HEALTH AND WELL-BEING

FeaturedHEALTH AND WELL-BEING
Dear Ones,
 
I certainly don’t have to tell you that these are strange and difficult times. Our hearts go out to all those who are afflicted by the virus.
 
The Australian government has acted swiftly and sensibly and, in accordance with its guidelines, The Ashram is closed to the public. It is sad not to be able to be with the beloved members of our satsang shining with love and Shakti.
 
Nonetheless, the ashram programs continue, and due to the great efforts of our satsanglive team, they are being streamed online. I am learning to pay more attention to the camera during programs!
 
Please join us online. I look forward to seeing you in cyberspace during the current period.
 
Keep well, be intelligent, wash your hands and remember God.
 
Much love,
Swamiji

Register for Online programs at satsanglive.com.au

Below are two suggestions from Swamiji’s books for dealing with health issues.

The first is from ‘I can’t hear you I have a carrot in my ear’ (page 208-9) and the second is from Self-inquiry(page 192-193). The first suggests some questions that can be asked to investigate health issues. The second is a Buddhist meditation on detoxing, not only yourself, but others as well.


Question: In recent years l have had a lot of physical problems. Could you talk more about using Self-inquiry in the area of body and health?

Swamiji: There is no fundamental difference in method, no matter what area of life we are investigating. Inquiry should be direct and to the point, moving closer and closer to the truth. As you get closer to the truth, your inquiry releases energy. 

With regard to health, you might ask yourself where you feel pain or weakness in your body. When you find significant areas, inquire into the cause. Is it related to diet, substance abuse, negative emotion and so on? Ask what you need to do. You may get an answer like ‘Change your diet’ or ‘See a doctor or acupuncturist’. The main thing here is to confront the sensations directly. Out of that confrontation, information will come. As I’ve mentioned, remarkable results come from specialized group inquiry—attending a group that focuses on health issues would be worthwhile.

You can call on your immune system to stand up and defend yourself. You can call on the healing power of the Divine; you can send love and energy to various organs or areas of the body. You can try saying the word ‘health’ on the inbreath and dispelling toxicity on the outbreath. Use your imagination and always look for the upward shift. Don’t forget that universal Shakti or prana is the greatest healing force. Prana contains all the vitamins and proteins in the universe. All animals and plants depend on prana for their lives. How powerful, then, must prana be? 

Now I will tell you the greatest healing meditation I know. Imagine that God has created the perfect medicine for your condition, knowing exactly what’s wrong with you and what you need. This medicine is healing, nutritious, life-positive and full of life force. Now imagine that medicine is mixed with your breath, and when you breathe in, you are breathing that medicine in and it fills your body with its perfectly intelligent healing power. Some of you may prefer to use the outbreath for this exercise, but either way, I think you will have good results.

I don’t want you to get the idea that I am a Christian Scientist. No, you should consult medical practitioners, but along with that, you can use inquiry in the area of health.


A NOTE ON ACCEPTING OTHER PEOPLE’S FEELINGS: THE PRACTICE OF TONGLEN

As you pursue Self-inquiry, you become more sensitive and aware of your own and other people’s feeling. You risk falling into the disempowering syndrome of excessive fear of others negativity. Some people are more afraid of bad feeling than of almost anything else. When they think about the possible loss of a loved one or the failure to achieve some goal, what is most frightening is not so much the event itself, but how that event will make them feel. They think that having such a feeling will annihilate them. But feelings are only feelings. Maybe we are not as great as the ocean-drinking Lord Shiva, but we should be able to interact with others in a robust way. Inquiry should make you less fragile, not more. 

In my Learn to Meditate course, I give a meditation technique involving the breath. I ask my students to breathe in, imagining they are drawing energy from outside into themselves. Then they breathe out, imagining they are eliminating toxins and releasing them outside. 

This is a good meditation and is in harmony with our usual common- sense view that wants to draw energy into ourselves and send toxicity away from ourselves. The Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen dramatically reverses this normal state of affairs. Tonglen practice asks us to draw all negativity and suffering into ourselves, while sending out love and blessings. This counter-intuitive or anti-egoic practice turns out to be immensely powerful and liberating. 

The yogic scriptures declare that human beings are in the thraldom of raga and dvesha. The ego looks out at the vast world and considers the range of events and possible outcomes that are relevant to it. Some of these outcomes seem favourable and enhance the power, authority or safety of the ego, and others seem unfavourable and threatening. 

The ego, therefore, wants certain outcomes (attachment) and wants to avoid other outcomes (aversion). This drama of attachment and aversion creates a tension and increases the suffering of the individual ego. While the ego desperately yearns for favourable outcomes and desperately hates unfavourable ones, the rest of the universe is indifferent. Thus, is created a life predicament that is essentially hopeless: no one, as the Buddha noticed, can escape disease, old age and death. 

Tonglen practice frees the ego from its bondage to raga/dvesha in a single, brilliant stroke. Rather than tensely avoiding the unpleasant, the ego consciously draws it to itself. And rather than tensely seeking the pleasant, it wantonly sends endless blessings to all others. By so doing, it discovers that negative experiences cannot hurt the ego and that the blessings at its command are endless. The ego self stands revealed as the infinite Self of all. 

You may have noticed a relationship between tonglen and the technique of proxying. Both of these methods compassionately allow the psychic poison experienced in another to enter us. Tonglen is even more proactive than proxying, because it actively seeks the negative. In the phone conversation I described in which I was recoiling from Chip, if I were to use tonglen, I would actively try to suck all of Chip’s poison into me. When you recoil from another person, your being contracts and you become weakened. When you open to another 

person and embrace them completely, you are powerful and fearless. Tonglen may appear like an act of almost lunatic compassion and altruism, but in reality, it is one of the most empowering techniques a person can employ for their own welfare. If you do happen to get in trouble doing tonglen, you can use proxying to clear the feeling. 

