his nightlight, which is a fabulous lighted globe (the kind where the world’s oceans are black, not blue – and he prefers a specific view of Asia from his vantage point in bed and was providing me detailed instruction as to placement thank you very much Papa) he said to me, “The world is broken like my puzzle.” I responded, “Yes Jasper, in fact, it’s never not broken. Now sleep tight!” I always want to say, “…and don’t let the bed bugs bite” like my parents often did with me. But I dare not even whisper those words. I live in New York City! Here, the bed bugs DO bite; fortunately never in my own residence. But the stories one hears! Horrors.

 

As I shut his door I reconsidered what I had just said. Never not broken. For something to be never not broken would also be to say, it’s broken. Yep. Always broken. Never not.  My toddler had once again helped me to recognize a hallmark of the goddess (or shakta) traditions of Hindu tantra. Shakta tantrism is a natural and intuitive process that, curiously, we need to learn. When I first started studying with Douglas I had the experience that I was hearing the yogic teachings I had always wanted to hear, and somehow knew to be true experientially, but just hadn’t yet been put into words. Many of my early yoga studies prior to meeting Douglas seemed distant from the context of, like, my actual life. The shaktas describe a yoga that works just like the world.  (As above, so below.) The world that’s never not broken. And to that end, nature is PLAYING. The shakta lineages teach us how to play reflectively, to recognize and savor and hold the beauty of life as it is unfolding, breaking, becoming more.

 

Because we’re a goddess tradition, we have a goddess who is the EMPOWERMENT of this never not broken process. Isn’t that cool? He name is Akhilandeshwari. {AH-KEEL-AN-DESH-VA-REE.} Our lineage also calls her The Keeper of Secrets, or sometimes The Undivided One. (The world is one thing – and it’s always broken. See?) Her mythic ethos creates a context for our learning together. She is a little known devi, but to know something of her is to appreciate how the Rajanaka yogin approaches learning, and life.  She first entered my consciousness on a track called Amba Parameshawari from Shantala’s album The Love Window, a track whose Sanskrit origins came to artists Heather and Benjy Wetheimer by way of my teacher, Douglas Brooks. I still like to use that ditty in classes for savasana.

 

This Akhiladeshwari rides on the back of a crocodile. Yes, that’s her picture above this text. One fun way of reading Hindu iconography is to recognize the various animals associated with a particular deity as an animistic form of that god or goddess. The contemporary author Philip Pullman did this so well in the His Dark Materials trilogy. All of the humans in his alternate world are gifted a Daemon, a power animal, who shapeshifts until its owner comes of age. Read the books, don’t see the movie. But I digress…

 

Anyway, in the Indian mind, crocs are river dwellers. Mama crocs take some time to build nests on the banks of rivers in which to lay their eggs. But then they leave, seemingly without concern as to the outcome of their effort. That’s kind of like what the Divine did for you, too. She took some care and trouble to bear you. You are the result of thousands of years of spinning DNA strands playfully crashing, dipping and diving into form after form. But then, at some point, you have to crack out of your egg. This is the moment when you are “born again” as a yogi! Like a croc, you’re gifted an extra piece of grace, a special tooth to help you in this process. Little baby crocs cry out as they emerge, and in this way we too are cajoled and inspired by our communities of fellow seekers, our kulas. Now, the way to the river is perilous and fraught with danger. Many don’t make it.

 

If you’ve read this far, I’m going to deign you one of the crocs who’s made it to the river. Welcome! Plenty of folks have probably stopped reading by now and frankly, this tradition is likely not for them. We are the yoga of MORE. Life is complex; it requires a sophisticated yoga.

 

Where was I? Oh yes, crocodiles. So now comes an interesting part of that reptile’s journey. When the babies make it to the river they discover that their mama has come back to protect them. And little baby crocodiles live in what looks like the most dangerous place on earth. INSIDE the mouths of their mothers. That’ll be YOU – if you dare to learn with Srividyalaya this winter. You’ll be protected and nurtured by those who’ve matured within this tradition. And you’ll learn to do what crocs do. That is, inhabit the river. Little baby crocs don’t get to the river so that they might cross to the other side. They come to the river to make it their HOME. That said, I’m so glad that Srividyalaya is my new virtual home.

