Living the Yoga Life
The supreme master of yoga, Gorakhnath, said: “He who aspires to any attainment without the practice of yoga meditation cannot succeed in hundreds of years” (Gorakh Rahasyam 4). Meditation is the process of centering our awareness in the principle of pure consciousness which is our essential being. In this way we will never lose sight of our real identity. That is why Lalla Yogeshwari used to sing:
My teacher spoke to me but one precept.
He said unto me, “From without enter the inmost part.”
That to me became a rule and a precept.
And therefore naked began I to dance. (Lalla Vakyani 94)
Divesting herself of all thoughts and impressions, external and internal, Lalla entered her eternal Self, and thus “naked” began to dance the dance of inner bliss that is the nature of the Self. As the Gita says: “Only that yogi whose joy is inward, inward his peace, and his vision inward shall come to Brahman and know Nirvana” (Bhagavad Gita 5:24).
Meditation is the process of restoring our consciousness to the center– our eternal spirit-self–and keeping it there so our evolution will proceed exactly according to the divine plan without any more delays or deviations. Here are some statements of the upanishads regarding meditation.
“This Self, deep-hidden in all beings, is not revealed to all; but to the seers, pure in heart, concentrated in mind–to them is he revealed” (Katha Upanishad 1:3:12).
“Wise, self-controlled, and tranquil souls, who practice austerity and meditation, attain by the path of liberation to the immortal, the truly existing, the changeless Self” (Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.11).
“With mind illumined by the power of meditation, the wise know the Self, the blissful, the immortal” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.7).
“This Effulgent Self is to be realized by meditation and by superconscious vision” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.5).
“In meditation the Self is revealed” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.8).
“By the rightly meditative, the Self is fully known” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.4).
“One who knows, meditates upon, and realizes the truth of the Self–such an one delights in the Self, revels in the Self, rejoices in the Self” (Chandogya Upanishad 7:25:1, 2).
“Knowledge of the Self is gained through meditation” (Swetashwatara Upanishad 1:15, 16).
Knowing this, Lalla Yogeshwari also used to sing:
An ascetic [yati] wanders from holy place to holy place.
To seek the union brought about by visiting himself. (Lalla Vakyani 36)
It is important that meditation become the heart, the dominant factor, of your life; for then God will be the heart, the ruler, of your life.
True signs of progress in meditation
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,” he gives the following list of seven indications of progress in meditation practice:
- 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.
Impulses to negativity or foolishness, whether mental or physical, exist in our minds in the form of impressions or conditionings produced by previous actions or experiences. Worries and anxieties about these impulses in the form of “sins,” “temptations,” and “wrong thinking” torment a lot of seekers. Even more futile is obsession with “getting rid of the ego.” For the one who regularly practices meditation and arranges his inner and outer life so as to avoid their counteracting or conflicting with his practice there is no need for such self-torture. Speaking of these negative and troublesome things, Shankara confidently says “they are dissolved along with the receptacle, the chitta…. Because they have no effect, they are not given attention, for when a thing is falling of itself there is no point in searching for something to make it fall.” I. K. Taimni says: “As the object of meditation continues to fill the mind completely there can be no question of emptying the mind.”
Too upset to meditate?
I knew a man who frequently refused medication, saying, “I’m too sick right now to take medicine. I’ll take it when I feel better.” This amazed me, but we tend to do the same thing regarding meditation. It is the only way to real peace, but when our lives are being swept with the storms of grief, disaster, fears, anger, and suchlike, we say the same thing. “I am too upset to meditate. I’ll do it later.” But meditation has the ability to soothe and eliminate all disturbed thoughts and inner states. So whenever any distracted or negative conditions arise in our minds and lives, meditation is the key to peace and clear thinking.
Keep it inside
Do not dissipate the calmness and centering gained through meditation by talking about it to others. Experiences in meditation are not only subtle, they are fragile, as delicate as spun glass, and speaking about them can shatter their beneficial effects. Bragging, eulogizing, and swapping notes about meditation experiences is a very harmful activity. Avoid it.
Do not satisfy any curiosity about your personal yogic experiences or benefits except in the most general terms. Naturally you can tell people that meditation helps you, but do so in only a general way unless you really feel intuitively that you should be more specific. When people seem truly interested in spiritual life and serious about it, recommend the books that have been helpful to you.
It is also good if you keep your meditation place very private and do not allow anyone else to go there unless they are going to be meditating with you. At no time should anyone sit on your meditation chair, throw, pillow, or mat.
The place for meditation
It will be most helpful to your practice if you have a special place exclusively for meditation. Your mind will begin to associate that place with meditation and will more easily enter a quiet and peaceful state when you sit there. If you can set aside an entire room for practicing meditation, or even a large well-ventilated closet, that is good, but just an area in a room is adequate. The important thing is that the area be devoted exclusively to your meditation. (It can be helpful to have a special shawl, or meditation clothing, or a robe that you only wear when meditating, as it will absorb and hold the vibrations of meditation. After a while, just putting them on helps in entering a meditative state.)
Your meditation place should be as quiet as possible. As a rule earplugs are not recommended for the practice of meditation since you can become distracted by the sensation of pressure in the ears, or the chirping, cricket-like noises that go on all the time in the ears, or the sound of your heartbeat. But if you need them, use them. Your place of meditation should ideally be a place where you can most easily forget outer distractions, but if it is not, you can still manage to practice meditation successfully.
It should be softly or dimly lighted. (Full darkness might tend to make you go to sleep.) It is also good to turn off any electric lights, as their pulsation–even though not perceived by the eyes–affects the brain waves and subtly agitates the mind. If you like having a candle or wick lamp burning when you meditate, they should not flicker.
The room should be moderate in temperature and free from drafts, both cold and hot. It is also important that it be well ventilated so you do not get sleepy from lack of oxygen in the air.
Some people to keep sacred symbols or imagery in their meditation place to remind them of spiritual ideals.
A few more points
It is often recommended to face east or north when meditating, but it has been my experience that it simply does not matter what direction you face. Yet, you can experiment on your own. It has, however, long been my experience that sleeping with the head toward the north–the feet pointing south–can cause a magnetic conflict or disturbance in the body, adversely affecting sleep and even causing nervousness and restlessness. This is also the experience of many meditators I have known.
The body itself is magnetic, and any disturbance in polarity or magnetic flow (biomagnetism) is detrimental to health. Leather inhibits the natural flow of the life force (prana). Leather shoes block the upward flow of prana from the earth into our bodies, and leather belts interfere with the flow of prana within the body. On the more metaphysical side of things, the use of leather–or any slaughtered-animal-derived substance–in any manner is a violation of the principle of ahimsa [non-killing], as Yogananda points out in chapter four of Autobiography of a Yogi. It is also an infraction of the principle of shaucha [purity or cleanliness].
It is best to meditate without shoes, because shoes carry the vibration of the dirt they contact each day. If you feet tend to get cold, then special socks or comfortable, cloth houseshoes can be worn.
Some meditators like to burn incense when they meditate. This is a good practice if the smoke does not irritate the lungs or nose. Unfortunately, most incense, including that from India, contains artificial, toxic ingredients that are unhealthy. Two excellent kinds of incense are the Auroshika brand made at the Aurobindo Ashram in India and the Resin-on-a-Stick incense made by Fred Soll Incense in the United States. Sandalwood, frankincense, and rose fragrances have particularly high vibrations.
True spiritual experience
Sentient beings–long before reaching the level of human birth and after–are immersed in a chain of never-ending experiences, many of them absolutely illusory with no basis of any kind. Yoga philosophy goes further and says that all experiences are delusions. Some, such as hallucinations, have no objective reality at all, and other experiences may be based on some degree of actuality, but our misinterpretation of them turns them into delusions as well. “Maya” is not outside us, but an interior condition.
The yogi’s fervent aspiration is to experience the Real, the Truly Existent (Sat) which we call Brahman, the Paramatman. So immediately he is confronted with the crucial question: What is true spiritual experience? This must be answered lest he wander for future lifetimes through delusional experiences he mistakes for realities. Since yoga deals with the mind–the major source of illusory experience–the yogi is very susceptible to mistaking the unreal for the real, just as he was before becoming a yogi! The masters of yoga have given us clear information as to the nature of real spiritual experience.
When Gorakhnath asked Matsyendranath: “What is the abode of knowledge [jnana]?” the Master replied: Consciousness [chetana] is the abode of knowledge” (Gorakh Bodha 21, 22). Shankara defines correct meditation as “meditation established in the perception of the nature of Spirit alone, pure Consciousness itself.” Yoga Sutra 3:55 tells us: “Liberation is attained when the mind is the same as the spirit in purity.” That is, when through meditation we are permanently filled with nothing but the awareness of pure consciousness, liberation is attained. “That is the liberation of the spirit when the spirit stands alone in its true nature as pure light. So it is.” This is the conclusion of Vyasa. Pure consciousness alone prevails. True spiritual experience, then, is the experience of pure, unalloyed consciousness that is the nature of spirit and Spirit, of the individual and the cosmic Self.
