New Year’s Resolutions: 9 Sankalpas for 2013

The Sanskrit word for “resolution” or “intention” is Sankalpa. The number nine is considered very auspicious in Indian spirituality. This is because of the number nine’s connection with the number three…three is considered the number of completion, as in the cycle of life (birth, life, death), the construction of any quality story or other writing (beginning, middle, end), and the stages of one’s life (youth, middle age, old age). There are three divisions to the day: morning, afternoon, and night. Time is also a triple division, of past, present, and future. 

Ayurveda (the ancient Indian art and science of life) teaches that there are three primary gunas, or qualities of nature, that pervade the entire universe: sattva (purity, peacefulness, harmony), rajas (passion, activity, motion), and tamas (inertia, darkness, stagnation). One of the fundamental principles of Ayurveda is that of the three doshas, or bio-psychic forces comprised out of the five great elements, with vata dosha consisting of air and ether, pitta dosha comprising fire and water, and kapha dosha containing earth and water.

The number three also contains religious and spiritual significance, with the Hindu Trinity of Brahma (representing creation), Vishnu (symbolizing preservation), and Shiva (a metaphor for destruction). Christianity also possesses a Holy Trinity of three powerful forces: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Three being such an important numeral of life and nature, the number nine, which is three times three, is thus considered very auspicious. As a young Indian woman, the number nine, for me, also resonates deeply with being a woman. This is because of the presence of the Hindu festival of Navratri. “Nav” means “nine” and “ratri” is “night.” Navratri is a nine-night festival of celebrating the one goddess (personifying the non-gendered, undifferentiated consciousness, called Brahman in Vedanta, the Indian science of Oneness), who is worshipped in nine different aspects.

Contrary to the widespread disregard and abuse of women in modern-day India, the Indian spiritual tradition is actually very rich with deep reverence for the power and role of a woman, and is one of very few, if any, traditions that still offer goddess worship today. (In ancient times, almost all cultures and civilizations had some form of goddess worship.) There is a reason why India is called “Mother India.” Indians, especially from the state of Gujarat, where my parents hail, love to do garbha dancing throughout the nine festive nights of Navratri. While most Indians are aware that the dance is an offering of worship, what most people are not cognizant of is the fact that the word “garbha” derives from the Sanskrit word “garbho,” which means “womb.” The garbha dance is done in a circle, symbolizing, and thus celebrating, the reproductive aspect of women. The nine days of Navratri represent the nine months of pregnancy, as well as the spiritual journey of Self-realization (enlightenment).

In 2013, I will turn 27, which is divisible by three, and adds up to nine (2+7) in numerology. According to Vedic astrology, this is also supposed to be an auspicious year for marriage for me. I have nine Sankalpas for this New Year of life:

  1. Seva (selfless service)
  2. Sadhana (spiritual practice)
  3. Satsangha (keeping wise company)
  4. Svadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Sattva (cultivating purity, harmony, and balance)
  6. Storytelling
  7. Sharing
  8. Sanskrit
  9. Self-realization

Seva” is a Sanskrit word for “selfless service.” Service is the very purpose of life; as someone once said “it is the rent we pay for being alive.” The Indian culture is a profoundly grateful one. Thus, in the Indian spiritual tradition, there are three primary debts (called “rin” in Sanskrit) that each person must pay off: to one’s family (especially parents), teachers, and to God. I have a lot to be grateful to my parents, teachers, and God for. For the gift of my life, I am deeply indebted and grateful to my mother, who, along with myself, almost died in childbirth. Her and my father have generously provided for all my material needs, even when they both did not have very much themselves. Thanks to their hard work, I do not have any financial debts to pay off, and have lived a physically comfortable life so far.

Through my parents, I have also discovered wonderful role models in several of my relatives on both sides of my family. My mother’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were renowned Ayurveda healers, who I feel deeply connected to as I continue my studies of this great spiritual science. My father’s father broke a whole cycle of violence by transforming himself into a profoundly spiritual man who provided service in the way in the way it was always intended to be rendered: without any expectations. My paternal uncle and maternal aunt have continued my grandfathers’ legacies in their own beautiful ways, the stories of which I am looking forward to writing in a book I intend to write about Family, both the one I was born into, as well as the one I’ve chosen in my life, which includes so many incredible teachers. A life of service has always deeply appealed to me. Having received so much education on how to care for myself and others physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and financially, I am looking forward to beginning a holistic counseling practice at the end of 2013, to give back the knowledge of health and wealth I have received.

