Haven’t we all had people in our lives who don’t treat us the way we want them to? They overlook us. They take credit for what we do and then ignore us, or forget to introduce us in a new crowd, or make bad jokes about us. They cut us off in a conversation, or talk loudly over us. They push us out of the way to get ahead and then plead ignorance. Yet they still demand our attention, our love, our adoration, our support.
Once I was having trouble with a person and I went to Swamiji. He said, ‘some people are your devotees, and some are deities. Devotees will consider you and deities will not.’
I was stunned by his insight. When I considered my relationships I could easily put most people in one or the other of those two categories. A devotee type is easy to be around, a deity hardly ever bends their knee to us and always wants to be right.
There are those who like a devotee, lovingly acknowledge us, and look out for us. They are available when we need them. They appreciate us, respect us and accept our counsel. They intuitively understand us without the need for too much explanation. They listen and provide support and guidance. They are genuinely concerned for our well-being.
Deities are the most frustrating type of people and relationships. They endlessly think and talk about themselves. Their conversations are monologues. These relationships are fragile and unstable, and usually end when the devotee continually gives more time, attention and energy than the deity. Deity types resist listening to what we have to say to them, they refuse feedback and respond in disbelief or anger.
The Guru/disciple relationship is devotee and deity. Over time it evolves into a more equal relationship when the disciple understands the nature of his or her own mind.
A good disciple stays open and loving which facilitates the transmission of Shakti. The guru then becomes a lodestar that orients us to the Self.
The Guru is sensitive to the disciple’s negative emotion and knows intuitively when a disciple becomes separate, needs admonishment, guidance, a teaching or a tug to return to relationship. The Guru has intuitive ways of knowing the heart of the disciple, and meets the disciple’s spiritual needs mystically, often without conversation. The Guru gives grace and support that nurtures that which is the highest in us, but continually challenges that which is the worst in us.
The idea of surrender and attainment in guru/disciple is mysterious. To give yourself to the Guru means to work in the inner world to always remain in a good state, and to renounce anger, fear and despair. A disciple gives up self-indulgence, self-pity and self-concern to attain a permanent connection with the Self.
Surrender in a spiritual sense means to give up that which creates separation, alienation, ego, and false identification. The Guru’s purpose is to teach us to see when we are living from the Self and when we are not. If we trust the Guru, if we have faith that the Guru sees our ego sooner than we can see it ourselves, then we make tremendous spiritual progress.
Anger will arise in every relationship. But when we are angry at the Guru, grace is not available to us until we return to oneness.
The mind’s ability to cling to negative states of mind when we do not get what we want is endless. It is a tricky jester that thinks of all kinds of ways to cause trouble with those we love and work with. However, by honouring both those who treat us well and those who don’t, we can learn to live peacefully with everyone.
Swami Shankarananda always says that first, before we can love others, we must learn to love ourselves. He says that this is the true goal of spirituality–to love ourselves and to give that love to others. He learned this by devoting himself to the teachings of his Guru, Baba Muktananda.
Most of the great realized beings say that it is love that sustains the world. We create our lives in love, and we expand and grow them from that love.
When we give our love to our lives, life works. However, when painful things intrude on the heart we withdraw our love, and that is when our lives destabilise and begin to fall apart. However, if we stay connected to the inner Self we will remember that which we love.
When the heart shuts down, we are tempted by the glow of the temporary. We seek status, money, relationship, power, or something else—hoping to feel complete. Perhaps in the beginning, in the first blush of acquisition we do feel satisfied. However, as the rose fades, so do we, and our search for love in the outer world becomes our nemesis. We can feel separate and apart, the sense of other drives a wedge in our heart. We close our heart and withdraw our love.
In order to sustain love we must maintain a connection with the inner Self, with the Shakti, the spiritual energy. It is that which gives the experience of nectar, it is that which keeps us feeling alive, it is that which nourishes our soul.
For the sake of humanity Baba Muktananda picked this prayer as part of the sacred Guru Gita text, which was chanted every morning in Ashrams around the world. It now seems so apropos considering the suffering happening around the world.
May the wicked become good; may the good obtain peace; may the peaceful be free from bondage.May the free set others free.
Blessings upon the people of this world; may the rulers be just and wise. May good be the lot of animals, and the holy sages. May all people be happy.May it rain at the right time; May the earth always be bountiful.
May all countries be free from strife.
May everyone worship without persecution.
May blessings fall on our mother and father; May all be happy and heathy.
May our vision see only auspicious sights; may everyone banish the pain of sorrow.