CONTEMPLATION: THE GREAT-HEARTED PRACTICE OF TONGLEN

Think of a person who is difficult for you. Because you find this person’s traits or ways disagreeable, you withdraw and recoil from them. In this contemplation, you will go in the opposite direction. As you breathe in, let all of this person’s negativity, bad qualities and suffering come into you. With the outbreath, breathe out love, blessings and good wishes to that person. If you watch carefully, I think you will find that the inner energy will be delighted by this practice. 

If that is too difficult, try this version. Think of someone you love and with your in-breath, draw in that person’s pain and suffering, and with your out-breath, send them love and blessings. 

The practice of tonglen will make you preposterously strong. You will be able to go anywhere and encounter anything. Fearing nothing, you will engage life unabashedly. You can use an outer form of tonglen in the midst of life situations when the tendency to recoil and withdraw arises. 

There are two main strategies in life: one is the Vital strategy of seeking the pleasant, seeking fulfilment through objects, and the second is the Solid strategy of avoiding the unpleasant through separation and simplification. A lot of yogis have written about the problems with the first strategy. Endlessly seeking fulfilment of all your desires creates many difficulties. But equally unsatisfactory is the strategy of avoiding the unpleasant. A yogi wants to feel free and open in life, not contracted with fear of engagement. A yogi is a hero, not a coward. 

The methods of proxying and tonglen empower the yogi to avoid recoiling from life, and, rather, face everything with courage. 

Ganeshpuri Days: Memoirs of a Western Yogi

FeaturedGaneshpuri Days: Memoirs of a Western Yogi

We are happy to announce the release of Swami Shankarananda’s memoirs. Below is his introduction to the book.

For sale now at: http://ashrambookshop.com.au

Introduction

A man may be born, but in order to be born he must first die,
and in order to die, he must first awaken.

G.I. GURDJIEFF, AS QUOTED BY P.D. OUSPENSKY
In Search of the Miraculous

Sadhana is any self-effort that is directed at the inner spiritual goal.

SWAMI VENKATESANANDA

On any given Saturday night in Mount Eliza, a suburb south of Melbourne, Australia, I walk into a hall full of people. I sit in a chair that is prominent in the front of the room. I’m dressed in orange and I’m wearing a skirt-like piece of clothing called a lungi. The audience bursts into group chanting of an Indian devotional kirtan, such as Hare Rama Hare KrishnaOm Namah Shivaya or Govinda Jaya Jaya.

After fifteen minutes the chanting ends and I give a talk expounding the teachings of one of the great yogis and mystics I admire. Then we meditate together for a few minutes. Afterwards, members of the audience come up one by one to greet me. They may ask a question or tell me some news. I am introduced to newcomers, some of whom request mantra initiation. I give them a card with the mantra Om Namah Shivaya and a picture of me with my Guru, Swami Muktananda (Baba), on it. I give each of them a hug and a piece of chocolate.

Similar scenes take place in many ashrams around India, but this is significantly different. Although pictures of Indian deities and yogis hang on the walls, incense perfumes the hall, and Indian instruments, such as the harmonium, mrdangam (an Indian drum) and tamboura accompany the chanting, the audience itself is ninety-nine per cent Westerners: Australians, European immigrants and a few visitors from overseas.

Saturday satsang

Every once in a while I stop and consider what my life has become. From an early age I thought that I would be defined by the career I chose. Would I be a scientist? A writer? An academic? What has actually happened is a matter of wonder. My present life was simply not visible from my former life. It is off the map, off the scale, in another universe, hidden by every conceivable horizon. Becoming a swami, a spiritual teacher in an Eastern tradition, was not an option, not even the most remote of remote possibilities. There is an old joke with the punchline, ‘You can’t get there from here.’ Indeed, this cannot be the way my life as I knew it before 1970 turned out. And yet this is it.

When somebody quotes the old saw, ‘Man proposes, God disposes,’ I can hold up my hand. There is a certain joy and relief in the assurance that what has happened to me is not a matter of self-will, but the will of God.

It is not as though there haven’t been ups and downs and painful dealings with difficult situations. There certainly have, sometimes in abundance. There are some things I might want to change, but if the choice were between this life as it is and some other life, I’d choose this one every time. This is a story of grace and the blessings of the Guru.

This memoir ranges over many years, but its heart and soul is the period 1970 to 1974, my residency at the feet of my Guru, Baba Muktananda, at his ashram near Bombay (I use the old spelling Bombay rather than the modern Mumbai throughout because that’s how we knew that great city then.) My beloved Devi Ma has, in her beautiful preface, included some details of my life before and after that period, and I have also written something on both of those periods. But my main focus is on sadhana.

Sadhana refers to the nitty-gritty of spiritual life, the process of inner change. The concept had come as a revelation to me in my earliest readings on spirituality. I had spent many years in the field of education: high school, college, graduate school and then teaching at the university level. I thought I knew something about education, but suddenly I saw the huge gap in Western education. It was laughable, like the emperor’s new clothes. How did we miss that?

Sadhana is a different kind of education – I call it second 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. 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.

