The hospital was the last place I wanted to go. But the pain was so debilitating and overwhelming, I forced myself.
With so many people around the world dying, dealing with a kidney stone might not seem like much. And so, I ignored the symptoms too long for fear of COVID and spreading it to my fellow ashramites, especially Swamiji. I think I was foolish, albeit protective, but caused myself more suffering than necessary.
I am grateful it was not something more serious.
Melbourne is one of the hardest hit cities in Australia–doctors, nurses and other staff are under the gun 24/7. I was impressed and reassured by their care and concern in both hospitals I went to. They are on purpose in their protocols for saving lives.
It is strange that right now many friends and colleagues around me have been diagnosed, not with COVID, but with serious health issues: one with terminal cancer, one had a heart attack, another has breast cancer and others with minor but concerning health issues.
It must be something in the stars.
During my stay, when my mind was engrossed in pain, it was almost impossible to remember the Self. I grabbed the mantra and refused to let go of it as I was being probed and poked by tests and procedures that seemed like violations. The mantra took me beyond the body to a place where what was happening seemed like a dream.
Eventually, with strong medication the pain subsided and I was freed from the agony without ecstasy.
I can understand now why Baba encouraged young people to do sadhana. When health deteriorates, even for a long time yogi like myself, it is a challenge to remember the highest:
The great yogis say that this universe came into being through the word. However, we can attain the highest knowledge of reality by the use of words. When we wish to go beyond creation, beyond the mundane, then the word of mantra becomes the vehicle.
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.
This is a talk I gave at an Intensive about the value of Shaktipat. I remember my Shaktipat as the greatest gift I could ever receive.
Of all the buddhas who have ever attained enlightenment, not a single one accomplished this without relying upon a master. And, of all the thousand buddhas who will appear in this eon, none of them will attain enlightenment without relying on a master.
One of my greatest joys in life is to watch people awaken to the Shakti and then watch their lives transform. Over the years thousands of people have walked through the doors of the Ashram and awakened to Guru’s grace. I have watched sadness become love, I have seen anger dissolve into forgiveness and fear become faith.
And so I always look forward to Intensives because at its heart is shaktipat, the kundalini awakening. If we want to make lasting progress on the path, then we need to awaken the inner energy. Awakening connects us to both the inner and outer guru. Spiritually, this is the most important relationship we can cultivate. The Guru understands how to navigate the complex mystery of the mind and the emotions–the tendency to create rhythms that lead us astray. If we can make the relationship with the Self and the Guru work, then we can make all of our relationships work.
In the early 70s when Guruji first published the Siddha Path magazine, Baba Muktananda said of him, “he has the power to make people experience the divine presence.” When I first met him in the 70s, before he was a guru or a swami, he had a beautiful light around him. I didn’t know what it was that shone so brightly in him until later, when I learned that it was the Shakti, the divine energy from his devotion to his Guru, Baba Muktananda.
Where does this ability come from in him and other great gurus? The great beings say that whatever they have attained, it is due to their Guru’s grace. Devotion to the Guru bears worldly and spiritual blessings. And, it is a disciple’s love and faith in the Guru that sustains the Shakti.
Guruji’s discipleship to Baba, was the burning ground of his spiritual development. He faced his anger, his fear, his despair, his restlessness, his jealousy, and his self-doubt, everything that was in the way of making a permanent connection to the Self. At the end of his journey he felt at one with Baba.
When Baba sent him away to run the first American ashram in ’74, Baba continually told him, “run Intensives.” and every time he saw Guruji, Baba asked him, “are you holding Intensives?” This work helped him realise what and who he was in the deepest sense, and who he wanted to become. Baba, was always there, sometimes lovingly, sometimes ferociously preparing him for the service of awakening and guiding others to their own Self.
Many yogis do not have the great good fortune to meet a Guru who can easily awaken the inner Shakti. Recently I read a Chapter in Guruji’s memoir on his time in India when he studied Hatha yoga, with the great teacher Hari Dass Baba, who played a major role in his search for a guru. At one point Hari Dass suggested he try to awaken his inner energy.(Sadly, Hari Dass Baba passed away on September 25 at the age of 95.)