May everyone overcome all their difficulties; may everyone's dreams and hopes come true.
May everyone everywhere be glad.
May all endeavours flourish and be an aid to knowledge; long may we see the sun.
Saturday morning I woke up feeling as though I was a character in a Science Fiction film. And as I reflected on the present I imagined that all the characters in the film are playing their roles. The villain–the anti-lockdown and anti vaccine people disseminating false information and creating panic. The heroes–the researchers, doctors and nurses working on the front lines to dispel fear. The media sometimes on the heroes’ side and sometimes not. And the rest of the population are trying to manage daily life in the face of a dire story line.
Who could imagine living in such a time? I have imagined wars, terrorism, violence but not a plague.
Little did I know that the day would add a scene to the movie in my mind.
I am grateful to be in Australia which seems to be one of the sanest and most responsible countries. Of course appearances can be deceiving as social media proves. There are lunatics and conspiracy theorists all over the internet.
I am thankful to be living in a spiritual community where life goes on as normal, except we can’t go out and programs are on line. My nature is such that the restrictions suit me. I have never been a party goer, or particularly social. I am more like a hermit.
Occasionally, what I consider a strange madness breaks out, but considering what is going on there are few random ripples breaking the surface of stillness.
An exception to this happened on Saturday. Our neighbour, a known anti-lockdown demonstrator decided to have a party and invited lots of people from all over Melbourne. He has hosted online rock and roll shows before. A lone and forlorn guitarist in a vacant pasture howling, what I thought was off key rock and roll, from morning to night for four days. A non-event it seemed.
But Saturday a small band started playing rock and roll early in the morning as cars with campers showed up in our parking lot after being told to park there. Not knowing who they were some ashramites became concerned.
The police showed up, some blocked our driveway and others went to the front of the house where the party was supposed to happen. They began to fine people and send them home. No party goers wore masks, some crossed the 5 kilometre restriction and some were belligerent taunting the police and obstructing their work. But the music played on.
Many neighbours and devotees thought that the police were investigating the Ashram. That we were somehow in violation of the restrictions or worse.
It calmed down Saturday but the music went on all day Sunday without an audience. Poignant and sad even though I don’t like his political views.
Lo and behold today there was clarification regarding the Ashram in an article in the Mornington Peninsula News. And, the FB page WTF Mt Eliza encouraged people to ‘not point fingers at the Ashram unless you have all the facts’.
The hospital was the last place I wanted to go. But the pain was so debilitating and overwhelming, I forced myself.
With so many people around the world dying, dealing with a kidney stone might not seem like much. And so, I ignored the symptoms too long for fear of COVID and spreading it to my fellow ashramites, especially Swamiji. I think I was foolish, albeit protective, but caused myself more suffering than necessary.
I am grateful it was not something more serious.
Melbourne is one of the hardest hit cities in Australia–doctors, nurses and other staff are under the gun 24/7. I was impressed and reassured by their care and concern in both hospitals I went to. They are on purpose in their protocols for saving lives.
It is strange that right now many friends and colleagues around me have been diagnosed, not with COVID, but with serious health issues: one with terminal cancer, one had a heart attack, another has breast cancer and others with minor but concerning health issues.
It must be something in the stars.
During my stay, when my mind was engrossed in pain, it was almost impossible to remember the Self. I grabbed the mantra and refused to let go of it as I was being probed and poked by tests and procedures that seemed like violations. The mantra took me beyond the body to a place where what was happening seemed like a dream.
Eventually, with strong medication the pain subsided and I was freed from the agony without ecstasy.
I can understand now why Baba encouraged young people to do sadhana. When health deteriorates, even for a long time yogi like myself, it is a challenge to remember the highest:
The great yogis say that this universe came into being through the word. However, we can attain the highest knowledge of reality by the use of words. When we wish to go beyond creation, beyond the mundane, then the word of mantra becomes the vehicle.
The mystery of how Shakti is transmitted continues to amaze me. And even though the great beings say, ‘the Guru is not the body’, it is hard to believe when missing Satsang. Viewers are writing from all over the world that our Online Intensives, Courses and Workshops carry the Shakti of Guru’s grace and continue to awaken, sustain and uplift them.
It is a miracle of Guru’s grace that the feeling of oneness with the Self, the Guru and fellow devotees is not limited to our physical presence. Of course, for the bhaktas, being with the Guru is much preferred. But, in these times, with these disciplines, with this distance, the Shakti dances and flows through the camera.