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 thoughts that tear into the thinker himself. The same intellectual idea means different things at different levels of being. A professor of Eastern studies may be familiar with the Vedic notion Aham Brahmasmi: ‘I am Brahman.’ He can trace the idea historically and tell you when it first appeared in the literature and what the different sages and schools say about it. If you ask him, he would tell you that he knows what it means. But to a Self-realised yogi, Aham Brahmasmi is something quite different. It is a description of his integrated state of consciousness and the awareness with which he lives. A scholar’s first education understanding is horizontal, tracing the movement of ideas in time, while a yogi’s second education understanding is vertical, describing his experience in the moment and his connection to the Divine.

While, as I have said, the process of sadhana is my central focus, in truth it can’t be completely separated from the rest of my life. Taken together my complete life story falls roughly into three periods, the middle one being the chronicle of my sadhana with my Guru in his Indian ashram. Classically, a seeker does a long term of sadhana with a Guru and at the end of that time receives shaktipat, the awakening of the kundalini energy. Baba Muktananda was no conventional teacher. He broke the mould and gave shaktipat universally to thousands of people, many of whom were not yet ready (on the face of it) for this great infusion of energy. Of course, Baba knew what he was doing, but my point is that for me, as well as for thousands of other devotees, shaktipat came before (or near the beginning of) the period of sadhana.

Thus, in our yoga, sadhana is the practice that yogis do after shaktipat. This practice has two aspects: a moving towards the Self and a moving away from ignorance. On the one hand, seekers nurture, cultivate, expand and increase their connection with the divine power using any and all means at their disposal. And, at the same time, they work at removing the blocks that separate them from the divine power: negative emotions, habitual patterns, mundane attitudes and desires.

It was always curious to me that while other paths seemed to stress Self-realisation, Baba’s focus was on shaktipat awakening. I concluded that, for Baba, the awakening implied realisation. As a child naturally grows to adulthood, and a lion cub becomes a lion, so shaktipat leads to enlightenment. It is just a matter of time.

Maybe this was Baba’s answer to the old Buddhist controversy about gradual and sudden enlightenment. From this perspective, shaktipat is sudden enlightenment. But it has to be consolidated through sadhana, which is gradual enlightenment. When sadhana is complete, the original shaktipat shines forth as the yogi’s permanent state. Now he lives with constant awareness of the Self, in the state of natural samadhi. Kabir says,

Natural samadhi is the best.
It is sublime.
Once it is awakened by the Guru’s grace, 
It continues to grow day by day.

For the sage living in the state of natural samadhi, every word he utters is a mantra. Whatever he does is puja (worship). His every action shows the presence of God to his devotees. In the Hasidic tradition, it is said that a disciple goes to visit the holy man, not to hear the teachings, but to watch him tie his shoelaces.

To attain this state nothing is to be done, besides letting go of every- thing that is unnatural. A Zen master introduces meditation by telling the student, ‘Just sit. Be yourself.’ It is easy and natural. But we are complex creatures, so it is also difficult and confusing. In my days with Baba, I truly felt that every gesture he made, every twitch of his facial muscles, showed me how to connect with the Divine. I was convinced that Baba lived in that state, and that he could insinuate me into it by mystical osmosis.

I received shaktipat awakening early in my stay in the Ganeshpuri ashram via eye-to-eye contact with Baba. Later, his presence catalysed further powerful spiritual experiences for me. Even before meeting him, I had preliminary awakenings: an encounter with a gunman; some experiments with LSD; meeting the American yogi Ram Dass. All of these were steps on the path that led me to Ganeshpuri.

After the awakening and after sadhana is done to establish one in the Self, there is still the question of finding one’s path through life, one’s life dharma. After Ganeshpuri, I thought I might return to university teaching. But Baba and destiny had other plans. The short third section of the book, which begins when I leave the ashram as part of Baba’s 1974 tour, deals with the beginning of my process of becoming a spiritual teacher. Perhaps one day I will write a fuller memoir of those years and later.

I was an excellent student in high school, and was even voted ‘most likely to succeed’ by my classmates. I’d guess that my old classmates would now wonder if I have. Well, whatever they might think, my own feeling is that I have received many blessings.

Among these blessings, by far the most important was to have met and become the disciple of a spiritual giant, who was also an excellent Guru. Swami Muktananda was not only a Self-realised being with an incomparable power of shaktipat, he was also a master at creating conditions favourable to sadhana. A good sadhana Guru creates a context in which an intense discipline increases psychic pressure, in turn forcing growth and change. In the same way that the medieval alchemist applies heat to his alchemical beaker, such a Guru creates a yogic pressure cooker.

Baba had the personal style of a great king or a general. People who experienced his ashram sometimes called him ‘Field Marshal Muktananda’. He admired the way the military did things and he wanted his students to achieve the maximum growth in the shortest possible time. The intensity of the ashram often drove people away and even the most dedicated yogis would seek occasional R&R in Bombay. But after a day or two of eating and relaxing, it would be back into the maelstrom.

From the instant I met Baba, he seemed to be a man apart. Sometimes I would just stare at him and ask inside, ‘Who are you?’ I am sure I was not alone in asking that question. Baba was different from anyone I had ever met. Once someone was brave enough to actually ask, ‘Baba, who are you?’ Baba would never address such a question directly. In this case, he said, ‘I am as you see me. If you see me as a saint, I am a saint. If you see me as a thief, I am a thief.’ A brilliant and evasive answer, but the questioner was not deterred. He asked, ‘How do you see yourself?’ Baba replied, ‘I see myself as I am.’

Yes, of course he does!