True spiritual experience is the non-dual experience of Spirit. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says: “When there is duality, as it were, then one smells another, one sees another, one hears another, one speaks to another, one thinks of another, one knows another. But when everything has become the Self, then what should one smell and through what, what should one see and through what, what should one hear and through what, what should one speak and through what, what should one think and through what, what should one know and through what? Through what should One know That owing to which all this is known–through what should one know the Knower?” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2:4:14). The Chandogya Upanishad tells us: “Where one sees nothing but the One, hears nothing but the One, knows nothing but the One–there is the Infinite. Where one sees another, hears another, knows another–there is the finite. The Infinite is immortal, the finite is mortal” (Chandogya Upanishad 24:1).
The atman-Self is never anything but consciousness, yet it, like God, has extended itself outward as the many levels of our present state of being. Unlike God, we have lost control over just about everything, and by becoming absorbed in awareness of our external being have caused it to take on a virtually independent existence, dragging us along with it. Conversely, by keeping ourselves centered in the pure awareness, the witnessing consciousness that is our real Self, we will begin the process of turning all those levels back into pure spirit.
Our intention in meditating is to center our awareness permanently in the consciousness of who we really are–in the spirit whose nature is itself pure consciousness. We center or merge our awareness in the consciousness which is the Self.
Most visions seen in meditation occur because the meditator has fallen asleep and is dreaming. There are genuine visions, actual psychic experiences, that can occur in meditation, but Ramana Maharshi gives the true facts about all visions when he says: “Visions do occur. To know how you look you must look into a mirror, but do not take that reflection to be yourself. What is perceived by our senses and the mind is never the [ultimate] truth. All visions are mere mental creations, and if you believe in them, your progress ceases. Enquire to whom the visions occur. Find out who is their witness. Stay in pure awareness, free from all thoughts. Do not move out of that state” (The Power of the Presence, vol. 3, p. 249).
Illusions of progress and enlightenment
“The trouble with ignorance is that it picks up confidence as it goes along” (Arnold H. Glasgow). The ego-ruled mind can only delude. This is why we continually find people burbling along about how their insights and experiences have freed them, renewed them, or made them so wise, only to see them continually recycling through the same old illusions, ignorance, and attendant suffering over and over, like people who are continually quitting smoking or losing weight, but never really do. The ego is not only a liar, it is The Lie. For this reason we must be very careful that we do not get deluded into thinking we have attained something when we have not. Here, for example, are the words of the famous ballet dancer Nijinsky:
“I am not afraid of you. I love now. I loved you always. I am yours and I am my own. You have forgotten what God is. But I have found Him. I love everybody. I live everywhere. I am the flesh. I am the feeling. You are dead because your aims are death. I am the spirit. I am love. I am Nijinsky of God. I love Him, and God loves me. I am a cloud of God.”
Are these the words of an enlightened soul? With a few adjustments they would bring tears to the eyes of New Age seminar junkies and would sell very well as a wall poster with a nature scene background. They could even be set to music–or at least to the sound of surf and seagulls–and sold at a profit. But they actually are the ravings of a homicidal maniac, taken down as he sat on the floor of his padded cell in a strait jacket–a strait jacket he needed because he would kill anyone who came into the cell, including his wife to whom these words were dictated and whom he regarded as a spiritual ignoramus incapable of understanding his great illumination. She had forgotten God and was dead; but he had found God and was life and love–so he was convinced. But he was wrong. He was homicidal. He was insane.
Here are some examples of foolishness elevated to enlightenment in the ego-blinded mind.
- The young yogi had spent several weeks in the Himalayan depths, enclosed in a cave of his own finding. He had left the plains of northern India and come to the abode of silence. There, in his cave, he had engaged in various yogic practices according to his whimsy. The result was his being overwhelmed by the surety that he had attained total enlightenment and was no longer even human, but divine. Therefore he had no reason for living. He arose and walked out of his cave in a straight path. As soon as he came to a precipice he would calmly walk over it and plunge to his death, ending a now-pointless existence. But in his march to death he passed through a meadow filled with flowers. There he sat down. After some time he seemed to feel the “call” of all those in the world who needed him, and decided that he would not kill himself. Rather, he would return to the plains and there share his experience with others. This he did, and today is a noted and prosperous guru in both India and America.
- About the same time another yogi was sitting in the Himalayan foothills, meditating in the total darkness of a vast cave. He had an experience of the subtle energy field of the brain that is not at all an uncommon occurrence even to beginners in meditation. Yet, concluding that he was thereby enlightened, he, too, left to become a famous and wealthy guru of East and West.
- Also around this time a young American was meandering through Ceylon. During one of his attempts to meditate he fell asleep and saw a vivid dream image of a peacock feather. Since the peacock is considered a spiritually significant symbol in Hindu mythology, he inferred upon waking up (“coming out of samadhi” in his later recountings) that he was enlightened. He returned to America as a “Master” who accepted credit cards.
- A few years later another young American was studying in northern India with Tibetan refugee lamas. After many hours of meditation he fell asleep and dreamed most realistically that he was eating radishes. When he awoke he gave forth with a violent belch–and tasted radishes! Confident that he had now gotten all there was to get in Oriental mysticism, he immediately returned to the United States and became a spiritual figure in the early years of the New Age.
- A successful executive secretary in Canada who was also a student of yoga led a small discussion and meditation group. At the onset of menopause she began to experience mild convulsions, fainting spells, and–on occasion–visual hallucinations whenever she would attempt to practice the breathing exercises that formed the basis of her yogic practice. Highly intelligent, she readily understood that her problem was a manifestation of hormonal imbalance and the “change of life” cycle. However, when she told her small coterie of admirers that she was planning to consult a gynecologist about the advisability of medical treatment for her disorder, she encountered a flood of protest. “Mataji! You are not fainting or having ‘hot flashes.’ You are entering samadhi!” “This is not menopause, it is ‘entering the cloud of unknowing.’” “You are experiencing ‘the Great Void!’” Nonsense prevailed over good sense, since it is more appealing to the egoic mind to be thought metaphysical than menopausal. And “Stoned Out Mama,” as she herself and her followers came to call her on occasion, became a spiritual leader of the New Age.
None of the foregoing accounts have been either exaggerated or written sarcastically. They are straightforward fact. I have met examples 1, 2, and 5 and seen them in action. I have heard a recording of example 3 telling about his peacock feather enlightenment. Several admirers of example 4 told me about his “enlightenment” just as he had told them.
I have met three Jesus Christs and one Virgin Mary, and a series of lesser delusionals, including a man in Bengal through whom the goddess Kali supposedly did automatic writing. These examples are only a fraction of a drop in the vast ocean of human minds and lives devastated by spiritual self-delusion, and are related here not for mockery or criticism but as a warning to the undiscriminating and unwary seeker. For one of the tests set before those who seek the gold of spiritual illumination is the offering of the “fool’s gold” of egoic illusion.
“It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite” (Isaiah 29:8). Did you ever dream that you woke up? Remember how frustrated you were when you discovered that you were really still asleep and dreaming? Some people have had the experience of dreaming a whole series of awakenings, in each one thinking: “Now this time I am really awake,” only to find out that it was still a dream.
What if our meditation does not result in a real awakening or escape from the maze of illusion, but results only in a delusive extension of the dream of the mind? What if we even have a series of awakening experiences only to ultimately find that they, too, are unreal–merely new illusions replacing old ones? That this is possible I know both from my own experience and that of others who have consulted with me and whom I have observed. How many times have you and I heard people say: “I thought I got rid of that problem a long time ago; and here it is!”?
It is not enough to take up the practice of meditation in just any form. As Buddha insisted, there must be the practice of right meditation. What is right meditation–and what is wrong meditation? The answer is not complex. Right meditation is that which removes all illusion and shows us the truth of things in a direct, unitive manner. Wrong meditation is that which either perpetuates or creates illusions, however grand and appealing they might be. And, as I have quoted at the beginning, the trouble with ignorance is that it picks up confidence as it goes along. Uncomfortable as it might be, every yogi must be keenly aware of his mind’s capacity to fool him, and he must ruthlessly examine his experiences and his states of mind to determine whether he is really on the right track or not. We must mercilessly question our own minds and be very slow in concluding that we are making progress. This is not doubting, this is insisting on knowing the truth. People waste entire lifetimes in foolish religion, mysticism, and delusive yoga practice. If you are honest and truthful in your investigation, it should not take long for you to find out the facts.