From his notes with Hari Dass, Swamiji writes:
One day Hari Dass takes me aside and tells me, ‘You need something subtle.’ He speaks to me about the branch of yoga closest to his heart, kundalini, the divine inner power. The word kundalini has an intoxicating effect on me. The idea that there is an untapped potential within me, a mysterious power, meshes with my own intuition.
Hari Dass’ notes give a number of methods of awakening kundalini. This is the first:
‘Sit on an asan. Do dhyan of triangle at muladhara. This triangle is like a fire. Kundalini is sleeping here winding around the bhu-linga. When muladhar becomes clear in dhyana, then do pranayama and do kumbhak and apply jalandar bandha and mool bandha. The breath inside will be pushed inside to the muladhara and will hit the head of kundalini. Think that as you are hitting the kundalini it is raising its head upwards. Daily practise will awaken kundalini.’
Hari Dass tells me to practise the Shakti chalini mudra to get the awakening. This is how that mudra is described in my notes:
‘Sit in a room all alone in sidhasana. Inhale breath slowly. Stop breath. Pull anus several times. The apan vayu will climb up and will unite with this breath at manipur.’
Manipur is the third, or navel chakra, and the meaning of the text is that the pranic energy is to be pulled up from the base chakra to the navel regional’s. The marvellous injunction to ‘pull anus several times’ referee to the classical practice of moola bhandha. In it, the anus, or more properly the perineum, is contracted and pulled upwards. There are two more of these bhandhas, or locks, one at the stomach and one at the throat. A Hatha yogi often practises them simultaneously, locking up his energy system by their application in order to experience higher states of consciousness.
After receiving this instruction, I set to work. Every morning I sit by the Ganges to meditate, visualising the pranic energy moving from the region of the anus to the navel. After some days, I think I can feel a movement in the lower part of my body. Am I imagining it or is it real? Still, there is no major experience, no explosion of mystic power.
I am intensely frustrated. I know that the Indian mind is very different from the Western one. Can the concept of kundalini be some sort of Hindu hyperbole? Can quintessentially rational man get his leaden apparatus off the ground? I begin to doubt it.
I bring my doubts to Hari Dass. He encourages me and tells me that everything happens little by little. He gives me a new technique, mahabandha. In meditation, I am to inhale and hold my breath, then apply the moola bandha and udyana bandha. Now I raise my buttocks and strike them twenty times firmly on the floor, then exhale slowly. Now I inhale again and pull my anus and navel together several times, then repeat the whole process. First, I do three repetitions, then five, and then ten.
I enjoy the practice and the challenge and while I feel that I am making some sort of progress, I still have not achieved irrefutable proof that the kundalini power is real.
Guruji’s work with Hari Dass prepared him for shaktipat and it finally happened spontaneously one afternoon when he looked into Baba’s eyes and the Shakti, was transmitted. As Guruji has said, “This moment was a moment of, ‘two wires sparking each other.'”
How easy! This kindled a lifetime of devotion, obedience, passion and service to the Guru.
Likewise, Baba awakened by Bhagavan Nityananda’s grace. He writes how one afternoon Bhagavan transmitted shaktipat by looking into his eyes when he gave Baba a pair of his sandals. As he made his way home the energy intensified. He writes:
As I came out of the hall, I kept raising the sandals to my head. I ate the vegetables he gave me, one by one, and smelt the flowers he had given me. The smoothness, the beauty, and the magnificence of the shawl he had given me, delighted me. My mind, that had been still in his presence, now became active. But, there was none of the dryness, the frustration, the frivolity, the anguish, the depression, the stupidity or anxiety that there had been in the rush of my thoughts.
Instead, there was ecstasy, rapture, zeal and enthusiasm. As my thoughts sped past. I remembered the Gurupadukashtakam: by his Grace I was healed, and the pain of many births was gone.
From this story we can see that the Guru’s grace, or Shakti is intelligent, compassionate, and loving. Even though it happens in God’s time, the Shakti is independent and moves freely through each of us.
The Shakti wakes us up; She shows us the Guru, the Self, or Consciousness as a divine presence. She gives us the great gift of experiencing the eternal; to experience the eternal is no ordinary experience.