Baba was in a state of profound detachment and humour, completely anchored in his inner being. This was not something I figured out, but something I actually saw. Let me tell you frankly, seeing such perfection confused me. My culture was a highly critical one. I, myself, could poke holes even in my heroes. But, unaccountably, with Baba it was different. I simply couldn’t see anything wrong with him. Others may have been closer to Baba than I was. Others may have had greater devotion and more understanding than I had. But I don’t think that there were many who appreciated him more than I did. I take it now as a grace from the Divine. God gave me this viewpoint so I could enter the sadhana wholeheartedly and give myself to Baba without fear or hesitation.

Stories about Baba are legion. They document his wisdom, his love, his humour and above all, his extraordinary power of awakening. In the old days, we used to believe that Baba could walk down Fifth Avenue in New York City and touch everyone he met, causing them all to manifest the awakening of the kundalini energy. Of course, that could not have been true, not because he wasn’t that powerful, but because if it were true he would have done it. That’s how much he wanted people to awaken. Who knows, maybe he had that power. There are a lot of Baba stories in this book, but I’ll tell you one here because it’s my all-time favourite: it happened to me and it involved a naive subject.

A little while after Baba’s death I spent some time working directly for Gurumayi, one of his successors. Sometimes I had the opportunity to get a round of golf in at a local course at the break of dawn. One day I was out playing, enjoying the coolness of the early morning and the tracks that my putts left on the wet greens. The course was empty, except for one man who was playing ahead of me.

He was rather elderly and I caught up with him. He cordially invited me to join him and we played in silence for a few holes. He struck me as one of those taciturn New England types. Eventually he asked me, ‘You from around here?’ I said, ‘You know that big place over in South Fallsburg, the ashram?’ He did. I said I lived there. He told me that he and his wife sometimes ate there at the vegetarian restaurant.

I nodded and we played on silently. After a while he said, ‘You know, I met the Baba once.’ ‘Really?’ I said. ‘Yes, I’m a retired dentist. I had an office in Monticello. One time his regular dentist was unavailable so they brought him to me.’ I said, ‘What was it like to meet him?’

He paused for a few seconds and then said, ‘Funny thing. I picked up my instruments and walked towards him and it was as though I was hit by a force field and thrown backwards.’

Wow! This was someone who had no prior knowledge and no axe to grind. My inner joy took the form of one more question, which I had to ask. I wanted to appear calm, so I kept walking up the fairway for a while and then I turned to my companion and said, ‘That’s interesting. What did you make of that?’

He told me matter-of-factly, ‘Well, I figure that some people have complete understanding of life and the universe and I guess the Baba was one of them.’

Yes, I swear that is exactly what he said. We continued playing golf and didn’t speak about the Baba again. But I was full of wonder that here was a man who ‘got’ Baba on some level, and yet could not see that Baba represented a possibility for him. It must have seemed like too big a stretch for him to fit Baba into his ordinary life.

In my years with Baba, deep meditation pursued me spontaneously. The process of Self-inquiry revealed itself to me. I learned to serve God and mankind by serving the Guru and in so doing, I grew in awareness. Baba promised knowledge of the Self, a connection with the Divine and an embracing happiness and meaningfulness. My faith in him was rewarded. Because of his grace, his wisdom and his love, all of these things have come to me.

Baba’s great spiritual memoir, Play of Consciousness, is an account of his extraordinary meditative experiences. He visits other planes of consciousness – hell-worlds and heaven-worlds – and he has visions of deities. In India, the visionary experience of one’s chosen deity in meditation, sakshatkar, is highly valued. Though, as you will see, I’ve had a fair share of such experiences, the truth is, I’ve always prized more what I would call ‘understandings’. Understandings, or insights, emerge with a whoosh from an experience of Shakti. They are born, not of the mind, but from an encounter with the power of the Self, transcending the mind. Insight gives us a form by which we can interpret and sustain the experience.

I believe that Western yoga in general is the yoga of understanding. Our spiritual experiences are not always visions of deities and inner lights, but of new paradigms and new ways to understand ourselves, both personally and impersonally. In rereading some of these chapters, I noticed how many times I wrote ‘I saw’, ‘I understood’. Understandings are catnip for Western yogis.

The process of sadhana is a curious business. You imagine that you have a grip on where you are going, but it keeps shifting and changing and readjusting itself. You imagine that you can use the old maps that sages and former seekers have presented, but you find that those maps don’t always apply to you. And the Guru is a mysterious being who is training you, but you are sometimes not sure in what.

I would have loved it if Baba had sat me down and said, ‘My son, this is what I am doing with you. This is why this and that happened. This is what you needed to learn. This is what you still need to overcome. This is how you are going to do it. And it should take you this amount of time.’ While I was in Ganeshpuri, I read one of the Castaneda books in which Don Juan does exactly this for Carlos. He goes over every moment in Carlos’ sadhana with him, explaining what was going on. How I yearned for that! I wanted Baba to take off his mask, step out of the frame, and share with me intimately. Of course, he never did.

In the Zen tradition, too, the master maintains an inscrutable mask. He never explains the process to the disciple. Instead, he sets problems for him to solve. And he may not even tell him if he is successful. His face is a reflecting mirror. As warm-hearted as Baba was, he had something of this quality in his style of teaching.

I have looked at life from both sides now, as a disciple and also as a teacher. I was yearning for something that I couldn’t have. A real Guru does not intellectualise about his disciples’ sadhana, working out a game plan. Rather, he lives in the moment, meeting each thing as it arises. He trusts the Shakti and puts the disciple’s growth in the hands of the Divine. This does not mean the Guru does not have a sense of what is happening, or that he does not have an idea of what will happen. On the contrary.

And now, as I work on this memoir, I discover the presence of a new character, one that allows me to understand some very obscure moments in my spiritual education and also to glimpse the inside of Baba’s mind – an area that has been largely unknowable to me. His name is Hindsight. My reward for recording these memoirs is to gain a new understanding of a number of mysterious things that happened long ago at the feet of my Guru.