As I have said, it should not take so very long before you can gauge the character of your practice. If you are faithfully meditating each day and following exactly the instructions given you, it seems to me that no more than three months’ practice should make it clear to you if you are on the right path or being bamboozled and led astray. And it may take much less time than that. But be aware: if your intuition warns you that you are on the wrong track and you ignore it or refuse to even consider it, then you may fall into delusions that will last for years, if not for the rest of your life. I have seen this happen to many whose ego would not let them look squarely at the truth of their situation. I do not tell you this to frighten you, but I certainly do hope you will be apprehensive of your own ability to deceive yourself and therefore be ever watchful lest you, too, wander on–a spiritual delusional that cannot be helped because he refuses to admit he needs help. This is the ultimate vengeance of the ego on those who try to dethrone and cast it down in perpetual banishment, never again to arise.
False non-dual experience
This delusive state of someone who thinks his is in non-dual consciousness is described in the nineteenth century science-fiction classic Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott, a brilliant Shakespearean scholar and mathematician. The book is about a two-dimensional being who is suddenly pulled up into the world of three dimensions and the difficulties he encounters upon returning to the world of two dimensions and attempting to communicate his experience. At one point his inter-dimensional guide and mentor shows him two other worlds: Lineland, where there is only one dimension, and Pointland, where there are no dimensions at all–not in the sense of the transcendence of dimensionality, which is possible and even inevitable in genuine spiritual evolution, but in the sense of a regressive shrinking of consciousness to the point of incapacity for perceiving dimensions.
Here is the account. As you read it, note how the rhapsodies of the “King” of Pointland are like the modern expositions of non-dual enlightenment through meditation that are a continuing echo of the Drug Explosion of the nineteen-sixties.
“During my slumber I had a dream. We were moving together toward a bright but infinitesimally small Point, to which my Master directed my attention.
“‘Look yonder,’” said my Guide, “‘in Flatland thou hast lived; of Lineland thou hast received a vision; thou hast soared with me to the heights of Spaceland; now, in order to complete the range of thy experience, I conduct thee downward to the lowest depth of existence, even to the realm of Pointland, the Abyss of No Dimensions.
“‘Behold, yon miserable creature. That Point is a Being like ourselves, but confined to the non-dimensional Gulf. He is himself his own World, his own Universe; of any other than himself he can form no conception; he knows not Length, nor Breadth, nor Height, for he has had no experience of them; he has no cognizance even of the number Two; nor has he a thought of Plurality; for he is himself his One and All, being really Nothing. Yet mark his perfect self-contentment, and hence learn this lesson, that to be self-contented is to be vile and ignorant, and that to aspire is better than to be blindly and impotently happy. Now listen.’”
“He ceased; and there arose from the little buzzing creature a tiny, low, monotonous, but distinct tinkling, as from one of your Spaceland phonographs, from which I caught these words, ‘Infinite beatitude of Existence! It is; and there is none else beside It.’
“‘What,’” said I, “‘does the puny creature mean by “it”?’” ‘He means himself,’ said the Sphere: ‘have you not noticed before now, that babies and babyish people who cannot distinguish themselves from the world, speak of themselves in the Third Person? But hush!’
“‘It fills all Space,’” continued the little soliloquizing Creature, “‘and what It fills, It is. What It thinks, that It utters; and what It utters, that It hears; and It itself is Thinker, Utterer, Hearer, Thought, Word, Audition; it is the One, and yet the All in All. Ah, the happiness ah, the happiness of Being!’”
The spiritual deadliness of such delusion is revealed further when an attempt is made to help the King of Pointland out of his false sense of non-duality so he can truly progress in consciousness.
“‘Can you not startle the little thing out of its complacency?’ said I. ‘Tell it what it really is, as you told me; reveal to it the narrow limitations of Pointland, and lead it up to something higher.’ ‘That is no easy task,’ said my Master; ‘try you.’”
“Hereon, raising my voice to the uttermost, I addressed the Point as follows: ‘Silence, silence, contemptible Creature. You call yourself the All in All, but you are the Nothing: your so-called Universe is a mere speck in a Line, and a Line is a mere shadow as compared with–’ ‘Hush, hush, you have said enough,’ interrupted the Sphere, ‘now listen, and mark the effect of your harangue on the King of Pointland.’
“The lustre of the Monarch, who beamed more brightly then ever upon hearing my words, shewed clearly that he retained his complacency; and I had hardly ceased when he took up his strain again. ‘Ah, the joy, ah, the joy of Thought! What can It not achieve by thinking! Its own Thought coming to Itself, suggestive of Its disparagement, thereby to enhance Its happiness! Sweet rebellion stirred up to result in triumph! Ah, the divine creative power of the All in One! Ah, the joy, the joy of Being!’
“‘You see,’ said my Teacher, ‘how little your words have done. So far as the Monarch understands them at all, he accepts them as his own–for he cannot conceive of any other except himself–and plumes himself upon the variety of “Its Thought” as an instance of creative Power. Let us leave this God of Pointland to the ignorant fruition of his omnipresence and omniscience: nothing that you or I can do can rescue him from his self-satisfaction.’”
Really, what more need be said? The dangers of such a counterfeit transcendence should be evident to those not already hopelessly deluded through such profound distortions of consciousness.
It would be impossible to list and analyze the infinite variety of delusions of enlightenment, but we can list some basic principles by which we can diagnose the character of the many claims to enlightenment.
First of all, anyone who claims to be enlightened is usually not. Some centuries ago a bishop learned that a great disturbance had arisen in a convent regarding a nun who was thought to be a saint by some and thought to be a fool by others. He decided to visit the convent and attempt to restore peace. Upon his arrival the nuns assembled, and without preamble the canny bishop demanded: “Which one of you is the saint?” “Me!” said a nun as she jumped up. “The matter is closed,” the bishop said, turning to the abbess. “This nun is no saint, for a saint never claims to be one.”
The reason a truly enlightened person does not tell others he is enlightened is the very nature of enlightenment itself. Enlightenment is not an attainment, an experience, or a state of consciousness. Rather it is the true nature of each one of us. It is not an attribute but our eternal state of being. Further, being beyond time and space, enlightenment cannot really “take place.” Therefore no one can say “I have become enlightened” or “I am enlightened.” The illumined simply say “I am,” or like Buddha: “I am awake.” The Kena Upanishad puts it this way:
“If you think that you know well the truth of Brahman, know that you know little. What you think to be Brahman in your self, or what you think to be Brahman in the gods–that is not Brahman. What is indeed the truth of Brahman you must therefore learn.
“I cannot say that I know Brahman fully. Nor can I say that I know him not. He among us knows him best who understands the spirit of the words: ‘Nor do I know that I know him not.’
“He truly knows Brahman who knows him as beyond knowledge; he who thinks that he knows, knows not. The ignorant think that Brahman is known, but the wise know him to be beyond knowledge” (Kena Upanishad 2:1-3)
Nor can enlightenment be in any way described, being far beyond any capability of language to convey. This being so, any verbal description of enlightenment cannot be true. It is interesting to note that Paramhansa Yogananda, when writing of his first experience of Cosmic Consciousness entitled his account “An Experience in Samadhi,” not an experience of enlightenment. And even the highest form of samadhi, nirvikalpa samadhi, is said by the yogis to be beyond describing.
The greatest exponent of spiritual reality in India, Adi Shankaracharya, in his Stanzas on Nirvana simply stated: “I am not bound; I am not free” for he had transcended all such possibility. That is enlightenment indeed.
Karma, reincarnation and total personal responsibility
Believing in karma and reincarnation as intellectual theories counts for very little if it does not affect our life and thought. What is needed is an intelligent understanding and a practical application of the principles of karma and reincarnation.
What is karma? A Brief Sanskrit Glossary gives this rather lengthy definition: “Karma is derived from the Sanskrit root kri, which means to act, do, or make, means any kind of action, including thought and feeling. It also means the effects of action. Karma is both action and reaction, the metaphysical equivalent of the principle: ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.’ ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’ (Galatians 6:7). It is karma operating through the law of cause and effect that binds the jiva or the individual soul to the wheel of birth and death. There are three forms of karma: sanchita, agami, and prarabdha. Sanchita karma is the vast store of accumulated actions done in the past, the fruits of which have not yet been reaped. Agami karma is the action that will be done by the individual in the future. Prarabdha karma is the action that has begun to fructify, the fruit of which is being reaped in this life.”
Even those who accept the foregoing definition usually do not know the real nature of karma. Karma is commonly thought to be a kind of force circling somewhere in the universe awaiting a moment to enter into our life and create some type of event or situation. Some Eastern-oriented groups even speak of “the Lords of Karma” implying there there are some great beings who, like the Fates of old Greek mythology, allot to us the things that are to occur in our life. Both are misconceptions.