After shaktipat meditation deepens and we may experience inner planes we haven’t explored before. We no longer need to be afraid of our inner world. We discover that there is nothing but our own Self in there. Our own inner world is full of the beauty and wonder of our own Self. Doubt fades as inner certainty grows in the Shakti.
It is true that there is work to be done. Shakti purifies and activates the mind and emotions—and sometimes they can run amok torturing us. She can bring up past hurts, present hurts, or the fear of future hurts. But always, She works to heal, restore, replenish and free. She brings unconscious suffering to the light and transforms it. But the Guru also gives us the antidote to suffering: meditation, mantra, teachings, and Satsang to calm inner turmoil.
If we surrender to the process of the unfolding Shakti and do not resist the movement of Her flow then we become illumined by Her grace. As Shakti releases tension in the body and strengthens it by sending energy to all of the organs and subtle nerves we can feel an immediate difference. She moves through the subtle body towards blocks and contraction with the intention to free us. As Her devotees, we observe, watch, and witness.
When we receive the divine spark from the Guru, we will have experiences according to our nature.
If we are intellectually oriented the Shakti will strengthen the intellect. Insight and understanding can arise. Confusion, dryness and fear will subside the meditator will begin to understand more subtle ideas. Satisfactory answers to baffling questions can be revealed. The mind begins to have faith in the process of the inner flow and mystery of divinity.
A devotional or feeling person will begin to experience sublime love. Sadness and despair will wane. The heart will open and love for one’s self, for humanity and the desire to serve will arise. The mind becomes absorbed in love and becomes one-pointed and focused. The negative thoughts that focus on a lack of love, now feel love is possible–love of self and love of others.
A vital or doing person might experience the dissolving of cravings and the need for pleasure as the Shakti moves through the body. Anger will lessen as satisfaction is found in higher understanding. The desire to exercise and become fit may arise. He or she may feel the strength to give up addictions to food, drugs, sex or other habits that sap vitality. Creativity and inspiration flow as meditation becomes a daily practice.
In the late 70s when I was living in the Los Angeles ashram helping prepare for Baba’s visit there I was struggling in my relationship with two friends. One was working on media program. Guruji would go on radio and television interviews to talk about Baba’s forthcoming visit to LA. The other, a former college teacher, was a friend from Ann Arbor. She booked talks for Guruji at universities, colleges, clubs and other places. At my suggestion she had come to LA from Oakland to specifically do this work.
They were united in their work for Baba and that made me happy. However, they both became very cold toward me. They excluded me from conversations. When I went to say hello to them in their office, they gave me the cold shoulder. Inwardly I withdrew my support and love.
After months of feeling separate, I became furious and jealous. One afternoon I asked them if we could talk. I had a difficult time articulating how I felt. I stammered a few statements about not being included. The more I tried to speak the more my heart was in turmoil, the more alienated I felt and the more withdrawn they became. I realised I could not restore intimacy this way.
I wondered if it was all in my mind. I realised it was my problem. I went upstairs to my room, lay down on my bed and prayed to Baba for help. My attention became focused on my heart chakra. There was a knot of tension, the size of a baseball, sitting there. The ache was intense and I began to cry. As I became more focused the contraction grew worse. I was angry, sorry for myself, jealous, and afraid. I felt betrayed and grief welled up in me. I found it difficult to breathe and I began to hyperventilate. ‘Please Baba,’ I prayed, ‘take this away.’
It seemed to go on for hours but it was probably about twenty minutes later that I felt a subtle crack in the tension in my heart, as though it was breaking. As the crack widened I detected a ray of light coming from the top of my head. It flowed down my third eye, into my throat and then my heart. There was a milky veil around my heart. It was like a fish net that trapped and held my negative reactions. I could feel my resistance to letting them go; and so they could not escape. Every time a bad feeling arose the fish wiggled and squirmed. Every imagined slight, every frustration from feeling left out, was flapping about in my heart. And, not just from this situation but from other similar ones. As I watch and acknowledged my hurt the tension and negativity began to ease. I said to myself: I am hurt; I am jealous; I am angry.
