Light of the Spirit Blog

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:

Podcast: Swami Sivananda and Jesus (and More)


Click here to listen to Swami Sivananda and Jesus if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 14:24 minutes.

Abbot George Burke“One of the most memorable experiences of my life was hearing Swami Sivananda sing every day in the evening satsang:

O my Jesus,
O my Jesus,
Lord Jesus,
Come, come to me!

O my Mary,
Virgin Mary,
Mother Mary,
Come, come to me!

Sivananda and Jesus: Sivananda with a cross“This was no token broadmindedness on Sivanandaji’s part. Every aspect of his being vibrated with his very real love and faith in Christ and his mother. Christmas was celebrated grandly every year in the ashram. Sivananda had written an entire book on life of Jesus which was available from the ashram press.”

In this podcast Abbot George shows from Swami Sivananda’s writings what great reverence he had for Jesus. Among other citations, Abbot George quotes from Sivananda’s book Lives of Saints:

“[Lord Jesus] disappeared at the ages of thirteen and reappeared in his thirty-first year. During this period, from his thirteenth to his thirty-first year, he came to India and practiced Yoga.…Jesus left Jerusalem and reached the land of Indus in the company of merchants. He visited Varanasi, Rajgriha and other places in India. He spent several years in Hindustan. Jesus lived like a Hindu or a Buddhist monk, a life of burning renunciation and dispassion. He assimilated the ideals, precepts and principles of Hinduism. Christianity is modified Hinduism only, which was suitable for those people who lived in the period of Christ. Really speaking, Jesus was a child of the soil of India only. That is the reason why there is so much of similarity between his teachings and the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism. During [this period] he travelled in India where he got initiation from sages and seers.”

Much of this parallels Abbot George’s researches in The Christ of India, and Levi Dowling’s writings in The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ.

Abbot George also recounts instances he witnessed of the great love and mercy of Swami Sivananda, where he showed himself to be dina bandhu, the friend of the lowly.

Annie Besant and the Necessity for Reincarnation

Annie Besant, author of Necessity for Reincarnation

We have just published a remarkable article, The Necessity for Reincarnation, by Annie Besant (1847 – 1933), a renowned speaker and writer, and president of the Madras Theosophical society. The article is a long and comprehensive one on various scientific, moral, and historical aspects of reincarnation, and as an introduction we give excerpts of the article below.

Now look at [the concept of reincarnation] from the standpoint of justice and of love. Some religious people believe that this one human life decides the whole course of the future. Others do not accept that view, but think that on the other side of the grave progress, or happiness for all, is possible. Now if progress be admitted, then the whole principle of Reincarnation is granted. For, whether it be in this or in other worlds, if progress be admitted as the law of life, the growth of the spirit and the soul is granted. But suppose, with the great majority in Christendom, that men believe either that this life decides the whole fate of the soul hereafter, or believe that though all will pass into bliss, this life is but one, one single life, then how very difficult to reconcile the facts with that. For a human soul is born into the world in a baby’s body and dies in a few days. Another goes through a long life of sixty or seventy years. If the first idea be accepted, that this life decides the whole future, then it becomes very hard for the man who lives out his life to run the risk of eternal loss, from which the baby, by the mere fact of his early death, is secured. A terrible injustice that, when you come to think of it; because none would say that the child who dies a few hours old runs any risk of misery hereafter. Then why should he reap the fruit of bliss which may be forfeited by the older man in his struggles in the world in the course of his long life? This difference of the length of human life becomes inseparable from the question of justice, if you are going to admit only this one life. And if you say that, of what use is the life if the child, who has only had two or three hours of it, reaches the same everlastingness of bliss as the man who, through a life of struggle, has won virtue and triumphed over temptation?

Now every student knows that this doctrine was common amongst the Jews. You may read in their books that it was the common faith of the time. You can see it in the questions that in the Gospels are sometimes put to the disciples and to the Christ. Remember the words spoken, by the Christ Himself to the disciples when they questioned Him of John the Baptist: “If you can receive it, this is Elijah.” Remember His answer when they brought to Him the challenge of the people outside “How say the scribes that Elijah must first come?” His answer was: “He has come already; and they understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.” This is simply one case showing the familiarity of the idea among the Jews, just as you may find it in the writings I refer to, that they said that all imperfect souls had to return to the earth.

Come …to the writings and teachings of those who lived in the early centuries after Christ, and see how often in the writings of the great Fathers of the Church this doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul is taught. One of the plainest teachings of it is found in the writings of that noblest of the Fathers, Origen. He lays it down distinctly that each person born into the world receives a body according to his deserts and his former actions; a very, very clear statement. And Origen, remember, was one of the grandest minds of which the early Church could boast, one of the noblest and purest characters, and he taught that doctrine definitely and clearly. Take other great bishops, and you will find them speaking along the same line; for five-and-a-half centuries after the death of Christ that was a current doctrine of the Christian Church. And when, in the middle of the sixth century, it was condemned by a council, it was not condemned as a general doctrine, but only in the form in which Origen had put it, so that you have absolutely no Christian authority against it. The Roman Catholic may object to the form into which Origen threw it, and say that that form was condemned by a council of the Church, but he cannot say that the whole doctrine of Reincarnation was condemned, for there is no such condemnation of the doctrine known in Christian history.

I say to you, it [reincarnation] is yours as much as theirs, and if you accept the doctrine of Reincarnation, do not accept it as an alien doctrine that comes from some other faith; take it as part of the great Christian revelation; take it as part of the great Christian teaching. Admit that it fell out of sight for a while under the blackness of ignorance that swept over Europe. Admit that it dropped below the surface, in times when men were not thinking of these great problems that face you today.