While talking about Hindsight I have to mention, and possibly apologise for, two other literary devices I have used. Since this is a memoir, it is mostly written in past tense. However, I sometimes use the present tense to convey a particularly vivid or impactful time. I usually (but not always) reserve this for generic rather than specific memories. An Indian saint that I otherwise admire greatly, Swami Ramdas, insists on speaking about himself in the third person in all his books. If he can do that, I suppose I can use the present tense this way. It may be a literary sin, but I don’t think it’s a mortal one.

The other device occurs under the heading ‘Conversations with Myself’. While I was working on the book, I would try to reread chapters with a naive eye. Occasionally, further questions occurred to me. These I might answer in the text, but sometimes I felt that they could be dealt with more directly by means of these ‘conversations’.

Some of the names have been changed in the book for one reason or another. Also, I recount a number of conversations that happened forty years ago and more. These are not word-for-word reports, but are true to the people and the context.

So, with the help of Hindsight, and simply by recounting the stories, this book chronicles a succession of events and understandings that, taken together, describe the arc of my spiritual life. It celebrates the greatness of my Guru and of his lineage, and also the great beings of all traditions who hold the key to the spiritual evolution of man. Finally, it celebrates the potential within everyone.

I am aware that our postmodern culture is extremely suspicious of Gurus. Some say that the age of the Guru is over, while others believe that all Gurus are charlatans. By holding these attitudes they make a terrible mistake. Even if ten-thousand cultural pundits proclaim these ideas, they would still be wrong. The Guru opens a completely new world to us. In following our cultural orthodoxy we deny ourselves a most precious possibility: discipleship.

I believe in the power of the Guru and the Shakti to elevate and point us towards our true nature. I believe in the power of the Self. I believe that there is an enormous potential hidden within every person and that this potential is realisable, if one attends to it. I believe in the process of sadhana.

I’m old school with regards to sadhana – I believe that it has to be done with integrity and intensity, under the guidance of a true Guru for a long time. Inevitably, we pass through many landscapes during this process, some lush and green, and others as dry as a desert and littered with skeletons. Every corner of the psyche has to be brought into awareness, to be irradiated by the light of the Self, so that real transformation can take place.

There is not one of us who does not have the potential to become a Buddha, a Muktananda, an Anandamayi Ma. May this little story of a Jewish boy from Brooklyn inspire some others to discover their true Self.

For sale now at ashrambookshop.com.au

Meditations on Matrika

FeaturedMeditations on Matrika

By MM Swami Shankarananda


Animal life is about smells, sounds, and sensations, and being the predator or the prey. It’s about self-preservation, procreation and finding food. It is a world of desire and fear.

Human life is also about all of those things, but with something added. Human life is conducted in a web of words. All life is words. Your relationships, your work, your group affiliations, your attitudes, your art and your spirituality are all words. Sounds, words, sentences, statements, concepts, principles: this is human life.

The fourth sutra of the founding text of Kashmir Shaivism, the Shiva Sutras, says jnanadhisthanam matrka, which roughly translates as ‘the unknown mother of everything is the power of sound inherent in the alphabet’. Mother, matrix, matrika … The suffix ka suggests unknown. Language is the hidden force behind everything that we do.

When I first heard this sutra, it spoke to me like no other. I was a student of literature and I loved words, but I had become cynical about them. Was there any meaning? Did words just serve the ego? Now I understood that words are a double-bladed axe. They can take you to heaven, or they can push you to hell.

For a seeker, and actually for everyone, it is important to understand our languaging, our matrika: the words we say to others, the words others say to us. And maybe most important, the words we say to ourselves in the privacy of our own mind.


Considerations:


Are there words that you need to say to others?
Someone you love, someone from whom you are estranged?
Someone with whom you weren’t completely honest?

Again…

Are there words that people want to say to you,
that you are running from or blocking?
Critical words, intimate words, beneficial words.

And also…

Regard the words you speak to yourself…
Are they gentle and accepting?
Are they harsh and unrelenting?
Is your inner voice kind to you,
or the opposite?

Are there words you need to keep inside and not say?
Words that create separation and make things worse.

Are there words you need to bring
from the inner world to the outer world?
To speak up when you need to speak up,
to find the sources of creativity within.

Are there words that you need to
dissolve in your inner space?
Bad stories that you tell yourself.

Cultivate fearlessness towards words.

Cultivate kindness in words.

Find the words that take you to God.
Words from the scriptures, words from the Guru;
Mantras, mahavakyas, Great statements.
They resonate in your inner being.



The key to any authentic spiritual process is an understanding of matrika. Bondage is to be at the mercy of mechanical matrikas that arise within based on cultural and family conditioning. Liberation is gained by clearly seeing the matrikas that arise mechanically and learning to control them, making sure that they are moving in a positive direction.

A liberated being has choice. He or she is not at the effect of automatic and mechanical processes. To be the Lord of your own matrika is a great and profound attainment. A great yogi rises to this level by the grace of the Guru and his own self-effort.


The Guru is the Means: Overcoming Cultural Prejudice

FeaturedThe Guru is the Means:  Overcoming Cultural Prejudice

By Swami Shankarananda


The decisive encounter in my life was meeting my Guru, Baba Muktananda, in February 1971. Early in our relationship he gave me an experience of higher Consciousness and over the next 12 years he taught me how to be established in Consciousness and its source deep within me. Through his influence I was completely transformed, and a day doesn’t go by when I don’t give thanks for that happy meeting.

