One who conquers himself is the greatest of conquerors.
I have spent years studying and teaching spiritual techniques. One question that I am frequently asked is how to accelerate and deepen the learning and experience of these practical techniques. There is a lot I could say on this, but the basic key to spiritual progress is memory. Simply remembering the various techniques and practices, and then remembering to apply them is a basic requirement.
Put it another way, you can sit at the feet of inspiring teachers, learn from well-credentialled sages, and read insightful words of wisdom, but if you then forget to apply anything you have heard or read, there will clearly be no change in your life. The reason that we fail to remember is that the hurley burley of our lives and the activity of our monkey-minds conspire to create a cloud of forgetfulness.
I will delve deeper into the concept of memory and forgetfulness in a future blogpost. For now, I want to take another tack. Let’s go back to those students who needed help with their spiritual work and my advice to strengthen memory.
When I started out I also had issues with remembering. I put yellow sticky notes on my mirrors, set my phone to ping at regular intervals, and I made resolutions to drop everything and practice stillness, or mindfulness or focused attention whenever and wherever the memory flashed. I encouraged my students to do the same, and to come up with their own aides-memoire.
I have now gone a step further. My husband and I have experience in the world of e-commerce, and together we decided we could use those skills to help people on their spiritual journey. For the last two years, we have been working on a new venture which is just about to launch. It is “Damayanti”, a brand dedicated to inspiring, encouraging and reminding anyone interested in the journey to enlightenment. We have sourced a beautiful range of jewellery, giftwares and clothing with Sanskrit words and inspiring quotations. Our deepest desire is that these lovely products will help people on their path.
Why “Damayanti”? The story of Princess Damayanti, and her true love King Nala, is found in the Mahabharata, a vast Indian epic of profound wisdom. It is a beautiful story and I have included the opening scenes below.
The word damayanti, aside from being the name of a princess, also carries deep meaning and wisdom. The word dama means to tame, subdue or conquer. As a spiritual discipline it means ‘calm restraint’. Dama is the ability to take a stand against our lower impulses, such as jealousy, anger, pride or fear. The energy saved is then channelled into higher areas – generosity, compassion, humility and courage.
The story of Princess Damayanti shows her to be a supreme example of this. She was full of courage, love, intelligence, reverence, and a host of other admirable qualities. So we thought it would be a great name for our new venture. We hope you agree!
And now a little of her story to get you acquainted with this young woman of supreme valour.
Princess Damayanti was the daughter of Bhima, the King of Vidarbha. She was beautiful, kind, learned and many kings and princes desired her hand in marriage.
The day came when it was time to arrange a swayamwara ceremony for Damayanti. This was a special event for a young woman who had arrived at the age of marriage. At this ceremony all the men who wished to marry her would attend with extensive retinues and clothed in magnificent robes wearing their finest jewels.
The young lady would then survey the assembled kings, princes and warriors and place a garland of flowers around the neck of the man she chose for her husband.
Her mother, the Queen of Vidharba, had even higher ambitions for her wonderful daughter. As the time for Damayanti ‘s swayamwara was approaching the Queen selected a beautiful white swan from the palace gardens and gave it a message: “Fly to heaven,” said the Queen, “seek out the gods and say to them: ‘Damayanti, the beautiful princess of Vidarbha, is to be betrothed. Come we pray and seek her hand.’”
The queen sent the swan away on its mission to heaven to deliver this message.
However, a storm blew the swan off course, and it landed in the garden of Nala, the handsome, virtuous and courageous King of Nishada.
The swan delivered the message, not to the gods but to Nala. And the swan then went on to sing of Damayanti’s beauty and virtue, her wit and her intelligence.
When Nala heard this, he fell immediately in love with Damayanti and resolved to attend her swayamwara hoping to be chosen by Damayanti to be her husband. So he dressed in his royal finery and set out for Vidharba with his retinue.
In the meantime, the swan had returned to the palace of King Bhima and sought out Princess Damayanti. The swan gave her a detailed description of the handsome, courageous and virtuous King Nala. Damayanti, in her turn, fell deeply in love with him and resolved to choose King Nala as her husband.
At the same time, several of the gods in heaven, who had watched over Damayanti and who had showered blessings upon her, also resolved to attend the swayamwara and vie for her hand in marriage.
So four of the gods, Kubera, the god of wealth, Wayu, the god of the wind, Yama, the god of death, and Indra the king of the gods descended to earth. They knew of the love that had blossomed between Nala and Damayanti, so they lay in wait for Nala as he made his way to Vidarbha. When Nala saw the four gods waiting for him, he stopped and greeted them reverently.
“Oh great king,” said Indra, “we beg of you a favour.”
Nala agreed to assist the gods in whatever they asked.
“We are on our way to the swayamwara of the beautiful and virtuous princess Damayanti, hoping that she will choose one of us to be her husband”, said Indra. “Go, we beseech you, to Damayanti and sing the praises of each of us so that she will be persuaded to choose one of us.”
Nala’s heart fell, but he had given his word and could not now refuse. He agreed to be the messenger of the gods, even though it was against his heart’s desire.
The gods transported Nala instantly to the palace of King Bhima and into Damayanti’s presence. Seeing the handsome man miraculously appear in her room, Damayanti was surprised and asked what he wanted of her.
“I am Nala, King of Nishada and I have come because the gods, Indra, Wayu, Kubera and Yama desire your hand in marriage. They intend to come to your swayamwara for that purpose. I am here to sing their praises and plead their cause.”
He praised the power and might and wisdom of each of the gods.
Having fulfilled his promise to the gods, Nala was immediately whisked away back to the road to continue his journey to Vidarbha.
However, the gods had not finished with their tricks. They knew Nala still held a special place in Damayanti’s heart, so they all decided to attend the swayamwara with each of them disguised as Nala.
When the swayamwara, began many powerful, handsome kings and princes from across the land, including King Nala, were seated on royal thrones around a vast audience hall.
Damayanti entered looking as radiant as the sun, as fresh as a clear lake, as beautiful as a lotus flower. She surveyed the room looking for her true love Nala. Imagine her shock when she saw not one, not two, but five Nalas!
She understood immediately what had happened, and that the gods were playing a trick. At first, she could not tell one Nala from the other. What was she to do? How could she discover which of the five identical Nalas was her true love?
Damayanti became calm and restrained her fears. She found herself filled with faith that her love for Nala would show the way. She searched in her heart. Then she opened her eyes and looked again.
She saw one of the Nalas cast a shadow, the other four didn’t. One of the Nalas had a bead of sweat on his lip, the others didn’t. One of the Nalas blinked, the others didn’t. The clothing of one of the Nalas, although regal and magnificent, was slightly wrinkled. The clothing of the other Nalas was perfect in every way. And finally, Damayanti saw that one Nala’s feet touched the ground, while the other Nalas hovered a little above the floor.
While the gods presented a picture of perfection, Damayanti found her heart overflowing with love for the real Nala. Here before her was a real man with great virtues of courage and humility, and with the imperfections and inner struggles of a real man as well. This was the husband she wanted. Damayanti approached her love and placed the garland of flowers around his neck.
Everyone rejoiced. Even the gods, whose cunning schemes had failed, blessed the happy couple.
In due course a magnificent wedding ceremony was held for King Nala and Princess Damayanti.
The story of Nala and Damayanti followed many twists and turns and they were sorely tested along the way. However their love for each other never diminished, and it was this that protected them and carried them through to ultimate triumph.
These qualities of inner strength, calmness and love are the guiding lights of our new venture: Damayanti - For Your Soul