Become the Lord of Your Mind

Mahamandaleshwar Swami Shankarananda

Swami Shankarananda (Swamiji) is director of the Shiva Ashram in Mt Eliza and is a spiritual master who has been guiding students for 40 years with warmth, humour, and depth. He carries the energy of one of the most powerful mystical lineages of India and has awakened thousands of seekers to the spiritual path.

A prolific writer, Swamiji is regarded as an authority on meditation, Self-inquiry, and Kashmir Shaivism – a powerful mystical philosophy whose goal is to see and experience the world as a divine play of Consciousness. He is the author of the bestselling guide to meditation, Happy For No Good Reason, as well as numerous other books including the classic Consciousness Is Everything – a comprehensive and practical introduction to Shaivism. His most recent book is his biography ‘Ganeshpuri Days’, a poignant and revealing story of his sadhana and discipleship with his Guru, Baba Muktananda. You can watch him live or online at http://www.satsanglive.com.au/

Before my trip to India in 1970, I was an academic in the field of literature. I considered myself the epitome of the Western contemporary man. An “intellectual,” I used my mind fairly effectively, but I had no idea how it worked, nor how to deal with negative emotional states. My intellect was often my friend, but also often my enemy. Seeking a deeper truth, I looked for a teacher. After many adventures, I found him in the Siddha master, Swami Muktananda, and spent many years with him. One day, early in my stay with him, I was having a difficult time. He came up to me while I was working in the ashram garden and stood nose to nose, an inch from my face. He whispered the five-syllable mantra Om Namah Shivaya to me. He said, “Repeat this twenty-four hours a day; meditate intensely for four hours a day!” I began the practice, and in less than a day I was experiencing a powerful joy bubbling in my heart.

This was my first experience of the yogic process of introjection, explained by Maharishi Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras (II 33 and 3­4), replacing unsuitable thoughts with better ones. Better thoughts include mantras, affirmations like “I am worthy,” mahavakyas or great scriptural statements like “I am That” and prayer and invocation. The important thing to understand is that the heart of yoga lies in the conscious choice you can make to uplift your mind.

The philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism introduces the concept of matrika. A rough modern equivalent for matrika might be “self-talk”—the thoughts we have in our consciousness. Some matrika is governed by contracting forces of separation and negation and leads us to states of suffering, while the higher kind of matrika soars with mantric power and connects us to the Divine. A person lost in illusion is tossed up and down on this quixotic stream of matrika, his mind moving in dark habitual spaces, relieved sometimes by a ray of light when things in the world work out briefly. Matrika literally means “the unknown mother.” She is the dark womb of all possible meanings arising from the depths of consciousness. Only the yogi can become the “Lord of Matrika.” He empowers himself, choosing to move away from contracted negative thought forms that bring fear, anger and sorrow, and towards peace and joy.

The essence of sadhana, or spiritual practice, is to work with your own thought and feeling. The first thing to do is to observe how your mind works. Watch it in action and reaction. Reflect on your own consciousness. This will reveal facts about your inner world that may have escaped your notice. Think of a rock: it sits quietly, fully exhibiting its “rockness” without a doubt or confusion. Even my dog, Bhakti, is certain about who she is and what her needs are. Only a human being comes equipped with a mysterious inner voice that doubts, questions and depresses him. What a wonder! Where does this come from? When our outer enemies revile us, they are nowhere near as effective as our own negative self-talk. I call these negative thoughts of self-attack “tearing thoughts” and “shrinking thoughts,” because they literally tear into our hearts and shrink us from Divinity to diminished personhood. They say, “I am no good.” “That person is better than I am.” “I am stupid.” “No one loves me.” “I am far from God.”

Tearing thoughts are always accompanied by negative feeling. Conversely, the presence of depression and unhappiness sounds the alert: “tearing thoughts in the vicinity!” As yogis, our job is to ferret out these tearing thoughts, look them in the eye and stop believing them. Our goal may be the state beyond the mind, but we live, work and relate in the world of words, and we must learn how to make our way in it.

Negative thoughts create tension within the body. By a disciplined inquiry into these points of tension, they can be released. Such self-inquiry involves an inner search for the sources of our suffering and beyond them to the Self. Where are we holding a wrong understanding? Where are we lacking in faith or operating from fear? Such questions are only for the brave, but eventually we discover that at the very center of our ignorance is the peace and illumination of the Self. Lord Krishna said, “O Arjuna, be a yogi and fight!” To be a yogi means to use our free will again and again, moment to moment. The philosopher Henri Bergson said, “Consciousness awakens as soon as the possibility of choice becomes available.” A Sufi qawaali says: “Choose this or choose that.” The choice is ours—upliftment or despair. A yogi must always choose in the direction of his Divinity.

