Light of the Spirit Blog

How to Test the Value of Psychic Experiences

astral travelTo someone who wrote describing many kinds of psychic experiences including astral travel and kundalini manifestations.

So many kinds of experiences are possible that even the yogis of India have not listed and classified them as to their character and value.

For the yogi there is a single question: What is or was the lasting effect of an experience, if any? Did it impart knowledge and wisdom or did it leave me asking What Happened To Me?

Mistaken experiences

An experience may be real, but our response to it may be mistaken. For example, I knew a man who believed he was the present King of India because someone told him so in a dream. He would also dream someone was dead and would spend hours praying for their soul only to find out they were alive. Yet he never questioned the accuracy of his experiences.

I knew a very intelligent woman who had a revelation that she was a part of the Divine Mother that had broken off (???) and incarnated as her, and her husband was the Archangel Michael that was born on earth to protect her.

Another question to ask is: Have I learned anything from this experience, or do I just have more questions?

It is extremely important to approach these matters with great caution because it is so easy to misunderstand and come to a wrong conclusion about them. In the course of my own sadhana I have had experiences that would have been disastrous if I had accepted them at face value.


Astral travel is certainly real, but whether or not it is beneficial is the question. I have known several people who astral traveled from childhood because in a previous life they have been forced to develop psychic powers including astral projection. In this life it caused them great confusion.

I grew up with people who were visionaries and spiritual clairvoyants, but they were very stable and understood everything. One of them was a great healer and miracle worker. On the other hand I have known others that were confused and ultimately harmed by taking their experiences seriously.

Quite a few people have reported to me receiving “initiations” when out of the body, but they neither understood their experience or learned anything from it.

Look closely

I am telling you all these examples to urge you to carefully analyze everything and determine for yourself the character of various experiences.

Do you have some kind of test to apply during these various kinds of experience? It is very important to do so. I recommend that you intone Om over and over and see what occurs.

I would advise you to forget experiences that do not come with understanding, and put your attention on those that give you insight and practical knowledge. It is very common for psychic life to consist of worthless and worthwhile events. Sand and white sugar look alike, but an ant knows which is which. So the yogis say to be like the wise ant and take the sugar and leave the sand.

Further reading:

The Yoga Life Podcast 7: Tips for Successful Meditation



Click here to listen to Tips for Successful Meditation if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 18:28 minutes.

Abbot George BurkeIn this the seventh podcast on the Yoga Life, Abbot George gives tips for success in meditation.

You will hear about:

  • how to deal with inner negativity
  • “getting rid of the ego”?
  • the importance of keeping your spiritual life inside
  • advice about your place of meditation
  • the use of holy imagery in your home and meditation place.

Listen to more podcasts on leading a spiritual life on our Podcasts Page.

The Great Experiment in Vegetarianism and Meditation

great experiment in vegetarianismQ: I eat meat, however I have decided to adopt a strict vegetarian diet for sixty days. If it does enable me to go deeper into meditation, I will never eat meat again. My question is, is sixty days long enough for me to experience a difference? Or how long (approximately) should it take for me to see results?

In yoga everything is individual, and that includes yogic diet. The present condition of your bodies, gross and subtle determine your usual state and function of mind. Therefore I could not at all say when a perceptible change will come about from a vegetarian diet.

Many years ago I taught a two-week seminar on yoga at a university in northern California. A friend had been slated to teach, but asked me to take his place. I agreed to do so, free of charge, on one condition: everyone in the seminar would have to be purely vegetarian for the two weeks. This was worked out with the university and accepted by the nearly twenty students in the seminar. To my surprise, after only one week they had noticed such a difference in their minds–which included better functioning in their other classes and even one examination–that they declared they would be vegetarians for life. Three years later I met some of them in India, and they were still vegetarians.

For a really dramatic change I find that six months and three years are somehow magic numbers. By that I mean that after six months of being a vegetarian a very marked difference is noticed, and after a total of three years as a vegetarian the change is seen to be astounding. The bacteria in the digestive tract of meat-eaters is anaerobic. Since oxygen is inseparable from evolving life, such bacteria are literal death-bearers, and one of the reasons that vegetarians have been proven to have at least three hundred percent stronger immune systems than non-vegetarians. Anyhow, if a person becomes a strict vegetarian (no lapses and no cheating), after three years the bacteria in the digestive tract have completely changed over to aerobic bacteria: oxygen-based and life-giving. This is, I expect the reason for the three-year period.

