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.
This world is nothing but a school of love; our relationships with our husband or wife,
with our children and parents, with our friends
and relatives are the university
in which we are meant to learn
what love and devotion truly are.
I have thought about love a lot. Before the Guru I could never settle on a relationship. I could not see myself ‘married with children’. But, what are our options if that is not our calling? After meeting the Guru I experienced spiritual love–love of God, Self and Guru. This was the love for which I had been yearning.
As I did my sadhana I learned that there are two kinds of love, personal or impersonal. In personal love we grow attached and protective of those we love. There is love of husband, wife or partner, intense and possessive, beginning in Eros, and too often burning out in the ashes of spent passion. There is love of family: mother, father, brother, and sister—full of the complex emotions of dependence and freedom, values, indifference, judgment and all the stuff of family life. Love of children is attached and devotional, complex also in its wish for perfect parenting and fear of loss and failure. Love of career is dramatised by ego needs and clashes with colleagues, the drive for success and recognition. Love of the arts demands creative expression and flirts with spirituality. Love of country is dedication and service to a common goal. Let us not forget the love of pets—pure and unconditional—where in exchange for food and shelter they love us with total devotion.
Aren’t we all driven by the search for love and intimacy, however form that takes? Don’t we try to become magnets for the good and repel the bad? Especially in relationships. Often we find ourselves on a merry-go-round, repeating a pattern of situations that go wrong. We wonder, ‘How did I get here again?’ Without examining our inner world, we get stuck in an ever-churning circle of pleasure and pain.
Personal love is no guarantee of a successful marriage or happiness. Every relationship eventually falls from the Garden of Eden as reality takes hold. The blinders come off and individuality emerges as values, likes and dislikes, preferences and interests are revealed. One person wants a home in the suburbs; the other wants a cottage in the country. One wants children, the other does not. One aspires to riches and fame, and the other wants a quiet life. One wants to be a nuclear physicist and the other a gardener. When what one wants clashes with the other, the relationship becomes a battleground.
I once wrote Baba Muktananda about love and he wrote back saying, ‘you should learn to love universally not specifically. Give your love to everyone.’
I have strived to attain the goal of his teaching to me, love universally. It is not easy when desire to be loved arises. To feel loved, to know love and to be loved is a spiritual and personal struggle everyone faces.
CS Lewis defined divine love as: Affection, friendship and Eros. He described Eros as love in the sense of ‘being in love’. This is distinct from sexuality, which Lewis calls Venus, and discusses sexual activity and its spiritual significance in both a pagan and a Christian sense. He identifies Eros as ‘indifferent’. I think indifference in this case means it can break social norms without a thought to the hurt it may cause when acted upon. Eros is antinomium–it does not consider consequences.
In keeping with his warning that ‘love begins to be a demon the moment [it] begins to be a god’, he cautions against the danger of elevating Eros to the status of a god or the obsessive search for that fleeting experience.
Blind passion has been the cause of some of history’s most tragic moments. In Greek mythology Helen of Troy and her lover Paris triggered the Trojan wars when they lost all sense of the political implications. Too often hurtful unintended consequences is the fruit of such love. Another true story is that of Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen, and Antony, a married Roman general. Their relationship ultimately sparked a war that led to both of them committing suicide – Cleopatra by snake bite – when they realised they would lose.
Baba Muktananda used to tell a story inspired by an Arab legend, on the romantic poem Layla, the daughter of a king, and Majnu an artist. It is a tragic tale about unattainable love. Layla and Majnu fall in love while at school. Their love is observed and they are soon prevented from seeing one another. In misery, Majnu banishes himself to the desert to live among and be consoled by animals. He neglects to eat and becomes emaciat
An eccentric poet, Majnu becomes known as a madman.
I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla
And I kiss this wall and that wall
It’s not Love of the walls that has enraptured my heart
But of the One who dwells within them.
He befriends an elderly Bedouin who promises to win him Layla’s hand through warfare. Layla’s tribe is defeated, but her father continues to refuse her marriage to Majnu because of his mad behaviour, and she is married to another. After the death of Layla’s husband, the old Bedouin facilitates a meeting between Layla and Majnu, but they are never fully reconciled in life. Upon death, they are buried side by side.
The story is often interpreted as an allegory of the soul’s yearning to be united with the divine.
