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.
My life is divided into before Ram Dass and after Ram Dass.
I met him at a small dinner party in Chicago in early 1970. For me, and for thousands of other young Westerners, he was a messenger from the East. He carried an amazing Shakti and told us of undreamt possibilities, of a potential within each of us, and of the existence of men and women who had realised that potential completely.
I became a Ram Dass junkie. I drove hundreds of miles to hear him speak. What an experience that was! He would strum his tamboura and close his eyes and slowly tell long, involved and wonderful stories. What nectar came from his lips. I had never heard anything like it. Listening to Ram Dass was a sublime pleasure. There were new feelings, new thoughts, new possibilities. It simply was the best thing ever.
In India we met his people by ‘chance’: Bhagavan Das, Krishna Das, Dan Goleman, and others. They introduced us to Ram Dass’ Guru Neem Karoli Baba and his teacher, Hari Dass Baba.
Later, we met up again with Ram Dass in Bodh Gaya. He invited us along with him and his group to travel to Delhi to meet his friend, the great yogi Baba Muktananda. In Delhi he introduced us to Baba. Ram Dass told Baba about me, “He’s my friend, he’s a professor” and after that Baba called me ‘professor’ for many months.
Ram Dass bought my VW (thereby closing a circle for me) and went off with Baba on a tour of South India. Meanwhile, he told me to visit Baba’s ashram in Ganeshpuri. He showed me the path, introduced me to my Guru, and encouraged me to stay with him and do sadhana. My gratitude to him is profound.
Ram Dass’ impact on Western spirituality cannot be overstated. There are thousands and thousands of stories like mine. He was a unique figure, equally endowed with wisdom and love. He poured Eastern wine into Western bottles, and no one did it better than he did. He was a great soul and I salute him and will always love him. It gives me pleasure to know that he is again at the feet of his beloved Guru.” – Swami Shankarananda
My yoga practice began in 1975 when I received shaktipat, the awakening of spiritual (kundalini) energy.
It is often referred to as Guru’s grace and is a transmission from Guru to seeker. Since then I have practiced yoga in order to nurture and sustain that energy.
After shaktipat I learned yoga asanas, pranayama and mudras from my mentor at the time, the late Swami Girijananda. She had studied with the great siddha (a perfect yogi), Baba Muktananda, and the Hatha yogi, Hari Dass Baba. Yoga cannot be understood fully without the awakening from a siddha. I have been fortunate to spend my life with two great beings, Baba Muktananda and Swami Shankarananda.
According to some scholars the original schools of Yoga were formed by siddhas, mostly belonging to the nath tradition. Myth says that the postures were revealed to these siddhas after receiving shaktipat, and then revealed as a means of awakening the kundalini energy. Their schools were defined by the teachings of kundalini yoga and the practices have been handed down from teacher to student for eons.
The earliest texts on yoga say that its true goal is to awaken the kundalini energy that lays dormant within every person.
Kundalini is the sleeping giant of cosmic awareness. Shaktipat leads to deep meditation and knowledge of the inner Self. The student then mediates under the Guru’s instruction. This eventually leads to moksha, liberation from suffering.
Even though asanas, bandhas, physical purification and other yogic methods may be taught, realization, an unbreakable connection with the Self takes precedence over mastering them.
Now there are many schools of yoga each with different emphasis.
Some schools teach that yoga to stay fit and healthy.
Some say that it is to attain psychic or magical powers.
Some say it is to purify the body.
Some say it is to learn to renounce the world.
Some say it is to gain mastery over the senses.
Some say it is to purify the mind.
Some say is to gain control over the breath.
These are all worthy endeavors and can perhaps lead a seeker from the physical to the subtle, from the mundane to the sublime.
However, yoga’s original intent has been overshadowed by the fitness craze and many yoga teachers are not familiar with its true purpose.
Practitioners used to study with adepts of yoga in order to achieve inner and outer peace and become the master of themselves. I believe that more yoga teachers need to reclaim its original purpose. Even though most yoga students want to stay healthy and fit, it is the meditation and relaxation at the end of a class when they experience the joy.
I was fortunate to discover Siddha Yoga in 1974, and this is the yoga I still practice. Shaktipat taught me how to live comfortably with myself, to discipline my mind, my emotions, my thoughts and my feelings, my fears and desires.
With many years of practice, I have learned to use the simple natural powers that we all share yet overlook—thinking, feeling and doing.
It is the areas of life associated with them that we need to work on—health and well-being, relationship—professional and personal, career and money, and spirituality. Our thinking, feeling and doing affects every aspect of living and it is crucial we come to understand their true purpose, to conduct the experience of the Self.