First, karma is totally psychological–as is our presence and experience in this relative plane of existence. It literally is “all in our head,” but in such a complex manner that it appears to be an objective reality, a maze which we must solve to be free of it. That is why the American sage Margaret Laird entitled one of her books We Are the World We Walk Through. All our karma is stored in our mental bodies, the manomaya and jnanamaya koshas. The universe is a vast field of magnetism in which like attracts like. The whorls in our mind known as samskaras and vasanas are our karma as well as our mental characteristics. Whatever in the cosmos vibrates exactly in harmony with those mental configurations is drawn into our life-orbit, and that encounter and consequent effect is “karma” as we experience it. As the Chinese proverb says: “When mean-spirited people live behind the door, mean-spirited people come knock on the door.” Buddha was most insistent on karma being purely mental.
Second, we control our karma absolutely, though on a subliminal level which usually causes us to think our karma is a blind reactive force or a visitation of divine will. Before we come into each incarnation we review our karma and decide what is to come to fruition in the new life. It is just like packing a suitcase preparatory to going on a trip. When we arrive at our destination we take out of the suitcase exactly what we put in it ourself. This means that before we enter the womb we have planned the whole scenario of our life, that we know everything that is going to happen to us–at least in a broad manner, for within certain parameters we do have the power to direct our present-life karma and determine the course of its flow. So karma is always under our control, and is never an independent force. We create our karma and create our many lives.
Can karma be dissolved, or must it be “worked out”? Karma can only be dissolved or erased. All that is needed is an alteration in the mental energies of which karma consist. That is why deep and prolonged meditation is so important. For karma cannot be worked out–it is either eliminated or it is not.
A common misconception is that karma is worked out by experiencing its effects. For example, if I steal fifty dollars and someone steals fifty dollars from me, it is believed that my karma has thereby been worked out. Wrong. Karma is a shaping of the mind, a magnetism that draws to me situations that express or mirror my karma–and therefore my mind. Karma is not created by an action alone, but by the mental state which inspired the action. Theft is done by someone with thief-consciousness. Being stolen from does not remove that consciousness, it just adds frustration and anger. So in my hypothetical situation, if someone steals from me it only indicates my inner thief-consciousness and in no way removes or even lessens it. As a consequence, people with thief-consciousness are going to keep coming into my life and stealing from me until I expunge my own thief-consciousness. So until I purify my mind–especially through meditation–the chain of theft is going to go on and even reach into my future lives. That is why when two people came to Yogananda and complained about one another he simply said: “Change yourselves.” That is the only solution.
The upshot of all this is the necessity to squarely face the truth that we are totally responsible for our life at all times. The good news is that if we do not like our present life situation we can change it by changing our mental energies through the observance of yama and niyama, and most especially through meditation. “Therefore, Arjuna, become a yogi” (Bhagavad Gita 6:46).
The two major obstacles
We have all lived a tremendous number of lives, ranging from single-celled organisms to human beings. For millions (no exaggeration) of lives we have struggled up the ladder of evolution and now stand at the point where we can consciously complete our journey and enter the state of total liberation–Nirvana. But there are many hindrances to this final stage of growth, most of them internal in the form of deep-rooted conditionings, karmic habit patterns that have been strengthened in every life. They are a tremendous inner force, so ancient and ingrained that they literally are “second nature,” blocking the realization of our True Self.
There are two major habits–addictions, actually–that lead all others in blocking spiritual growth: sex and eating the flesh of sentient beings. They are so profoundly instinctual, so utterly ingrained in us from previous lives human and subhuman, that they blind us to their destructive nature, seeming not only normal but necessary. Yet no one can attain liberation without the absolute elimination of them.
The eating of sentient beings is the easier of the two to halt because there is so much reliable medical research showing how harmful it is to the body–and therefore the mind. A sense of compassion and mercy, traits of a developed awareness, impels even children to realize how much better it is to cease this practice. Yet people who quit often fall back into the habit never to escape a second time in this life.
The most powerful of the two is the habit of sex–in whatever form it takes. If we do get a glimpse of its terrible consequences and enslavement, it appears so colossal a force as to seem impossible of elimination. In fact Buddha said that if there had been a second obstacle the equal of sex to overcome, he could not have attained nirvana. This in itself shows how necessary it is to erase it from our life forever, along with the other evil of preying on bodies: the eating of meat. Both are egocentric devourings of others. These are the facts, and no denying can change them a whit.
These two factors make success in meditation impossible, for they are the antithesis of spiritual life and growth. Unless these habits are deleted from every part of our being, there is no possibility of our becoming freed from rebirth. They are the greatest chains that have bound us to the wheel of birth and death for ages–even cycles of creation. They are the common denominator of all bound entities, sure and certain guarantees of return to material existence.
Sex and meat-eating are the greatest darkeners of consciousness, making the psychic forces within us dull, heavy, and sluggish. They prevent the yogi from developing the subtle awareness needed in meditation and stymie his attempts to refine his mind and liberate his consciousness from ego and materiality. They ensure that his consciousness is oriented downward, and act like ballast in a balloon–however high it flies it will eventually be pulled back down to earth. Only those who oppose the habits and addictions of previous lives can hope to gain ultimate freedom.
Refusing the truth
Paramhansa Yogananda often said: “People are so skillful in their ignorance.” This can most clearly be seen in religion when they delude themselves about the disciplines taught by their founders. The best example I know is in regard to Yama-Niyama and the Five Precepts of Buddha. Neither of these allow any exceptions–there is either absolute observance or absolute abstinence. You either observe them all the time or none of the time. Yet people convince themselves that in the matter of eating meat which breaks the rule of non-killing, and sexual indulgence which is also prohibited, there are extenuating circumstances and exceptions. There is no basis whatsoever for this dishonesty except their own carnal addictions. It is like a friend of mine who ran a Stop sign and was pulled over by a policeman. He tried to justify himself by saying that he had slowed way down. “The sign says Stop, not Slow,” replied the policemen and gave him a ticket. These principles and precepts say Stop, not Slow. Those who only slow down are not followers of either Patanjali or Buddha.
Recently one of our monks showed me two containers. In each one was as very small, green plant less than an inch high, consisting of two leaves. “I planted these nine weeks ago,” he told me. “Really? What is wrong with them?” I asked. “I used the wrong kind of potting soil, so they won’t grow,” he told me. It is exactly the same with the study of philosophy and the practice of meditation: if there is not the right environment, inner and outer, nothing at all will come of it. Not only do we need a special place in our home favorable to meditation, our entire environment should be examined to see that it, too, is not mentally and spiritually heavy, toxic, disruptive and agitating. The same is true of our employment and our associates–business, social, and familial.
The most important environment, of course, is the inner one of our own mind–our habitual state of awareness as well as our thoughts. Our dominant awareness should be that of our inner consciousness. Our thoughts should be thoughts of spiritual matters drawn from our study of spiritual writings, attendance at spiritual discourses, and conversation with spiritually-minded associates. Our minds should naturally move in the highest spiritual planes. This is neither impossible nor impractical, for everything proceeds from and is controlled by the Supreme Consciousness.
Yoga is not based on moods or feelings–exactly the opposite. It is based on intelligence. It is not intellectual in the modern, academic sense, but it is centered in the buddhi, which A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines it as: “Intellect; understanding; reason; the thinking mind; the higher mind, which is the seat of wisdom; the discriminating faculty.” The buddhi is the faculty of understanding, of knowing. Without it we would not even be human. In the Gita Krishna speaks of Buddhi Yoga, the Yoga of Intelligence, which later came to be called Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of Knowledge.
“By buddhi yoga you shall free yourself of the bondage of karma” (Bhagavad Gita 2:39).
“To those who are constantly steadfast I give the buddhi yoga by which they come to Me” (Bhagavad Gita 10:10).
“Seek refuge in the buddhi” (Bhagavad Gita 2:49).
“Those who are established in the buddhi are freed from the bondage of rebirth and go to the abode that is free from pain” (Bhagavad Gita 2:51).
“With firm intellect [buddhi], undeluded, knowing Brahman, one is established in Brahman” (Bhagavad Gita 5:20).
“He knows that infinite happiness which is grasped by the intellect [buddhi] and transcends the the senses, and, established there, does not deviate from the truth” (Bhagavad Gita 6:21).
“The buddhi is our highest faculty, very near to the Self: “The mind [manas] is superior to the senses; moreover, the intellect [buddhi] is superior to the mind; that which is superior to the intellect is the Self” (Bhagavad Gita 3:42).
Awakened intelligence is necessary for the yogi, since “from destruction of buddhi one is lost” (Bhagavad Gita 2:63).
As already stated, buddhi is not mere intellectualism, it involves Right Action. Discipline is that which awakens the buddhi, for the Gita further says: “There is no intelligence [function of buddhi] in him who is undisciplined [uncontrolled]” (Bhagavad Gita 2:66).
