Rohit Arya explains Parampara or Spriritual Lineage

Things are going to be said here which have never been said in the history of Yoga! I know, a very large claim, but notice is only fair when you are being asked to follow me into strange waters. It will be valuable, that I can promise. These new things I state, they may have been in the consciousness of yogis till now, but always implicitly, never explicitly. I am articulating them now.
In Yoga the Parampara or Spiritual Lineage has always been of the greatest importance. “What is your system, your method, and more importantly who did you learn it from?” Credibility and value hung upon these two questions possessing good answers. It is perfectly possible to be spontaneously spiritually awakened; the history of yoga is replete with such instances. It is also almost inevitable these pioneers then start up a parampara of their own. So the Zeitgeist proves too strong in all cases, because there is no other way for the transmission and the transformation to be enduringly authentic other than the parampara. All experiments to the contrary have come to inevitable decay. I use the Q&A format for easier comprehensibility.
“What is a Parampara?”
A Parampara is a system of spiritual practice or Sadhana to attain enlightenment, with its attendant belief systems and theology, transmitted in energy form from Master to succeeding Master across generations. The papacy is the best known Western Parampara, the Apostolic Succession ensuring each Pope, and indeed all clergy, receives the same spiritual charge that Jesus transmitted to Peter the first Pope. This holds no controversy for Indians, unlike the in the West!
There is a point of origin for each parampara, usually a great sage or enlightened Master. The default point of Origin for all yogic parampara is Shiva, the First Yogi. Indeed it is held that there are over 180,000 sadhanas or spiritual processes that lead to Enlightenment. Only Shiva, and his external form Mount Kailasha, possess the knowledge and mastery of them all {Mountains are traditionally held to be repositories of paramparas, able to teach those who are open and ready. In India, Arunachalam and Vellangiri are held to be two such especially powerful mounts}. Those who are empowered in the parampara are Lineage Masters or Parampara Nath. This does not make them particularly special in any way. They just have the transmission, the authority to transmit in their turn, and a heavy responsibility, of which more anon.
“What is the need for a Parampara?”
Well, strictly speaking, there is none. Practically speaking there is no better way to progress. The issue is simple. The point of sadhana, the purpose of parampara is to be Liberated, to achieve Enlightenment. The parampara is usually the smoothest, fastest route to this goal. It is not intelligent to insist on futile independence, so that you can brag about “having done it on my own”, presumably having discovered fire and invented the wheel also while at it. Why take the dense forest route, hacking and slashing through personal karma, venturing into danger at every step, when a highway and limo service to the same destination exists? The parampara protects; sadhana can be a danger to the self, to sanity. What, you thought enlightenment is an easy process, with no price to pay? Dream on.
The parampara is a road, a safety net, a mentor, a source of strength when weary, a habit that endures and a system that transforms. When you accept the guidance of a parampara, an ancient promise is activated. You do 50 per cent of the hard striving – the parampara will do the other half. Now that is a great bargain! But I personally think a parampara keeps you within the parameters of sanity. I have seen too many people strive on their own, achieve a little progress, and move into delusional megalomania! Being in a parampara is a reality check, as to how much is genuine achievement, and how much is the ego flattering you.
The importance of the energy transmission, first in Diksha or Initiation, and then if God wills as a Master in your own right, this is too huge to be cavalierly sidestepped. It is possible to Attain without a parampara, but why take that risk? In any case most independent striving in sadhana results in teaching visitations from transcended Masters so willy-nilly you are in a parampara anyways!
“What does the word ‘Parampara’ mean?”
In the epistemology of the word ‘Parampara’ is its function – a system to cause enlightenment. The word ‘Para’ means ‘beyond’, ‘to transcend’. Param means the best or highest point, the peak. So the Parampara is ‘to go beyond’, then ‘go beyond that too’!! Para- M- Para, beyond, then beyond again, the best beyond – to transcend, to push past, once is not enough. To go beyond is to shatter limitations, to leave behind illusions, to enlarge the human into its inherent divinity. What this implies is that a parampara has to be creative and original all the time and so does its practitioners. My Guru, Santosh Sachdeva, once told me that if you merely transmit the system intact, that is not the point; to creatively enlarge its parameters is the true devotion. She has done so, and so, with all immodesty, have I. The word ‘para’ also means ‘other’. Parampara therefore means ‘going beyond the other’, the system that brings you to unified consciousness. The sense of there being an Other is one of the fundamental spiritual errors; the parampara makes the ever fresh, always ancient discovery that there is no other. The phrase which captures this responsibility is “Navinam, navinam, shannei, shannei!” ‘Shana’ means moment. ‘Navin’ is supposed to mean ‘new’ but it actually means ‘original.” To be in a parampara, practising sadhana, is thus a commitment to complete Integral Authenticity, for there is no other way you can be creatively original every moment. A real parampara never concludes, it is always a possibility for even more greatness! This however means you will be uncomfortable for much of the time. The genuinely original is always strange and disconcerting; a genuine guru is sometimes a holy terror. I once told Santosh. “In many ways the guru is Death to the disciple.” Her complete response, “Yes!”
