The Essence of Yoga Is Consciousness

The Essence of Yoga Is Consciousness

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 what my thoughts and feelings 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.

Swamiji writes:

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.

Swami Shankarananda

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.


How To Be a Good Yoga Teacher

How To Be a Good Yoga Teacher

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.

This 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 life.

We 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 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 centred.
  • 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 the envelope.
  • 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 class.
  • 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.

Some thoughts on love.

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.

Baba Muktananda

Baba with his cook Chandra

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.

c-s-lewis-quote-on-heavenCS 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.

Layla&Majnu.jpg
Layla and Majnu in the palace.

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.

Majnu writes:

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.

Wilful Woeful

Wilful Woeful

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. 

The old Broadway theatre in Santa Monica where the programs were held.

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.

The prodigal daughter returned home.

Ganeshpuri 1977

Ganeshpuri 1977

In 1977 Das and I joined a large group of devotees from America for our first trip to India. We were to spend three months in Baba Muktananda’s ashram, Gurudev Siddha Peeth. After a long drive through the rural landscape of small dusty villages and parched country, the bus from the airport pulled up outside the ashram.

I had seen pictures and videos of the ashram, but I was unprepared for its beauty—a small palace, it gleamed shakti from every corner. We walked through the gates to a small marble courtyard and it took my breath away. ‘Leave your ego with your shoes’ demanded the sign above the shoe rack. Amused I took that as my first Ganeshpuri command.

Immediately, I felt an acceptance, a familiar welcome that was Baba. He was sitting on his perch at the front of the courtyard waiting to greet us. The atmosphere was exotic and inviting. There were date palm, mango and banana trees planted throughout. We all sat down. After a short while he told us to take rest. We were shown to our rooms and I collapsed on the bed for almost twenty-four hours. The next morning I awoke to clanging bells and a loud chant blaring over the loudspeakers. Nityananda Mahan rang out as I made my way to the program. I was cold from the early morning damp and not used to walking on the marble floors, which sent shivers up my spine.

The Ann Arbor ashram was a small world compared to this one. Life was big here. Hundreds of Westerners and Indians worked together, meditated together, ate together, and lived together. More devotees came on the weekend often bringing delicious sweets and curries.

I became aware that I had been carrying a burden of some sort, and that I now felt much lighter. A subtle weight had been lifted. It was easy to settle into ashram life. There was little discomfort or friction.

We were asked to report for ashram seva, service to the Guru. I was given a mop and a bucket and told to scrub the floor of the outer courtyard where everyone entered. The ‘ego’ sign was visible as I washed and scrubbed.

Every morning for the next three days I went to the seva desk for my bucket and brush. I got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed each marble tile with great thoroughness and inner joy. My acceptance was so deep that when they told me to scrub the cracks with a toothbrush, I was still ecstatic, such was the exalted condition of my spirit.

The outer courtyard comprised the entrance to the large courtyard where Baba sat, and to the temple that held the murti of Bhagavan Nityananda. Bhagavan sat at the front of what used to be the meditation hall; he was life-size, dark brown, and beautiful. Baba went to see him each morning as the priests bathed him. I sometimes got up early to watch him garland Bhagavan and participate silently in his devotion. As Baba greeted him, a tangible sweet feeling permeated the atmosphere. It was intimate, affectionate and moving. Bhagavan seemed to light up as Baba silently moved around him while reverently chanting mantras.

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Baba walking through the inner courtyard.

After breakfast I raced back to the hall, where a small group chanted the Rudram, an ancient Vedic prayer to Shiva. The Sanskrit words were long and difficult to pronounce but I was soon able to follow along. The Shakti responded to this prayer with a mysterious power and vibrated throughout my whole being. The Rudram and the Shiva Mahimnah Stotram that we chanted in the evening both have a mysterious effect and uplift my soul every time I chant them.

In the mornings after seva I sat in the inner courtyard where Baba conducted ashram business. I watched him work as various managers and secretaries came to him with questions and reports. He was more approachable here than when he was traveling in the West. He sat out there sometimes for a few hours. Many brave ashramites asked him questions about spiritual and worldly life. Although I could not hear his answers, most walked away beaming. I wanted to approach him, but I didn’t have a question. I was in deep communion with him on the subtle plane where the Shakti was dancing and no words were necessary.