In its highest form, buddhi is spiritual intuition, but intuition which is firmly based on intelligent understanding. Without buddhi the entire life is little more than confused whimsy.
Viveka and vairagya
Two of the essential psychological factors for success in yoga are viveka and vairagya. They are not moods or feelings, but intelligent insights arising from buddhi yoga, without which the authentic Yoga Life cannot be lived.
First is viveka: Discrimination between the Real and the unreal, between the Self and the non-self, between the permanent and the impermanent. It is also right intuitive discrimination, ever-present intelligent discrimination between the transient and the permanent. Its importance can hardly be exaggerated. Without the clear sight of viveka the mind and life are in constant flux and contradiction.
The yogi must have an intelligent discernment regarding all the elements in his life. He must know what is worthwhile and what is useless, what is beneficial and what is harmful, what is true and what is untrue, what liberates and what binds, what enlightens and what darkens, what pleases the ego and what liberates the spirit.
Viveka enables us to see the truth of all things, and the more we exercise it the more it increases and evolves. Viveka is a result of spiritual and intellectual maturity. As Saint Paul said: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (I Corinthians 13:11). It is a matter of spiritual growth. In the beginning we often have to rely on the judgement of whose wiser than us. Again, the Gita is our best guide.
Inseparable from viveka is vairagya which is really a result of honest viveka. It is defined in A Brief Sanskrit Dictionary as: “Non-attachment; detachment; dispassion; absence of desire; disinterest; or indifference.” Vairagya is the attitude the yogi has toward those things that viveka tells him are delusive and distracting from the path to the Supreme.
For the yogi “good” is not what is merely pleasant, but that which is spiritually beneficial. Those people, things, or situations which lead us toward Self-realization are good; those that do not lead us toward Self-realization, or hinder our attainment of realization, are not good. Anything which helps us in our search for God is good, and that which hinders or prevents our search is not good. Our only friends are those that take our minds toward God, and our enemies are those that take our minds away from God (and that includes those who immerse themselves in worldly trivia and speak and think only of that trivia).
Vairagya is not hating, condemning, or being disgusted with something–it is wise indifference. The Gita describes the adept yogi as: “He who does not agitate the world, and who is not agitated by the world” (Bhagavad Gita 12:15). As Saint Paul further said: “The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14). This is because we only appear to live in the material world, but our real life is in the realm of spirit. When Panchanon Bhattacharya was grieving over the death of Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri (Lahiri Mahasaya), the Master suddenly materialized before him and said: “Why are you sorrowing? You do not live in this world. You live with me!” I have lived with yogis who were always in the Real World, not this fever-dream we mistakenly identify with. I have met saints who lived in God so strongly that just seeing them transferred my awareness to their true world–at least for the time I was with them.
“Without doubt the mind is unsteady and difficult to restrain; but by practice [abhyasa] and by indifference [vairagya] it is restrained” (Bhagavad Gita 6:35). Vairagya like viveka is a sign of growing up spiritually.
Focus on prakriti
“One acts according to one’s prakriti. Even the jnani does so. Beings follow their own prakriti; what will restraint accomplish?” (Bhagavad Gita 3:33). This is one of the most important statement of the Gita, and one which is most significant to the yogi. Just as the prakriti-energy of which the universe is formed is really the consciousness of Brahman, so all the bodies of a human being are his consciousness. This leads us to an significant principle: To change our consciousness we must change our prakriti, and to change our prakriti we must change our consciousness–they are interdependent. Yoga, and only yoga, can accomplish this, but without purity of diet and scrupulous observance of yama-niyama, yoga is impossible to any meaningful degree.
Yoga affects our energy-bodies, not our inner consciousness–it reveals our consciousness rather than changes it. The purpose of yoga is liberation, and to this end it affects the prakriti (energy complex) which is the adjunct of our purusha. The yogi is already in the Self, is the Self, so in yoga he is looking at/into his personal prakriti in the same way God observes the evolving creation.
Since we are talking about material things (prakriti), this might be a good place to mention that it is best to meditate without shoes, because shoes (whatever material they are made from) carry the vibration of the dirt they contact each day.
A matter of magnetism
Prana takes on many forms, including biomagnetism, the force which maintains our body and its functions. The body itself is magnetic, and any disturbance in polarity or magnetic flow is detrimental to health. Leather inhibits the natural flow of the life force (prana). Leather shoes block the upward flow of prana from the earth into our bodies, and leather belts interfere with the flow of prana within the body. On the more metaphysical side of things, the use of leather–or any slaughtered-animal-derived substance–in any manner is a violation of the principle of ahimsa, as Yogananda points out in chapter four of Autobiography of a Yogi. It is also an infraction of the principle of shaucha.
The focus of our life
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matthew 13:44). The kingdom of heaven is our eternal spirit-self. It is hidden in the “field” of the body according to the thirteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, and we must “buy” that field through the disciplines and practices of yoga. And the price of purchase is ALL that we have. It is the same for everyone: our entire life must be dedicated to the attainment of liberation.
“The yogi should retire into a solitary place, and live alone” (Bhagavad Gita 6:10). It is not enough to live in a solitary place, the yogi should live alone. Why? “Adore me only with heart undistracted; turn all your thought toward solitude, spurning the noise of the crowd, its fruitless commotion” (Bhagavad Gita 13:10). Solitude is necessary so we can live “with heart undistracted.”
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.
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 at the foot of the mountain a neighborhood which includes a campground, but no noise is ever heard from there at any time. I can also see a minor highway at the foot of the mountains across the valley that is also silent. But the important thing is that the atmosphere is totally solitary. It feels as though this property is many miles from other habitations. Having lived far out in the countryside away from all others, I know the feeling and it is the same here. The windows are kept open much of the year and the only sounds usually heard are birds and breezes.
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. Again, location is the key–and the yogi’s sincere intention.
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 having the mind filled 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.
What if you have a family or unavoidably live with others? Then you can follow the advice of Ram Gopal Mazumdar, the Sleepless Saint of Autobiography of a Yogi. “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.” I knew a nun who used to climb up into a tree so she could be alone, hidden by the leaves from being disturbed by others. At the same time you must find the right balance between being alone and being with those you live with.
For those that live with others, going into solitude occasionally was one of the major spiritual practices advocated by Sri Ramakrishna. Here are some of the things he said about it.
“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.”
It is essential that you spend some time each day alone, but as often as you can it is good to go away to a solitary place for meditation and spiritual study. But it should be a personal retreat, not in some place where you can get pulled into their routine. (Some retreat facilities have individual houses for retreatants to live alone.)
I am not speaking of being anti-social, but of being a serious yogi.
The great Master Yogananda said that when we are alone we should be truly alone, forgetting the world and everything in it, including all that is dear to us, but when we are with others, we must really be with them. He was the perfect example of this. When he was alone and withdrawn the awesome atmosphere around him bespoke of his total absorption in God, and when he was with people they felt his entire heart was with them, that he was their very own. Yet, he was never over-familiar or “folksy.” His was the perfect balance, and we must seek the same.
Many people think that “keeping silence” is a good thing, and it is if it is silence of mind and heart, but if it is nothing more than not speaking, it is of little worth. So do not waste your time “in silence” around other people–that is just ego display and an annoyance to others. Instead, seek solitude, for when there is no one to speak to that is the best silence.
Whether a yogi is alone or with others, he should always be relaxed, cheerful, and thoughtful of others.
When you are with people and it seems you are wasting your time sitting and listening to inane and silly talk, you will not wasting your time if you calmly sit and meditate with open eyes. Never “go into meditation” around others–that is just holy show and escapism. If it does not look odd, there is nothing wrong in looking downward or at some blank surface as you continue to be what one spiritual writer called an “interior soul.” But the moment your attention is needed, give it wholeheartedly and enter into things as long as there is no harm in them. And please do not go slinking off for a meditation fix like some addict sneaking a cigarette. Stay put and keep on with the cultivation of consciousness through your inner yoga process. The spiritual vibrations will help everyone around you.
What I have written above should be followed in moderation. Whenever you can, be alone and quiet. Please do not caught in the net of “good works” and “helping others.” These kind of activities are good for those who have not yet learned to cultivate the inner life, but believe me your solitary life and meditation will help more people than any external acts ever could. Every moment of your practice makes it easier for other yogis to maintain their practice and contributes to the awakening of those who do not yet know yoga.