By the way, I take no special credit for this transformation, since Baba’s spiritual power was such that thousands of others must have had similar experiences.

In undergoing my process of transformation, I had to divest myself of many beliefs and attitudes that I had inherited from my culture.

In the nineteenth century the faith of the West moved from religion to science. Nietzsche proclaimed ‘the death of God’ while others banished God from the natural world, which was the domain of science. It’s safe to say that the prestige of science has become so great in our culture that today, a materialistic outlook is the dominant point of view of the West.

Materialism says that there is no God and there is no higher Consciousness. Further, any person who claims to be connected with higher Consciousness or to be a conduit for the divine energy, the Shakti, must be a charlatan.

Okay, you might say, despite all this, hasn’t spirituality made great strides in the West in recent years? No doubt spirituality and yoga and mysticism have become more accepted; but, in general, the type of spirituality that has evolved says that ‘the age of the Guru is over’ and ‘everyone should be his or her own Guru’.  

The Guru implies a hierarchy, someone who knows more than we do. Postmodern culture is allergic to hierarchies. But, just as a doctor naturally has authority in the field of medicine and a lawyer has authority in the area of law, so those who have attained something spiritually have authority in their field. Oddly, it is the one realm in which we resist learning from an expert.

When I went to India years ago I was not encumbered by this point of view. I deeply yearned to meet a person of profound understanding who could teach me. I had known many brilliant and highly educated men and women, but it seemed to me that none of them had a clue about what life was really about. I was also certain that I myself had no answers to life’s biggest questions. I give thanks every day that I was able to meet and study with a person who could answer those questions.

The Shiva Sutras say Gururupaya, the Guru is a means or spiritual method.

The true Guru is a means to living effectively and achieving happiness, insight and knowledge of the true Self.

As Westerners, the first great obstacle that we have to overcome in order to make use of this great resource is the cultural prejudice I have described.

It is bad enough that we encounter it in our culture and even in our family. But much more pernicious is that we encounter it in ourselves, in our thinking and our attitudes. It is here that we really need to free ourselves, and apparently not everyone is strong enough to do this. Fortunately I have met many who were able to drink the nectar of higher Consciousness and bask in the divine grace of the Guru.

I should add here, that I accept the idea that our life extends beyond this life. In the fullness of time and after perhaps many lifetimes each soul will come home.

I’ll stop for now. If you have questions or comments write to info@theashram.com.au and I’ll address them right here on the blog or privately.

How to get along during lockdown.

The following questions and answers are from Swamiji’s book, ‘I Can’t Hear You, I Have A Carrot In My Ear. Certainly one aspect of being in lockdown with others is getting along with each other. In this chapter ‘Love and Relationship’ he offers sound advice on how to stay connected to your heart.


Tell the Truth and Don’t Get Angry

Question: Sometimes in my work situation I say yes to things that I really don’t want to, and then after a while I explode and say everything that I wanted to say, but with so much anger that I don’t get heard, and I cause upset everywhere. How can I learn to speak up appropriately?

Swamiji: You are caught in the dichotomy of truth and kindness. In Sanskrit, these are satya and ahimsa, truth and non-violence. Mahatma Gandhi made ahimsa famous. They actually constitute two extremes of a polarity—truth at one end and kindness at the other. They meet in the middle, and when you have truth combined with kindness, you have perfection in communication. Truth without kindness tends to be harsh, grating and tinged with anger and judgment. Kindness without truth is not good either. It makes a person too passive, always finding himself in situations he doesn’t really want to be in. A person with too much truth will be crusty and offensive and people will avoid him. A person with too much kindness will be agreeable, but will carry unconscious negativity and be subject to emotional explosions and physical diseases. Most of us tend to be of one type or the other, and to be whole, we have to develop the quality we lack. People on the truth side have to learn patience and tolerance. People on the kindness side have to learn to speak up for themselves.

The American spiritual teacher, Saniel Bonder, talks about this polarity when he uses the terms fathering and mothering, extending it into the realm of sadhana or spiritual work. Some forms of yoga have what he calls, a ‘hypermasculine dharma’, which means an intense demand for change and growth—a highly critical dissatisfaction with the status quo. Such paths produce change all right, but they also create stress and self-hatred. The opposite extreme is ‘self-mothering’, which means self-acceptance just as you are. It is a defensible spiritual position to work on accepting yourself as you are here and now. Of course, the danger is complacency and lack of effort. Self-fathering is spiritual discipline and the sharp blade of truth. Self-mothering is love and self- acceptance, and it is kindness. Just as Shiva and Shakti exist, just as yin and yang exist, so truth and kindness, father and mother, are eternal pairs. Both must be present in equal measure in Self-realisation.

I have wandered into a bit of a discourse here, but your issue is precisely about truth and kindness. You should learn to speak up right away. You have to learn to distinguish inwardly between strength and anger. For some people, strength feels like anger, but it isn’t anger, it is appropriate strength. So one of my favourite aphorisms in the whole realm of spirituality covers your situation exactly: Tell the truth and don’t get angry. Make that your watchword. When you speak the truth, you will definitely feel strong inside yourself, but that is not anger.

In some situations, telling the truth seems like it requires an inner effort and it may bring up feelings of hopelessness and despair. Don’t shrink from making that effort. Let your being rise up to the demand of the situation. If you do the tapasya of telling the truth now, you won’t have to explode later.

I’ll give you a practical tip. In these highly charged situations, it is sometimes better to write a letter than have a conversation.

Then you can edit out your anger and move the expression towards the meeting point of truth and kindness. Begin with your most fierce statement, then refine it and calm it down. I could publish a book of my first drafts of letters that would curl your hair. Mostly they were directed at great beings. Maybe I’ll put them in my posthumous papers.