 

The river, of course, that we learn to live in as tantric yogis is the river of RASA. Rasa, or taste, is a particularly beloved topic for tantrics of my lineage. Rasa theory describes those sublime and elemental flavors of human embodiment. From the peaceful to the ferocious, the gruesome to the compassionate, rasa theory is built from sets upon sets of teachings whose purpose is to celebrate and inhabit the diverse and flowing flavors beautifully and powerfully. As I said earlier, the croc doesn’t go to the river to cross to the other side, that’s for chickens! Instead, crocs live peacefully at home in the sublime flow.

 

Akhilanda is also sometimes described in our lineage like a spinning, multi-faceted prism. Imagine the Hope Diamond twirling in a bright, clear light. The light pouring through the beveled cuts of the diamond would create a whirling rainbow of color. The diamond is whole and complete and BECAUSE it’s fractured, it creates more diverse beauty.  Its form is a spectrum of whirling color.  Cool, right? Wanna be like THAT? I do.  Her power derives from an innate capacity to twirl, to spin. Crocodiles have a similar power. If you’re ever captured by a croc it won’t be her biting teeth that kill you, it will be the fact that she takes you in those jaws and then drags you into the water, spinning you until you BREAK. Fun!

 

The earth itself, this marvelous blue pearl, is spinning asymmetrically on its axis, wobbling through space at over a thousand miles per hour at the equator. The fact that you don’t experience that whirling, spinning reality as your everyday, mundane experience is a gift of what tantrics like to call secrecy.  Secrets aren’t merely withheld details (“Shh Jasper, don’t tell your mama we had Coca-Colas for lunch.”)  They are the very way the Universe reveals itself. Layers of experience are hidden within other layers.  A good image for this is nesting Russian dolls.  To unpack those secrets is to delight in the world as it truly unfolds – playfully, intelligently and with abundance.

 

So, turning and spinning are actually some of the ways that nature truly plays. And in that intelligent spin, continents shift and our ocean’s currents flow.  Every 24 hours the earth we inhabit makes this revolution. (And because it wobbles asymmetrically on its axis, it’s imperfectly perfect!) Many of the schemes of yoga as they’ve been presented to the West describe linear models of engagement. “Turns” (or vrittis) are the things we want to fix or purge or stop on our road to becoming Siddhas, or “perfected beings.”

 

Allow me to be so silly as to describe these usual models in overly simple terms, and in just a few sentences. Basically, a lot of Western yogas are models that tend to look like ladders. Let’s call them “vertical models.” Basically you start at the bottom and you work your way up. At the top of this ladder is a promise of nirvana, liberation, enlightenment, moksha, perfection – different traditions call it different things. The point is, climb the ladder. All yogic endeavors, therefore, are somehow designed to get to the apex of this experience.  Ah, the old “yoga is the process by which we stop how the mind turns.” That’s one of Patanjali’s first yoga sutras in a nutshell.  

 

Recently I received in my mailbox a coupon to redeem for “holistic, organic bedbug cleaning services.” (And you thought my earlier mention of this topic was a non-sequitor? Nah. Tantra is a loom and tantric yogis like to hold many threads. Sometimes we may forget to weave them back into the fabric of consciousness but so it goes.) Obviously I was targeted because I’m a yogi living in the bedbug capital of the USA. Duh. Sometimes (let’s say often) yoga in the West (vertical model yoga) is synonymous with processes of cleansing, purifying.  “Life is a problem and yoga is the solution!” I get dozens of messages in my inbox every week inviting me to participate in yoga workshops with just this marketing message and I’m sure you do too.

 

But what if that underlying assertion weren’t so? Remember, we’re the yoga of subversion here. What if instead of thinking that life if suffering – or a problem to get by or get through – we instead turn that premise on its ear and say that life is, instead of a problem to solve, a GIFT to appreciate? And that the endeavor of yoga is to RECEIVE that gift and make it a blessing. Both for ourselves and others. Hell yeah, suffering – and indeed EVERY rasa of human experience is gonna come our way. This is not a yoga of denial.  But it is a yoga of receptivity. That’s why it’s encoded Goddess. And that’s why she’s also a spinning spectrum of every color on the wheel. Akhilanda is an artist’s palate of every color, and whirling like her, you are the artist of your own life.