Absolutely avoid the opposite sex. (If you are attracted to your own sex, then avoid everybody.) Do not fall into the trap of “just good friends” or think that disparity of age matters. Past life impressions are ready to rise and disrupt the spiritual life of the unwary. And really have nothing to do with those that tell you: “I am your mother”–or father. I have never known a one of those who said that who were not defiled in thought and intention despite the cover of love and affection–which the yogi should realize is improper. Remember: to the yogi there should be no “special people” or “exceptions to the rule” in these matters. You may have to put up with emotional blackmail from these “offended” and “hurt” people, but their attempts to accuse and make you feel guilty are proof positive of their negative and destructive nature.
By the way: Learn to become totally deaf to those who say to you: “I only want you to be happy.” They NEVER really want any such thing. They want to manipulate you into making them happy.
Be prepared for opposition, ridicule, and even vicious reaction to your aspirations to the yoga life. If you cannot stand up to outer pressures, how will you stand up to the delusions of your ego-mind? Another thing: Never think that you have to justify your beliefs and way of life. Do not get snagged into “discussions” with those who oppose your life and think you need prove anything to them. They are blind and deaf, and will remain so for a long time. As Yogananda told aspirants in reference to such people: “You go after God” and leave them far behind. Change your vibrations, and those people will disappear from you life, even if only after they make a lot of fuss.
Here is a conversation Mahendranath Gupta, “Master Mahasaya the Blissful Devotee” in Autobiography of a Yogi, had with Sri Ramakrishna (referred to here as “M” and “Master.”)
“M. (to the Master): What should one do if one’s wife says: ‘You are neglecting me. I shall commit suicide?’
“MASTER (in a serious tone): Give up such a wife if she proves an obstacle in the way of spiritual life. Let her commit suicide or anything else she likes. The wife that hampers her husband’s spiritual life is an ungodly wife.
“Immersed in deep thought, M. stood leaning against the wall. …suddenly going to M., he [Sri Ramakrishna] whispered in his ear: But if a man has sincere love for God, then all come under his control–the king, wicked persons, and his wife. Sincere love of God on the husband’s part may eventually help the wife to lead a spiritual life. If the husband is good, then through the grace of God the wife may also follow his example.
“This had a most soothing effect on M.’s worried mind. All the while he had been thinking: Let her commit suicide. What can I do?
“M. (to the Master): This world is a terrible place indeed.
“MASTER (to the devotees): That is the reason Chaitanya said to his companion Nityananda, ‘Listen, brother, there is no hope of salvation for the worldly-minded.’”
A friendly caution
Now I am going to give you a piece of advice regarding associations that may seem severe, but it is very necessary and based on practical experience: Do not keep animals either in or outside your home. Animal slavery for our amusement and “love” is morally wrong. Animals were not intended to be captured and bred away from their true nature for human amusement and obsession. One of the effects of this is the harm to the health of humans who live in close contact with animals. Many times it has been found that pets were the source of their owner’s illnesses. Children are especially susceptible to picking up problems from animals. Both children and adults can get heart worms from dogs, for example.
It is ridiculous to avoid contact with human beings who at least have human vibrations, and yet keep the company of an animal which will be a distraction and a source of animal vibrations. I have observed that people of low consciousness and development, however well they may hide it, absolutely need to keep an animal around so they can associate with subhuman consciousness and have someone inferior to them that they literally own and from whom they claim to get “unconditional love.” And of course they continually say that animals are better than people.
It is also absurd to abstain from eating meat in order to observe ahimsa, yet feed it to animals.
Sri Ramakrishna said that when a man or woman get old and are obviously heading for death, instead of preparing for the end of their life they get and keep a cat, becoming very attached to it. I expect we all know people who refer to their animals as little girls or little boys and call themselves mommy or daddy in relation to them. And then there are the people who think they are being cute when they speak of being “owned” by their pets. But it is a sad truth.
Please avoid this shameless exploitation of animals and willful taking on of what can only be a distraction from spiritual life and a lowering of your consciousness. A yogi must take on disciplines far beyond those of ordinary people–samsarins slated for future births in ignorance.
Have a sense of humor
As Yogananda pointed out, St. Francis de Sales used to say: “A saint that is sad is a sad saint!” and we are saints in training. A sense of humor is indispensable to the yogi–especially about himself. The good ashrams in India are what Sri Ramakrishna called “a mart of joy.” Those who live there freely laugh and enjoy jokes and even pranks. Swami Sivananda was known for his lively sense of humor, and Yogananda loved to tell funny things that had happened to him and also played pranks. (His favorite was dropping bags of water out of windows and spraying people with a hose. It was really a blessing with holy water!) Sometimes, because of his accent and hearty laughing in the telling of a story, people would say: “I could hardly understand a word, but I never laughed so much in my life.”
When I met Swami Satyananda Giri, the author of Yogananda Sanga, in 1963, I asked him to tell me about Sri Yukteswar, Yogananda’s guru, since Satyananda had lived for many years with Sri Yukteswar and was the first person Yogananda took to meet him after becoming his disciple. Since it is usual for people to have a perception of Sri Yukteswar as severe and exacting, I was surprised to hear his first words: “In his entire life he never hurt the feelings of anyone, but was always gentle and kind.” (This does not mean he did not discipline those who asked for it, for discipline only “hurts” the sore ego.) But the most impressive thing he told me was his quotation of Sri Yukteswar’s often-said words: “He is a real man who can sing his life through!”
Since God is bliss, the yogi’s life should be joyful, based on optimism about his future in God and reflecting the divine experience that comes in meditation–and later all the time. Frankly, the yogi alone can really enjoy himself without needing the frantic “fun” and distractions prized by those who live in a world of unreality, darkness, and mortality. So when I urge you to enjoy yourself I mean it in the perspective of yoga.
There is a story of a serious man who was shocked when he saw some very ascetic monks joking and laughing. Noticing this, one of the monks later on asked him: “Can you shoot a bow?” When the man said he could, the monk asked: “Do you always keep the bow strung tightly?” “No,” said the man, “If I did, the bow would loose its tone and become slack and useless.” “In the same way,” replied the monk, “it is good to relax the mind through innocent enjoyment and even laughter. A mind held in tension will either snap or go slack.” However there is a great difference between relaxing and being lax, and we should act accordingly.
It is good to do things just for the enjoyment, not insisting that all we do be “useful,” “constructive,” or “educational,” though the principles of yama-niyama can never be ignored or laid aside for even a moment.
Use your head
God gave us a brain so we would use it. As a child I noticed that people turned off their mind when they entered the church door and turned it back on when they left. Considering the idiocy of what they saw, did and heard there, it was no doubt a good idea, but it would have been better if they had recognized foolish religion for what it was and searched for something better. So I was very disappointed when after becoming a yogi I constantly saw people agreeing with stupidity, arrogance, and misinformation dispensed by teachers and other authority figures of the yoga world. No matter how moronic the “reasoning” handed them, they just looked bright-eyed and noble and said: “O yes!” Nothing can come of this pious acquiescence to ignorance and falsehood.
Here it is in a nutshell: Spot The Looney. And acknowledge the looney as being a looney and their looniness as being looniness. Forget the hype, the miracle stories, the accounts of great yoga feats, the list of what “big” people revere them, the prophecies of supposed saints about how great they were going to be–or are. A fool is a fool and none more vicious than a religious/spiritual fool. Some are not fools but heartless frauds. So look closely and long and make your own conclusion about the teachers, gurus, and avatars that abound now they have found the wealth of the West. And that includes the ones in India waiting like spiders for you to come fall into their web.
In East and West people have a reputation for holiness and avatarness that are really foolish or crazy. Some are senile in varying degrees. The same applies to yoga. If you notice that the practicers of a yoga are either duds or falling apart mentally and physically, then get away and stay away. Ignore their rhapsodies about how beneficial it has been to them–this only proves the depth of their delusion.
Trust your own experience. If a yoga is not delivering the goods, drop it. Do not be fooled by the old nonsense about not digging in a number of places rather than sticking to one. When professionals drill for water or oil, if they do not find any after some days or weeks they have the sense to abandon the site and drill elsewhere. Drill a thousand “holes” if necessary until you find one that gives real results. How will you know? Right away you will begin seeing the positive spiritual effects, which will keep on developing from your practice.
Here is the wisdom of Swami Vivekananda about much of supposed yoga and the supposed gurus who peddle it: “They exercise a singular control for the time being over sensitive persons, alas! often, in the long run, to degenerate whole races. Ay, it is healthier for the individual or the race to remain wicked than be made apparently good by such morbid extraneous control. One’s heart sinks to think of the amount of injury done to humanity by such irresponsible yet well-meaning religious fanatics. They little know that the minds which attain to sudden spiritual upheaval under their suggestions, with music and prayers, are simply making themselves passive, morbid, and powerless, and opening themselves to any other suggestion, be it ever so evil. Little do these ignorant, deluded persons dream that whilst they are congratulating themselves upon their miraculous power to transform human hearts, which power they think was poured upon them by some Being above the clouds, they are sowing the seeds of future decay, of crime, of lunacy, and of death. Therefore, beware of everything that takes away your freedom. Know that it is dangerous, and avoid it by all the means in your power.”