But the human being is core to the process. Books and techniques will not do the trick, though they are valuable as records. In a state of alternate consciousness, my usual state for most of the day nowadays, this phrase surfaced in my mind. “Shariram Parampara Vahanam!” It is not found in any of the books, I looked. ‘Shariram’ means ‘the body’, ‘vahana’ is ‘vehicle’ – therefore the vehicle for going beyond is the body, or rather the human who represents the parampara at that stage in time. Now in meditation I had long ago come to realize that the body is actually contained in the energy sheaths; it is not a prison for the soul and higher possibilities as we feel when contending with its limitations. This phrase jolted me, for what it meant is that the body is the karmic accumulation used  as a vehicle by the god within, the Deva, the ‘Luminous shining one’ which is our real nature! It also means the genuine creative transmission requires a human to receive it and then go beyond.
This should not surprise. I have seen Justice Dudhat, guru to Santosh, literally function from another plane while teaching. “When I sit there, it is not I that is speaking or acting,” he used to say. Actually it is quite a common occurrence with most masters and leads to disappointment in disciples sometimes when they find the teacher cannot always function from that plane. To which Somerset Maugham had the perfect response, “Only a mediocre person can be always at his best.”
The body has long been recognized in the tradition as a sacred site, a temple, “Shariram Kshetram!” The word Kshetram means ‘temple’ as well as ‘field of action’, the karmic template of each life. The presence of a body, a kshetram, a vahanam, facilitates the ability of the parampara to ‘go beyond’ or to take you beyond! It also cleared up a mystery why I, a notoriously lazy person, had suddenly been doing up to 25 Surya Namaskars a day with no compulsion or resistance whatsoever. The shariram is the Presence, the Force, acting on the visible plane and it deserves honour, not the disdain that so many schools mistakenly give it. It also needs to know its place – this is not an invitation to obsess over the body, but a call to transcend it. Many paramparas instinctively grasp this issue with the body. Wearing next to no clothes, or going au naturel is part of many systems; it is the simple, albeit socially disconcerting, method of going beyond conditionings.
 “What are the qualities of a Parampara?”
Each parampara has a certain Elemental quality attached to it, or more accurately infusing it. The five great Elements or Tattvas of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Spirit are represented in the energy sheaths or Koshas of humans. The one to one correspondence is Earth- Annamaya kosha/body sheath; Water – Pranamaya kosha/ energy sheath; Fire – Manomaya kosha/ mental sheath; Air – Vigyanamaya kosha/ causal wisdom sheath; Spirit – Anandamaya kosha/ bliss sheath. Paramparas function predominantly in the first four Tattvas.{If you are in Anandamaya kosha or Bliss, of the Spirit, you are enlightened and all paramparas cease to have meaning}
It is incredibly easy to see which is the predominant Tattva in any parampara once you are attuned to these things. The hatha yoga/ body work/ seva-service/ social cause types are all Earth. I once observed somebody in relationship with me doing her daily sadhana. I burst out laughing, causing a great deal of unintended offence, for everything was so annamaya kosha, oriented to energize and move the body. The founder of the system was a Virgo, as is the lady, and they are such huge Earth signs. In articulating such things I am Batman. In my secret identity as Bruce Wayne, I am a corporate trainer and recently I saw a prime example of dominant Tattva. One of the participants, a ‘shepherd’ was guiding blindfolded ‘sheep’ through an obstacle course by making animal noises. Human vocalization was forbidden by the rules. She got nervous and forgot the agreed upon sounds for directions. Amazingly, by turning left or right, or going forward or backward herself, her memory worked perfectly. Earth Tattva to the core. The emotional Water types would inevitably speak up and be disqualified. The passionate Fires would be seeking somebody to blame, while the Air varieties were doing urgent feedback and planning better for the next round! I checked their zodiac signs later; 100 % correspondence to the core tattva in their behaviour. Now this is not evidence but it is interesting.
The easy gentle pranayama/ bhakti/ devotional groups are all Water paramparas.  The fierce pranayama/ hard meditation/ hard style/ kundalini varieties are usually Fire. The intellectual/ inquiring/ non- attachment/ kundalini/ meditation groups are usually Air. These are not absolute divisions. Every good parampara seeks to be Integral, to address all the koshas, so they have these flavours abundantly, but humans are what they are, and similarities conglomerate around a predominant Tattva.
Good teachers are aware of these things, and they have variations in their tool kits to suit individual requirements. Nowadays the tendency is to prescribe a one size fits all sadhana and when it is has inconstant results, the student is blamed for not trying hard enough. The other side is the spiritual shopper, who wanders from discipline to discipline, never coming to what brings peace, for they have never found a parampara that suits their predominant tattva. Your zodiac sign is usually a good clue; what is the dominant Tattva there? Even the teachers sometimes lapse into this comfort zone, though never the really great ones. But as to what is your parampara and who is your true guru, the question is so knotty and convoluted that it requires terrible hardihood to attempt an answer. “Gahano karmana gati!” Deep – and invisible – is the flow of karma. When you get to the real deal you Know.