Once the inner energy is awakened it points the practitioner toward practices that provide support for the goal of yoga—to know the Self and become free.
The practices listed below, as well as asanas, support our spiritual well-being and our life:
Without knowing that shaktipat was the greatest blessing I could be given, I found myself on the path of Consciousness and I became a disciple.
Becoming a disciple meant that I committed myself to the teachings of my lineage, meditated regularly, did asanas, and served the larger community. But most importantly, I put aside my thoughts and feelings that were full of self-concern, so I could learn what the Self wanted from me.
I could do this because I had found a path that explained the mystery of the world in a way that made sense to me. It addressed the physical world, the individual soul and the Divine. It also brought to light the unbreakable connection between my inner world and the outer world. I learned to understand the relationship between them. I began to see that I was the source of everything that arose in my mind, in my awareness. It catalysed the incredible play of my own Consciousness, the dynamic energy that is within me.
Our Consciousness is the most malleable thing in the universe.
It changes and adapts to every situation, every event, every relationship and every moment. It is inspirational, imaginative, and productive. It creates and destroys, uplifts and contracts, expands and shrinks, according to how we react to inner and outer stimulus.
Consciousness absorbs everything into itself. It merges with the world, digests what it sees and experiences, assimilates it, transforms it or regurgitates it. It is constantly observing, watching, weighing, analyzing, feeling, sensing, intuiting, experiencing, rejecting and accepting, digesting and vomiting.
Some impressions are easily digested and some not so easily. Some flow away by instant recognition but others are glued into memory. Some stay hidden for years but are triggered by painful moments. Some float on the edges of Consciousness as a knowing but disperse without effort. Unprocessed impressions create negative emotion and we become victims of our own inner world.
Swami Shankarananda has developed a meditative technique that he calls the Shiva Process Self-inquiry, that unites the inner world with the outer when the feeling of separation arises. It teaches us how not to be victimised by our own thought and feeling. We learn to use our our natural powers by thoroughly exploring and investigating the inner discomfort. We learn to ask appropriate questions and listen carefully to the answers that arise within.
Through the process of inquiry, we recognise the dynamism running through us. We become liberated from doubt and concern when we no longer try to hold the universe at bay, but surrender to it, and welcome it. Our actions become effective and powerful, because they are aligned with this great impersonal process. And we have the delightful experience of playing our part in a larger drama.
He often talks about the Gurdjieffian concept of three forces: first force–creating or wanting something; second force–the obstacles to achieving what we want; and third force–the means of dissolving the obstacles. When these three forces unite to create a positive flow of energy then we succeed in accomplishing our spiritual and life goals.
Self-inquiry seeks to unblock all areas of life: health, career, relationship and spirituality.
Swamiji has developed 3 steps that begin this inquiry.
1stStep is Investigation—What is going on here?
We become acutely conscious of stress and tension. Most of the time we move away from it. We avoid it. We drown it out. How do we not drown in it? We turn toward it with the aim to recognise and disarm blocks.
We notice inner tension. We learn to ask the right questions. Inquiry—is asking empowered questions not question that lead to more confusion and self-doubt.
Some disempowering questions are questions like:
Why do bad things always happen to me?
Does this mean I am a loser?
Why am I always forgotten?
Some good questions are:
What am I feeling?
Am I mad, sad, glad or scared?
When did this feeling happen?
How can I change this feeling from contraction to expansion?
2ndStep is Recognition—What is this feeling?
We work with what he calls an A-Statement, an accurate statement of present feeling. We experiment with language and ask the inner world good questions. A true A-Statement creates an upward shift of energy that releases the block.
Could this tension hold frustration, disappointment, or anxiety
We make an A-Statement—I feel or I am–disappointed, frustrated, or anxious.
Could I be holding anger within?
Could I be holding fear within?
Could I be holding sadness?
For yogis we could say: desire is arising within me, or fear is arising, or sadness is arising. Without recognition of feeling reactions, responses and impressions remain undigested.
We remain ignorant of my feeling state.
We stay angry, afraid or depressed.
We become separate and cannot relate properly to others.
Our meditation is disturbed.
Our energy is blocked.
3rdStep is Upliftment
Once we understand the feeling we are carrying then we can uplift. We then make B-Statements—personally uplifting statements like:
I accept myself.
Love is within me.
Everything will be okay.
I am loveable.
I am worthy.