Baba was always at ease, in control and yet not in control, active and yet not active. He participated in life and yet was detached. There was an enigma in his presence. I treasured this time. He was beautiful to watch, his self-mastery apparent. There were few people and I was able to sit close and bask in the loving energy that flowed from him. My mind was quiet and I meditated even though I was watching everything. There was stillness at the centre of my being. For the first time I meditated with my eyes open. As my awareness moved around the courtyard, the Self was tangible. I watched, I listened, I saw, I observed and I remained connected to the Self. Sitting there is etched in my memory.

Some weeks after we arrived, Baba organized a four-day yatra, a pilgrimage to some of the local holy sites. I looked forward to Alandi, the samadhi shrine of Jnaneshwar, one of India’s greatest saints; to Dehu, the birthplace of another saint, the poet Tukaram (one of Swamiji’s favorites); to Shirdi, the village where the famous Sai Baba had lived and to Poona for a rest.

Baba warned us not to give money to the beggars. Wise advice, for at the first stop we were assaulted by a mob of children pleading for money. My heart went out to them but I heeded Baba’s warning. He was generous to a fault when it was appropriate. He built homes, hospitals and schools around Ganeshpuri. He fed and clothed the locals and gave them jobs. He did not, however, want us to give money to street beggars.

Once, when I walked the streets of Bombay alone, I made the mistake of ignoring Baba’s advice and gave some money to a child that had no hands. I was immediately assaulted by a crowd of children. They grabbed at my purse. Fortunately, a taxi driver intervened and chased them away with a big stick.

Alandi was the first stop. Jnaneshwar was a born siddha, who translated the Bhagavad Gita into Marathi at the age of fifteen, for the local people.  When he was twenty-two he told his devotees that he was going to take live samadhi. He asked them to dig a hole in the ground. He told them that he would sit and enter meditation and then they were to cover him with dirt. And so they did. This is a kind of samadhi where the consciousness of the saint stays with the body and continues to give blessings to devotees.

Several hundred years after his burial another holy man, Eknath Maharaj, had a dream in which Jnaneshwar told him that he was being choked by the root of a tree. Eknath dug up the grave to find the body warm and alive, although in a trance state. He removed the root that was around his neck and again covered him over. It is believed that he is still alive. I considered this to be an unbelievable story. I cannot think of a worse death than being buried alive.

The temple was crowded with pilgrims from all over India. The line was long as we waited single file. The Brahmin priests ushered us one by one into a small room no bigger than a closet. The floor was dark grey stone polished to a shine from the millions of bare feet that had made their way there. It was hot and the only light came from a small window carved in the stone walls. Two priests chanted mantras as we passed by. In the centre of the floor in line with his head was a square with a black lingam, an esoteric symbol of Shiva, covered in flowers. I looked down and offered some flowers. As my hand came close to the top of it I could feel waves of energy and heat pouring out of it. In my mind I heard a rushing sound like the wind and I fell to my knees. I heard myself muttering, ‘Oh my God, he is alive; he is alive!’

I looked up into the face of the Brahmin priest across from me as he reached out to stop me from falling on top of Jnaneshwar’s head. He was smiling in amused agreement. I unsteadily rose to my feet with his help. I was completely intoxicated. I couldn’t believe it. There was no doubt that his presence was fully there. I consider that one of the most wonderful moments of my spiritual life. Now it is impossible to get that close to Jnaneshwar. I feel fortunate to have had his blessing and darshan.

The next stop was Shirdi, the home of the 20th-century mystic Sai Baba. No one really knows his personal history except that he arrived in Shirdi and took up residence in an abandoned mosque. It soon became obvious that he was a great siddha yogi and devotees gathered around him. Many were cured of illness and attained deep states of meditation. Since then Sai Baba has become a legend and his picture is found in almost every taxi and shop in India. He is renowned for miracles. Women pray to him for sons, fathers for dowries for their daughters, mothers for their sick children, and executives for wealth and power. No wish is too petty or worldly for Sai Baba. He once said, ‘I give them what they want, until they come to want what I have to give them.’

I was astounded by the unabashed voicing of wants and needs in the Indian culture. It used to be difficult for me to articulate what I want and then to ask for it. It somehow never felt quite right, as if my true needs are always being met. Worrying about myself caused an anxiety I avoided. I prefer to pray for others while and hope that if my prayer reaches others, it will touch me also.