This essay is from a talk I gave at a program called “Women Saints” held at the National Gallery of Victoria. I have always felt an affinity with the poet saint, Akkamahadevi. She symbolises intense spiritual passion and strong will which are needed to overcome suffering. Akka, as she is affectionately called, has many of the qualities of a modern feminist and yet she was completely surrendered to her Guru. This is perhaps an uncomfortable conundrum, nonetheless one she handled with wisdom and devotion.
Akka writes of her mortal life:
I love the Handsome One; He has no death, decay nor form, no peace or side, no end nor birthmarks.I love Him, O mother, listen! I love the beautiful one With no bond nor fear, no clan no land or landmarks for his beauty. My Lord white as jasmine, is my husband. Take these husbands who die and decay, Feed them to your kitchen fires!
The beauty, strength, passion and spiritual determination of this poem are the signatures of one of India’s greatest mystics, Akkamahadevi (Akka,(elder sister). They indicate her spiritual genius, her resolve, her strength of will and mumukshutva, longing for liberation. In her short life, nothing swayed her from her spiritual inclination, her yearning to merge with Lord Shiva, the husband of her soul.
Akkamahadevi was born into the liberal environment of Veera Shaivism in the 12th century, in the southern state of Karnataka to pious and devout parents. At that time, Veera Shaivism was a reform movement. The leaders were political and spiritual radicals. They aspired to direct communion with the divine, refusing to accept intermediaries who tampered with their worship and devotion. They wanted no intercession between God and His devotee.
The Veera Shaivites dissolved the caste system in their satsang, and when they gathered, all were required to work, eat, study and practice together. They built their community outside of society and developed a strong spirituality that is alive today. Most remarkably, in their households, daughters were given some of the same rights as sons. They were taught to read and write and were allowed to study scriptures. The Veera Shaivites were in direct spiritual and political rebellion against the orthodoxy of the Brahmin priests who held religious power.
Shiva, specifically in the form of the Shiva lingam, is the presiding deity of Veera Shaivism. The Shiva lingam is a cosmic symbol of the energies of the masculine, Shiva, and the feminine, Shakti. A lingam, a phallus, rests comfortably in a receptive yoni, vagina or womb. There is no doubt that the Shiva lingam is one of the most mystical and powerful spiritual symbols of any religion or spiritual path.
In the same way the union between husband and wife creates the world of the family, Shiva, the transcendent power of the masculine, and Shakti, the dynamic feminine power, unite to create the entire universe. Even though the erotic symbolism is hard to ignore, the Shiva lingam’s commanding presence signifies the love, power and magnificence of Shiva and Shakti united in the ecstasy of creation. Not only do they birth the world but they also live within every human being as spiritual potential. Shaivism says that human beings can awaken to that potential. When these two powers are kindled within a person, life becomes magical.
By the age of nine, Akka had learned to read and write. She had learned the tenets of her faith from the family Guru. She would have been taught that God lived within her as a dormant spiritual power. It was possible to experience Him, know Him and realise Him, and dissolving all sense of separation it was possible to merge in Him. Her unique spiritual gifts were apparent and she quickly became attached to the Shiva lingam, Chennamallikarjuna, in the temple at Sri Shailam.
Shiva, the Lord of her poems, is referred to as “my Lord, white as jasmine” or “jasmine-tender” by two translators of her poems, A.K. Ramanuja and Vinaya Chaitanya. He is also called Consciousness, the Absolute, the Atman, the inner Self, or God. He personifies wisdom, love and creative power, a way to transcend the mundane and attain liberation. But her devotion was not only impersonal; He was the beloved of her heart.
The hagiography of Indian saints generally disregards, even erases, the personal history and struggle of its great beings. But in Akkamahadevi we find a spirit unafraid, determined to speak her mind, regardless what others may think of her. She has a modern sensibility; she left a record of her struggle. Her journal of over 300 vacanas (poems, ‘giving of words’), describes both her worldly life and her spiritual struggle. The revelation of her yearnings, likes and dislikes, passion, failures, triumphs, shame, doubt and tragedies, is testimony to her greatness of character and spirit, and renunciation.
From her early writings we learn that she had an experience of divinity at her initiation or soon afterward. It must have been then that she realized that she would never be content in householder life. Her awakening to knowledge of Shiva inspired a burning desire to live permanently in that experience. She shares that she tasted ecstasy; perfect love and then it vanished. In the losing and the yearning to reclaim it, the eluding and the seeking it, the Shiva lingam became deeply personal. It symbolized the husband and lover of her spiritual life, the divine energy working perfectly within her, and a doorway to unconditional love. Even though she was still a child, her spiritual intuition was that of an adult. She was doggedly determined to achieve resolution between her inner and outer life. Of her yearning she writes:
I look at the road for his coming. If he isn’t coming, I pine and waste away. If he is late, I grow lean. O mother, if he is away for a night, I’m like the lovebird with nothing in her embrace.
