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Living the Yoga Life: Dedication to Spiritual Life

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A great number of people ascribe to spiritual philosophy, but few follow the practical means to realization and prize them more highly than anything else on earth. Every day people are forsaking spiritual life for that which they desire more, or to avoid that which they fear or dislike. In all viable spiritual traditions those who seek higher life are sometimes likened to dedicated soldiers: ready to give up all, even their life, in the struggle for enlightenment. As was said about the Westward Expansion in America: “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way.”


Saint Teresa of Avila said that worldly people want to go to God the way a chicken walks. In case you have not seen a chicken walk, I will describe it to you. They meander around, never in a straight line, scratching and pecking at the dirt, often lifting one foot and then standing still as if they are in a coma. They literally veer to the side frequently and often walk backwards a bit. If they run, it is only for a few feet and then they stop and wonder what they are doing. Everything they do is “in a bit,” in little spurts and stops. As I said, they meander, they do not really walk. It is purely a matter of lack of intelligence, and therefore lack of good sense. Further, as they walk they often croon to themselves in an aimless and patternless manner, as if trying to figure out if they are even alive, much less where they are–and why. Yet people prefer to live in just such a way, and are proud of it. As Yogananda said: “People are so skillful in their ignorance.”


We are so used to hearing “sadhu” applied only to monastics, that we forget (or never knew) it is an adjective with a great deal of positive qualities. A Brief Sanskrit Glossary says it means: straight; right; leading straight to a goal; hitting the mark; unerring; straightened; not entangled; well-disposed; kind; willing; obedient; successful; effective; ready; prepared; peaceful; powerful; fit; proper; right; good; virtuous; honorable; righteous; well-born; noble; correct; pure; excellent; and perfect. “Sadhuguna” is a Sanskrit word not used very often. It includes all these traits, all of which come from non-attachment: vairagya. And vairagya is non-attachment; detachment; dispassion; absence of desire; disinterest; or indifference, especially towards all worldly things and enjoyments. This is simple to say, but very hard to do, and impossible for those who are not yogis, for yogis certainly are sadhus whatever their external situation.


Vairagya is detachment, absence of desire and disinterest in all worldly things and enjoyments. A lot of people are disillusioned and disgusted with certain things in the world, but their basis is ego and not awareness of the emptiness of the world and its ways. Further, true vairagya is an active force like burning fire. Real vairagya burns up illusions and attachment, which are the fabric of the world and relative existence. The world becomes a bridge which the sadhaka burns behind him after having safely crossed over it. If we do not see this process in the mind and life of an aspirant we can know that his aspiration is a mirage.

Having incinerated ignorance, attachment, desire and egotism, the glory of the Self begins to be revealed in the very appearance of the yogi as well as his daily life. Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh was an embodiment of the atmic glory in all aspects of his life. Never was it veiled. At all times the splendor was there for those who had eyes to see.


In truth, for us there never is any time but “now.” The past and future are both unreachable for us. There are people who obsess on past spiritual experience as though that is sufficient, and there are those who make big plans about how dedicated to spiritual life they are going to be in the future when things are “right.” I have seen my good friends that were yogis letting spiritual opportunity slip away from them because of this kind of delusion. How many spiritual layabouts have told me that they were “not yet ready” for dedicated spiritual life! “I am not ready,” really means “I don’t want to.” Some of them said so decades ago and today are still not ready: bound in material life, spiritually stagnant and spiritually dead. Their life was over the day they decided to fool themselves into delay. “Just a day or so more,” they tell themselves, until death ends the whole pretence. As Jesus said, grieving for such people: “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes” (Luke 19:42).


“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2). The wise know this to be true and act on it. Swami Sivananda wrote a song in English simply called “D.I.N.,” in which he sang the refrain: “D.I.N., D.I.N., D.I.N.: Do It Now, Do It Now, Do It Now.” Now is all we have or ever will have.


If you are breathing and conscious: Today is your day.


I told someone who kept going on “retreats” that had no real lasting benefit: “You mistakenly think that you can sit out in the world and roast in the fire until it becomes unbearable, and then ‘go on retreat’ for a week or two and cool off, only to go right back out and roast some more. It won’t get you anywhere. Get out of the fire!”


Someone once asked Yogananda if he believed in hell. The Master smiled and asked: “Where do you think you are?” We can live in the fire and not be burned if we know how. The yogis who study the Bhagavad Gita and conform their lives entirely to its teachings will become fireproof and live at peace, untouched by the flames. And then after death go on to higher worlds where there are no flames.


The purpose of a fruit tree is to bear fruit. If it does not, it is worthless and usually cut down. The purpose of human life is to realize God. Therefore a life not dedicated to that purpose is a waste and the person is a fruitless tree. In the sight of the wise such a life is meaningless. Those who do not realize God or advance toward the realization of God are failures in true life.

Unfortunately few have this perspective. Even the yogis are willing to just mosey through life in a pious manner, which is why so many emphasize devotion instead of knowledge, when it is progress in yoga sadhana that is the only worthy endeavor and emphasis. And even though they defensively talk about how there is no need to be a monastic to realize God, they excuse their minimal discipline and progress by saying: “We are householders with responsibilities, not sannyasis.” But every single one of us has the responsibility to seek God first. Those who are continually complaining that householders are considered second class aspirants are perfectly willing to be second class. Please remember this: What we do not sow we cannot reap.