We were to spend the night there and were settled in large open rooms with straw mattresses on the floor. The accommodation was rudimentary but the atmosphere wonderfully joyful. We went to evening Arati, prayer, which was held in a small hall that contains a life-size marble statue of Sai Baba. There was energy, enthusiasm and excitement as devotees sang out the Arati, and danced in ecstasy. They were uninhibited and unselfconscious in their expression of love. I watched in admiration at the ease with which they showered their praise and adoration.

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Murti of Sai Baba

After it was over I wandered out to find a toilet. Shirdi was not particularly clean and so I was uncomfortable. I walked into a smelly, damp mud hut with three stalls that had holes dug in the ground. I had become used to squatting and was even beginning to prefer it, but I was not prepared for the filth. I headed for the last stall thinking that maybe it would be the cleanest because it was the furthest away. I walked in and was horrified to discover a dog at the hole eating faeces. I was disgusted and repulsed. He looked up at me. His bright yellow eyes bored into me. Our eyes locked and I heard a voice in my mind, ‘I am ashamed, please don’t hurt me.’

Horrified, I turned and ran out to find another toilet. That night my sleep was restless. I could not free my mind from the image of the dog’s despair and suffering. The next day as we headed for Dehu I felt sick. I got worse as the day wore on and by the time we got there I was so sick I had to be driven back to the ashram. Once back in the ashram I quickly recovered but it was not over. Our first night back Das had a dream in which the dog came to him and attacked him. Das told me that he battled with him in his dream state for what seemed all night and, in the early hours of dawn, was finally able to fight him off.

Baba sometimes spoke about fallen yogis who can get trapped in the body of animals. The next day we agreed that the dog was probably a fallen yogi, trapped in the body of the dog. The dog was experiencing intolerable shame and suffering. To this day I remember the pain in his eyes. It was as if there was a person in there. I will never forget the degradation I felt in that soul. I had experienced the best and worst of India.

Even though Baba’s physical presence is gone, his shakti resonates everywhere. I once heard him say that when he leaves his body he would remain in the hearts of his devotees. I am grateful that he has taken residence in my heart. I have noticed that the disciples who hold to his feet and teachings are radiant with his blessings; their lives are fuller and richer for having him as their Guru.

 

 

 

 

Jay Nityanand!

Jay Nityanand!

Just as camphor is consumed by the flames of fire,
so also, the mind must be consumed by soul-fire.
Bhagavan Nityananda

It’s after 10:00pm before Anjali and I are on our way to Ganeshpuri. Moti, Yusuf and Vinayak, Rosy’s husband, (they own a B&B on the main street) met us at the airport after an easy flight and too much to eat.

Vinayak drives to Ganeshpuri at a speeding pace, with high beams blaring, a new night signal, ‘move over, I want to pass’. There is less horn and more blinking. Oncoming traffic also signals with high beams. We are blinded by the flashing as a river of cars, four lanes across, head into Mumbai.

We make great time and after an hour we turn onto the road to Ganeshpuri. Worst road in the valley, constantly needing repair. What was repaired a while ago has now been washed away in the monsoon. The road is in constant dispute between SYDA and the villagers, so the villagers say. Vinayak slows to a tortoise pace. (But good news! The road is now under a partial repair.)

I feel a sigh of relief as we near Bhagavan’s Samadhi shrine. Bright colourful lights are decorating every corner of Kailas and the temple. Green, orange, blue shimmer together in a kaleidoscope of vibrancy. Ganeshpuri is alive with Shakti.

We are staying at Kothavala. The atmosphere is beautiful, the food delicious and it is close to the temple. The natural hot spring baths are a luxury. Rarely does the clamour of village life reach here. It is meditative and restorative. The gardens are a haven for Satsang when the big group comes. But now, even though it is 12.30am, Anu, our host, greets us with a hug and a garland. This is our Ganeshpuri home.

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Anjali and I at the Ganesh temple on the hill above the village.

I woke up early on my first morning and went to the temple. The new blond curtains were still closed. Apparently Bhagavan needed some repair and is being lovingly restored. Some say that the fertilizer from the garlands has caused a little erosion and tiny holes on his body. Others say it was from the milk, honey and sugar used for the pujas. Nonetheless, restoration was necessary. The priests tell me that Bhagavan will be revealed in a few hours.

Later Anjali and I are walking down the main road when we see Maharaj, Swami Nityananda coming toward us. He greets us with a lot of love and humour. We briefly chat and go with him as he heads for the temple. We walk up the back steps. Maharaj walks through the silver gate into the Samadhi. We sit down just behind.