Once a seeker was struggling with what he thought was his ego, but was really his negative matrikas. He went to his Guru and asked, “How can I deal with the negativity of my mind?” The guru said, “You must control your thought. Do not think, ‘I am a sinner,’ don’t even think, ‘I am a King.’ Think, ‘I am Shiva, I am the Self; I am Consciousness.’ Keep doing this practice and eventually you will be absorbed into Consciousness itself.”

In that moment the seeker understood that the heart of the matter is to identify with the highest part of our nature, the Divine, and not the limited ego. Divinity is always at hand, closer than our own heartbeat. Beyond the highest matrika, and flowing directly from it, there is only the silence of the Absolute. The untrammelled heart of Shiva is the source and also the destination of all matrika.


Stop telling yourself stupid stories

Swami Shankarananda at Vajreshwari temple, India
Swamiji at Vajreshwari temple, India

11th August 2010

Every Wednesday evening before Shiva Process Swamiji would speak to us about how to maximise the experience of Shakti. These talks range from teachings on Kashmir Shaivism to Self-inquiry, from meditation to mantra, and from downward shifts to upward shifts.

I want to speak briefly about one of my favourite topics, the A-Statement, the humble A-Statement. There are many reasons why the A-Statement is effective. Sometimes I think it is the great unsung hero. It makes us present.

To make an A-Statement is to be aware of present feeling, to label it and to state it. And I make many A-Statements a day. When we make an A-Statement we go inside and ask, ‘what’s going on here, what’s the feeling?’ and make A-Statement.  

When you become aware of negativity you will notice two elements within you. First there is the feeling. Second, there’s the story that underlies it which produces the bad feeling. The story takes you deeper and deeper into bad feeling. You dwell on it and remember all the horrors. You think and think and think and while you’re doing that you’re feeling is going down, down, and down. But instead if you examine the feeling and then make the A-statement you are freed from the story and you just work with the feeling. 

The feeling may be angry, it may be scared, it may be sad or depressed, but it’s just a feeling and you can handle it. The thing that you can’t handle is the endless story telling that produces it. So, if you become present to whatever the feeling is, you already have had a shift. If you move away from the story and be with the feeling and then you are just with it. You don’t have to even try to get out of it, you just be with it. Already you’re in a better space because it’s more real, because that is what is present, that’s what you are feeling. 

There’s never been a human being who didn’t get angry, didn’t get scared, or didn’t get sad. Every human being who’s ever faced life has gone through these different moods; it’s perfectly horrible but also okay at the same time. It won’t kill you because it’s only your own feelings. It’s not the communists, it’s not the fascists, it’s not what you think it is, it’s not the white people, the black people, the brown people, the yellow people, the red people. It is none of that, it’s your own feeling and it won’t kill you.

It is good to just sit with feeling, because it will teach you endurance. To endure is a great yogic quality. I believe that if you simply endure, hang in there long enough the whole world will come to you. That is all you have to do.

The world is so horrified by feelings that everyone wants to get drunk, or get stoned, or do anything to divert it, or change it and so on. And to stand and just be with it is all right. And then even if you try to maintain that feeling you won’t be able to because it will shift. It will change, but first you have to sit with it, be with it and then make the A-statement.

To sit still like a great yogi when your breast is heaving with rage, burning your body, or you experience a horrible depression, with its blackness permeating every cell, or feel terror running through your body, that is a great yoga in itself.

Sit with it, don’t be afraid, it is only your own feeling. 

And when you stop telling yourself the stories that create the feeling, the feeling will change, and it will go. It is there because you are telling yourself stupid, false and idiotic stories. So, stop telling the stories and just be with the feeling, that’s my statement for tonight. Thank you very much. 

For more information on Shiva Process click here.

In Search of Bhagavan Nityananda’s Teachings

FeaturedIn Search of Bhagavan Nityananda’s Teachings

Appendix taken from Swami Shankarananda’s newest book, Ganeshpuri Days: Memoirs of a Western Yogi.

Bhagavan Nityananda was born in South India, of humble parentage. At an early age he adopted the life of a travelling mendicant, and visited the length and breadth of India, perhaps even going overseas. While still a relatively young man, he arrived in the vicinity of Ganeshpuri and his travels ended. He sat in Ganeshpuri for the rest of his life, absorbed in his inner state.

Bhagavan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri

Bhagavan had many disciples, some of them of great yogic attainment. Among them, Baba Muktananda stands out. If Bhagavan was the formless, unmoving Shiva of the universe of the Siddha tradition, Baba was his Shakti. Baba translated Bhagavan’s inner state into a whirlwind of creativity and teaching. He gave form to the formless. He took Bhagavan Nityananda’s power and wisdom to the whole world.

In recent years I have documented the careers of spiritual teachers who have descended from Bhagavan Nityananda on the website Nityananda: The Living Tradition (www.nityanandatradition.org). All the branches of this powerful modern spiritual lineage harken back to the source: Bhagavan Nityananda.