Baba’s ending was different. Layla’s father was a king. When the king refused to give Layla to Majnu, he wandered the streets of the kingdom crying out Layla’s name. Other men joined in hoping to attract the attention of the king. The king, worn down by these pleas, issued a proclamation that he would behead anyone who cried her name in the streets. Immediately, the fake Majnu’s stopped their wailing and only the real Majnu was left. One ending of the story says that the king, finally moved by Majnu’s sincerity, acquiesced and joined them in marriage.
Agape or Charity
Many men and women women fall prey to a desire for love in the hope of establishing a satisfying relationship, only to discover intoxication clouded common sense.
In Hinduism Eros can be inspiration to attain God-consciousness or unconditional love. It is called bhakti and is personified in the stories of Krishna (the God of love) and the Gopis, the charming milkmaids of Vrindavan. The Gopis, were the playmates of Krishna’s youth and became attached to his physical form. They had to learn to redirect their devotion from his form to the formless, thus attaining the true purpose of their relationship with him. They eventually learn to see him everywhere and in everything. His departure and eventual marriage to the Goddess Lakshmi forced them to move from personal love to unconditional love.
Unconditional love demands that we renounce every selfish motive, and desire. We must give up self-concern, ‘I am not getting what I want. I want more. I want attention. I want recognition. I want this and I want that.’ Only when we understand that true love is serving the beloved by giving love, and not by striving to take love.
Discipleship is perhaps the most powerful love. It has some elements of the personal but it is grounded in the divine. The chemistry between Guru/disciple is unique and cannot be replicated in personal relationships without Shaktipat, the awakening of the inner energy. It is the Shakti that keeps love flowing. It is the Shakti that burns away hurt. It is the Shakti that restores love when disappointment arises. It is the Shakti that heals grief. It is the Shakti that is love.
Master Charles Cannon March 14th 1945 – January 24th 2019
by MM Swami Shankarananda
I’m very saddened to hear of the passing of Master Charles (Swami Vivekananda). For more than 40 years we have had a close friendship and working relationship. We were fellow disciples of Baba Muktananda and took sannyas together in 1977. Soon we were running ashrams for Baba in the US and traveling widely giving Intensives. In more recent years, we both created independent ashrams and came together many times to do the “three gurus” programs with Swami Nityananda and Swami Chetanananda. On top of all that, the two of us shared the same birthday…
One story out of so many from those early years: It was 1974, at the beginning of Baba’s second world tour. We were in Piedmont, California. I was the tour drummer and nervous to be drumming in front of Baba. I handled most of the chants well but then Baba called for ‘Rama Raghava Krishna Keshava’. This was different. I couldn’t find the beat. MC, who was always psychically tuned in, saw my extreme discomfort. He was sitting directly behind me and whispered in my ear “it’s a waltz”. I improvised a simple beat: one two three, one two three. It worked! My relief and gratitude were immense. Of course, among many other personal attributes, MC was a talented musician.
MC was a great disciple of a great Guru. It was a pleasure to talk to him about his years of close service to Baba. So many juicy stories, so much love. MC was a great yogi. Through the path of devotion, he achieved Guru samavesha, he merged his identity into the beingness of his great Guru. He attained the state of Self-realisation and imparted it to countless people.
He created a westernised and scientific form of practice which appealed to many who might otherwise be closed to the experience of Grace. His innovations were unique and clever, but the real reason for their efficacy lay in MC’s total devotion to his Guru. It was this ingredient that separated him from his many imitators.
When the history of spirituality in the West is someday written, MC will hold a significant place as one of the first Western-born Gurus of his tradition.
I remember him as warm and loving and witty. Actually he was more than witty, he could be hilariously funny not to mention practical and marvelously insightful. He shared his love with all who met him.
There’s no doubt that he is now sporting with his beloved Baba. I can see it in my mind’s eye. Such love is not of this world but is, in the truest sense, eternal.
In late 1981 I traveled with Baba Muktananda back to Ganeshpuri, at the end of his last American tour. My ex-husband had taken sannyas in Los Angeles, and stayed back in South Fallsburg to manage the ashram. Baba had suggested that I stay in Fallsburg also but I could not edit the Siddha Path magazine from there and so opted for Ganeshpuri.
Gurudev Siddha Peeth was where I felt most at home, most at peace, and most blissful. But in those months before Baba’s death, in October of 1982, I became restless and dissatisfied with my life.
Swamiji had been running the Fitzroy ashram in Australia and I was no longer working with him on the magazine. There was no foreseeable sign of us working together ever again. Australia seemed like a powerful spiritual match for him. Baba told him, ‘you go well in Australia.’ Even though Swamiji happened to be in Ganeshpuri at this time, he was tending to the Australians.