A yagna, a fire ceremony with many priests, a dancing saptah, and other festivities have been going on all week. The unveiling of Bhagavan includes a pranapratishta, an enlivening ceremony. The Brahmins chant mantras that breathe life into Bhagavan, just in case he has lost some during the restoration. To me the Shakti in the temple is as strong as it always has been.

We chant for a while and then Bhagavan is revealed. It is a surprise. His body is now dark brown, perhaps it is more like he was when he was in his body.  But under the orange lights he glows with a beautiful reddish hue. The gold has been relegated to the past. I imagine Bhagavan is happier without the metal covering him. I like this new image. More the avadhut, and less the sultan. He seems more intimate, warmer, friendlier and approachable.

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Bhagavan in all his new glory (with Prasadji in the background).

An exquisite happiness descends in me. It is not the happiness of a desire being fulfilled or a task accomplished or for some other mundane reason. In this moment I am fulfilled, joyful, content, peaceful and happy. I wish the whole world could share in the experience of Bhagavan’s Shakti. What a blessing to have found this yoga! What a blessing to have the Guru! What a blessing to be sitting here now in his presence communing with God’s grace!

I wish that his power to awaken spreads around the world. I wish everyone could do his divine work. I wish that his blessings find all who are grieving and uplift them. I wish that he turns everyone to God and all suffering ends.

The chanting continued for about an hour and ended with Sri Kanth (a temple priest) and Swami Nityananda, waving lights to the Nityananda Arati. Then we were ushered into the Samadhi and allowed to take darshan. We are not allowed to touch Bhagavan, but we can see his smiling radiance as we pass and do a standing pranam.

 

Anjali and I were not supposed to be here for the enlivening. We were meant to be in Varanasi for a few days before coming to Ganeshpuri. Oddly, the dates for our accommodation did not work out, so here we are. We found ourselves in the middle of this amazing ceremony with a front row view, while hundreds are outside waiting for a mere glimpse. I am grateful for the blessings moving within me.

Guruji is not with us on this trip. Next year we will be coming back sometime in January with a big group. The villagers ask about him, send him love and acknowledge the impact he has had on the village since we first began making these trips. They miss him and are eager to have his Darshan. Anjali and I make sure to give him daily telephone reports of village life, people’s greetings and events. These conversations add a lot of joy to our visit.

Guruji has an intuitive sensitivity to the pulse of the village and its people. He is a genius at making relationship with everyone and sustaining relationship. These relationships are genuine, spiritual and loving. Although some began in the act of commerce, over the years they have deepened. Ganeshpuri has become our second ashram and the villagers our spiritual family.

Gurudev Siddha Peeth, Baba’s ashram, is abuzz with activity. Not only is there a retreat going on, but I have heard that there is painting, cleaning and a general upgrade. When we get to Guru Gita on Sunday morning I see that Baba’s perch is now a beautiful polished white marble. The courtyard is peaceful and I remember that this was my favourite place to sit with Baba.

As I walk through the village bits of gossip reach my ears. A rumour is whispered that Gurumayi will visit in March (the gossip says this every year) and that she may open the doors of the ashram for longer periods. I notice that her devotees are in the shops, smiling and making contact. This is new. Usually they keep to themselves and are unlikely to say hello. But the next day I find three on my doorstep waiting to meet me.

After introductions, two are from Switzerland, and one from Germany, they ask how I met Baba. I tell my story. They tell how they met Gurumayi. Their devotion is contagious and I feel affection toward her. In Baba’s day, I felt close to her, admired her and loved her. Her devotion to Baba was inspirational. Some painful things happened and those feelings faded into the background as a subtle distrust overshadowed them. Love was not lost, just put on the back burner. Now it glimmers as a flickering flame of possibility.

One of my guests mentions that Gurumayi’s New Year’s message for 2018 was “Satsang”. They tell me that she has asked her devotees to be in Satsang wherever they find themselves. It seems that meeting me is part of their mission to fulfil her wish. I am pleased. We have loving Satsang as we speak about the Guru and at the end of our shares they leave. I am left with a feeling of hope that somehow reconciliation between all of the Siddha families could happen.

After they leave I go to the temple to meditate. As I become familiar with the new Bhagavan it feels as though this could be the beginning of a new era. Bhagavan is dressed simply with only a few flowers and decorative puja items. Gone is the pomp of his glory as emperor. Now he is more the simple sadhu. The great yogi who arrived in Ganeshpuri with nothing but a loin cloth has re-emerged.