Satsang with Shakti, the chow chow.

Question: ‘Tell the truth and don’t get angry’ seems to be a theme in your talks. Could you elaborate this teaching for me?

Swamiji: Truth is an intellectual quality and therefore stands for the thinking function. Not getting angry is kindness and that has to do with the feeling function. When I say, ‘Tell the truth and don’t get angry’, I am really saying bring the mind and the heart together in a perfect way. Inquiry shows us that when the mind moves without regard to feeling, it goes off track, and similarly when the emotions move without any intellect, things get distorted.

In Shiva Process work the point of real insight and power is where thought and feeling are brought together. We seek a clear mind and a clean heart. A clear mind is uncontaminated by dogma, mechanical thinking or confusion. A clean heart is untroubled by negative emotions and desire. Keep your mind and heart in a good state. When things go off, inquire whether you need to bring more truth to the situation by speaking up, or more kindness to the situation by practising tolerance. This unacceptable universe must be loved with your whole heart and the unspeakable word that hides in your heart must be spoken.

Being in Relationship

Q: Relationships. I wonder what is the point of them. The feeling of together- ness with another in an intimate sexual relationship—I don’t understand it.

S: They are a wonderful instrument of torture, don’t we love them? Aren’t we endlessly fascinated by them? You know it is one of the strongest illusions in this world to believe that we can somehow find nirvana in another. Yet, relationships are a terrific form of spiritual progress, spiritual sadhana, because the other person becomes a mirror to us—sometimes an extremely unpleasant one.

I think The Pathwork gives one of the best analyses. A relationship begins with romance—they call it eros—and this experience of romance is what some of us live for—‘Ecstasy! I’m in love!’ It is an intoxication. And it is a real intoxication—we are actually spiritually uplifted. We become less selfish, we become generous, we show more of our true Self. There is a kind of ecstasy with it, a high. But, as we all know, eros doesn’t last forever. My mother has left the programme so I can tell you a disgusting joke: What is the difference between true love and herpes? Answer: Herpes lasts forever! Isn’t that horrible? Thank God my mother is here to protect me from my lower self!

At that point, you might separate or you might live together like two corpses, fifty years after eros has died, never speaking again. You just watch Seinfeld re-runs. Others become addicted to eros and they become love addicts, serial erotics. They get into a new romance and stay with it until it dies, and then move on.

Sunset over the pond.

The alternative is to go deeper together. It is a kind of inquiry group. Now you are moving towards real love. The nature of God is pure relationship—God is everything in everyone. God’s nature is purely relational. That which is separate is cut off from the light. The more separate a thing is, the further from God it is. A stone is in isolation, but a human being is in relationship. The essence of being a human being, a divine being, is to be open in relationship. A great sage is in relationship with the whole universe.

Baba would greet each person in an open and free way, in an appropriate, open and loving way. There would be a transmission of love. Relationship is a great stretching, growing, groaning process. Certain kinds of yogis try to avoid relationship, to escape from all relationship. They go to a cave or they live on an island. This is beginner’s stuff. We have to be able to be in relationship as well as in the Self. So relationship is a great sadhana, a great spiritual practice, but a difficult one. If I put a percentage on what people complain to me about, relationships are up there. And nothing else is up there. It is the one. It is the hardest one, because it gets you where you live, being face-to-face with another person. Even if you hate relationships, you will be inevitably drawn to one because the soul craves it. We are in a funny situation, human beings, aren’t we?

Q: What are the essential ingredients of a good relationship? I would like to know what one could or should expect from a relationship. What purpose do they serve? Is there only one right person? Are your relationships predestined?

S: A while ago, there was a woman who came for the first time and she told me that she had spent many years in an ashram, and now she was seeking marriage. I understood what she was saying because I have spent many years in an ashram too, and I know what happens in ashrams. She said she wasn’t quite ready for marriage since marriage is such an awesome thing.

The Pathwork says that the essence of a good relationship is ‘mutual self-revelation’. People come together out of eros, an attraction, and if that does not develop into something more, then eros fades, and the relationship usually fades with it. Instead, the couple can move towards mutual self-revelation—you show more of yourself to the other person, you go deeper together. Any context in which you show more of yourself seems like a risk. The ego says, ‘No, no, no. Keep up a facade, pretend, don’t show anything’. But it is also an act of faith and trust. It is a yagna ceremony: you throw something into the fire, you make an offering. You have no guarantee that it will work. When you reveal something, it moves something in the other person. That person moves to reveal something too, and love is refreshed.

In that sense, relationships can be spiritual because what I have described is similar to the spiritual process. The spiritual process is also one of Self-revelation. Spiritually considered, a relationship is a context in which you can go deeper with another person helping you and mirroring you. That is a tremendous use you can make of a relationship. In our culture, many people have the illusion that through a relationship you can attain God: Once you have the right relationship, everything is perfect in heaven and earth. Well, I don’t think so. But a relationship can be used to further your spiritual progress. And if it doesn’t go that way, it goes the opposite way—it can go towards hell very easily. Relationship is a great fire. When you are by yourself, you can fool yourself, but when you are with another person, you can’t.

One of my great teachers, Ben Hogan, used to say, ‘You can’t fool a golf ball’. You hit it a certain way, it goes a certain way. You can’t hit it with a bad stroke and talk it into going right. You can’t argue with it or convince it. The same is true of your mate. Your mate knows you, and your relationship reflects that. You should be stretched in a relationship and challenged. There are tremendous rewards if you practise conscious relationship.