Never take vows to a guru or institution before being given the “secret techniques.” Nobody with an operating mind would buy something they had never seen, making non-refundable payment in advance. No worthy spiritual teacher would require this. How can you reasonably declare loyalty and adherence to something or someone you do not know? As Sri Ramakrishna said: “Be a devotee, but why a fool?”
Furthermore, wherever there is secrecy there is charlatanry. A lot of egotists like to think they know something others do not. (Remember the little children that liked to sing-song: “I know something you don’t know!”?) Yogis immersed in secrets and secrecy are both immature and false. One time we met a “light of yoga” after he had given a slide lecture on India, throughout which he had expressed contempt for the land and the people. When told we had associated many years with one of the best-known teachers of modern India, he asked eagerly: “Did you learn any secret techniques?” because he and his organization trafficked in such phony spiritual currency. Why it did not occur to him that once a secret is told it is no longer a secret is beyond me.
Swami Vivekananda had this to say about secrecy in yoga: “In India, for various reasons, it [yoga] fell into the hands of persons who destroyed ninety per cent of the knowledge, and tried to make a great secret of the remainder.…Anything that is secret and mysterious in these systems of Yoga should be at once rejected. The best guide in life is strength. In religion, as in all other matters, discard everything that weakens you, have nothing to do with it. Mystery-mongering weakens the human brain. It has well-nigh destroyed Yoga–one of the grandest of sciences. From the time it was discovered, more than four thousand years ago, Yoga was perfectly delineated, formulated, and preached in India. It is a striking fact that the more modern the commentator the greater the mistakes he makes, while the more ancient the writer the more rational he is. Most of the modern writers talk of all sorts of mystery. Thus Yoga fell into the hands of a few persons who made it a secret, instead of letting the full blaze of daylight and reason fall upon it. They did so that they might have the powers to themselves.”
Some things to avoid
- Avoid the merely religious–the more religious, the more they should be avoided. Remember that crazy religion makes crazies, lying religions make liars and hypocrites, and ignorant religion makes ignoramuses.
- Avoid those whose religion is nothing more than believing in some book or doing merely external observances.
- Avoid spiritual dabblers and followers of fake gurus or false religions. Sincerity counts for nothing when a person is sincerely ignorant.
- Avoid vows of any kind, and that includes any of your own making. Do not vow: Do it. Live it.
- Avoid health crazes, but do learn about alternative therapies, especially vibrational medicine and those that deal with bio-energy. They are the most suitable for a yogi, though other modes of medicine should not be ignored or rejected.
- Avoid proselytizers of all sorts, whatever their philosophy.
- Avoid all supposed yogis and gurus that make annual tours around the world.
- Avoid shallow people of all types.
- Avoid those who do not respect your spiritual orientation and life.
- Avoid those that claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” They are not. True religion is the science of the spirit, and that alone opens the path to spirituality.
- Avoid the impure and the materialistic.
- Avoid people who are hell-bent on making themselves and others “nice.”
- Avoid those who cannot take a stand on anything.
- Avoid those who advertise themselves (and their religion if they have any) as “inclusive” and “non-judgmental.” They are morally and spiritually bankrupt, and usually immoral.
- As said previously, avoid women that want to be your “mother” and men that want to be your “father.” Even in India this is always a prelude to attempted sexual impropriety. And remember: old people can have very “young” ideas about you-know-what.
- Avoid those that are “offended” when your ideas do not suit them and “hurt” when they cannot bully or blackmail you into conforming to their ways or get you to do what they want. HOLD TO YOUR PRINCIPLES. Once you lose them you have nothing at all–and are nothing at all.
- Avoid those that have no sense of humor–especially about themselves.
- Avoid all political entanglements.
- Avoid all “good deeds” and social activism–and those addicted to them.
- Avoid all Western “advaita teachers” and most of the Eastern ones, too.
- Avoid all religious and spiritual teachers and teachings that are not based on yoga and spiritual experience. (I use “yoga” here in the broad sense of any consciousness-opening methodology.)
- Avoid like poison those who use any kind of mind-altering substance, pretending it “opens” them to higher consciousness and perceptions.
- Avoid all addicts of any kind: they are next to demons.
- Avoid becoming addicted to anything yourself, material, intellectual, or spiritual (God excepted).
- Avoid thinking you can help others when they will not help themselves. You have to do it alone, and so do they. Point them to your sources of wisdom and let them go for it on their own steam. Otherwise you are just churning water in hope of getting milk and trying to dig a hole in the sky–it will never happen.
- Avoid those that are not willing to “go it alone” just as you are doing.
- Avoid people who have to be consoled and cajoled to keep up spiritual life.
- Avoid those who continually claim to be “disturbed,” “worried,” and “confused”–especially in relation to you and your ideals and way of life.
- Avoid those who claim to be liberal or broad-minded. They never are.
- Avoid those who claim they need spiritual “help.” God truly does only help those that help themselves.
- Avoid anyone who habitually says: “I am a ‘doubting Thomas.’” They are not doubters, but deniers who will become very unhappy with you if you prove to be true the things they pretend to doubt.
- Avoid monotonous and boring people. As a wonderful American saint once said to me in reference to man I knew: “Why carry around empty space?”
- Avoid useless thought and talk about “getting rid of the ego.” Meditate and ego will vanish like the ghost it really is.
- Avoid compromise like the death-bearing evil it is.
- Avoid food-faddism and be very wary of what the “experts” say about diet. In fact, pay very little attention to “scholars,” “experts,” and (especially) “scientists” and “science.”
- Avoid thinking there is anything you cannot live without–except God.
- Avoid the world of men and live in the world of God.
Some helpful “do’s”
Make your house a personal spiritual haven and your heart a hermitage.
Watch and take care of your health, getting a medical and dental checkup at least twice a year. The moment a problem arises, get professional help. It is very unlikely you can cure yourself on your limited knowledge. Without health any form of life is difficult, including the yoga life. Do not be like a “yogi” friend of mine who decided she could cure diabetes with ginseng and other “natural cures.” She ended up in a coma, nearly dying, and spent the rest of her life an invalid on dialysis.
Swami Sri Yukteswar told all his students to only be close friends with other yogis
Keep holy depictions or imagery throughout your home, especially the photographs of saints and masters.
Follow a diet that is healthy and appetizing. No food that is repulsive or boring is good for you. (Yogananda really insisted on this, as more than one of his disciples told me.)
Acquire an extensive Sanskrit vocabulary, but do not study Sanskrit itself unless you feel you must, for it is a years-long process in which you might have done better by reading good translations.
Extend your mind
Meditation will expand your consciousness, but the mind–manas and buddhi–must also be cultivated and expanded by spiritual study.
As a yogi you will become very sensitive to the spiritual effects of sound. Especially seek out good religious music of both East and West. Unfortunately a lot of contemporary recordings of Indian music are sung in a raucous or phony style and loaded with silly sound effects and instruments–the worse being the vibraphone. Look for traditional Indian music played on traditional instruments. Avoid recordings that have heavy jungle-beat drumming–another curse of modern Indian bad taste. The recordings of Yogananda’s chants sung by the monks and nuns of Self-Realization Fellowship are very good, Brahmacharini Meera’s recordings being at the top, for she was a true saint. Do not forget Buddhist and Taoist music. (If, however, oriental music sounds too peculiar to your ears, do not bother with it.)
The Christian music of both East and West holds great potential for upliftment and calm. Whatever the style, acapella singing is almost always best. Recordings of Eastern Orthodox Greek and Russian liturgical music can be extraordinarily beautiful, as well as that of other Slavic countries. If Gregorian chant appeals, good, but if not it is just fine. Gregorian was originally intended to be sung with a holding note or ison, and not monophonically. Also it was sung much faster and did not sound like the singers were heavily sedated all the time. (Both these defects are modern aberrations stemming from the French monastery of Solesme.) Do not disdain ordinary church hymns, some of which have a profound message when heard with a yogi’s perspective. Remember: Yogananda’s favorite hymn was In The Garden which, when looked upon as a description of meditation is really inspiring.
Never listen to a piece of music like it is medicine–if it does not really appeal to you, listen to something else or enjoy outer silence.
Spiritual reading–top priority (the best left for last)
I will never cease to bless the day I began to read the Bhagavad Gita, and then shortly after the Autobiography of a Yogi. (With Peggy Dietz I can heartily say: “Thank you, Master.”)
Before listing some books that I feel are very important for the yogi to read (and in some cases reread many times), I want to assure you of the necessity for spiritual reading. It is a great source of mental purification when engaged in as an extension of meditation by maintaining inner awareness while reading.