During the months prior to Baba’s death many long time ashramites were considering returning to the world. After seven years of disciplined ashram life, I too began to crave a different experience. I questioned whether I needed a change and that maybe it was time for me to leave also.
Baba had offered to give me sannyas on his birthday in May, however, I was reluctant to accept. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be part of a massive impersonal foundation. Instead, thoughts of leaving the ashram began to rattle my brain. As these thoughts took over my mind I became more restless and frustrated with my situation.
Swamiji had developed close relationships with the Australians and there was no place or Seva for me in his current life. I had imagined that we would run an ashram together in the future, but now it seemed that would not manifest any time soon, or at all. I got mad at myself for my attachment to him. However, instead of examining what was happening within me, I began to look for a way out.
My thoughts became more and more separative, as the Maya of wanting a change overtook me. I want to see if I can hold the Shakti in the world. I want to know if I have attained anything. Can I be happy in the world? Maybe if I am away from Swamiji I will discover a different happiness? These questions plagued me and I found a laundry list of reasons to support my growing cause.
A man who worked in the gardens started pursuing me and eventually I turned to him for company. A relationship grew. He had plans to leave for the USA in May, just before Baba’s birthday and after getting to know him for a few months, I made the decision to join him.
As my friends and mentors heard that I was about to leave they tried to encourage me to stay. They told me I was making a mistake. They said that I belonged in the ashram and that what I was doing went against what was best for me. I refused to listen. In fact, their words had the opposite effect, and I became more and more determined to leave.
Shortly before we were to leave we went up to Baba to say goodbye. He spoke to me lovingly but firmly saying, ‘I thought you wanted to be a swami.’
‘I changed my mind Baba’, I said.
‘Your mind is weak’, he replied.
I laughed uncomfortably but refused to consider his words.
‘He is so ugly’, Baba said. I was astounded that Baba spoke so cruelly in front of my new partner. I knew that he was trying to get my attention by showing his displeasure. But I was adamant in my decision and would not listen to the secret message in his words. It was obvious that I did not have his blessing to do what I was doing. My belligerence overwhelmed my surrender. Still, I refused to listen to Baba.
‘You have one of my best sadhus,’ he said. ‘But, he is a thorn to remove a thorn’. said Baba.
That stopped my mind. I knew he was referring to my relationship with Swamiji. A seed of doubt was planted.
‘You won’t be happy. Now go’, Baba said.
Those were the last words he spoke to me.
I am pretty sure that is me in the foreground.
And, of course, Baba was right. The minute I stepped outside the gates of the ashram I knew I had made a mistake. As I climbed into the taxi to Bombay I felt the full impact of my wilful desire. I woke up from the dream of my fantasy and to the truth that my decision to leave was motived by anger and resentment. I had refused to listen to Baba or to the wise counsel of those I cared about. I hurt myself, I hurt them and I was about to hurt my new partner. I wanted to run back to the ashram but I could not take back what I had set in motion; certain karmas had to be played out.
Such is the power of will gone wrong. Eventually, I would learn to recognise the inner signs when my will went wrong, and be suspicious of that movement. But, I had much more sadhana to do before I could calm it when it raised its impulsive head.
We arrived in Vancouver to visit my family and after a few days I told my partner that I did not want to continue our relationship. He left for America without me.
Alone suddenly, I went into shock. Baba was right of course. I had left everything I loved and cared about. I had left my spiritual family, my work and the Guru. I was bereft. And then, Baba took samadhi.
My mind went berserk. I was overwhelmed in sadness and grief at Baba’s death. I never told him how much I loved him. I never thanked him for giving me an amazing life. How could I have done what I did? My heart became dry. I plummeted into a spiritual weakness–self-doubt and fear.
I questioned everything about my decisions and tore into myself. I was an idiot. I was stupid. I was angry and wilful. I was a fool. Why did I not feel Shakti? Was it because I left India without the blessings of the Guru, my friends and the spiritual community that had supported and loved me? Was I was just ineffectual? Had I made all the wrong decisions? I had left a Shakti-filled life for what?
I grappled for my place in life. I did not know whether I was a wife who had not met the right man, a career person who had not found the right career, a servant of Baba’s successors, Swamiji’s disciple, or a seeker who would find another teacher.
Baba’s words, ‘You won’t be happy reverberated in my head.’ In later years those words became a warning that arose in my mind every time I wanted to do something wilful.