Yes, there is destiny at work here, but don’t get too dewy-eyed about it. Our life course is charted, but what hasn’t been charted is the way we react to what happens. That is where free will is. We can choose to flow with it or be miserable. When we are miserable enough, we are forced to discover that we had better learn the way to flow. So don’t get into a destiny fantasy. Only when something has happened can we say it was destined. But isn’t that a tautology? It doesn’t really tell us anything. Within a broad philosophical determinism, you should act as though you have free will in practical matters. And then you should make good choices.

Love is the Basic Emotion

Q: If it is, as you say, that love is the motivator that propels us into our various situations, why then is there often tension, anxiety and frustration associated with our journey? What is the correlation between life and the negatives that often travel this path together? Are the struggles associated with love actually an expression of love or is it the case that these difficulties prevent the expression of love?

S: That is complex, but a very good question. I will throw out the question and talk about it generally. Where we have gone in our lives, what we have done is a demonstration of what has drawn our love and interest. It is quite true that it is not always pure love that motivates us. Sometimes it is hatred. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations because of anger or denial or hatred. But all of that is only love trying to express itself. Whenever we feel strong hatred, it is because love has been thwarted in some way. There has been a hurt. I think it is worth while to look at our life this way. What is the love behind our actions? What is the motivation behind them? And it is quite true that, looking at it from a yogic perspective, love is the basic emotion.

Let’s take a naive look at the world and say that everyone is motivated by love. Where they are not motivated by love, the distortion comes about because of fear or anger or something like that. The generic term is ignorance: we lose touch with the truth and descend into paranoia or rage. But who we really are, is love. I like this view of humanity. Our basic nature is good, but it gets distorted. As we defend our ego, we become caught in various distortions.

But it is possible through inner work, through Self-awareness, to come back to that experience of wholeness and love. When you are motivated by revenge, fear or some base emotion, you have no peace. If you are out for revenge against your ‘ex’, say, if you actually act out of that, how much satisfaction do you get? Sometimes a lot. [Laughter.] Yes, you always pay a price, but sometimes it may be worth it!

So let’s not be dogmatic here. I have a deep allergy to dogma. I am not saying dogmatically that your life is only an expression or distortion of love. I am saying, use it as a lens, use it as a possibility. Look at your life as expressions of love or distortions of love, and see if that gives you new insight.

I love spiritual ideas, I will read any tradition and I will get a new angle from it. I love to read other traditions. Shaivism looks at things a certain way. Zen comes from way over there and has a whole different perspective. Wherever there have been human beings, there have been sages, people who have practised the path of wisdom. They have worked on themselves to purify their vision, to purify their hearts. Those people have something worthy to say, whatever their tradition. When you work on yourself, when you pay that price, when you do the tapasya, then you arrive at wisdom. Whatever those sages say is worthy of being listened to, and treated with respect and taken on as a possibility.

Sometimes the pursuit of knowledge is like detective fiction— which I have always loved—where things are never as they seem. But you go deeper and get rid of layers of illusion. When we do Self-inquiry, it is always looking for a deeper truth. What seems obviously true is often not the case. I won’t say it is never the case, but it is often not the case. And there is always a deeper motive.

In fiction, a character may say something but have a motive behind it. The audience senses that motive: the wicked man says nice things, but he has murder on his mind. So there are layers and layers to investigate—this is called inquiry. It is always worth while to inquire into things and you can use a lens, what we used to call in the university a heuristic device, a method of learning. Investigate and discover the blocks to your love and remove them. Then your love will flow. Love wants to express itself, but you should not beat your head against a brick wall.

Assume that you are where you are in your life because love has brought you there. You have always followed your love. Unfortunately, it has sometimes been love of the ego or love of appearances. You might see that you haven’t allowed the full expression of your love. There are areas that you haven’t allowed because of limitations that you impose on yourself, or because of your culture, or your worrying about what other people think. You have limited your love.

Take the case of the great saint Akka Mahadevi. When she fully expressed her love, she wandered around naked and insane shrieking for Shiva. So normally, we want to stop short of that. A few of you in this room might get to that extreme. We will chain you down and give you a couple of pills first.

It is good to look at your life as reflecting where your love has brought you. And you can also contemplate where it would go if you let your love flow. But remember this: your impure love can put you in bad situations. So during sadhana, while love is being strengthened and purified, not acting on will and impulse can be wise.

Q: If love is my true nature, precisely what is it that clouds my experience of love? If I can’t get in touch with love, how can I at least come to peace with that fact?

S: That is why we meditate. We meditate simply to get to the underlying truth. What stops love? Fear stops love, anger stops love. There is conditional love and there is unconditional love. Whenever we fall in love, whenever we feel love for anything, there is real love there, there is the germ of true love. Then our tendency comes up. It might be the tendency to get angry or the tendency to want quid pro quo, or as Baba would say, to make it into a ‘marketplace thing’, a deal: I want something back. An element of selfishness comes up, an element of possessiveness that obstructs the love. When that arises, it makes us feel terrible.

The key here is to continually go back to the love, to re-find the original love. For that, we have to do yoga, we have to grapple with the obscuring tendencies within. We do that through meditation and through wisdom. Two methods. One is through insight and the other is through meditating, going deeper than our tendencies, down to the inner Self. Everyone has this struggle with love. That is why the path of love is such a great practice, such a great sadhana. Don’t settle for less. You will certainly discover your love by means of your sadhana.


Carrot (as we commonly call it) is a manual on daily life. Swamiji answers questions about every aspect of life and with wisdom, humour and insight and addresses each person’s issue. It is available from the Ashram bookshop.