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Beautiful Yoga students of mine in Gujarat, India

Sadhana” is Sanskrit for “disciplined spiritual practice.” Yoga, meditation, and prayer are three common forms of Sadhana that I have practiced for the past seven years. In the past two years, I have learned two beautiful additional Sadhanas: Japa practice (mantra repetition on a rosary of 108 beads, called a “mala” in Sanskrit), and Sandhya Vandam (a beautiful offering of gratitude to God in the form of the effulgent, ever-illuminating Sun). My Yoga and meditation practices have deepened since learning more about the deeper significance of the Gayatri mantra (which is considered the most sacred mantra of India). This year, I am looking forward to working with my teacher to compile many of her and her grandfather’s deep teachings related to the true significance of the great Gayatri mantra into a book.

Beyond my formal morning practices, Sadhana is a core value of the Vedika Global lineage. Sadhana extends far beyond the mat, and is something I strive to apply to all my relationships. When giving me my Jyotish (Vedic astrology) reading, the astrologer wanted to bring my attention to my upcoming marriage. I have Mars in my seventh house. Mars is traditionally known to be a very passionate planet, responsible for conflict and a lot of upheaval. The seventh house indicates the nature of one’s marital life. The astrologer told me that my future husband will “say things that will hurt me” and that I have to “make a practice out of not taking things so personally, as he won’t mean any harm by what he says, and is innocent.” The Sanskrit word for the planet Mars is “Mangal.” Another meaning for “Mangal” is auspicious, so, after many years of being uncertain and afraid of getting married, I am actually looking forward to this life change, whenever it may happen. I feel it will be an excellent way to go deeper into my Sadhana. I am also looking forward to having and taking care of children, as a way to repay my debt of gratitude towards my own parents.

Satsangha” is derived from two words: “Sat” and “Sangha.” “Sat” means “truth” in Sanskrit, and “Sangha” means “company” or “association.” Satsangha thus means staying in the company of truth. Satsangha, for me, has meant attending classes in subjects like Ayurveda, Yoga, and Vedanta, which deal directly with helping sincere students understand the deepest truths about the inter-connectedness of all of life. Applying the value of Satsangha into my life has extended beyond the classroom, however, and has taught me to be more discriminating about the quality and characters of the people I spend my time with. When there is no one around with whom I can discuss spiritual topics, I tend to spend time studying great spiritual texts, which leads me to the next value I strive to continue living by in 2013…

Svadhyaya” is Sanskrit for “self-study.” It is not enough just to hear or read about spirituality; one must contemplate what one has learned, and then integrate it into one’s day-to-day life. This is the three-pronged process of study in the Vedic Indian spiritual tradition, which I am learning from my teacher Shunya ji. “Shravanam” is the Sanskrit word for “deep listening to what is taught,” “mananam” means “to contemplate what one has heard,” and “nidhidhyasana” signifies the process of application of knowledge to life. Svadhyaya is a form of mananam, or contemplation, which allows spiritual seekers to scrutinize our own selves to see where we can improve ourselves, where we can continue to grow and evolve. This New Year’s Sankalpa writing is a form of Svadhyaya for me.

Svadhyaya is one of the five Niyamas (Sanskrit for “observances”) of the Yoga tradition, as outlined by Master Patanjali (the author of the famous treatise “Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras”). In addition to examining one’s own self for areas of improvement, and reflecting on one’s thoughts, words, and actions (and thereby improving one’s future karma), another wonderful form of Svadhyaya recommended by Patanjali is to study the lives of saints. Studying the lives of great teachers and leaders can be a profound source of inspiration for us as we seek to make our own marks upon the world. It can also provide comfort in trying times along the spiritual path (the most arduous – and rewarding – journey one can ever take).

In continuing my practice of Svadhyaya, I resolve to continue to develop more Sattva guna in my life. “Sattva” in Sanskrit is the quality of peace, harmony, clarity, balance, detachment, and the true joy that comes from within one’s own soul. The nature of the soul is Sattva. When the surface layers of Rajas (the quality of passion and attachment, which can lead to violence and aggression) and Tamas (the quality of inertia and darkness connected with the subconscious, which can lead to committing crime, theft, and abuse) are washed away from criminals through practices like Yoga and meditation, what remains is the pure light of Sattva. I have seen this for myself when I used to teach these practices to juvenile delinquents in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it was truly an inspiring experience to behold. As one of my students once shared with me:

“For a long time, I avoided dealing with my parents’ divorce. Practicing meditation has helped me go into it. Now whenever I have to deal with my parents fighting when they visit me here, I focus on breathing in the good they have to say and exhale all the negativity that comes up when I have to be around them both together. I used to want to help my parents get back together and thought there was a way I could do that. Now I realize the only thing I can really change is myself.

I often get mad when I think of my grandparents who died, as I wish I could be closer to them. I also get angry when I start to feel that my parents’ divorce was my fault. Instead of going off on someone when I’m mad, I’ve learned how to just be quiet for even five minutes, which puts me in a place where no one else can go but me.