Even today many Hindu marriages are arranged, and back then there was certainly no room for personal preference. It was not unusual for women to speak of their longing and sorrow in erotic terms. They turned yearning for personal love towards God. Perhaps this is why we find so many different gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. There is a deity, a beloved, for every type of spiritual attitude.
Akka’s spiritual journey passed through various stages: devotional worship, pain of separation from God, meeting her Guru, awakening, sadhana, practices to overcome suffering and then realization of permanent oneness with Shiva.
To have the ecstasy of God’s love and then lose it is one of the most painful experiences in life. When Akka felt separate from God it hit her with full force. She recorded her torment with insight, humility and passion. Clearly she was an unusual soul. Commenting on the burden of pain and on karma, reincarnation, countless births and deaths she writes:
Not one, not two, not three or four but through eighty-four hundred thousand vaginas have I come, I have come through unlikely worlds, guzzled on pleasure and on pain. Whatever be, all previous lives, Show me mercy, this one day,O Lord white as jasmine.
Her biographers say she was intelligent, charming and extremely beautiful. Legend tells us that one afternoon her parents took her to a parade and the local Jain king—or village chieftain—Kaushika, saw her and was besotted. He asked for her hand in marriage and she refused. In her mind she was already Shiva’s bride.
Akka’s writings show her to be willful, emotional and headstrong. Her parents were progressive thinkers and might not have been displeased by his pursuit. Though a Jain, he was rich and powerful. They may even have felt a desire, or a relief for her to be settled.
As Kaushika’s advances intensified she took refuge in the avenue that was open to her—writing. She refused his marriage suit and in response he threatened her parents. Since non-violence is one of the basic tenets of the Jain religion, Kaushika’s love for her must have been obsessive. When her parents confronted her with his demand, she acquiesced to marriage grudgingly, knowing full well how this union would affect her.
Thus began the most painful time in her life. She felt alone, abandoned and misunderstood. She was certain that only Shiva knew the depth of her despair and spiritual longing. For her there was only one husband, Him, no other. To make matters worse, Kaushika was not a Shaivite. But, if Shiva was everything then He was also the cause of her impending marriage, her destiny. She turned to her Lord but the sound of blame vibrates in her words:
The owl blames the sun for its blindness, The crow blames the moon for its blindness, The blind blames the mirror for his blindness, All this is true. While suffering the hell fires of becoming, If one says there is no Shiva, No liberation, it is all a lie, Will Channamallikarjuna, jasmine-tender, Spare you the suffering of hell?
We do not know her exact age when she married, but we can assume she was between 13 and 16. She agreed on the condition that Kaushika made her three promises. If he broke them she would be free. She was clear-headed even at this young age. He agreed to allow her to spend time with her Guru and devotees, to allow her to meditate and to allow her worship of Shiva.
And so she married.
Being a Hindu bride she was required to leave the safe haven of her parents and live with her in-laws. Her husband desired her passionately but her spiritual nature is repelled. She was frustrated that she could not attain full communion with her husband. Perhaps if he had been a different sort of man they might have been able to live happily. Her husband’s family were also worldly and without spiritual inclination. In a short time Kaushika broke his promises. Appalled her husbands’ lustful advances she writes:
You came with no hesitation, O brother, As the form was pleasing to your eyes. You came deluded by a pleasure you heard of, You came lusting after the female form. Not seeing that it is only a tube from which piss drips you came, O brother, blinded by desire. Driving away supreme bliss by perverted intelligence, Not knowing why this is so, Mind not realizing this as the source of pain You came, O brother. Men other than Channamallikarjuna, jasmine-tender, Are brothers to me; Off, get off, you fool.
Her love of God was no match for her husband or her in-laws. In a fit of anger and rebellion she took off all her clothes and headed for Kalyan, a long and dangerous journey for a beautiful woman on foot. Her nakedness was a public declaration of her determination to leave her life and never return. In Kalyan, a Veera Shaivite ashram called “the Halls of Spiritual Experience” was in full bloom. The famous Veera Shaivite Guru, Basava, was the Guru of the ashram.