Finally, I understood that I had to return to the Shakti. There was no peace or Shakti in Vancouver for me. The only thing that gave me some comfort, was the idea that I should go to Santa Monica where there was an ashram, look for a job and try to put my life back together. Maybe I could reconnect with the Shakti by doing this.
I got a job on a magazine and an apartment in Santa Monica close to the Broadway ashram. I was living but did not feel alive or in touch Guru’s grace. I felt mechanical and my heart was not connected to God.
I began to realise that it was spiritual suicide to reject what had been given to me by the Shakti and the Guru. No matter what I thought I wanted personally, no matter what I thought about Swamiji, the higher dharma was to follow my connection to the Shakti, to God, to the Guru and to the Self. My dharma was to accept my devotion, wherever that led me.
Gurumayi and Swami Nityananda were now sitting as the Gurus and in charge of all ashram and foundation matters. Gurumayi was touring America in early ’84 and due to visit Santa Monica. She was holding programs at the old Broadway theatre in the mall by the ashram. Swamiji was with her as her MC. I knew that I should reach out but I was scared. I got up the courage to telephone him and asked if I could visit him.
When I told Swamiji that I was having a rough time he said, ‘Why don’t you come back on tour? Talk to Gurumayi.’
Even though I wanted to accept Swamiji’s guidance, I was doubtful. I would have to swallow my pride and admit that I made a mistake. I knew that it might be hard to be on tour. Previously, I had a lot of independence and freedom to create. Under these new conditions I fearfully imagined what seva I might have to do.
I wanted confirmation from the Shakti that returning to the ashram was right. That night after seeing Swamiji, I went to the evening program with Gurumayi. The old theatre was packed and so I sat down on the floor in the last row in the back.
‘Baba,’ I prayed, ‘I need a sign. If you want me to return to the tour, please give me one.’
A few seconds later I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up at a hall monitor. ‘Come with me,’ she said. I got up and we walked down to the front two rows from Gurumayi.
‘Sit here,’ she said and smiled. Gurumayi looked over and smiled at me.
I was laughing inside myself. ‘Okay Baba, I will talk to her.’
I went up in the darshan line to greet her, and she seemed full of light. She greeted me warmly. We joked and I asked to see her. She told me to come the next day. Immediately, I was aware that I had aligned with the Shakti. My inner being was illumined by Guru’s grace. The next day I went to see her. She was sitting in a small room in the ashram. ‘I want to come back Gurumayi. I miss Baba,’ I said.
She looked at me and considered what I had said. For a moment I thought I had said something wrong. I was a little apprehensive for she had adopted some of Baba’s manners and gestures. I imagined that she was in a difficult situation with the old-timers. It could not have been easy to fill Baba’s shoes. Her power and charisma however, were undeniable. I had always felt a connection with Gurumayi and she had always been very good to me. I also deeply admired her devotion to Baba.
Once in Miami when I visited Baba she called me into her room to chat. When I walked in she was sitting on her bed. There was only the floor for me and so I sat down in front of her a few inches away. I looked up at her big gorgeous face; she is unbelievably beautiful. Suddenly, the room exploded in Shakti and I was filled with ecstasy. The room seemed to vibrate with the chemistry of a strange mystery between us. I was astounded at this immense power. We laughed and chatted about nothing. We didn’t speak about what happened, but I thought that there was no way that she could not have felt it.
But back in Santa Monica I was on shaky ground. My confidence was low. ‘Baba is still alive; he is everywhere,’ she said.
‘I know’, I replied, but I am having trouble feeling him.’
Gurumayi paused and said, ‘Okay, but you need $2,000.’
I only had $500 in the bank. I knew that it would take me a year to save that much money and I did not want to wait a year. Where was I going to get the rest? I prayed that the money would somehow come.
A few days later I was in the parking lot across from the ashram looking for a space to park. I stopped and waited for a car to pull out. A large utility van about a hundred feet ahead of me was also waiting to park. I looked to my left as the car pulled out from the space I wanted. I looked up and the van was reversing toward me at about 25 mph. ‘He can’t possibly be going to run into me,’ I thought. ‘Can he?’
Sure enough he backed right into my car. The front end was so damaged I could not drive. I was unhurt but in a state of shock. I got out of my car and a young man of about twenty jumped out of the truck crying, ‘I am so sorry. Are you all right?’ He was grateful I was not hurt.
We exchanged information and he told me that he would contact his insurance company so my car could be fixed. The next day I received a phone call from his mother who asked if I would accept a cheque for $2,000! I could not believe my good fortune.