As I became conscious of my feelings my heart warmed and brightened. The ball of tension slowly unravelled. Emotions still played but they were no longer trapped. I watched them without feeling overwhelmed. My inner being softened, as the energy moved; it flowed in and out of my heart. The net dissolved and after a few minutes I was free of tension. I lay there basking and relieved in my new found peace and relief.
I knew that those types of feelings might still arise, but I also knew that my heart would never nurse them again in the same way. This was a profound moment. From then on I was able to let go of hurt, most of the time, as it arose and not let it ruin my experience of myself for days at a time. Only occasionally did it take me awhile to get over feelings like these, and it was hours rather than days.
This is the power of Shaktipat and meditation.
Once, in Ganeshpuri, I went to meditate at Baba Muktananda’s Samadhi shrine. I experience him often as Shakti, as love, as power, but I don’t often hear from him with words. This time he spoke to me while I was meditating.
He said, ‘talk about the lineage, talk about it all the time in everything you do.’ It was a definite inner command, not to be ignored. It is a great joy to talk about the Gurus of the Siddha tradition. Siddha means ‘perfect’ but perfect does not refer to the person rather it refers to a state of Consciousness, born from discipleship.
People do themselves a great disservice by thinking that ‘the age of the guru is dead’. They deprive themselves and others of a rare experience. True Gurus are knowers of the truth. They calm a restless mind and heal a broken heart. They transmit the experience of cosmic Consciousness. They guide us toward our highest potential–becoming everything we can and want to be. They give us what we truly want and need. They never abandon us. They transmit divine energy. They point us to the authentic Self.
In Play of Consciousness Baba writes:
Realisation of God is possible only through a Guru. Illuminated with knowledge, the Guru is a descendant of the Absolute. We should acquire the sublime grace of such a Guru, for until the Kundalini Shakti is awakened by the Guru’s grace, our inner light does not shine, the inner eye of divine knowledge does not open, and our state of bondage cannot be lifted. To develop inwardly, to attain divinity, and to arrive at the state of Parashiva, a guide is absolutely necessary—a Sadguru who knows the truth perfectly, who has spiritual power. The glory of the Guru is full of mystery and is supremely divine. He gives a new birth to everyone, he gives them the experience of knowledge, he shows them sadhana (spiritual practice) and makes them lovers of God.
The first time I meditated was also the first time I met Baba. I was invited to meet him as part of a psychology group. I was curious as I walked into the room. Baba was sitting on a small sofa, answering questions. The room was alive and still at the same time. His bright orange clothes blazed warmth in the fall chill. As I sat down I glanced up at him. Our eyes met and although no words were spoken, I felt welcomed. There was laughter as he told a story. He said that everyone had an inner Self and that happiness could be found within. As he spoke I felt an inner pull and my attention was drawn to close my eyes. The room faded as I grew drowsy and the last thing I remember is my head falling forward. I came back to the room with a start to Danny poking me on the shoulder. Time had passed. I did not want to leave but we had to pick up a friend at the airport.
Now my meditation is different. Occasionally I have deep samadhi experiences but more usual now is to make contact with myself. I sit with myself and watch my own Consciousness and what I hold in awareness. I encourage you to:
Be with yourself.
Explore your Consciousness.
Get to know yourself.
See how your mind works.
Let your mind become quiet.
Make contact with yourself.
Let the play of thought and feeling pass through your mind without grabbing them.
Baba once said, ‘Love of Self is cultivated by meditation.’
Of course if the mind bothers you and refuses to quiet there is the mantra. In Play of Consciousness, Baba writes about his mantra initiation from Bhagavan:
When he told me repeat ‘Om Namah Shivaya, all is Om’ ‘Shivo’ham, I am Shiva’, he gave me the undying message of Shiva the immortal Lord. …This great supreme and radiant mantra of Parashiva destroyed the innumerable sounds that had been rising in the space within my heart since time without end, making me wander through endless births and rebirths. He had destroyed the endless array of impure feelings, the lust, the anger, the delusion arising from the notion of ‘I and mine’. He had transmitted into my heart that might mantra, which is entirely Shiva, filled with the light of Consciousness, forever rising, luminous embodying the truth of ‘I am perfect,’ the transcendent word of Shakti. In the flames of his grace, he had burned away the accumulated sins and karmic impressions of birth after birth….