“How do we recognize an authentic teacher?”
Well, if they are in a well-known parampara that is some sort of credibility right there. Paramparas have rules as to who gets to be a Lineage Master, though these rules can be altered over time. A real Master has a master who is unambiguously acknowledged. A real Master remains in unified consciousness, and you can see that in their Integral Presence. {I am sorry I cannot make this any easier!} A real Master tends to have the slightly alarming quality of causing Jagaran or ‘activation’ in people who come to them or interact with them. In my case I could not care less about actually practising Yoga and meditation, though I had immense knowledge about it as I am, for my past karmas, a Polymath. While editing and commenting upon Santosh Sachdeva’s ‘Kundalini Trilogy’ of books I got activated by the incredible visuals they contained. My knowledge saved me there as I knew that these peculiar occurrences meant the Kundalini was off like a rocket and I was in jagaran, not off my rocker. I promptly announced her as my guru – to her great personal reluctance I might add, I am her first disciple, and perhaps her first miracle- for I was not a very pleasant person, nicknamed the ‘Smiling Cobra’. Further comment is superfluous.
Over the years I have seen those books of hers, which are unprecedented in the 5000 years of yoga by the way, activate many people. Many others come, seeing in her illustrations an accurate simulacrum of their internal energy shifts, rather than, as their families tend to assert, final proof they have gone batty. A real Master has knowledge of these states, they know the ground thoroughly and prove it by their daily responses. And finally a Real Master can guide others to the goal, the experience of unified consciousness. It is said that it is not the numbers of disciples that a guru attracts that is the point but how many of them become enlightened. This point is sometimes forgotten today where spiritual success is measured, in popular perspective, in large institutions and huge numbers of disciples. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was unknown all his life but he had nearly 50 enlightened disciples, which is why Aurobindo said the earth cannot bear such a descent of holiness like Ramakrishna for another 500 years.
I got the Lineage transmission this year 2011 on Maha Shivratri in unusual circumstances. So I am a Parampara Nath, a Lineage Master, but it merely means my obligation to the parampara is now much greater, “More is expected”. It is not an achievement as much as a perpetual responsibility; it is superb elation however.
 “How long does a Parmapara last?”
When the only surviving lineage Master dies, without having been able to transmit the parampara to even one disciple, the lineage comes to a halt. What normally happens is that the parampara then ‘awakens’ spontaneously in some other worthy spiritual seeker and the system continues, even if under another name, and even if the new Master has no clue why his life and sadhana has taken on this strange aspect! This process is supposed to be facilitated by Shiva or any of the great Masters who have transcended the body. The best known recent example is the spirit of Swami Vivekananda teaching Aurobindo for a fortnight in some aspects of yoga. Sri Aurobindo had come to a stage where he needed further input, but the living masters could not reach him as he had been jailed by the British! When you reach a certain level of intensity however, the Universe is obligated to answer you and expedite your sadhana, so Vivekananda had to step in.
Very often the Masters are aware of lurking dangers where a parampara is concerned and they take steps to protect it. My own lineage, that of the Eight Spiritual Breaths, was saved from catastrophe twice. Once it was rescued from Nalanda University, and taken to Tibet, before the Islamic invasions from the 12th century ravaged the centres of Buddhist learning in India. In the 1930s the Masters were aware that trouble was brewing from China in the future and the lineage was transmitted to a most unlikely source, an Englishman called John Dingle, who wandered all over China, nearly died of disease, but learned this system under incredible circumstances in Tibet, and then took it safely to California! Had he not done so, this little effusion from me would never have taken place! For my lineage is a unique tangle. We do not know the name of the Tibetan founder in modern times, referring to him as Nameless Guru. {I know from my meditation he was a reincarnation of Miyamoto Musashi, Ken-sai, the sword saint, Book of Five Rings…right}. John Dingle taught this system to Guru Jyotirmayananda, a Tamilian, who taught it to Justice Dudhat, a Maharashtrian, who transmitted it to Santosh Sachdeva, a Punjabi lady who finally taught a Keralite, Yours Truly!
“Gahano karmana gati!”
Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath. He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five languages} the first book on tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book} to be published in the last quarter of 2011. He has also written A Gathering of Gods due at the same time. He is the Editor of The Leadership Review, a corporate trainer, as well as an arts critic and cultural commentator. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga. 

One thought on “Rohit Arya explains Parampara or Spriritual Lineage

  1. I think parampara moves through our “houses”; it is itself a conscious Being, like a deep sea current from eternity; it resides in one, and awakens in another, by transmission or natural resonance at a certain frequency. It knows where to go. By the same token, I see the Masters as a waveband, manifesting individual faces through the clouds or veil, according to need.


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