As she arrived she immediately encountered Basava who questioned her renunciation. That she has covered her nakedness with her hair made her sincerity questionable. He thought that she might not have been a serious seeker. She pleaded her case saying that Chennamallikarjuna had already taken her as a bride and that she covered herself because she was afraid her nakedness would embarrass him. Basava recognized her spiritual genius and allowed her to enter the ashram. In him she found a mentor and Guru.
Here her biography becomes sketchy and we only have her poems to reveal her progress. Now the second phase of her journey—discipleship began. She entered the ashram determined to attain liberation while in her body. Her renunciation was remarkable. She was more than an intoxicated lover of Shiva, her intellect was as sharp as the razor’s edge. She was endowed with discrimination and an ability to determine the real from the unreal. She would have none of the pleasure, status or pride that came with wealth and worldly power. She was immune to mundane love and compelled by love of God to seek liberation.
The Shaivite Gurus have the ability to awaken the Kundalini, the dormant spiritual energy. Once awakening occurs meditation and spiritual practices become easier. It not only connects us to the experience of the inner Self, it sustains it as well. And so, Basava spiritually nourished her.
The willful young girl accepted her Guru’s discipline and settled down to yogic practice. In Basava she recognized a sage of the highest attainment. Discipleship to him would enable her to become established in the experience of Shiva.
It was like a stream running into the dry bed of a lake, like rain pouring on plants parched to sticks. It was like this world’s pleasure and the way to the other, both walking towards me. Seeing the feet of the master, O lord white as jasmine, I was made worthwhile.
Sadhana, spiritual practice, the third phase of her journey began. She meditated, contemplated and studied scriptures. No longer a queen, she also did menial tasks. So far she had been projecting her love outward toward the lingam, or towards an impersonal God. The Guru taught her to take her longing and devotion inward, and use it to understand herself. She could no longer blame her husband, her parents and her in-laws. She had created a circumstance in which she must face the tendencies of her own mind:
Lord, see my mind touches you, Yet doesn’t reach you; My mind is troubled. Like a toll-keeper at the city gates, My mind is unhappy. It cannot become empty Forgetting duality. Show me how you can become me, O Chennamallikarjuna, jasmine-tender.
Her sadhana did not always go at the speed she wanted. She was confronted by inner demons—anger, desire, fear and sorrow. Her determination was apparent. Her will to overcome ignorance drove her in her quest to realise the Atman, the inner Self, and she acknowledged how difficult she finds her path. Filled with self-hatred she lashes out at herself:
I the child born of the love between the possible and the impossible, Have made a wager with the world; I have chained by their feet Desire, anger, greed, delusion, pride and strife. Wafting the scent of the Guru’s grace, Wearing devotion for a beauty spot I’ll defeat and kill you With devotion to the auspicious one with sword. Leave, let go karma, I won’t stop till I’ve slain you. Do not get destroyed, listen to my words. Buying the sword of devotion to Shiva, I’ll fight and slay you. Breaking the fetters that Brahma bound, Shoving aside the maya of Vishnu, I will give battle; just wait till, Chennamallikarjuna, jasmine-tender, nods his head.
Aspiration to the divine is sacred. The crux of sadhana is to know oneself fully. To face the maya, the ignorance in oneself is painful. In meditation she discovered that the tendencies that block her relationship to the divine are within her, not outside of her. Attachment and aversion had played around her senses. The consequences of all of her actions lay buried in her unconscious. Basava helped her navigate the psychic realm of negative thoughts and feelings. He taught her to become conscious of how she contributed to her own suffering. She faced the inner enemies of lust, envy, desire, anger, fear, and depression. She observed their movement in her mind. In meditation she distinguished between negative emotions and the bliss of the Self. She learned to move away from negativity and not allow it to manifest in her inner world:
Till you’ve earned knowledge of good and evil it is lust’s body site of rage, ambush of greed, house of passion, fence of pride, mask of envy. Till you know and lose this knowing, You have no way of knowing, My Lord, white as jasmine.
As her sadhana progressed, she was less haunted by the sense of separation. She spent more time in communion with the Self and less in spiritual frustration. After a few years she went to Sri Shailam, the home of Chennamallikarjuna. It was there that she attained liberation and annihilated her sense of duality. She burned up all obstacles in the fire of her practice. She merged permanently with her ‘Lord, white as jasmine’.
Now her poems reflect her attainment. Looking back at her journey she saw that her desires bound her to suffering and always left a bitter taste. They kept her separate from the Self and stood in the way of her ultimate goal—unconditional love and communion with God:
I overcame the trouble of the body, through the worship. Overcame the trouble of the mind, through wisdom, Overcame the trouble of separation, through Shiva’s grace, Overcame the darkness of the organs, Clothing myself in light. What your eyes see outside in the glow of youth Is really the ash of the burnt god of desire-Kama. O Lord white as jasmine, You killed Kama, yet let himRemain mind born; I have wiped out his destiny.