If asked what did Guruji receive from Baba I can say with confidence, ‘he received Baba’s heart’. Once in India, we visited the father of Gurumayi and Swami Nityananda. He was a devotee of Bhagavan Nityananda and Baba. His father glanced at Guruji saying, ‘he carries Nityananda’s light.’
It’s winter. I look out my office window. The orange flag on top of the meditation hall is blowing forcefully. There is a lot of activity outside considering the weather is unappealing. Dark rainy and cold, it is the worst winter I have seen here. Of course, it seems mild compared to Canadian winters where I trod through the snow freezing and felt cold even in down jackets. My dad used to drag us to the mountains. I wished that I liked to ski but I could never get used to the cold.
If I didn’t know better I would think I was melancholy. Well, maybe I am a little. But that is fine. I would rather feel melancholy than angry, or scared. I am at home in this space. It is familiar. I know that melancholy arises when I am brooding about the past. I only indulge for a while and then move on.
I don’t struggle anymore to change my state unless it is unbearable. That has happened a few times this past year. I experienced states of unhappiness that I thought I would never feel again. Life is full of surprises. And these past four years are testimony to that.
I have watched material things being torn away from me. Truly, I felt little grief at their loss. More painful was the shock I felt from the anger and hatred directed at me, and the ashram by former friends and students. My love for them seems to have gone unnoticed.
As I look back at my life I find it interesting that I have been hurt more brutally by women than men. The men in my life have hurt me in the usual way, but the women tried to destroy my life. How to talk about that? I probably can’t. Suffice to say only that.
One who loves his own Self loves the whole world.
At this time of year my thoughts turn toward Baba Muktananda as his solar and lunar birthday come around. Born May 16, 1908, he lived a yogi’s life; it was was full, rich, filled with Shakti and mystical. He served humanity until his last breath. I cherish my time with him and every encounter I had. Below is one of them.
In July or August of 1979 Baba sent Swamiji to Los Angeles, California to run the ashram there in preparation for his visit in 1981. Until then he had been head of the Ann Arbor ashram with Girija, his wife. It was a thriving spiritual community. Swamiji was a guru to many devotees and the ashram reflected their devotion.
This was a sudden and unexpected decision by Baba. I was devastated, as were many others. It was unfathomable that Swamiji would not return to Ann Arbor.
After a few weeks and much thinking, I got up the courage to write Baba a letter in the hope that he would give me permission to join him. I told him that I loved Swamiji, that he was my guru, and that I missed him.
Baba’s response was a short and decisive teaching, ‘you should learn to love everyone; love universally, not specifically.’
Unfortunately, I knew Baba was right and that I was too attached to Swamiji. But, the pain of separation was an agony that I did not want to live with. I accepted Baba’s directive but there was an uncomfortable angst in my heart.
My seva at the time was coordinating the Siddha Path magazine with Swamiji. It chronicled Baba’s travels around the world and helped devotees at home keep in touch with Baba. I supervised the production and made sure it met deadlines. It was a big seva and becoming bigger, as every day we had more and more subscribers. One morning in meditation I realized that it was impossible to run the magazine with Swamij, if he was in LA and I was in Ann Arbor.
I again wrote Baba and asked, ‘Baba how can I do my seva on the magazine while Swamiji is in LA?’
One day, about a week later, the ashram receptionist ran up to me, ‘Baba’s on the phone, he wants to speak to you!’
I was so excited. His attendant Noni was on the other end of the line, but I could hear Baba shouting in the background, ‘Baba says you should go immediately to Los Angeles.’ Within two days Das, my husband at the time, who also helped with the magazine, and I were on our way. We arrived before Baba had a chance to inform the devotees in LA and he was surprised when he found out we were there.
We had been in LA for some months when Baba’s tour arrived in Oakland, Northern California. The hard-working ashramites had transformed an old brothel into a beautiful urban refuge. Back then Oakland was a poor, mainly black suburb. There were homeless people, addicts and alcoholics wandering the streets. Cars were burgled regularly. This did not stop devotees from buying the neighbouring dilapidated houses. The community was buzzing with renovations.