When you sit in Bhagavan Nityananda’s samadhi shrine in Ganeshpuri, you experience the sheer force of his spiritual presence.

When you sit in Bhagavan Nityananda’s samadhi shrine in Ganeshpuri, you experience the sheer force of his spiritual presence. One devotee described it to me as ‘raw Shakti coming up out of the earth’. I can’t disagree.

For most of us, this is more than enough. But for devotees who still retain a soupçon of intellect, there does exist a collection of the verbal teachings of Bhagavan Nityananda. Coming from his younger days in South India, between 1922 and 1924, they show Bhagavan answering questions and commenting on things in an oddly compelling, aphoristic style. One of his major devotees, Tulsi Amma, recorded and collected his utterances. Nityananda told his devotees that these words came from the Chidakash, the space of cosmic Consciousness. Hence, these texts have become known as the Chidakash Gita, the song or speech of higher Consciousness.

Some devotees have had doubts about the authenticity of this text. However it does, for me, seem to answer the question, ‘If Bhagavan Nityananda gave teachings, what would they be like?’ I can see Bhagavan making these utterances. They are completely unique in the entire spiritual field and extremely quirky. Yet, they are filled with conviction and higher wisdom. Bhagavan uses village imagery and metaphors of travel by boat and railroad to depict the spiritual journey. It’s all there; teachings about the Guru, the Self, the Kundalini Shakti, the sacred syllable Om, prana, meditation and so on. I can’t resist giving a few examples.

Fear is an imagining of the mind. To the inner eye there is no fear. It is impossible for a blind man to describe a wagon. For the man without a Guru, there is no resting place in the world

A ripe banana is sweet, the green fruit is hard and sour. Yet both fruits were on the same tree, only the timing is different. The young plant is easily uprooted, the old tree stands firm. So also, the mind should stand firm, whatever people say to you or about you. Make this your sole purpose.

The head is the ocean of delight, the seat of bliss, the thousand-petalled lotus, the seat of liberation. This knowledge is not found in books, it is inherent in the brain.

A steamship is guided by steam power and the skill of the captain. A country boat cannot go like a steamship. The sannyasi is like the steamship; he who has put the world inside himself is like the steamship. The man who is in the world is like the country boat. The Brahmarandhra of the sannyasi is like the guiding light atop the steamship.

In order to make planks of a wooden beam, it should be sawed up and down. Similarly, breath should move upwards and downwards in the body. It should be led into the Ajna chakra (third eye) and made always to move in an upward direction.

In Pranayama, Pooraka is drawing up the breath. Kumbhaka is retaining the breath. Rechaka is exhaling the breath. These three kinds of breath are from within. Nothing is taken from outside. While thus the practice is going on, the Prana will move only in the sushumna nadi (central nerve). We then feel the internal joy. Who can describe this Brahmananda? The outside world will then be forgotten. We will then be in the world beyond.

When you see the dawn in the heart sky, it is possible to describe it. One must experience these things in oneself.

Experience is the train, wisdom is the passenger, the chakras are the stations. The subtle is in the chakras, in the subtle tube. Within the subtle tube is the Kundalini Shakti.

Until a baby is six months old, he knows no differences. A true yogi is like this baby.

Raja yoga is like climbing to the roof of a building and looking around below. Raja yoga is the king of all yogas.

Atman is not perceptible to the physical eye, it is perceived by the intelligence … Attention towards the visible should be lessened and attention towards the invisible should be intensified.

Arise, kundalini-delight! The match is in the box. The fire is in the match. Strike the match and light the fire.

Only with great restraint can I stop here …

If these texts show the young Bhagavan Nityananda, where are the teachings from later in his life, especially the Ganeshpuri years? In the village, I had a chat with one of the samadhi trustees. I told him I thought it was a pity that no spiritual teachings remain from Bhagavan Nityananda’s Ganeshpuri time up to his death in 1961. He gave me the standard answer, ‘Even one word from Bhagavan Nityananda is enough. It is complete!’ ‘Yes,’ I said waggling my head (and perhaps rolling my eyes), ‘but wouldn’t it be nice …?’

Many years later I discovered that there is, indeed, an oral tradition of Bhagavan’s Ganeshpuri utterances. I have become a collector of these yogic gems. I heard the first one from the late Chakrapani Ullal. Chakrapani was a devotee of Bhagavan Nityananda and later travelled to the West with Baba Muktananda, as a devotee, friend and adviser. Later he became a celebrated Vedic astrologer in Los Angeles, the ‘astrologer to the stars’. He mentioned that Nityananda used to say over and over, ‘Bhavana rakho!’, which Chakrapani translated as, ‘Keep the feeling!’