She has mastered her negative tendencies. Her understanding was transformed into wisdom for she had achieved the power to move away from desire and fear, the two enemies of Self-realisation. They were the cause of her sense of separateness. Guru’s grace had burnt them to seeds that could no longer sprout and cause her pain. Even if they occasionally played in her mind she was not tempted to fan their flames.
Akkamahadevi is an archetype. She represents the search for happiness, fulfillment and purpose familiar to us all. She struggled with her body, her personhood, her feelings and thoughts, her love of God, and her desire to be free of social and family obligations. She passionately sought union with the Absolute. In her realization she stands as a symbol of divinity and offers us a blessing and grace. She gives us the gift of her teachings in a body of work that we can study and contemplate.
When the pain our own mundane struggles hit us, she inspires us to turn our hearts and minds toward God. We can take refuge in the sublime teachings of the Sanatana Dharma. We can pray for the grace of God. We can turn to the great beings, sages and saints in our tradition. We can call on the compassion, power and wisdom of the Self.
When we turn away from fear and desire, we are able to, like the great mystic Akkamahadevi, uplift ourselves, our dear ones, and humanity.
Born in this world I follow the way of the world. Possessing a form, I go with the form. I am involved physically in this world, But in my mind I have forgotten it. Like a burnt rope, I still keep the form, O my Lord Cennamallikarjuna, Being one of the eleven, I am like a lotus in the water.
Recorded at The Mount Eliza Ashram on Tuesday, April 14th 2020.
Swami Shankarananda holds a regular study group program in the Ashram. In the most recent study group Devi Ma (or others) read from his book ‘Consciousness Is Everything’, taking participants through a short course on Kashmir Shaivism. ‘Consciousness’ is often referred to as the handbook for Shaivism.
In this excerpt of a video clip Swamiji comments on the universal aspects of the divine, Shiva and Shakti that are present within everyone and everything. Shiva is the inner Self, the foundation of everything and Shakti is the energy of creativity who dances and plays on His being. He focused on inner narratives. He said that there are always two narratives, two voices going on within us all the time.
One is the voice of Shiva that speaks to our highest Self. That voice encourages us to remember that we are the Self, we are Shiva. The other is the voice of our ‘tearing thoughts’ the voice that speaks our worst fears, judgements and criticisms. He emphasised that we can, with attention to those voices, learn to believe the higher narrative and discard the negative one.
At the end of the group Swamiji leads a beautiful contemplation on listening to a higher narrative, the voice of love.
Online programs are held several times a week with Swamiji and Devi Ma, including satsang, study group, meditation programs, Guru Gita chanting and more. These programs are available at Ashram Online weekly subscription.
A life-changing journey towards higher Consciousness.
In 1970, driven by search for purpose and meaning, a young New Yorker leaves his promising academic career to travel to India seeking yogic wisdom. After many adventures, he arrives at the feet of the great Siddha master Baba Muktananda, in the holy village of Ganeshpuri. Here, he experiences the awakening of the kundalini energy.
With enthusiasm, sincerity and candid self-reflection, Swami Shankarananda depicts his profound relationship with his Guru and the inner voyage of his transformation. He takes the reader on a mystic journey in which he does battle with his ego and his own negative tendencies and connects with the inner divine energy. Under Baba’s guidance he emerges from a twelve-year apprenticeship as a knower of the Self and a Guru in his own right.
Ganeshpuri Days is a beautifully written account path will inspire readers to awaken to the true Self and fulfil their highest potential.
Lately I have been having a taste of sahaja samadhi, what the yogis call the ‘natural state,’ a state of peace and happiness.
The sahaja state is evoked by the Zen adage, ‘before practicing Zen the mountains are mountains, the trees are trees and the rivers are rivers. During practice the mountains are no longer mountains, the trees are no longer trees, and the rivers are no longer rivers. After practice is complete the mountains are once again mountains, the trees are once again trees, and the rivers are once again rivers’.
Shaktipat for me was sudden, unexpected, amazing and magical. I momentarily felt enlightened when I received it. However, too quickly my karmas returned, and I was back to normal. But normal was radically different. No matter what happened I knew, without a doubt, that I had a Self, that there was an eternal space within me.
Before we meet the Guru and begin spiritual practice, we have many fixed beliefs, values and opinions that are in the way of being receptive to the Guru and the teachings. They show up as inner resistance as a new paradigm arises. We may cling to thoughts and reactions that served us in the world, but do not serve us in the company of the Guru. Or, perhaps they didn’t really serve us in our life, which is why we turned to spirituality.
As a new sadhaka we don’t really have a clue as to what discipleship is. Swamiji often refers to sadhana as, in Gurdjieff’s term, ‘conscious suffering’. If we don’t begin to pay attention to the inner world by means of yoga, life has a way of presenting difficulties to get our attention. Sadhana, spiritual practice, comes into conflict with everything we thought was true. The friction between what we thought was true and what is actually true spiritually, is the burning ground of sadhana. And to get anywhere spiritually this burning must happen.
At a certain point after experimenting with spiritual ideas to see what is true and what is not, we relax into acceptance. True in the spiritual sense is to renounce thoughts and feelings that take us far from the Self, the Guru, and the Shakti. After a while the friction eases into a sense of knowing. When this surrender happens, we begin to live more peacefully.
Peace for me comes from remembering the Guru’s feet. The Guru is the fountain of grace and blessings in my life. I know that to take myself away from this grace would court a kind of spiritual death. And so, no matter how difficult the inner and outer challenges are, I vowed to stay with the Guru until death.
At a certain difficult moment, I saw that in too many lives, there were lost opportunities to overcome my negative tendencies. I ran away too many times in the hope that I would avoid the pain that leads to overcoming deep unconscious angst. I saw that running away inwardly was an attempt to punish another person. But the result was that I only punished myself.
I promised myself that in this life, I would not run, nor hide, nor use anger to destroy love anymore. Instead, this time, I dedicated myself to the Guru, to the highest principle. I recall the feeling I had when I received Shaktipat, the utter awe and gratitude to have found the Guru, this divine lineage and the magic of feeling alive with Shakti.
I don’t claim to be ‘enlightened’. However, Guru’s grace has taken away the heartbreaking burdens I carried, and I am much lighter for it. I am no longer weighed down or confused by anger and frustration, fear or grief. In the past when situations upset me, my heart became heavy with negative emotion. And, there were many times when the sadness seemed unbearable. But always, when I turned to God, Guru’s grace appeared and dissolved the pain. I could once again connect with the Self.
Now when I am agitated, I sit with myself and watch the feelings and thoughts move through me until my mind becomes quiet. To witness this inner play as it arises brings great joy and relief. The desire to act out of negative emotion no longer controls my life. And when unhealthy thoughts intrude sometimes, I meditate and watch the play.
In my early 20s, before I met the Guru, I was plagued by self-doubt. I could not find my place in the world. One day, with a little help from a magic mushroom, I had a powerful insight. I saw how my mind created all my suffering and that there was nothing essentially wrong with me. I was so inspired that I bought my first spiritual book by Swami Ramacharaka.
But after reading the book I could not hold onto, understand or apply the insight to my life. It was only when I received Shaktipat did my mind and my relationship to the world begin to make sense.
If you were to ask me how I achieved peace, I would probably say, ‘I’m not sure’. Over time, sadhana, perseverance and love, the boiling cauldron of my emotions calmed down. I could say that ‘it just happened’ but I know that I have worked hard spiritually to rid myself of everything that was in the way of my connection with the Self. If my mind becomes disturbed, I inquire, I meditate or say the mantra. My mind now has a habit of restoring peace, not inflaming negativity.
When the Mt Eliza Ashram was established it became the testing ground for my sadhana. My relationships with the Ashramites were food for my negative tendencies. Even though the Ashramites were assigned to seva, things were often left undone. I became annoyed when faced with a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes, or the garbage overflowing onto the floor, or the phone left unanswered, or the carpet was dirty, or the lawn out of control. Or, when flowers I planted in the garden were pulled up because someone thought they were weeds. I became upset when food was left in bedrooms for days or left out to go bad. I got upset and angry when lights were left on, or the door left open with the heat blasting. I became impatient when I asked someone to do something and it was put off for days. I had to ask people over and over to do the dishes, sweep the floor, close the doors, etc. I became resentful and resentment grew into anger.
It is well known Ashram lore that the seva or Ashram managers often take the heat for most practical matters when things go wrong. No matter how much a person wants to live in an Ashram, most people resist being told what to do, especially if they think the work is beneath them or that they have more important things to do.
