A guru is needed to reach this heightened state of awareness
A mudra is a kind of “seal” in that its purpose is to seal a thought in our mind. Yoga mudra is also called cin mudra or jnana mudra. There is a well-known story behind this mudra. Siva, representing the Divine, once took the form of a boy of sixteen. Seated, absorbed in meditation, with an aura of deep calm, and radiant in appearance, he was approached by sages who saw through his disguise and recognised his true nature.
The sages asked with reverence, “What is the essence of the Vedas and all spiritual teaching?” Siva gave no answer, but showed them this simple mudra — he raised his palm toward them and brought his index finger down to join its tip to his thumb.
The sages understood what he was saying, though he had never said a word! The guru’s discourse was silence, but the students’ doubts were dispelled.
So what did the sages understand from this simple mudra? The index finger is the individual — the self or the ego. The thumb is the Divine. The other three fingers are the three qualities of the mind and nature (sattva, rajas and tamas). When the mind moves away from the flux of these qualities and reaches stillness, the individual is united with the Divine nature within.
This mudra is called cin mudra because the word cit (which becomes cin when joined with the word mudra) means “consciousness.” It says let go of the ego of the mind, and you will experience the true nature of consciousness.
This mudra is also known as the jnana mudra, the word jnana meaning “to know” — to know one’s true nature or the nature of the Divine, that is. Classically, the explanation of this mudra involves the Divine and the idea of joining with it. While the anjali mudra is useful to define the attitude of humbleness in the practice, this yoga mudra points to the goal that is at the end of the practice.
From the ancient yoga texts, we learn of the experiences of those who achieved these heightened states of awareness. The fundamentals that these sages have described come from empirical knowledge, from their own experiences. The role of the guru is to help us understand the teachings and guide us in our practice.
There is a famous parable that illustrates this. A group of ten men on a journey reached a river on their path. They managed to cross the river, and emerging on the other side, they wanted to ensure all ten had made it safely.
The last one to cross began counting and found only nine men. He was alarmed and alerted the others. Each one counted in turn and found only nine! As they were in tears, mourning their missing companion, a passing sage came upon them and asked them what the problem was.
“Alas, sage!” they cried. “One of us is missing, lost in the treacherous waters of the river!”
The sage smiled and said, “Let me count.” And he found ten. Of course, each person who was counting included everyone but himself. Only with the intervention of the sage, or the guru, were they able to find themselves! But a key point to note here is that the sage did not bring the tenth man with him. He only pointed out what was already there. The realisation was not from outside, but from within.
The guru is only the catalyst. The student is the practitioner, the one who has to seek and undergo the transformation. If we look within ourselves, we will find the one who is missing!
This article appeared in The Hindu newspaper.