So enter upon the Great Experiment and see what happens. This I can tell you: if you eat junk food, even if vegetarian, do not expect much improvement. And if you use nicotine or alcohol, both of which are much more harmful than meat, then who knows what will result?

Further Reading:

What is Karma?

Whether a student of spirituality is new or has been studying for a while, it always pays to review the basics, in this case, “what is karma?”.

karma“Karma” comes from the Sanskrit root kri, which means to act, do, or make. It is exactly the same as the Latin verb ago from whose form, actus, we get our English words act and action.

Both verbs are “all purpose” words–that is, they can be applied in many situations to express the idea of many forms of action both mental and physical. This is important to know so we can realize that karma covers the entire range of human action, whatever its character.

Karma, then, means any kind of action, including thought and feeling. But it also means the effects of actions. For karma is both action and reaction.

Being a fundamental principle of existence it may be thought of as the law of causation governing action and its effects in the physical and psychological plane.

It extends back to the moment of our entry into relative existence and extends forward to the moment of our exit from relative existence–even if that exit is a matter of transmutation of consciousness rather than external cessation of manifestation in a relative form or body.

More about Karma:

what is Karma?

Podcast: How to Tell if You Are Making Progress in Meditation

seven signs of progress in meditation


Click here to listen to How to Tell if You Are Making Progress in Meditation if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 15:20 minutes.

Abbot George BurkeToday’s podcast concerns how to gain a greater understanding of spiritual life through study of the Bhagavad Gita, and how to tell if you are making progress in meditation. Abbot George expands on list of seven indications of progress in meditation practice found in Journey to Self-Realization, a collection of talks by Paramhansa Yogananda, at the end of the talk entitled “The True Signs of Progress in Meditation.”

True signs of progress in meditation

  • An increasing peacefulness during meditation.
  • A conscious inner experience of calmness in meditation metamorphosing into increasing bliss.
  • A deepening of one’s understanding, and finding answers to one’s questions through the calm intuitive state of inner perception.
  • An increasing mental and physical efficiency in one’s daily life.
  • Love for meditation and the desire to hold on to the peace and joy of the meditative state in preference to attraction to anything in the world.
  • An expanding consciousness of loving all with the unconditional love that one feels toward his own dearest loved ones.
  • Actual contact with God, and worshipping Him as ever new Bliss felt in meditation and in His omnipresent manifestations within and beyond all creation.

Listen to more podcasts on leading a spiritual life on our Podcasts Page.

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Jesus Teaches the Brotherhood of Life in India

Jesus teaches the brotherhood of life in India

“Benares is the sacred city of the Brahm[in]s, and in Benares Jesus taught; Udraka was his host. Udraka made a feast in honor of his guest, and many high born Hindu priests and scribes [pandits] were there.

“And Jesus said to them, With much delight I speak to you concerning life–the brotherhood of life” (Aquarian Gospel 28:1-3).

A joyous message

Rarely, when growing up, did I hear a sermon delivered with any manner but solemnity. Plenty of times the discourse was a stick to belabor the mental backs of the hearers. Even when I was free of the imprisoning ignorance of Protestant fundamentalism, still the aura of gravity prevailed in the various centers I visited which were oriented toward Indian philosophy and yoga. Evidently the speakers (both American and Indian) felt the profound concepts of Sanatana Dharma were to be approached with a devout wariness on the behalf of the seeker, rather like working up to taking a particularly bitter, nasty-tasting medicine.

But in India I found things to be greatly different. Those speaking about dharma did so with a lightness, even a buoyancy, that was almost as engaging as their words. I can never forget the joy that radiated from the eyes of many of them–both in public talks and in my private conversations with them. Optimism is a cardinal feature of the genuine yogi.

So it is fitting that Jesus, in the holy city of Benares (Varanasi), should express his joy in being able to speak of the divine realities than can only rejoice the heart when correctly understood. Consider the common religious milieu he had left behind in Israel. Thunderings, fulminations, and threats by a bloodthirsty deity whose temple in Jerusalem flowed literal streams of blood throughout the day. Virtue was not its own reward. Rather, virtue’s reward lay in being left alone by a testy God–whose knowledge of men’s hearts inspired the deepest loathing for them, and who had a history of wiping out entire nations as well as individuals who “offended” him. He often demanded the deaths of their families and clans, as well. And the offenses were often so slight as to be nonexistent. This does not make for a very jolly time when religion becomes the subject.