Many times, Ashramites ran to Swamiji complaining that I was unfair or too harsh. He received feedback from others about what they did not like about me, and in turn passed it onto me. He never divulged who told him what, which infuriated me. Or he would tell me to ‘work on my relationship’, which enraged me even more. I felt hurt and misunderstood. At one point my anger became so intolerable, I wanted to leave. I did not want to live my life in constant conflict with others. Then I remembered Swamiji’s teaching on four things to do in a bad situation:
Change the inner world.
Change the outer world.
Whinge—whine and complain.
Leaving wasn’t an option; I could not change the outer, the Ashramites. Of course, when it is not about changing other people, doing something in the outer world is possible. I considered giving up asking people to do things, but I cannot stand chaos or mess, and knew that was not a real possibility. So instead of complaining to myself, I decided to work on the inner.
Swamiji’s highest value, since I have known him, was and is, to put harmonious loving relationships ahead of practical issues–much to my annoyance. For him a person’s spiritual well-being was, and is, way more important than ‘getting things done’. He has never said that, but I am aware that his relationships were based on educating and teaching his students with compassion and patience.
I decided to try Swamiji’s way. I began to care more about having a loving conflict free inner state, than getting things done. Eventually, I stopped letting practical matters override harmonious relationships. My discipline was to watch my inner response with each person and to not indulge anger. I became more flexible and my life became more harmonious.
Anger shatters the natural loving relationship with others. When I remember the Self, natural flow and harmony is restored. I changed to a more collaborative management style and gave up the frustrating authoritative style.
Baba Muktananda writes:
A person should forget his delusion and meditate on his own Self. There are only two ways to live: one is with constant conflict, and the other is with surrender. No victory can be won in life through conflict. Conflict only leads to anguish and suffering; no one has ever seen a person attain anything else from it. But when someone surrenders with understanding and equanimity, his house, hands and heart become full. His former feeling of emptiness and lack disappears, and his shortcomings are eliminated.
The Perfect Relationship, page 32
In the past I often became disheartened when I read spiritual texts that describe Self-realisation. It was hard not to compare my inner state to the descriptions in texts. I criticised myself terribly. When Swamiji came up with the idea of ‘tearing thoughts’, destructive thoughts that attack the thinker and undermine confidence I began to get a clearer picture that my mind was the solution, like my original insight told me. As long as I did not attack others or myself, the Self would shine.
In his memoirs Swamiji writes:
Sadhana is a different kind of education – I call it second [classical] education; normal academic education being first education. In sadhana we don’t seek to increase our knowledge or even our intellectual understanding, as we do in first education, but we transform our being.
The Greek-Armenian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff made this felicitous distinction. He said that if our being is weak, then whatever intellectual knowledge we have is not operational.
In sadhana one works on being by improving philosophical understanding certainly, but also by strengthening the emotions and getting rid of tearing thoughts, those negative thought that tear into the thinker himself.
Being refers to the affective part of our nature. If our emotions are weak, making us vulnerable to anger, jealousy, fear, and despair and the like, then our spiritual understanding is vitiated, and we lose our power.
Ganeshpuri Days: Memoirs of a Western Yogi page xxix
I then understood that my angst and separation from the Self came from ‘tearing thoughts’. Underneath my anger, hurt or fear, was a feeling of unworthiness. The only way to stop tearing thoughts was to pay more attention to my being and not my negative reactions. I learned to shift my attention from the small self, the ego, to the big Self. I stopped fighting with myself, and therefore stopped fighting with others, most of the time.
Certain conversations can still hurt, cause anger or disappointment, but I am not inclined to follow them to hell. I hold to the promise I made to myself, to remember the Self.
Baba told me on three different occasions, ‘don’t love specifically, learn to love universally’. This was his greatest gift to me, besides Shaktipat. One teaching or command from a Siddha Guru is enough for a lifetime. I have understood that to love universally is to love without desire. It is desire that contaminates love. And so, to be free of contamination is to renounce preferences, likes and dislikes, and to see everything as the play of Consciousness.
Baba Muktananda writes:
Love the mind, but even before you love it, stop thinking of it as the mind. Regard it as the Goddess Chiti (cosmic energy) who is pulsating as the mind. Give up your antagonism to it and, establishing a true friendship with it, say, ‘Go to the inner Self.’ To think like this is actually meditation.
When you think of the mind as ordinary, when you are hostile to it, the mind conquers you. Therefore, to conquer the mind completely, you must love it. Love is a mantra of victory. It is the magnet that draws God to you. It is the Yagna (fire) that makes the mind intoxicated and joyful. Love has great power. It makes the impossible possible; it has the power to make the broken whole. Cease to think of yourself as small and petty. Fill yourselves with love, and you will see your own greatness.