One afternoon I was walking away from lunch when Swami Samatananda approached me. He told me Baba wanted to see me. I was excited and scared. At that moment Das appeared.
He took us to a darshan room where Baba conducted business across a small courtyard at the back of the ashram.
When we walked into the room I noticed Amma, Baba’s secretary, and some other staff who worked on ashram publications were there. We pranamed, (bowed) to Baba and when I looked up at him I went into ecstasy.
Bowing was a custom I had become used to during my time in India. While there, I had noticed that not only did the Indian devotees throw themselves at Baba’s feet with great ardour, often almost tripping him as he walked by, but also young adults bowed to their parents and grandparents as a sign of respect. There is a mysterious bliss in showing devotion by bowing.
Baba picked up a copy of the Siddha Path, which was sitting next to him and said, ‘Don’t put my picture on the cover anymore. People think we are a cult.’
We always put a picture of Baba on the cover of the magazine. Then he held up a copy of an Indian publication that Amma produced. It had a picture of the Ganeshpuri Ashram on the cover. ‘You can put a picture like this on it. No more of me’, he commanded.
‘Okay Baba’, I said. Amma giggled.
The Jim Jones murder-suicide in Guyana had just been reported. I thought that maybe he had been plagued by questions about this tragedy. He was often asked about cults, but in this climate no answer would satisfy a fearful parent. His reply to questions on cults was usually something like, ‘This is the religion of man. We worship the Self. I want you to learn to love and honour your own Self, not another person.’
‘Did you get a job? ’ Baba asked me.
‘No Baba’, I said. I was proud of my new suit that I thought seemed more ‘professional.’ I often met with people who worked on the magazine and thought my way of dressing was appropriate.
I sensed Baba’s disapproval but it wasn’t enough for him to bust me. My bliss increased.
‘I have had a lot of complaints about you’, said Baba. ‘People are writing me about you’, he added, holding up a sheaf of letters. Swamiji had told me that Baba hated hearing complaints about others, unless he wanted to know something. I was reassured by that thought.
‘You should welcome others with love’, said Baba.
I was uncertain how to reply. I understood that Baba was trying to teach me something. Even though his manner was gruff, I did not feel anger, only love. Baba was speaking directly to a chronic fear of strangers, my shyness, my inability to talk to people I did not know, and what I thought was a social ineptness.
‘Baba’, I said, ‘I don’t know how.’
He thought for a moment. And then he gave me a profound teaching.
‘You should be like me. Do what I do. Every night I greet people. I ask, “What is your name? Where do you come from? What do you do?” You should be just like me and do just what I do.’
I was overjoyed. ‘Okay Baba’, I said as I basked in his love and attention.
‘Here,’ he said, ‘they are just jealous, but you should welcome everyone’ and he threw the letters at me.
Ever since that moment I have used Baba’s welcome formula. Now I am comfortable in social situations when I meet new people. And, when we returned to LA I made an effort to welcome others, including the women who wrote the letters to Baba.
At the ashram I was a ‘busy ashramite’, and did not think of myself as part of the ‘welcome committee.’ It did not occur to me that others needed to be put at ease in Baba’s ashram. I always felt so comfortable, so natural in Baba’s ashrams, even though I shied away from people. His welcome formula was a spiritual and personal breakthrough. And, I also learned that a smile is the most welcoming greeting.
For the second time Baba encouraged me to ‘love everyone.’ This was becoming a theme in my spiritual growth. Baba’s adage, ‘See God in everyone’ epitomised the way he was. His gift of welcome was the capacity to greet each person he met as if they were the only one in a crowded hall of thousands.
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.
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.
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.
This is a video from an introductory talk at our last Intensive by Greg Cester. Greg owns three businesses, helps raise three children and still finds time to devote himself to spiritual practice. He is full of love and passion for the Guru and the path.
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.
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.
What follows is an excerpt from Part I: Personal Inquiry in Swami Shankarananda’s book “Self-inquiry: Using your awareness to unblock your life. His method of Self-inquiry bridges the gap between the inner and outer worlds. Swamiji teaches that when our lives are blocked or confusing we can investigate, recognise and uplift the tension and stress that shows up in four chakras. If practiced with the intention to become free of negative emotion, there will be a return to peace and harmony.
All paths end in inquiry. Why not pursue inquiry from the beginning? Sri Ramana Maharshi
Real inquiry marries the head and heart. Thought, which has been wandering in its own bloodless world, feeding on itself, is connected to feeling. And like two wires touched together, a spark of energy occurs. Inquiry is also the conjunction of the personal and impersonal. The ancient yogic paths emphasised the impersonal. They insisted that this world does not exist and you are not a separate person.
In Indian culture, you are expected to fit into your particular role in life, your caste, your stage of life. You are to do your duty and any deviation is tantamount to insanity. The single social option to the non-conformist is the possibility of renouncing the world and heading off to the Himalayas to be a wandering monk.
In the West, on the contrary, we hear everywhere the cry, ‘What about me?’ We are obsessed with our individuality and our individual expression. The West is totally focused on the person. In India, the yoga is impersonal, connected to the highest truth, caring little for the person. One must maintain an appropriate silence about personal problems and simply do sadhana and one’s duty.
Yoga says that within each person, in the subtle body, are seven yogic centres, seven chakras, which have to do with different aspects of life. The three lower chakras govern the physical life; the heart chakra is the locus of emotional life; the fifth chakra, in the throat,has to do with communication; the third eye, the sixth chakra, is the place of intellect and higher wisdom. Here we have insights and visions but we are still within the personal realm. When you go beyond the sixth chakra to the seventh, at the crown of the head, you contact a different aspect of yourself. It is transpersonal; the dimension of the impersonal Self.
Western psychology was traditionally unaware of this dimension. In the past 30 years, however, a ‘transpersonal psychology’ has developed, acknowledging that divine, impersonal aspect. Jung knew of it but Freud did not. It exists within all of us, represented by the seventh chakra. What should we make of this knowledge of a higher reality? The first impulse is to try to override the person with the impersonal. A noble goal, but significantly difficult to attain. I tried to achieve it: I threw myself on the altar of impersonality again and again. Each time, the person returned. That the higher power does exist is beyond doubt, but the mystical play between the personal and impersonal has to be discovered.
My Guru seemed to me to be a man who was in cosmic awareness. He was always connected to the Self, and never unconnected. Yet, he was also very much a person. He wasn’t like some of the mind-borne ‘holy men’: ‘Hello my son, at last you have come . . .’ He wasn’t like that at all. He was completely vibrant and immediate and totally himself—to an alarming degree, in fact. He was a unique combination of the personal and the impersonal. He was a force of nature, all right. Like a stone rolling down a hill, and loving it.
Self-inquiry connects the personal with the impersonal. It respects the person. It doesn’t try to kill the person, but it also acknowledges the transpersonal. It seeks connectedness so that the person flowers within the impersonal and discovers the impersonal within. A life without the impersonal is dry and empty. You want the universe to flow towards your personal advantage, but, alas, the universe is indifferent. What chance does the poor little person have? The whole universe is arranged to frustrate or be indifferent to your desires. There is no joy in being merely a person.
You are so blinded by what is personal,
that you do not see the universal. The blindness will not end by itself—
it must be undone skillfully and deliberately. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Sometimes we feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. It might be a political movement, or even a crowd cheering for a team at a football game. It is a rewarding and liberating feeling. Our individuality dissolves in the group, and, at the same time, participates actively. But when the event is over or we leave the group for some reason, we feel a kind of loss—we’ve returned to the merely personal. Such an experience is only temporary, but it is a taste of something real and intrinsic to our true Self. We are actually part of something greater, and when we live in harmony with it, our stress and fear fade away.
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.
Self-inquiry seeks to unblock all areas of life: health, career, relationship and spirituality.
Some more thoughts on Self-inquiry:
Blocks are tensions in our inner world.
Desire and fear create blocks.
There is one subject and many objects.
First force initiates, second force resists, third force enables.
Second force as blocked inner feeling is the main focus of inquiry.
Right method increases third force.
Self-inquiry harmonises our thinking, feeling and doing.
Wisdom power is where thought and feeling merge.
Everything undergoes five processes: creation, sustainment, dissolution, concealment and grace.
Concealment is the universal principle of separation.
Grace is the universal principle of oneness.
Our encounters in life are marked by emotion.
Our negative reactions are stored inside and may reappear later.
A yogi burns negative reactions to sameness with Consciousness.
Truth has a feeling of harmony and peace.
Self-inquiry is the main instrument in the wisdom path, yet it includes devotion.
Shiva Process Self-inquiry focuses on the higher Self.
Western sages are few and far between. One of Guruji’s favourites from the last century, is the mystic master GI Gurdjieff. His teachings dovetail beautifully with meditation and yoga. Gurdjieff has many yogic practices but one unique articulation is, ‘think from the work, and not from life‘. To keep your spiritual values alive means to keep a ‘truthful focus.’ When we think from life then we live in fear of loss–our possessions, our relationships, our security. We are anxious all the time.
Gurdjieff encourages us to avoid letting the mind become absorbed in mundane matters that bring up ego–likes and dislikes, jealousy, tearing thoughts, anger, self-preservation, pride, and other emotions. Most sages agree that it is our negative reactions to outer events that create our experience of life. Our painful reactions are ego, manifesting as negative emotion. Ego separates us from the heart, from love and from the Self. The first step in shifting the mind from the mundane to the mystical is to look within.
Gurdjieff called on his students to ‘work’ on themselves. He encourages them to evaluate all choices and decisions against the highest choice, Self-remembering. If we can hold to the highest we make choices for love, for peace, for kindness and wisdom. When we work against ego we are less likely to be led astray into painful encounters and situations. Gurdjieff has said:
“I will tell you one thing that will make you rich for life. There are two struggles: an Inner-world struggle and an Outer-world struggle…you must make an intentional contact between these two worlds; then you can create a new world.
The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus, born a slave, had a uniquely surrendered attitude to the outer world. Epictetus gave teachings similar to Patanjali in that he encourages his students to avoid negative thinking and habits. He said that there is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.
Perhaps this is why so many great sages and saints guide us toward compassion. We all, at times, ignore, disregard and reject the most wise counsel when we shouldn’t. Epictetus said that every difficult event has two handles. For example, say your brother betrays you. If you hold onto one handle you walk down the path of betrayal, anger and vengeance. If you choose the other handle you walk toward peace, forgiveness and love. Which one are you going to hold?
Guruji places great importance on Satsang and has often said, ‘if you can hold a Satsang then create one, if you cannot create one, then join one’. In Satsang seekers unite in a common goal to know the Self, to contemplate the Self, to meditate on the Self. The energy created by a united spiritual purpose is a dynamic power that is loving and wise.
The other night in Satsang Guruji drew on the aphorisms and teaching of Epictetus. Epictetus also talked about the value of keeping good company, or keeping the company of the highest truth. Guruji has often said, ‘the great beings are humanity’s greatest treasure’. Epictetus agrees when he says:
The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best. Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.
Attach yourself to what is spiritually superior, regardless of what other people think or do. Hold to your true aspirations no matter what is going on around you.
The teachings of Epictetus are pure jnan, a breath of fresh air. I felt my mind enter a wide space of mental clarity. I was surprised to discover that I preferred them to Patanjali, who often seems like hard work. Epictetus sweeps away useless thoughts and leaves behind a sweet peace.
Guruji summarised his teaching by saying ‘Think in such a way as to promote your own happiness’. To live fearlessly is to live in the Shakti. No matter where we live or what we do, creativity, inspiration and dynamism arise from a state of remembering the Self not forgetting it, not sacrificing it for the sake of the material world. To remember our highest values is to live in the state of oneness and peace. This is what sages both East and West want for us.
The wise counsel of Epictetus
The universe is but one great city, full of beloved ones, divine and human by nature, endeared to each other.
In our power: our opinions, impulses, desires and aversions. Not in our power: bodies, possessions glory, and power.
Be not swept off your feet by the vividness of an impression, but say, ‘Impression, wait for me a little. Leet me see what you are and what you represent. Let me try you.’
It is not death or pain that is to be feared, but it is the fear of death and the fear of pain.
When you close your doors and make darkness within, remember never to say that you are alone for you are not alone; nay, God is within, and your genius is within. And what need have they of light to see what you are doing?