How blessed it was for me to experience the same relief and uplift that Jesus had felt two thousand years before me! And how sad that the burden from which I had been relieved had been thrust upon me in the name of that same Jesus.

However Jesus (and much later, myself) had managed to adjust to freedom and cheerfulness, so he continues with these words of glorious vision:


“The universal God is one, yet he is more than one; all things are God; all things are one” (Aquarian Gospel 28:4).

God is not just one in the sense of number–a single entity. He is much more than that. He is a Unity that embraces, includes, and in a mysterious way is the Many. In him diversity and difference exist without diminishing his Unity and his Identity with all. We say that “all things are God,” and this is true, but ultimately we see the higher truth that there are no “things” at all, but only God. That fact of this divine unity is awesomely hopeful, eradicating fear and doubt when it begins to become part of the yogi’s inmost knowing. Long before the attainment of perfect unity, the joyful anticipation colors the yogi’s consciousness and life.

One within the ONE

“By the sweet breaths of God all life is bound in one; so if you touch a fiber of a living thing you send a thrill from the center to the outer bounds of life” (Aquarian Gospel 28:5).

Now this is truly awesome. When we interact with any thing or person we are entering into exchange and influence of the entire range of being. Cosmic Karma! For “the sweet breaths of God,” the currents of the Universal Life (Vishwaprana), flow through all things, drawing them into perfect unity on both an abstract and a functional level. This gives infinite scope to Jesus’ assertion: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

When we touch a leaf, we touch God. When we join our consciousness to God in meditation, we join ourselves to all that exist. There can never be a separation. The closer we are to God, the closer we are to all. We live in God and at the same time all live within us in a mystical way. When we lift ourselves we lift all that is.

This world is a duality, so there is a downside to even the most wonderful truth. Jesus wants us to have a complete, practical understanding of what he is saying, so he further tells us:

“And when you crush beneath your foot the meanest worm, you shake the throne of God, and cause the sword of right to tremble in its sheath” (Aquarian Gospel 28:6).

Simply living is a grave responsibility for many reasons, not the least being the reality of karmic response to all thoughts and acts.

To harm any thing is to harm all, even God–at least in a metaphysical sense. In a moment we will hear more about this.

Life within the ONE

“The bird sings out its song for men, and men vibrate in unison to help it sing. The ant constructs her home, the bee its sheltering comb, the spider weaves her web, and flowers breathe to them a spirit in their sweet perfumes that gives them strength to toil” (Aquarian Gospel 28:7, 8).

The entire field of Life is like a woven fabric. Each thread affects the others. We live within all and all lives within us. All affects us profoundly and we also affect all. This unity is glorious and sublime, even terrible (in the old sense of the word). We live because all live. And all live because God is Life Itself.



Podcast: Swami Sivananda’s Humility


sivananda's humility pada pujaClick here to listen to Swami Sivananda’s Humility if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 9:45 minutes.

This podcast is the last in the series of Abbot George’s Reminiscences of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, focusing on incidents showing Swami Sivananda’s humility.

In this talk you will hear about:
Abbot George Burke

  • The woman who cleaned her glasses on Swamiji’s clothes,
  • The awesome spiritual atmosphere during a pada puja of Swami Sivananda,
  • Some parting advice to Abbot George, and
  • Abbot George’s final meeting with Swamiji.

Listen to the other podcasts in this series of Reminiscences of Swami Sivananda:

Listen to more podcasts on meditation and the Yoga Life on our Podcasts Page.

The Necessity of Solitude for the Yogi


The greatest monk of the Christian church was Saint Arsenios the Great who lived in the Egyptian desert. At the beginning of his spiritual search he prayed for guidance from God. A voice sounded from heaven, saying: “Arsenios: flee men.” Which he did, and became “an earthly angel and a heavenly man” as a result.

Solitude is very necessary for the yogi. There is no doubt that the yogi may have to work among the noise of urban business, that telephone, fax, and computer may be ringing, buzzing, and beeping, and people be talking, talking, and talking throughout the day. But when the work time is over it should really be over and the guidelines given by Krishna should be adhered to as much as possible:

“The yogi should concentrate constantly on the Self, remaining in solitude, alone, with controlled mind and body, having no desires and free from material acquisitiveness” (Bhagavad Gita 6:10).

Remaining in solitude.