It is generally supposed in both East and West that the grihastha, not being a sadhu, can live his life as he pleases, completely according to his wish and will except for a few token religious/spiritual observances and practices. But that is not so. The family is the basis of society. If that basis is not dharmic, then the society is not dharmic, either.

I have lived in ideal dharmic households in India. As my sannyasa guru, Swami Vidyananda Giri, said to me after I had described my stay in the home of a disciple of Swami Keshabananda, who is written about in Autobiography of a Yogi: “There are many households that are spiritually superior to many ashrams.” When the members are dedicated yogis, this is definitely so. Daily worship, meditation and observance of yama and niyama transform the members of the family, including the children.

I have had some American yogi friends who sincerely wanted to have completely dharmic homes but did not know how to go about it since they were completely unaware of the traditional ways of an Indian household. Meditation is not enough for anyone to succeed in spiritual life. There is an entire world to be entered and perpetuated wherever the yogi may be.

Renunciation and vairagya are as necessary for grihastas as they are for sannyasis. I know many Indian grihastas who far outdistance the institutional monastics I have seen in India. Yoganandaji often told people: “Make your heart a hermitage,” and that hermitage must be in conformity with the thousands of years’ discipline and wisdom embodied in dharmic Indian households even today. Ishwarapranidhana is the fundamental character of the life of anyone, whatever their ashrama: brahmachari, grihasta, vanaprastha or sannyasi. We must all live our lives as an offering to God.

Here is what Saint Paul said about it: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (12:1-2). “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?… therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:19-20). Everyone, whatever their state of life, needs to follow this counsel.


Some years ago I stayed at a Trappist convent and spoke to the nuns in the evenings. The subject arose of how a person could know whether they should take up the monastic life. I pointed out the irony of the attitude that a man or woman should do all kinds of praying and agonizing over whether or not to be a monastic, even consulting spiritual advisors on the matter, but no one was supposed to take such care about entering the householder life. Just pick out someone to marry and do so and it would be God’s will. What hypocrisy! And what a slighting of non-monastics. Isn’t their life as important as a monastic’s? Does it not matter if their lives are lived carelessly and according to egoic will rather than according to divine wisdom?

The householder life is not something to be lived merely because a person wishes to. It is an ashrama, a stage of life that obligates those in it to as seriously regulate their lives and follow the principles of dharma as does any sannyasi. It is not my place to instruct married people how to live, so I will not expand on this subject. But I urge serious married yogis to search out Yogananda’s teachings on this subject. Also valuable are the words of Sri Ramakrishna to be found in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Just look up the world “householders” in the index.

The inner and outer life of the grihastha must be as pure, and therefore as disciplined, as that of a sannyasi. Many householders try to excuse slackness in their life by protesting that they are not sannyasis, but grihasthas. A grihastha is as much a Sanatana Dharmi as a brachmachari, vanaprasthi or sannyasi. And purity and discipline are demanded of all.


Every day should be one of conscious renunciation for us. One evening in Aswan, Egypt, I was sitting outside with Bishop Hedra, the Coptic bishop of Aswan, and a group of laymen. He told the people to ask me questions, which they did. One lady told me that the fundamentalist Protestant missionaries were just then making a big fuss about when the end of the world would occur, and asked my opinion. I told her: “A true Christian ‘ends the world’ every day.” All agreed.

This principle that every day should be a day of renunciation is very important, for so many begin as fervent renouncers and then not only fall back into their old ways, but start accumulating more and more attachments, until they are more materialistic than ordinary people.

It is also important that renunciation be extended into every aspect of our life, otherwise all kinds of things slip through and render us hypocrites. For example, one time in Kanpur a famous swami was giving a series of talks on the Srimad Bhagavatam. In one talk he made the silly remark that if we have a kaupin (a strip of cloth traditionally used as underwear) it should be very narrow–and he showed with his fingers how narrow it should be. This was supposed to be an ideal of simplicity and renunciation. Yet I had noticed that every day he had worn a different expensive sweater, and I knew that he had hundreds of thousands of rupees in the bank.

In keeping with this guru’s hypocrisy was a young “sadhu” disciple of his that was living in a thatch hut in Brindaban. He was always well trimmed and well-oiled as he daily displayed himself, walking along the road barefoot with a tiny cloth around his waist and a picturesque (equally well-oiled) kamandalu in one hand. The purpose was obvious: he would live like this for a few years so it would look good on his “resume” when he finally emerged to head a big ashram, all togged up and riding around in his auto with a driver to appointments with his accountants. (Of course, he already had his M.A. degree).

So renunciation is a continual practice.