As I’m leaving this place, I don’t want to be a threat to society anymore. I don’t want the police to recognize me as a troublemaker anymore. I can live, go to work and get paid the right way. I can take care of and support myself. I want to help others before I help myself now. My grandparents used to always say “if you do something right for others, you get that back.” I like to help kids. I want to be like your friend Laura, who goes to help others in countries where they don’t have food, clothes and shelter. I love to travel and plan to go to Haiti and New Orleans to volunteer if I have the chance.”

Any action we take in our daily lives can fall into the category of Sattva, Rajas, or Tamas. Ayurveda teaches seekers so many wonderful ways to cultivate more Sattva guna through the foods we consume, the spices we use, our daily routines, the kinds of conversations we have, the types of books we read, the company we keep (Satsangha), and the nature of the work we do.

The Vedic astrologer told me that my basic life purpose is to serve as a teacher. I have always loved serving in this capacity for children, ever since I was a child myself. So much of teaching is a matter of effective Storytelling, which I intend to do more of. I have had the  good fortune of helping edit the English translations of some of Shri Daya Prakash Sinha’s (who I affectionately call “Tata ji,” which means “respected grandfather in Hindi) most famous Hindi plays these past two years. I have learned so much from Tata ji about Indian History and Mythology through our play editing processes. All of Tata ji’s many plays tell stories that bring Dharma, a Sanskrit word meaning “duty, ethical conduct, charity, law, the innate duty of things (e.g. the dharma of fire is to burn)” to life in provocative and important ways. I am looking forward to continuing to learn from Tata ji and doing Seva with the intention of spreading his messages.

Included in the debt of gratitude one must re-pay to God is that which we owe to the Rishis (Sanskrit for “sages” or “seers”) who have given us so much spiritual wisdom to help us navigate our lives with more well-being and ease. Through creating the nine forms of the goddess worshiped during the Navratri festival, for example, what the Rishis have offered to us are personifications of God as human beings going through all the trials and tribulations, joys and sorrows that we people experience. They have created some brilliant characters worth doing Svadhyaya on, and then emulating in one’s life.

My teachers have literally and figuratively opened up a brand new world and new life for me, in more ways than I can even imagine. I am thus looking forward to Sharing stories about my teachers and what they have taught me, as well as my own experiences, for the benefit of others. I feel that I have received so much that I am compelled to share as much as I can of the universal healing wisdom, spirituality, arts, and culture of India with the world. Last year, I truly enjoyed organizing a performance opportunity for 16 children to share the message of Ekatva, a Sanskrit word meaning “Oneness” with 1,500+ people in California. I am looking forward to continuing to contribute to promoting, spreading, and sharing Indian arts and culture through writing, speaking, marketing, and the performing arts. One hallmark of Vedanta-inspired storytelling is the ability to write one’s own script, which is something I am deeply inspired by, and intend to do more of as I continue my quest of creating pattern-breaking, sustainable, and scalable changes in my life.

Interwoven throughout this Sankalpa writing is the transformational language of Sanskrit, which produces changes in one’s subtle body of thoughts, which translates into speech and action, creating the reality we live in. Sanskrit is a language that one need not even understand to feel more peaceful from encountering it, either through listening, reading, or writing. It is considered the Mother of all languages. It is a musical language, full of poetry, and a truly positive perspective on life. There are not even any self-defeating words in the Sanskrit language. Sanskrit is like the key that unlocks the deeper mysteries of life, as contained by Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta, Gayatri Sadhana, and Indian Mythology. I am looking forward to deepening my studies of Sanskrit this year, being transformed by it, and to sharing it with others.

And, finally, I dedicate all of my Seva, Sadhana, Satsangha, Svadhyaya, Sattva, Storytelling, Sharing, and Sanskrit studies to the pursuit of my main goal in life, which is Self-realization (or enlightenment). As any and all of my previous eight Sankalpas can easily become ego-driven activities, which can definitely bind me more to worldly attachments and expectations, and a whole lot of self-created suffering as a result. By putting the pursuit of Self-realization first, I intend to live my life in such a way that I create more freedom for myself and others, rather than manifest more bondage. I hope that this will be a year where I find myself remembering who I am more often than forgetting, where I can see my Self mirrored in others, and focus the majority of the direction of my attention on the light of love, which you and I are but mere reflections of.

Happy New Year!

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3 Comments

  1. Hetal says:

    Dear Ripa,
    Lovely self reflection and I sincerely hope that you realize all your Sankalpas for 2013. Hope to see you more and thanks for very touching card. LOve.
    -Hetal

  2. piracetam says:

    Niṣkām ( Devnagari = निष्काम, niṣ = no / without, kām = desire) sādhanā is spiritual practice done for higher aims. It is done to achieve the aim of enlightenment or moksha . It is done for the spiritual upliftment of the individual so that he is taken out of the cycle of life and death ( saṃsāra ).

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