This holy solitude is an ideal to be striven for. It need not involve living miles from others. Location is the key. For example, I am writing this in a house located on the side of a tree-covered mountain. When I look out the window I see a neighborhood which includes a campground at the foot of the mountain, but no noise is heard from there. I can also see a minor highway at the foot of the mountains across the valley that is also silent. The important thing is that the atmosphere is totally solitary. It feels as though this property is many miles from other habitations. The windows are kept open much of the year and nearly the only sounds occasionally heard are birds and wind.

You can live in a quiet place where after your daily work you can go and be by yourself, where the world can be shut out and forgotten about. A yogi living in a tranquil neighborhood can turn his home into a spiritual haven and live in there alone with God. I knew two yogis who lived in Beverly Hills in a sound-proofed apartment in splendid solitude. If the place is in a solitary location away from the town or neighbors, that is best, but any place where you can shut and lock the doors and be alone is sufficient–if it is quiet and free from noises of the world and the worldly. Even if you have to move occasionally to ensure this, you will be glad you did.

Keeping the world out

It was said of an ancient Christian hermit who lived in the desert of Israel: “He went into the desert and took the whole world with him.” So living in quiet solitude while filling the mind with worldly clamor is defeating the purpose. It is crucial to control the telephone, not let others invade your quiet, and not bring in the world through newspapers, news magazines, or news programs on radio and television.

In the thirteenth chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi, the master yogi, Ram Gopal Muzumdar, asks Yogananda: “Are you able to have a little room where you can close the door and be alone? That is your cave. That is your sacred mountain. That is where you will find the kingdom of God.” This is really important for the unmarried yogi unless he can find other yogis of the same sex who will live with him in a quiet place and keep to themselves, out of sight and sound. (I knew a nun who used to climb up into a tree so she could be alone, hidden by the leaves.) At the same time you must find the right balance between being alone and being with those you live with.

An occasional retreat

Occasionally you should go away even from your home and live in solitude–not in some busy ashram where you will be pestered to do “karma yoga” and be expected to take part in externalizing group activities. It is better to stay at home than waste your time in this way. Instead, you should find a place where you can really be all to yourself. If you can prepare your food and eat in solitude, this is good, but if you can go somewhere for (vegetarian) meals where you need speak to no one socially and can immediately go back to your place, that is also good, though not as good. A truly quiet hotel that has room service can be perfectly acceptable, but if you can be in some kind of house or cabin, or room in a single-story building, it is better.

Sri Ramakrishna, who advocated solitudeSri Ramakrishna had this to say about such solitude:

“The mind cannot dwell on God if it is immersed day and night in worldliness, in worldly duties and responsibilities; it is most necessary to go into solitude now and then and think of God. To fix the mind on God is very difficult, in the beginning, unless one practices meditation in solitude. When a tree is young it should be fenced all around; otherwise it may be destroyed by cattle.

“To meditate, you should withdraw within yourself or retire to a secluded corner or to the forest. And you should always discriminate between the Real and the unreal. God alone is real, the Eternal Substance; all else is unreal, that is, impermanent. By discriminating thus, one should shake off impermanent objects from the mind.”

“One must go into solitude to attain this divine love. To get butter from milk you must let it set into curd in a secluded spot: if it is too much disturbed, milk won’t turn into curd. Next, you must put aside all other duties, sit in a quiet spot, and churn the curd. Only then do you get butter.

“Further, by meditating on God in solitude the mind acquires knowledge, dispassion, and devotion. But the very same mind goes downward if it dwells in the world.…

“The world is water and the mind milk. If you pour milk into water they become one; you cannot find the pure milk any more. But turn the milk into curd and churn it into butter. Then, when that butter is placed in water, it will float. So, practice spiritual discipline in solitude and obtain the butter of knowledge and love. Even if you keep that butter in the water of the world the two will not mix. The butter will float.”

Mahendranath Gupta, author of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, who practiced solitudeSri Mahendranath Gupta, known as “M,” was a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna and the recorder of these words in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. He followed these words of Sri Ramakrishna all his life. He had several isolated places right in Calcutta, known only to himself, where he would go for days at a time to practice meditation. Sometimes he would come home for meals and then go back to his secret haven. At other times he left Calcutta for a solitary ashram owned by him. To see the results he gained from following Sri Ramakrishna’s advice, read the ninth chapter of Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi: “The Blissful Devotee and His Cosmic Romance.”

Both forms of solitude–at home and away–are necessary for the yogi.

Further Reading:

Podcast: Days with Sivananda


Click here to listen to Days with Swami Sivananda if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 15:19 minutes.

