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Living the Yoga Life: How It Is Done

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“The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matthew 13:44). The kingdom of heaven is our eternal spirit-self. It is hidden in the “field” of the body according to the thirteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, and we must “buy” that field through the disciplines and practices of yoga. And the price of purchase is ALL that we have. It is the same for everyone: our entire life must be dedicated to the attainment of liberation.

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“The yogi should retire into a solitary place, and live alone” (Bhagavad Gita 6:10). It is not enough to live in a solitary place, the yogi should live alone. Why? “Adore me only with heart undistracted; turn all your thought toward solitude, spurning the noise of the crowd, its fruitless commotion” (Bhagavad Gita 13:10). Solitude is necessary so we can live “with heart undistracted.”

The greatest monk of the Christian church was Saint Arsenios the Great who lived in the Egyptian desert. At the beginning of his spiritual search he prayed for guidance from God. A voice sounded from heaven, saying: “Arsenios: Flee men”–which he did, and became “an earthly angel and a heavenly man” as a result.

This holy solitude is an ideal to be striven for. It need not involve living miles from others. Location is the key. For example, I am writing this in a house located on the side of a tree-covered mountain. When I look out the window I see at the foot of the mountain a neighborhood which includes a campground, but no noise is ever heard from there at any time. I can also see a minor highway at the foot of the mountains across the valley that is also silent. But the important thing is that the atmosphere is totally solitary. It feels as though this property is many miles from other habitations. Having lived far out in the countryside away from all others, I know the feeling and it is the same here. The windows are kept open much of the year and the only sounds usually heard are birds and breezes.

A yogi living in a tranquil neighborhood can turn his home into a spiritual haven and live there alone with God. I knew two yogis who lived in Beverly Hills in a sound-proofed apartment in splendid solitude. Again, location is the key–and the yogi’s sincere intention.

It was said of an ancient Christian hermit who lived in the desert of Israel: “He went into the desert and took the whole world with him.” So living in quiet solitude while having the mind filled with worldly clamor is defeating the purpose. It is crucial to control the telephone, not let others invade your quiet, and not bring in the world through newspapers, news magazines or news programs on radio and television. As the Sanat Kumaras said: “What have we to do with all this, we who are intent on knowing the Self?”

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What if you have a family or unavoidably live with others? Then you can follow the advice of Ram Gopal Mazumdar, the Sleepless Saint of Autobiography of a Yogi. “Are you able to have a little room where you can close the door and be alone?… That is your cave.… That is your sacred mountain. That is where you will find the kingdom of God.” I knew a disciple of Yogananda who said she used to climb up into a tree so she could be alone, hidden by the leaves from being disturbed by others. At the same time you must find the right balance between being alone and being with those you live with.

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For those that live with others, going into solitude occasionally was one of the major spiritual practices advocated by Sri Ramakrishna. Here are some of the things he said about it.

“The mind cannot dwell on God if it is immersed day and night in worldliness, in worldly duties and responsibilities; it is most necessary to go into solitude now and then and think of God. To fix the mind on God is very difficult, in the beginning, unless one practices meditation in solitude. When a tree is young it should be fenced all around; otherwise it may be destroyed by cattle.

“To meditate, you should withdraw within yourself or retire to a secluded corner or to the forest. And you should always discriminate between the Real and the unreal. God alone is real, the Eternal Substance; all else is unreal, that is, impermanent. By discriminating thus, one should shake off impermanent objects from the mind.”

“One must go into solitude to attain this divine love. To get butter from milk you must let it set into curd in a secluded spot: if it is too much disturbed, milk won’t turn into curd. Next, you must put aside all other duties, sit in a quiet spot, and churn the curd. Only then do you get butter.

“Further, by meditating on God in solitude the mind acquires knowledge, dispassion, and devotion. But the very same mind goes downward if it dwells in the world.

“The world is water and the mind milk. If you pour milk into water they become one; you cannot find the pure milk any more. But turn the milk into curd and churn it into butter. Then, when that butter is placed in water, it will float. So, practice spiritual discipline in solitude and obtain the butter of knowledge and love. Even if you keep that butter in the water of the world the two will not mix. The butter will float.”

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It is essential that you spend some time each day alone, but as often as you can it is good to go away to a solitary place for meditation and spiritual study. But it should be a personal retreat, not in some place where you can get pulled into their routine. (Some retreat facilities have individual houses for retreatants to stay in alone.)

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I am not speaking of being anti-social, but of being a serious yogi.

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The great Master Yogananda said that when we are alone we should be truly alone, forgetting the world and everything in it, including all that is dear to us, but when we are with others, we must really be with them. He was the perfect example of this. When he was alone and withdrawn the awesome atmosphere around him bespoke of his total absorption in God, and when he was with people they felt his entire heart was with them, that he was their very own. Yet, he was never over-familiar or “folksy.” His was the perfect balance, and we must seek the same.

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Many people think that “keeping silence” is a good thing, and it is if it is silence of mind and heart, but if it is nothing more than not speaking, it is of little worth. So do not waste your time “in silence” around other people–that is just ego display and an annoyance to others. Instead, seek solitude, for when there is no one to speak to that is the best silence.