Then we can contemplate what Swamiji calls G-Statements or God Statements. These are statements the great yogic scriptures and texts tell us like:
I am the Self;
I am Consciousness;
All this is me;
I am Shiva;
I am Shakti;
Thou art That
Self-inquiry unblocks creativity, illumines our next step and brings illumination and insight.
To be a yoga teacher is to intensify your spiritual growth, your emotional growth, your intellectual growth and your capacity to act. Even though you will teach others, the real process that is happening, is that teaching intensifies your spiritual life, your practice, and your growth. It deepens your understanding and it naturally provides challenging opportunities.
I wanted to share a particular idea in Kashmir Shaivism which is crucial to becoming a good teacher.
Shaivism talks about spanda, the vibration of inner energy. Swami Muktananda says:
“A person cannot do work merely because he or she wants to do it. To do work in the way we want, we need the help of the senses. But, there is another force which motivates the senses and gives them the power to work. This conscious force in its introverted aspect is called the spanda principle.”
He defines spanda as “the inspiration coming from contact with the strength of the Self. Spanda enables the senses to carry out their work.”
This ‘work’ in the highest sense, is to assist the mind in telling the difference between right and wrong; whether to say yes or no; what is true and what is false; what is good for us and what is not; what is the right decision and what is not. What takes us toward the Self and what takes us away from it.
Spanda is a current of energy that pulsates within us.
It is a potential that springs into manifestation the minute we have a desire or fear, the second we want to act, speak or do.
Spanda is our deepest potential. It is our creative impulse. It appears in the space between the in-breath and out-breath; it is the space between two thoughts as one arises and another subsides, and the space between one feeling or thought and another.
We can recognize and enhance the principle of creativity and inspiration by being aware that it is a real and powerful force that is present within us all of the time. It shows up as an experience of the Self when we are at peace, but is hidden from us when we are in a state of separation or contraction. It presents itself as an upward shift of positive energy, or a downward shift of contraction.
It shows up as a yes or no current.
It can be creativity and inspiration, or it can be
obstruction and block.
It vibrates likes and dislikes.
It manifests as both fear and desire.
To know when to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is crucial to becoming a good teacher.
The ability to know the difference moves us toward the feeling of aliveness and connection. Or, when we deny contraction or lack of Spanda, we find ourselves in uncertainty and fear.
inner divine spark is in constant readiness to ignite and connect us to our being.
It points the way to strength and wisdom both in our inner life and our outer
can understand it two ways, either by experiencing it, or by recognizing it.
It exists in both thought and feeling.
Actions or decisions based on ignorance lead to suffering.
They do not bear the fruit we wish.
When we contemplate the inner vibration, then the world of
duality causes us no trouble or pain.
So, do not look at others, or compare yourself to others, or find fault with others. Always focus on your own Self. When something contaminates your sense of Self, then you cannot function properly: spiritually, emotionally, intellectually or creatively. When that happens take some time to yourself, or seek counsel.
Apply the awareness of spanda when teaching yoga. Brilliant teachers know:
Not to attempt postures or poses that you are not certain you understand and know well.
That teaching yoga can help students grow spiritually.
To be a teacher is to be of service.
To approach teaching with humility.
How to be generous and willing to share what they know.
To acknowledge where they learned yoga what they truly know.
To respect their fellow teachers.
That to serve is to stay connected to the lineage of teachers.
How to transmit the actual experience and essence of yoga.
Not to be too ambitious.
To allow organic growth that comes naturally.
Teaching yoga is much more about serving people, uplifting people and facilitating transformation, rather than giving useful information, or helping people stay fit and healthy, or becoming flexible.
Yoga shows people how to relax and move towards calm states of mind. It provides techniques they can use to stay centered. It can be the first step to learning how to turn their attention inward and meditate. They can create an environment in which students can contact the Self. They can provide a refuge from stress.
Some tips on how to be a good teacher:
Get centred before you begin. Then help your students get
Have your class structure and asanas you want to do ready.
Do not do asanas you don’t like; go with your strength.
Teach from your comfort zone until you feel confident to push
Being scared is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes.
When you don’t know the answer to a question, then say so and
tell them you will answer next time.
If someone is giving you trouble, ask to speak to them after
Do not get into arguments in front of your students.
Try not to speak to quickly.
Remember to breathe.
When we become a yoga teacher, we enter a lineage of yogis that is centuries old. We join the family of yogis. It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of that tradition. By teaching with humility, we do the great beings of yoga justice.
This is a share by a parent who uses Shiva Process discreetly to communicate with his children in ways that resolve conflict and upset in his family life.