Swami SivanandaWhat was it like to spend time with a spiritual giant like Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh? In today’s podcast Abbot George shares some of his experiences with Sivanandaji when he visited him shortly before his passing in 1963.

You will hear the following:

  • What is was like just being near Swami Sivananda,
  • How Sivanandaji ended his satsangs,
  • The invitation to a meal of “just plain boiled rice,”
  • The self-righteous devotee and “aren’t eggs a vegetable?”,
  • And an incident of healing by Swami Sivananda, recounted below.

Abbot George BurkeI am healed by Swami Sivananda

“Sivananda possessed all the yoga powers, including healing the sick and even raising the dead or preventing a predestined death. I do not exaggerate in the least when I tell you that he was a god walking the earth. In him I saw every virtue developed to the maximum degree.

“There is a great deal of irresponsibility in the teaching of hatha yoga. Worthy teachers are not easy to find although I have come across many who, when I would try to tell them of the risks, always shrugged me off with the assurance that they did the ‘easy and gentle’ asanas. There was no use for me to tell them that if they could not see the subtle bodies of their students and the effects of the postures on them they should not teach any asanas at all. Incorrect hatha yoga practice can lead to serious illness far in the future. For example, two sadhus with severe asthma once visited a well-known yogi’s ashram. When they told the yogi of their trouble, he asked them: ‘Did you not practice intense hatha yoga twenty-five years ago in Kanya Kumari?’ They were amazed. Yes. They had. ‘And that has caused your present illness,’ he told them. ‘Your practice was faulty.’ Now to my story.

“Steven was a great enthusiast for hatha yoga, fond of standing on his head, so he wanted to take the classes offered at Sivanandashram. Considering that immediately the monk-teacher told us that he could himself no longer do hatha yoga due to falling while trying to get into a complex posture, we should have backed off. In America I had met a hatha yoga teacher with the same limitation, and he too kept on teaching others what had harmed him. But Steven wanted to get on his head, so while he did so the damaged hatha yogi tried to do the same for me. The result was that after sleeping in the afternoon that day when I awoke every nerve in my body seemed to be taut and painful. When I got out of bed I found I could not stand upright, that the abdominal muscles were in some kind of spasm that prevented it. It was misery beyond description. Even all my teeth hurt.

“When Steven went to the evening satsang I stayed behind, sure that I could not possibly scramble down the steep hillside by the Kailash Kutirs. (There were no cement steps.) But when I knew the satsang had started I asked myself: ‘How can you be up here when Sivananda is down there right now bestowing blessing on all present? Better to die trying to get there, for if that is your last thought you will surely go to a higher level in the other world.’ So I tried it out. It was terrible, and I kept sliding down in the loose dirt. Yet I eventually made it and came staggering, all bent over, into the satsang. There was Sivananda, and I was sure that I could not bow down to him. But I found I could, though just barely. And I even got up, too. As I was heaving up he spoke to Swami Devananda who took out of the magic bag half of a laddu that must have been as big as a softball and handed it to me.

“ ‘If anything can kill me, this is it,’ I thought as I took the laddu and shuffled over to sit beside Steven. (By the way, Sivananda’s strategy about getting rid of the parasites by no longer lecturing but joking and having fun had worked. In the morning satsangs we had only about twenty and about forty in the evenings, despite the large number of residents in that ashram.) Well, it might be time to die, so I ate that laddu. If you don’t know what a laddu is, I can define it in one word: sugar. White sugar. Pure poison.

“So I ate the poison to find that Sivananda had turned it into amrita which instantly cured me. I had not expected it, but I was not surprised. He was the master of life and death, I already knew. Later Swami Sivananda told me to never practice hatha yoga, that walking was the best exercise for me. Hurrah.”

Listen to Days with Swami Sivananda. Listen to more podcasts on our Podcast Page.

Who is the Guru?

Dakshinamurti—god as guruQ: Reading the words [about God as guru] in Om Yoga a bell went off: the realization that the teacher we need to “introduce” us to God is Him who already is within us and he comes into our lives when we “see” this. Am I right?

You certainly are. Along the way we often do need teachers–but not enslavers such as those who would have us believe that without them or their meditation methods we cannot know God–or even worse, those that would addict us to their “love” and “blessing” and insist on “loyalty” to them.

God leaves us free at all times, and so does a true spiritual teacher such as Swami Sivananda and Paramhansa Nityananda. All true masters, including Patanjali, teach that God is the ultimate guru.

More on this subject: