Shaktipat: A gift from the Guru

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.

Lord Buddha

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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.)

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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.

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Hari Dass Baba

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.’

Let us turn that light into a blazing fire.

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.

 

 

 

 

Love universally, not specifically.

One who loves his own Self loves the whole world.
Baba Muktananda

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. 

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Ann Arbor circa 1977

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.

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Welcome others with love.

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.

Self-inquiry: the Personal and the Impersonal

Self-inquiry: the Personal and the Impersonal

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.

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Swamiji speaking at a program.

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.
  • Emotions are starting points for inquiry.

I Love God

I Love God

The heart of Mira is entangled in the beauty of her Guru’s feet; 
Nothing else causes her delight! 
He made her happy in the drama of the world; 
His knowledge dried up the Ocean of being and becoming. 
Mira says: My whole world is Shri Krishna; 
Now that my gaze is turned inward, I see it clearly.

Mirabai

When I was around eight a friend that I often played with on the weekends asked me if I believed in God, and I told her that I didn’t know because I wasn’t sure what God was. She told me that God was love and that He loved everyone. Her conviction awoke a curiosity in me.

I asked her where He lived and she said that He was in heaven and pointed to the above sky. I looked up trying to imagine where exactly in the sky God lived and what he looked like. As young as I was it seemed unlikely that he lived up there, but on the other hand it was likely there was a place where he did live. She said that God was also in her church and that if I wanted to meet Him I could come to church with her and her family but that I had to ask my parents.

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Is God in the sky I wondered?

One Sunday morning I crept into my parents’ bedroom and woke my mother. I asked her if I could go to church with my friend and she groggily mumbled yes.

There was a subtle current of anticipation as I thought about meeting God. When we arrived at the church all the children were ushered into a classroom very much like a school room. My friend told me that children were not allowed to hear the sermon by the minister.

We sat at children’s desks while a young woman talked to us about Jesus, sinners, evil and saving lost souls. I could not grasp how children could be sinful or evil. I felt myself recoil as my mind drifted away from her voice. I fantasised a God that was different from her version, different from the ordinary. When I thought about how God might be for me, I imagined Him to be bright and loving, but mostly magical.

When I got home I asked my mother what religion we were and she told me that we were Presbyterian. I asked her why we did not go to church. She said that she did not go to church when she was a child either.

‘Your grandmother was an Orange woman and hated Catholics’.

I was not sure what this meant, but I realised I was not going to get an understanding about God from my parents. I thought they knew less about God than my young friend and so I put aside my questions. When I went to play with my friend the next time her mother came to the door and told me she could not play with me again. I only saw her from a distance and I felt sad for her.

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Everything is Consciousness according to Kashmir Shaivism. This too is God.

From then on I would occasionally wonder about God’s existence. I asked my girlfriends if they went to church but none of them did, nor did their parents. I wondered why some families believed in God and some did not. And then one of them told me that people who did not believe in God were called ‘atheists’ and people who did not know whether God existed or not were called ‘agnostics’. I put myself in the category of agnostic because I was aware that some part of me wanted to believe that God existed.

The first time I felt God was the first time I met Baba Muktananda. In his company I had my first meditation experience, a profound and deep knowing of the Self. In hindsight I realised that I had had a God experience. As I meditated over the years, love for God grew in me, as did love of mankind, love for the Guru and love of Self.

The other night in the Mother’s day Satsang Guruji was teaching from Anandamayi Ma. As he was speaking I felt myself sinking into meditation. Then I vaguely heard him say my name. He was calling on me because I was supposed to lead the meditation by reading from Mirabai’s poems.

‘Oh my God,’ I said as I returned to consciousness, ‘I was so deep’. I was aware all eyes were on me but was unselfconscious because I was still in meditation. If the person sitting behind me hadn’t poked me I would not have come out of it. Forty-five minutes had passed and I had missed Guruji’s whole talk.

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Meditation is a gift from God.

It is difficult to describe the state I had been in. Yes, it was nirvikalpa samadhi, but deeper than I had ever felt. Yes, it was like deep sleep, but somehow deeper and darker and more peaceful. I didn’t know that was even possible. Yes, it was like a death experience, but comforting and warm, safe and indescribably delicious. It was the deepest state of samadhi I had ever experienced. It was total absorption in the depth of my being.

God had embraced me, held me, rocked me, loved me, healed me, and He then threw me back to the world with a deeper connection to myself. I knew that it was nirvikalpa samadhi but it was extraordinary samadhi.

I was wondering where my consciousness had gone. I found a Wikipedia article on nirvikalpa samadhi as described in Raja Yoga:

Nirvikalpa samadhi, on the other hand, absorption without self-consciousness, is a mergence of the mental activity in the Self, to such a degree, or in such a way, that the distinction of knower, act of knowing, and object known becomes dissolved — as waves vanish in water, and as foam vanishes into the sea.

This probably comes closest to what I experienced. Then another definition by Swami Shivananda:

All the seeds or impressions are burnt by the fire of knowledge. All thought forms which bring on rebirth are totally freed up.

All mental modifications that arise from the mind-lake come under restraint. The five afflictions: ignorance, egoism, love, hatred and clinging to life are destroyed and the bonds of Karma are annihilated.

It gives deliverance from the wheel of births and deaths.

I was free from all thoughts and afflictions but I am not sure about ‘deliverance from rebirth’. Nor is that an issue for me; I am not averse to rebirth. An astrologer told me some years ago that my chart indicated that I had made a vow to come back.