The yogi need not be an intellectual–perhaps even should not be–but he must be intelligent and informed–not so he can burden others with revelations of his knowledge (which must not be confused with wisdom), but so he can attune himself to the departed masters of the spiritual life who have infused their writings with their own state of realization. Also, he needs to dialogue with himself inwardly about those ideas, engaging in an intellectual version of chewing the cud. If he does not think about these high things, what will he think about?
At the beginning of my yoga search I was in a harshly anti-intellectual group who wanted the members to read nothing but their own publications (which were very few and very feeble in most instances). I was always rebuked when others saw my “big” library of not even two dozen books! One leader expressed chagrin when he learned I had read the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Why? Because their teachings were so minimal and inconsequential, as well as without any basis in authentic Indian texts, they were terrified that their members might encounter other, better and more sensible ideas. They were right…I did and I quit. Such a mentality is one sign of a destructive cult. A yogi should not hesitate to look into any philosophy or spiritual inquiry. He should be very informed about the various religions and philosophies of the world.
Although I recommend the following list, it is just a hint. There is a big world out there and since we are living in it we should take advantage of it. There are not only books out there, there are immense resources on the internet, including many websites which are actual libraries of online texts, including our own ocoy.org.)
The most important books
First, there are five books whose value cannot be estimated. They are foundation stones of understanding spiritual life and spiritual philosophy. They should be read through many times carefully and reflectively. I think they should be made the yogi’s lifetime companions and guides.
- The Song of God: Bhagavad Gita, translated by Swami Prabhavananda of the Vedanta Society of Southern California.
- The Upanishads, Breath of the Eternal, by Swami Prabhavananda.
- Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda–the first edition facsimile by Crystal Clarity Publishers (with the exception of this and the second edition also published by Philosophical Library, the original publishers, later printings are so altered and falsified they are misleading.)
- Meditation and Spiritual Life, by Swami Yatiswarananda of the Ramakrishna Mission of India (in America: the Vedanta Society).
- The Philosophy of Gorakhnath, Akshaya Kumar Banerjea, Motilal Banarsidass.
These are treasures beyond valuation. I read the first three nearly fifty years ago and they are still supplying me with new insights. I am sure they will do the same for you if, as I say, they are read meditatively. Banerjea’s book should be a philosophical “Bible” for all yogis.
Other books by Yogananda
The heads of the five great monasteries founded by Shankara are given the title of Jagad-Guru–World Teacher. Certainly great masters have been mahants of those monasteries, but they had no spiritual influence outside India, so they were not jagad-gurus. But Paramhansa Yogananda during his lifetime was a true World Teacher, and continues to be through the following books:
- Man’s Eternal Quest (collection of talks).
- The Divine Romance (collection of talks).
- Journey to Self-realization (collection of talks).
- The Science of Religion.
- Sayings of Paramahansa Yogananda (originally The Master Said).
- God Talks With Arjuna, (commentary on the Bhagavad Gita).
- The Second Coming of Christ, (commentary on the Gospels).
This is not a complete list. All of Yogananda’s writings are beyond price, as are his recordings. I may have written extensively on various religious traditions and yoga–as seen on the ocoy.org website–but I can say that all which is true and worthwhile in my writings is based squarely on the knowledge I gained from studying Yogananda’s writings. Except for the two most basic ideas that God exists and man is immortal, I do not think there is a single significant truth I know that did not come from Yogananda. And without his teachings those two ideas would never have been understood by me and made part of my life. He was and is a light unto my path, and I hope he will be the same for you.
After a while look into other translations of the Bhagavad Gita for in-depth study. I particularly recommend the translations by Swami Swarupananda, Swami Sivananda, and Winthrop Sargeant. Sargeant’s translation is the absolute best for word-by-word study, an essential ingredient of the serious yogi’s library.
Everything by Shankara is of inestimable value. I would start with his Vivekachudamani (Crest Jewel of Discrimination) translated by either Swami Madhavananda or Swami Prabhavananda. His Gita commentary can be a bit heavy-handed because he wrote it to present his interpretation and at the same time vanquish opposing views. Actually some of his similar writings are much like those of Saint Thomas Aquinas in form and style–not the easiest to read and comprehend. His commentaries on the upanishads (included in the translations of Swami Gambhirananda, Swami Madhavananda, and Swami Jagadananda) are exceptionally helpful, though, and I have found his minor works of great value also.
Do give attention to Sri Ramanuja and Sri Madhavacharya. Vedanta is not just advaita (non-dualism), it is also vishishtadvaita (qualified non-dualism) and dvaita (dualism). Together the three views comprise Vedanta. The writings of these three great teachers cover the entire range of legitimate Vedantic thought, and all three are right in their own sphere. Dvaita is the reality of the waking state (jagrat), vishishtadvaita is the reality of the dreaming state (swapna), and advaita is the reality of the dreamless sleep state (sushupti). They are all three “real,” but they are transcended by the fourth and ultimate state of consciousness, turiya, and since that is beyond words there are no teachers, just realizers–the yogis. And the Avadhuta Gita says: “Some uphold advaita (non-duality) and others uphold dvaita (duality); they do not realize the Ultimate Truth, Which is distinct from and transcends both dvaita and advaita.”
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, translated by Swami Nikhilananda, is a remarkable treasury of spiritual philosophy. It consists of stenographic records of conversations with Sri Ramakrishna spanning several years. It was set down by Mahendranath Gupta, who next to Sri Yukteswar was the most important influence in Yogananda’s spiritual development. (He is written about in Yogananda’s autobiography as “Master Mahasaya the Blissful Devotee.”) It is good to read it straight through the first time, but you can also simply open it at random and read amazing things, including the words of truly spiritual songs.
The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, by Levi H. Dowling. This is a transcription of the psychic investigations into the life of Christ made by Dowling in what is popularly known as “the akashic records” and I believe contains the the authentic teachings of Jesus, but makes no claim to infallibility or absolute accuracy.
Two books of authentic Christian wisdom are The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counsel (translator: William Johnston), and Theologia Germanica (translator: Susanna Winkworth).
Everything by the following writers are classics of enlightened insight:
For the facts about diet, I recommend Diet for a New America by John Robbins, What’s Wrong With Eating Meat? by Vistara Parham, the books of Dr. Neal Barnard, particularly Food for Life: How the New Four Food Groups Can Save Your Life, and The RAVE Diet & Lifestyle by Mike Anderson, whose latest book Healing Cancer From Inside Out is a must read.
Gorakhnath speaks to the yogi
In conclusion here are the immortal words of Gorakhnath which he addressed to all yogis in the Gokakh Bani:
“O Yogi, die; die to the world. Such death is sweet. Die in the manner of Goraksha who ‘died’ and then saw the Invisible.
“Speak not in haste, walk not in haste. Take slow cautious steps. Let not pride overtake you. Lead a simple life, says Gorakshanath.
“Goraksha says: Listen, O Avadhuta, this is how you should lead your life in this world. See with your eyes, hear with your ears but never speak. Just be a dispassionate witness to the happenings around you. Do not react.
“Goraksha says one who remains steadfast in observing his sadhana keeping his spiritual practice, food habits and sleeping habits under strict yogic discipline neither grows old nor dies.
“Goraksha says he who meditates, controls the five senses [withdrawing] from their pleasures and burns his body in the holy fire of Brahman finds the Great God [Mahadeva].
“The mind is dull and fails to comprehend the secret of the yogamarga [path of yoga]. It is very capricious and is always engaged in mischief, thus causing a man to drift away from the true path.
“The mind itself is the abode of the good as well as of the evil. One may either let the good prevail or may allow free play to the evil instincts. This mind is pure and pious only when it lets the good in it prosper.
“If the mind promotes the evil instincts residing in it then it becomes impure and impious. Yogamarga is the means by which the mind can be trained to promote and sustain the good instincts.”
And from the Goraksha Sataka:
“O excellent men! Practice Yoga, the fruit of the wish-fulfilling tree [kalpataru], which brings to an end the misery of the world” (6).
“[The yogi should be] chaste, one who eats little, an abstainer from worldly pleasures, a practicer of Yoga” (54).
In the Gorakh Bodha:
Gorakhnath: “How should one sit and how walk, how speak and how meet [others]; how should one deal with one’s body?” Matsyendranath: “He should sit, walk, speak and meet awake and aware; with his attention and discrimination thus handled, he should live fearlessly” (91, 92).
Read the next chapter of How to Be a Yogi: The Gita Speaks To The Yogi
Chapters in How to Be a Yogi
- Introduction: Climbing the Ladder of Consciousness
- The Implications of All This
- The Foundations of Yoga
- Spiritual Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
- Living the Yoga Life
- The Gita Speaks To The Yogi
- It Is All in Your Hands
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary
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