Although certain external factors (or their absence) can be conducive to spiritual life, it is a grave error to think that of themselves external conditions are going to enable us to live a spiritual life. And it is positively deadly to delay spiritual effort, telling ourselves that when the fortuitous externals have been gained, then we will really get busy and dig in and have a strong spiritual life. Two of my friends frittered away their lives in this way. They always had big plans, often involving moving to another place and getting another job, that were going to enable them to dedicate themselves seriously to spiritual endeavor. But in the present they were neglecting spiritual life, supposedly because of factors that would removed in the future. Foolishly they thought they could slack off by daydreaming of a brighter tomorrow in which their progress would be effortless. That tomorrow never came, and in time they abandoned spiritual life and lived in embittered and self-justifying delusion, desolate and dreary.


A lot of people claim to burn their bridges behind them, but in the future it develops that they just camouflaged them and kept them ready to retreat over. Sri Ramakrishna often said that when people go into the Ganges their sins jump off and perch in the nearby trees. Then when they come out of the water they jump back on them. Unless something is truly destroyed and cannot ever be revived, we must not think we are rid of it. That is why the scriptures speak so often of roasting karmic seeds or burning negativity to ashes. We must be sure that we really are free of something before we decide we are, lest in the future find it was only hidden. One of the reasons Shaivites smear themselves with ashes is to remind themselves of this truth.


We often become temporarily desireless or develop an aversion to something when it causes us pain or we see its repulsive aspect. Certainly at such times a slight vairagya arises, but it almost always subsides sometime later. That is the deadly secret of the body: any detachment or disgust is sure to eventually subside and the old addiction that was established in numberless previous lives will reassert itself.

Therefore we must never trust a seeming indifference to either our own or others’ bodies. The conditioning from past lives is utterly subliminal and instinctual, and all mental and philosophical analysis intended to block that conditioning is useless–worse than useless because it is deceptive. The body is a danger at all times until we are enlightened, and people who think they are enlightened almost never are. So keep the red lights on in the mind and avoid the danger.

Next in Living the Yoga Life: Self-realization

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About to Living the Yoga Life–Perspectives on Yoga

Living the Yoga Life–Perspectives on Yoga

Living the Yoga Life–Perspectives on Yoga: Introduction

    1. Living the Yoga Life: Climbing the Ladder of Consciousness
    2. Living the Yoga Life: Sanatana Dharma, Sanatana Yoga
    3. Living the Yoga Life: The Atman/Self
    4. Living the Yoga Life: Bhakti and Jnana
    5. Living the Yoga Life: Brahman
    6. Living the Yoga Life: Ishwara
    7. Living the Yoga Life: Breath
    8. Living the Yoga Life: India and Sanatana Dharma
    9. Living the Yoga Life: The Importance of Independence
    10. Living the Yoga Life: The Intelligent Path
    11. Living the Yoga Life: The Internal Life
    12. Living the Yoga Life: Japa and Sound (Shabda)
    13. Living the Yoga Life: Japa with the Breath
    14. Living the Yoga Life: Jnana
    15. Living the Yoga Life: The Jnani
    16. Living the Yoga Life: Karma and Karma Yoga
    17. Living the Yoga Life: Kundalini
    18. Living the Yoga Life: Liberation
    19. Living the Yoga Life: It Is All Up To Us
    20. Living the Yoga Life: Madness, Divine and Worldly
    21. Living the Yoga Life: Manas (Mind) and Buddhi (Intelligence/Intellect)
    22. Living the Yoga Life: Buddhi Yoga
    23. Living the Yoga Life: True Masters (And Not)
    24. Living the Yoga Life: Maya
    25. Living the Yoga Life: Meditation
    26. Living the Yoga Life: Prana
    27. Living the Yoga Life: Raja Yoga
    28. Living the Yoga Life: Reincarnation
    29. Living the Yoga Life: Religion
    30. Living the Yoga Life: Samadhi
    31. Living the Yoga Life: Sadhana
    32. Living the Yoga Life: Dedication to Spiritual Life
    33. Living the Yoga Life: Self-realization
    34. Living the Yoga Life: Shivashakti
    35. Living the Yoga Life: Spiritual Experience
    36. Living the Yoga Life: The Spiritual Teacher
    37. Living the Yoga Life: Subtle Anatomy
    38. Living the Yoga Life: The World
    39. Living the Yoga Life: Worship
    40. Living the Yoga Life: Yoga, the Body and the World
    41. Living the Yoga Life: Dharma and Adharma
    42. Living the Yoga Life: Yoga–The Supreme Dharma
    43. Living the Yoga Life: Yoga Nidra
    44. Living the Yoga Life: The Yogi
    45. Living the Yoga Life: Some Advice to Yogis
    46. Living the Yoga Life: Qualities of a Yogi
    47. Living the Yoga Life: This and That
    48. Living the Yoga Life: Touch Not
    49. Living the Yoga Life: The Gita Speaks To The Yogi
    50. Living the Yoga Life: How It Is Done
    51. Living the Yoga Life: Use your mind
    52. Living the Yoga Life: Some things it is wise to avoid
    53. Living the Yoga Life: Things you should definitely do and have in your life
    54. Living the Yoga Life: Spiritual Reading
    55. Living the Yoga Life: Gorakhnath Speaks To The Yogi
    56. Living the Yoga Life: And A Final Word From Me
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