Friends, if I speak to you on this tonight, it is because I know what the doctrine has of hope, of strength, of encouragement, in the face of the difficulties in the world. I know what it means for the heart-broken, who fall in despair before the puzzles of life, to have the light thrown upon it which makes life intelligible; for the misery of intellectual unrest is one of the worst miseries that we face in the modern world. To be able to understand what we are, to be able to understand whence we have come and whither we are going, to see all through the world one law as there is one life, to realize that there is no partiality, no injustice, no unfair treatment of one human soul, no unfair treatment of one human life; that all are growing; that all are evolving; that our elders are only elders and not different in kind from ourselves; that the youngest shall be as the oldest; that man has within him the developing spirit of his Father and shall therefore be perfect as God is perfect; that is the hope–nay, not the hope, the certainty–that this doctrine gives to the human soul. And when we have grasped it we can face the miseries, the sorrows, the despairs of life, and know that in the end, looking back upon this sorrowful world, we shall say: “It was from God, it came from God, and to God it returns.”

Read the full article The Necessity for Reincarnation by Annie Besant here.

Podcast: Swami Sivananda’s Humor


Click here to listen to Swami Sivananda’s Humor if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 16:06 minutes.
Sivananda's humorSwami Sivananda’s joyful sense of humor are evident in today’s podcast. This includes the following incidents:

  • Sivananda’s riddle and the over-serious student.
  • The rare color film photos of Swamiji.
  • Sivananda’s omniscience regarding what was going on in Sivanandashram.
  • What it was like at satsangs with Sivanandaji.
  • Two interviews with Sivananda, and Sivananda’s important advice for success in spiritual life.

Listen to Swami Sivananda’s Humor.

Listen to more podcasts on meditation and living the Yoga Life.

Is Reincarnation True?

Is Reincarnation True? PhoenixTo someone who wrote juggling all kinds of statements about how much better it would be to not believe in reincarnation and the problems such a belief caused.

In the West the question about a belief is its utility, its plausibility, its acceptability (appeal) and its practicality.

In the East it is a simple of question of: Is it true? No other question really matters. That each person settles for himself.

Those who purify and refine their consciousness through yoga meditation have no problem, because their intuition and their own memories of past lives settle the question, as well as the testimonies and the research of many, many others.

Also read:

Podcast: I Meet Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh

In this new series of podcasts about Swami Sivananda, Abbot George relates his memories in a much fuller form than in previous podcasts.


Click here to listen to I Meet Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 14:32 minutes.

Abbot George BurkeI met God in flesh both in America and India in the form of great yogis and devotees. Transformed by yoga and devotion they were embodiments of higher consciousness. One time my friend Hari Datta Vasudev was telling me about some of the holy ones he had met during his life. After one account he paused and then looked at me very intently. “They are the glory of India!” he told me. I agree and would like to tell you of the glory of India I encountered, the glory of God revealed in humanity.

Swami SivanandaThe greatest of these was Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, a holy city in the Himalayan foothills about twenty miles north of Hardwar, another most sacred place. Truly in a class by himself, Sivananda was the Lord of life and death, holding the keys of immortality. Although I could describe the other holy ones to some degree, Sivanandaji was beyond description or classification. He loved and we loved in return. I do not think even his closest disciples could say any more.

I met many great yogis in India but among them Sivananda was unique. The other yogis, great as they were, yet produced in me an external awareness, the awareness of their vibration, their very high energy. Now that awareness was certainly beneficial, but in a lesser degree, because it was outwardly turned and reality is inside. Sivananda was glorious and a wonder beyond telling, as was always evident. Yet, I found that the moment I entered his presence I experienced silence and became increasingly self-aware rather than drawn outward. I saw and admired him from the base of my true Self. There is a lot of talk about being centered, but Sivananda’s presence made me centered in the silent core of my being that is pure consciousness.

This podcast is the first of a series recounting my time with Swami Sivananda in the early 60’s, beginning with how I first heard Sivanandaji, and how I first met him.

Listen to I Meet Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh now.

Listen to more podcasts on meditation and living the Yoga Life.

Podcast: The Yoga Life 5: The Importance of Vegetarianism for the Yogi


Abbot George BurkeClick here to listen to The Yoga Life 5: The Importance of Vegetarianism for the Yogi if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 15:41 minutes.

Since we have considered shaucha in the last podcast which includes purity of diet, let’s take a brief look at the spiritual benefits of being a vegetarian yogi.

importance of vegetarianismThe mind, as a mass of vibrating energy, is limited by the constitution or condition of that energy. If the energy is heavy or inert, little can be done with it to produce the state of silence and clarity needed to reflect the truth of spirit. Certain elements darken the mind and make it thick or heavy, vibrating very slowly–sometimes seemingly not at all.

On the other hand, some elements lighten the mind, making it fluid and subtle, vibrating at a very high level. It is this latter condition that is needed for attaining the state of liberation–or rather, the state that liberates the spirit from the illusion of bondage and suffering. It is really the mind that becomes liberated, but that liberation also affects the essentially ever-free spirit and sets it free. To attain such liberation the mind must be purified and refined, vegetarian diet being one of the best and strongest means for its purification.

We cannot get a marble statue from clay, nor can we get wheat bread from barley meal–the end product is still going to consist of the nature of the material started with. So it is with all our bodies, gross and subtle. They will reflect the character of the food which has gone into their formation.

It is obvious, then, that the food we eat is going to determine the quality and condition of all the levels of our being, including body and mind.

Therefore when we eat something, it not only affects us on all levels of our existence, it becomes those levels. In this very real sense we indeed are what we eat.

Listen to The Yoga Life 5: The Importance of Vegetarianism for the Yogi to hear much more practical information.