 

Two young women were next to me on the subway today with yoga mats. One of them was saying to the other, “God I’m like totally ready to move in with Brian. I’m ready to take this relationship to the next level. So, like, how did you know that you and Mike were ready to take it to the next level?” Their conversation went on like this for some time, with a lot of emphasis on “the next level.” I happened to pay attention to them because they were obviously just coming home from yoga class and I’m always curious about yogis – and partly because one of the great joys of New York City life is eavesdropping on worlds seemingly similar (and when really lucky, wildly different) from one’s own. 

 

Their conversation is what got me thinking about “the next level.” I assume that after moving in, “the next level” for this woman might mean getting married, then having babies, then moving to Westchester or a Classic 8 on Central Park West, and so forth. We are cultured as Westerners, and Americans in particular I think, to work hard and achieve “the next level.” As long as that model looks like a ladder, interestingly, that LADDER dictates to you what the “next level” is going to be. While there can be great freedom and choice within this construct, ultimately it’s the CONSTRUCT that dictates the effort. The ladder tells you where you need to go.

 

What if one’s yogic effort were instead to whirl like Akhilandeshwari? After all, the things we do most often tend to be the things we do over and over again – and it’s safe to say these things tend to be worth really investing in and deriving more value from. Things like, say, eating breakfast, loving your cat, loving you family or talking to fellow human beings. THESE are the things we repeat over and over and over again. Often, yoga is presented in such a way that we’re told something like, here’s where you are now – and here’s where you’re supposed to be going – and by the way, when you get there it’s gonna look like this and feel like that – and by the way you won’t know it until you get there – and you might just get a little taste – and once you know what we know you’ll know, ya know? This process can make one quite busy. On a personal note, I decided awhile back, I’m already too busy without also creating busy-ness out of my spiritual adventure. 

 

Contemporary life is already pretty consumptive. We want, we get, we want again. Desire itself isn’t the problem, heck, desire’s the force of nature that created us in the first place – it can’t be bad and wrong since it made you, right? Life’s a gift. Often enough though our relationship TO desire becomes the problem.  Consumptive behavior holds captive our use of time because it’s like climbing an endless ladder. We live in a consumer society, so it’s no wonder no one has enough time. 

 

What if time weren’t something we had to get more of, but something we could make? You made the time to read this, so clearly you have a capacity to make time for that which interests you. Srividyalaya is a deeply interesting endeavor. I’m honored to be a part of it and I hope that you will consider joining us this winter. I hope that it will be a new paradigm in yogic learning. And that together we’ll yearn to inhabit the river of rasa, and create hope for a life that continues to unfold with elegance and beauty. “The journey is the destination, the process is the goal.” I’ve heard Douglas say those words hundreds of times, and they continue to mean more to me as I continue to invest my heart in these teachings.

 

Akhilandeshwari is a goddess who prefers to do things not by way of the ladder of consumption but a revolving machine, a technology – a VIDYA. She does this by spinning. She spins tales. She spins yoga philosophy. She spins her life into ever more diverse flavors. She is the ancient crocodile goddess. (She even wears spinning shri yantras as earrings and so adorns herself with a pervasive power that’s never not spinning!) She is also the rotating Earth itself. She is, in this way too, our home. Always fractured and always whole, simultaneously. Never not broken. She’s an object of inherent beauty who fulfills a hopeful promise she makes to herself with expressions of abundance, beneficence and value.  She is the invitation to step off the unyielding ladder of expectation and turn, instead, like a gem of hope. The things we do again and again are valuable. We needn’t stop those recursive cycles, let’s invest in them. I love my studies with Douglas and Rajanaka yoga more and more every year.  I know I’m participating in a lineage that’s very much alive and evolving, just like this Earth. This wondrous blue pearl was spinning long before we arrived and will continue to spin long, long after we’re gone. So while we’re here, let’s- together- enter the river, take refuge in the jaws of the crocodile goddess and learn to live in and savor the flow of our lives powerfully, skillfully. This is the promise of Srividyalalya.  

 

 

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23 responses to “Akhilandeshwari, an Invitation to Srividyalaya

  1. Pingback: Why Lying Broken in a Pile on Your Bedroom Floor is a Good Idea. ~ Julie (JC) Peters | elephant journal

  2. great article. i’ve never heard of this goddess. can you tell me where you found the information on her that inspired you?

    thanks so much, robin

  3. Pingback: How Hanuman Helped Me To Never Not Hope | elephant journal

  4. Pingback: Lying Broken on the Floor « Not sure where I'm going but I'm sure gonna try to get there

  5. Eric thank you so much! What an inspiring and fascinating article! I have never heard of Akhilandeshvari before, but am desire to know more about her is now ignited.

    Blessings and love,
    Nicole

  6. Pingback: Why Lying Broken on your Bedroom Floor is a Good Idea « Frank by Anne Van De Water

  7. Pingback: There’s Beauty in the Breakdown « Cherry Chapstick Girl

  8. Pingback: never not broken « joga journal

  9. powerful stuff… so much so it helps me with my dreams of a white mother crocodile and helping a leadership circle unfold and allow for “person[s] cracking out of their shell[s], becoming more themselves, you’re inspired to do that too. It’s so important to keep the company of great beings who are willing to be vulnerable, authentic and pliable. And then courageous enough to flow with the river of life and live in the jaws of their mama…” I will be quoting your words on the 3rd blogpost in a series about indigenous crocodile symbolism in the Philippines. Salamat at Mabuhay!

  10. Pingback: Courage « Plan B: DIY Baby

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  12. Pingback: Integrity, Akhilandeshwari, and Anusara « bridgetlyonsyoga

  13. AMAZING article.

  14. Pingback: Never Not Broken | color and chaos

  15. Pingback: Excerpt from “Why Lying Broken in a Pile on Your Bedroom Floor is a Good Idea” by Julie (JC) Peters | THE PLEASE CATALOGUE

  16. Hi, Eric….I have recently been introduced to the goddess never not broken. What little I have found on the web seems to point to you and a class or a talk you have given. And I can see why. You do her justice. Is this class or talk still available and if so can you point me to it? Thank you for your time.

    I have attempted to start pulling together what I could find and thought you and others might want to see. Please let me know if you know of other material and resources. Thanks again.

  17. Hi Eric

    I heard the song akhilandeshwari first and was searching online when i saw your post and the many that it has inspired.
    I too was moved by the ‘never not broken’ phrase for a while. However, I would like to know how akhilanda translates to ‘never not broken’?

    The literal translation is a-khil-Anda: not broken egg.
    The non-literal would be unbroken or infinite/whole but not ‘never-not-broken’.
    i have heard the phrase:
    akhilanda koti brahmanda nayaki: the leader of the infinite crore universes

    In more philosophical terms, perhaps what of us breaks is not what is infinite. so maybe we ought to just stop identifying with it and instead seek refuge of the ever unbroken-one (akhilandeshwari)

    Cheers,
    Ravi

    • Hey Ravi –

      The Never Not Broken translation comes through my lineage of Sri Vidya and my teachers Dr Gopala Ayer Sundramoorthy and Dr Douglas R Brooks. The sanskrit “a” can sometimes create a double negative. The Never Not Broken translation is drawn forth from a particular worldview that looks at the infinite Universe and says, this one thing (uni-verse, the “one turn”) is infinitely diverse, forever broken into more and more and more parts. A fractal vision. The Goddess makes more of herself by infinitely replicating in playful patterns. The Universe likes to create more of itself by breaking into more, like human birth. Another good example of the “a” creating a double negative is in the word “agora,” which often describes the most terrifying of the Kali goddesses. Instead of translating agora as “not terrifying” we say “never not terrifying.” Hope that’s interesting? I’m not a Sanskrit scholar but if you’d like to learn more about Sri Vidya from this perspective I warmly recommend studying with Dr Brooks @ rajanaka.com. My own courses are also a way to plug in to this oral lineage of Goddess Wisdom through tantric teachings and mantra practice. Cheers!

      • Thanks for the prompt response.

        i like the fractal vision and micro mirroring the macro.

        i need to read/ask more about the ‘a’ – thanks for the view.

        As for learning, i am definitely intrigued by SriVidya. it is said that Sri vidya is not for everyone, and that the ones who learn it are ‘chosen’. But i i will look at the sites/people u speak of.

        Cheers,
        R.

  18. Intriguing! For me, learning the Vidya feels more like remembering. I urge you to study more and see what resonates. Best wishes Ravi

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