I would not know how to achieve that deep state again. It was not by any effort I made in the moment that caused it. It was God’s grace. As the experience fades the memory lingers in my mind as a possibility, a potential that is within me. A part of me is still connected to that space, like an anchor that holds a ship steady in the rocky ocean. I am left in awe of that small miracle that brought me the magic of such deep meditation and peace.

God Madness Is A Good Madness

A share from a devotee’s letter on his first visit to Ganeshpuri and Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Ashram.

Ganeshpuri.

I lost my mind and found God. There was that day I spent reflecting that unhappiness was a memory and that happiness was the natural state of being.

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Banyan tree that Bhagawan Nityananda used to sit under.

The tree out the front is a portal like Ganeshpuri is a portal. But unlike Ganeshpuri where the Shakti is like a constant earthquake. And the spirit world is immediate.

What Bhagavan Nityananda gave me I can’t describe except in a child’s terms. It is like he gave me a Willy Wonka lolly, like the endless tasting chewing gum of Shakti. It is like he put a lingam in my head and said ‘off you go.’ It is nuts but I have the rest of the trip to bring this into a meaningful context and apply it in the real world. 

From the Goddesses of the temple with eyes that emitted blue light, to seeing a blue light like a mist coming from me and in my mala beads. And some being telling me I have not left Siddha Loka yet. Then saying a week later ‘you have left Siddha Loka.’ Well what reference does even a spiritual nut like myself have to measure such experiences?

I knew my mental state had become more normal.

But other than to say Bhagavan gave me all the Shakti I needed then and more for the road. 

I know I have the Shakti at home in my meditation. I feel Bhagavan has given me a great gift and I have reformed a personal relationship with a place and perhaps even a guru from a previous existence.

I can only say that Ganeshpuri felt like the most natural place on earth. There was only what was real and no unreal, no pretending. And I lost my mind. God madness is good madness.

See if you can make sense of that. I’m only just getting my head around it.

I know now why Bhagavan Nityananda did not speak or convey teachings. How can you sustain a normal conversation for longer than a few minutes in that place? It is too easy to slip away.

This week I found that my spiritual name is a name of Lord Krishna, I like it, thanks Guruji.

Steadily I’m coming down to earth and the more unreal it seems that all of this happens. But I’m not worried. I have a deep faith in God.

I am not concerned with the fluctuations of my waking mind.

It’s said that we lose the feeling of Ganeshpuri when we return to Australia.  I say to that, ‘so what–why should I care?’ If it is that natural then it’s the way it is supposed to be.

Funny! I had this idea that I once lived in or close to Ganeshpuri as a Muslim. The place felt as comfortable as a childhood place I left and then returned to later in life. There was a strong sense of familiarity about the place.

Inshallah!

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Arunachala, the mountain Ramana Maharshi worshipped.

Arunachala.

Sri Ramana is the gentlest of souls. Truly the love and peace of this place is at first too much. Juxtaposed is the power of the mountain [Arunachala] which exudes Shakti.

But unlike Ganeshpuri where the Shakti is like a constant earthquake. And the spirit world is immediate. Ramana Ashram is the perfect cure for this power and turmoil and madness.

But as time went by the turmoil settles like dirt in a jar of agitated water. And the peace of the place becomes apparent in oneself.

Enough for now. God bless. With love.

Books By Swamiji

Happy For No Good Reason

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A best selling guide to meditation, this book explores the practice and philosophy of meditation including traditional techniques of mantra (the repetition of the phrase) and witness-consciousness (watching the thoughts). You will see how to apply these teachings in every day situations, by developing a moment to moment awareness of the love, joy and peace that unfolds from the center of your being.

The book comes with a CD that, after you read the first two chapters, will have you meditating for the first time within 30 minutes.

 

Buy online at Ashram Bookstore

Consciousness Is Everything

Conciousness-200x300Consciousness is the most intimate experience of life, the essence of life itself. Among the many spiritual traditions born and developed in India, one ancient philosophy–Kashmir Shaivism–has explored it completely. Until now, Kashmir Shaivism was an esoteric filed accessible only to a few scholars and other specialists.

Here, for the first time, Swami Shankarananda, a Self-realised spiritual master, presents the wisdom of this powerful tradition in a form that will delight and inspire all spiritual seekers. He explores the teachings in rich detail, elucidating ideas and meditative practices while drawing upon a vast canvas of many great beings, wisdom traditions and personal experience. This is a book that will transform you.

Consciousness Is Everything is a book that will transform you. It is a resource and guide towards investigating and deepening your experience of your own Consciousness.

Buy online at Ashram Bookstore

Self-inquiry: Using your Awareness to unblock your life.

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In this groundbreaking book, meditation master Swami Shankarananda adapts the ancient path of Self-inquiry to contemporary life.

The Shiva Process method of Self-inquiry engages your awareness to effectively remove blocks and enliven the Shakti in the areas of career, relationship, health and spirituality. Building on the teachings of Kashmir Shaivism and Sri Ramana Maharshi, Swamiji provides the tools to reveal  your true nature.

The accompanying CD guides you step by step though a series of inquiries to help you connect with your inner wisdom. You will be transformed and empowered in every aspect of your life.

Buy online at Ashram Bookstore

I Can’t Hear You I Have A Carrot In My Ear

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Swamiji responds to questions from seekers about life, spiritual practice and philosophy. It is a guidebook to the inner experience, offering insights and techniques to dissolve ignorance and live with energy and awareness.

Topics include: the Self and Consciousness, meditation, Self-inquiry, mantra, the Guru, Kundalini, Shakti, the mind, relationships, work and career, money, communicating with truth and compassion.

 

Buy online at Ashram Bookstore.