The Shakti pours out of him as usual, and he smiles at me as I sit with him. Of course, if anyone can dissolve separation and restore oneness, Bhagavan can. Maybe this era will include a coming together of all of Baba’s devotees and disciples. For everyone to meet under the umbrella of Baba’s grace would be a miracle of love.

I am neither a beggar nor a king.

I am neither a beggar nor a king.

Every Saturday evening in Satsang Swamiji gives teachings from his favourite great beings.  These great beings have much in common even though their paths vary. Some focus on the wisdom aspect of yoga, some on devotion, some on meditation, some on service and some on intense practice. But, they all have one thing in common. They emphasise knowing the Self and loving and accepting ourselves.

During these programs the devotees come up to greet both of us. Traditionally this is called darshan. I think of it as saying hello and if blessings or shakti is transmitted it is by the miracle of Guru’s grace. I receive something too–lots of love and joy. No small thing in a world beset by desires that cannot be assuaged by love.

Often I meet people who haven’t come to Satsang in a while and I ask, ‘where have you been’. Very often they answer ‘I have been in a bad space. I have been hating myself. I have felt unworthy.’

Surprising answers and ones that give me pause and tear at my heart. I encourage them to come when they feel that way knowing that Satsang will put them in touch with the Shakti which will ease their suffering.

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Darshan is always uplifting.

Self-hatred is a poison, it is our worst enemy spiritually and personally. It is the most debilitating thinking the mind creates.

The other day an ashramite came to see me and said, ‘I hate myself, I never feel good enough.’ I immediately thought of Swamiji’s story about an answer to a question he asked Baba during his time in Ganeshpuri in the seventies. His ego was troubling him. He was having thoughts that depleted his shakti and hurt him. Baba said, ‘Do not think you are a king or a beggar. Think, “I am Shiva; I am the Self.”

Swamiji’s demand is that we hold to the space of the Self. As he says, ‘the clear space of good feeling.’ Or, as Bhagavan says, bhavano rakho, maintain the good feeling. Swamiji encourages us to forgive every slight, every hurt, every pain, in every moment. Inwardly we let go of the temptation to blame and attack others for what they didn’t say to us, or give us, didn’t treat us well enough or honour us enough. When we cannot let go of this thinking love turns to poison within. And, in this state the mind creates good reasons to escalate enmity.

To watch someone in the grip of hatred, whether of themselves or another is painful, hurtful and frustrating. When people turn away from the Guru, from the Self, from Satsang it is as painful for the ones who are left as it is for the one leaving.

The heartbreak is especially poignant when that person has been a loving and close companion for many years. How is it that a mind can turn negative so quickly and without warning? How is it that someone who said they love you suddenly becomes an enemy? How is it that love suddenly turns to judgment? This is a great mystery.

To maintain good feeling sounds simple, but after all these years of sadhana I see that it is always possible to fall prey to a sense of unworthiness. Just because we have been meditating and doing practices for years we can still be vulnerable to destructive behaviour and negative thinking.

Bhagavan Nityananda once said, ‘it’s all dust!’ In time the material world, including our bodies become dust. I think he is reminding us that nothing is worth fighting about. To focus on that which is peaceful and loving and not on dissatisfaction requires a commitment to our own loving heart. Instead of venting anger we hold to a higher value like compassion and wisdom. I have always held the Guru as a beacon of love that never fades, never withdraws, and never wavers.

We will confront events that seem unforgivable, or that do not bring peace. These events  destabilise our life and relationships. If we succumb to the pain and do not dissolve it into Consciousness then we get stuck in the moment the pain happened, forever frozen in a memory of suffering.

The great beings forgive the unforgivable. It is their power of unconditional love that attracts weary and broken hearted seekers. They hold to that which is eternal, loving and wise. Their interests are not of this world but the world of Consciousness. They are not concerned whether a person is high born or not, whether a person is rich or poor, whether a person is sick or well, whether a person is the ‘right type.’ They are only interested in the spiritual well-being of each individual that comes before them. To see, hear and watch how the great beings love, teaches us to love the same way.

Swami Muktananda writes poetically on love:

Just as the earth remains the same no matter who comes and goes on it, so true love remains unchanging and independent. Love penetrates your entire being. Love is Consciousness.