Many of you are aware of a meditation practice we use here at the Ashram known as – Shiva Process. Shiva Process is a very effective method of Self- inquiry created by Swamiji and Devi Ma.
The process is brilliant at clearing negative feelings that turn up in our inner world. When I saw how well it works when I use it, I thought how great it would be, if everyone used it. But, that’s not how things are.
In Swamiji’s book on the Shiva Process, Self Inquiry, he writes about a way he has developed to assist people who do not know Shiva Process. He calls this technique the ‘The Avis Process’. It’s a way of helping people who do not know how to do the Shiva Process. It is perfect when communicating with people on the fly in day to day life. I think of it as ‘stealth’ Shiva Process.
When I use the Avis process I listen to the other person and try to get an understanding of what is going on for them. I reflect back to them what I hear and feel as they are speaking. If I sense they are burdened or worried, I might say, ‘ You must be so worried?’ Or, ‘you have a lot of responsibility’. If I sense they are upset, I say, ‘you sound upset,’ or, if I sense they are tired, I might say or ask, ‘Are you feeling tired?’
Around four years ago I really needed something to deal with my children. I have two young boys and a girl between seven and twelve. I remembered reading about the Avis Process. I decided to use my kids as guinea pigs to see if it worked. I was tentative at first, as it felt awkward. And, I had to resist my habit of wanting to correct them and give advice.
One of them might come to me upset and I would say, ‘Oh honey, you look so upset’. Another would get angry and I’d say, ‘What’s up, has something made you angry?’ or if they didn’t get something they wanted I would say – ‘You really wanted that ice-cream. Grown ups can be so frustrating?’
It worked! The kids responded brilliantly. The positive results blew my mind. All I had to do was shut my advice trap and let the statements do the work.
About two years after first beginning this practice, there was an encounter that summed up how effective it is. I was in the kitchen cleaning up. It was 8:00pm on a school night. It was a hot summer day and friends of the kids had been over swimming in our pool and had just left.
My two sons, Leo who was 9 at the time and Harvey who was 7 were in their bedrooms. I could hear them mucking around, playing in a way that seemed precarious. Leo was asking Harvey to stop and then I heard it get serious and then sounds of a real scuffle followed and then yelling, followed by crying.
A few seconds later Leonardo whizzed by, head down, avoiding eye contact with me, visibly upset and shot straight out the back door into the garden. I could see him through the glass doors pacing up and down looking very shaken up and full of guilt.
Harvey followed, sobbing and looking for me. I said, ‘what happened?’
He said, ‘I was playing with Leo on the bunk beds and I accidentally did a round house kick to his head and then he just punched me in the face.’
I said, ‘Oh my God, that must have really hurt?’ And he said, “Mega hurt dad!’
‘You must have got a big shock?
He said, ‘Yeah, well, he didn’t have to just hit me. My kick was an accident…because I rolled off the top bed down onto him and my foot lost control and hit him in the head. I was just playing and then he punched me, 100% on purpose, like Thor, right in the face.’
I said, ‘It’s ok, it’s not your fault,’ and then we hugged.
I said I’ll go speak to Leo.
So I walked outside to speak to Leo who was still pacing up and down – looking really worried and riddled with guilt. I said, ‘what happened?’ He didn’t answer – he just kept pacing.
I said, ‘you look really shaken up.’ Still, no answer. ‘You got really angry at Harvey?’ I asked. And then like a flood, he let it out.
‘Well yeah, Mum promised me earlier that I’d be able to watch the new Lego movie that just came out and then friends came over and they stayed longer than they were supposed to and then mum said I couldn’t watch the movie now because it was too late on a school night – and it’s not my fault they didn’t go on time – and I was really looking forward to the movie so I was already upset about that and then Harvey and I were playing and then he accidentally kicked me and then I don’t know what happened, I just punched him in the face.’
I said, ‘Oh God, you must feel terrible.’
And then he cried and hugged me and said ‘ I’m so sorry dad!’
I said, ’It’s ok, I love you mate.’
And then he said ‘I love you so much dad!’
I said, ‘Harvey is really upset too. He loves you a lot you know.’
He said, ‘I’ll go and say sorry.’
And then off he went and I watched through the glass doors as Leo went to Harvey and said sorry and they both hugged each other and trotted off like best buddies.
The entire episode lasted three minutes and my family had returned to love. I stood there in awe, so pleased with what had just happened. I felt just like Swamiji. Connecting with him, by using his teachings in this way is always uplifting. These days I Avis process all the time. It’s become more and more a part of the natural way I communicate.