A yogi has to always attend to his feeling state. He has to be alert to the downward shift of feeling and look for upward shifts.

Bhagavan as seen in his famous chair.

A yogi has to always attend to his feeling state. He has to be alert to the downward shift of feeling and look for upward shifts. From a certain perspective, yoga is simply the skill of remaining in a state of peace, love, joy and contentment.

Bhavana rakho can also be translated as ‘maintain the [good] feeling’. To reduce the yoga of feeling to its essentials: when you are in a good state you have to ‘maintain the feeling’; when you are in a bad state you have to uplift the feeling. Bhavana rakho reminds us to address both these possibilities. It is Bhagavan Nityananda shorthand.

This phrase speaks to me like no other. Bhavana rakho sums up the yoga we practised with Baba. The ashram was a psychic pool seething with Shakti, tests, and pitfalls. Our job was to follow the schedule and also to ‘keep the feeling’. The practices were designed to burn out the tendencies that took us away from our centre. Sri Aurobindo used to make the same point. He said the first job of a seeker was to stay in a calm and peaceful state. Only then, he would say, could the Force work on one. Aurobindo’s Force, of course, was the same as Baba’s Shakti, and while we had to be very active in expelling our negative tendencies, we had to be passively receptive to that higher power.

Sometimes we feel that the universe is set up against us: to deny us what we want. Perhaps it is set up perfectly for us in a different way – to teach us what we need to learn. Bhavana rakho says that it’s not about getting what we want, it is about being peaceful no matter what happens.

I expressed my sadness that we had none of Bhagavan’s teachings from his Ganeshpuri days to one of the temple priests. I expected the usual platitudes, but the priest surprised me. He said, ‘Oh no, there are five of his teachings that everyone in the village knows.’ These are the teachings he shared with me:

Shuddha bhavana – Have pure feeling
Vishala manas – Have an expanded mind.
Nirmala manas – Have a clean mind.
Nishchala manas – Have a steady mind.
Sabh mati hai – All is dust.

Typically for Bhagavan Nityananda, these few aphorisms cover a large ground. They indicate every kind of yoga, emphasising the control and discipline of the mind. For example, shuddha bhavana (pure feeling) suggests bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. The word bhavana describes an emotional attitude. A pure bhavana occurs when feeling is directed towards God.

Vishala manas (expanded mind) suggests jnana yoga, the yoga of intellect. Vishala means ‘broad or expansive’. The seeker should make effort to keep his mind open. There are unlimited possibilities, not just a few. An expansive mind is noble, not weighed down by mundane concerns. A mind that contemplates G-Statements, or mahavakyas, like, ‘I am Shiva’ or ‘I am the Self,’ becomes vishala manas. It always seeks connection with the Divine. Such a mind is exalted and creative.

Nirmala manas (clean mind) and nishchala manas (steady mind) suggest the raja yoga of Patanjali. A clean mind is a mind beyond attachment and aversion (raga/dvesha), which darken and contaminate mind and emotions. Nirmala manas suggests the yogic quality of vairagya, non-attachment. Bhagavan Nityananda was the embodiment of non-attachment. No worldly pleasure or success could draw him away from the enjoyment of his own inner state.

Nishchala manas strongly echoes Patanjali and other raja yogis who stress mental discipline and control, and discourage emotional excursions. Such a mind does not go up and down, but has acquired one-pointedness and stitha prajna, steady wisdom.

Sabh mati hai (all is dust) emphasises vairagya, detachment from desire and fear. It should be understood that the main feeling implied here is not that of disgust at the world, but rather relief in the realisation that there is nothing more important than your relationship to God.

Later, the priest remembered another saying: mana mantri buddhi raja, ‘The mind is the prime minister, the intellect is the king.’ I recognised this one from the Chidakash Gita. It suggests the proper ordering of things; what is lower must be subordinated to what is higher. Human beings should be ruled by the highest principle and not their lower nature. The tail should not wag the dog, wisdom should rule the emotions. As Shakespeare said, ‘Take but degree away, untune that string/And, hark, what discord follows!’ Yogis have their priorities right.

‘The mind is the prime minister, the intellect is the king.’

In a later trip to Ganeshpuri, I met Niranjan Suvarna, the son of the photographer who took most of the well-known photographs of Bhagavan Nityananda. Niranjan continues in his father’s footsteps and has completed a documentary on the life of Bhagavan. Because he is interested in everything about Bhagavan Nityananda, I told him of my adventures in tracking down his teachings. To my delight he gave me another one: Atela vishvas: ‘Have total faith.’ This is bhakti yoga, the attitude of a perfect devotee. Such a yogi believes implicitly in the word of the Guru and also in God’s benevolence.

If any reader knows of any other of Bhagavan’s later teachings, please let me know …


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,

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.


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. 


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


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

In Search of the Miraculous

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


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.


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?


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.