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Whether a yogi is alone or with others, he should always be relaxed, cheerful, and thoughtful of others.

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When you are with people and it seems you are wasting your time sitting and listening to inane and silly talk, you will not be wasting your time if you calmly sit and meditate with open eyes. Never “go into meditation” around others–that is just holy show and escapism. If it does not look odd, there is nothing wrong in looking downward or at some blank surface as you continue to be what one spiritual writer called an “interior soul.” But the moment your attention is needed, give it wholeheartedly and enter into things as long as there is no harm in them. And please do not go slinking off for a meditation fix like some addict sneaking a cigarette. Stay put and keep on with the cultivation of consciousness through your inner yoga process. The spiritual vibrations will help everyone around you.

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What I have written above should be followed in moderation. Whenever you can, be alone and quiet. Please do not caught in the net of “good works” and “helping others.” These kind of activities are good for those who have not yet learned to cultivate the inner life, but believe me, your solitary life and meditation will help more people than any external acts ever could. Every moment of your practice makes it easier for other yogis to maintain their practice and contributes to the awakening of those who do not yet know yoga.

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Absolutely avoid the opposite sex. (If you are attracted to your own sex, then avoid everybody.) Do not fall into the trap of “just good friends” or think that disparity of age matters. Past life impressions are ready to rise and disrupt the spiritual life of the unwary.

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Truly have nothing to do with those that tell you: “I am your mother”–or father. I have never known a one of those who said that who were not defiled in thought and intention. Remember: to the yogi there should be no “special people” or “exceptions to the rule” in these matters. You may have to put up with emotional blackmail from these “offended” and “hurt” people, but their attempts to accuse and make you feel guilty are the proof of their negative and destructive nature.

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By the way: Learn to become totally deaf to those who say to you: “I only want you to be happy.” They NEVER really want any such thing. They want to manipulate you into making them happy.

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Be prepared for opposition, ridicule, and even vicious reaction to your aspirations to the yoga life. If you cannot stand up to outer pressures, how will you stand up to the delusions of your ego-mind?

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Another thing: Never think that you have to justify your beliefs and way of life. Do not get snagged into “discussions” with those who oppose your life and think you need prove anything to them. They are blind and deaf, and will remain so for a long time. As Yogananda told aspirants in reference to such people: “You go after God” and leave them far behind. Change your vibrations, and those people will disappear from your life, even if only after they make a lot of fuss.

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Here is a conversation Mahendranath Gupta, “Master Mahasaya the Blissful Devotee” in Autobiography of a Yogi, had with Sri Ramakrishna (referred to here as “M” and “Master.”)

“M. (to the Master): What should one do if one’s wife says: ‘You are neglecting me. I shall commit suicide’?

“MASTER (in a serious tone): Give up such a wife if she proves an obstacle in the way of spiritual life. Let her commit suicide or anything else she likes. The wife that hampers her husband’s spiritual life is an ungodly wife.

“Immersed in deep thought, M. stood leaning against the wall. …suddenly going to M., he [Sri Ramakrishna] whispered in his ear: ‘But if a man has sincere love for God, then all come under his control–the king, wicked persons, and his wife. Sincere love of God on the husband’s part may eventually help the wife to lead a spiritual life. If the husband is good, then through the grace of God the wife may also follow his example.’

“This had a most soothing effect on M.’s worried mind. All the while he had been thinking: Let her commit suicide. What can I do?

“M. (to the Master): This world is a terrible place indeed.

“MASTER (to the devotees): That is the reason Chaitanya said to his companion Nityananda, ‘Listen, brother, there is no hope of salvation for the worldly-minded.’”

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Now I am going to give you a piece of advice regarding associations that may seem severe, but it is very necessary and based on practical experience: Do not keep animals either in or outside your home. Animal slavery for our amusement and “love” is morally wrong. Animals were not intended to be captured and bred away from their true nature for human amusement and obsession. One of the effects of this is the harm to the health of humans who live in close contact with animals. Many times it has been found that pets were the source of their owner’s illnesses. Children are especially susceptible to picking up problems from animals.

It is ridiculous to avoid contact with human beings who at least have human vibrations, and yet keep the company of an animal which will be a distraction and a source of animal vibrations. I have observed that people of low consciousness and development, however well they may hide it, absolutely need to keep an animal around so they can associate with subhuman consciousness and have someone inferior to them that they literally own and from whom they claim to get “unconditional love.” And of course they continually say that animals are better than people.

It is also absurd to abstain from eating meat in order to observe ahimsa, yet feed it to animals.

Sri Ramakrishna said that when a man or woman gets old and is obviously heading for death, instead of preparing for the end of their life they get and keep a cat, becoming very attached to it. I expect we all know people who refer to their animals as little girls or little boys and call themselves mommy or daddy in relation to them. And then there are the people who think they are being cute when they speak of being “owned” by their pets. But it is a sad truth.

Please avoid this shameless exploitation of animals and willful taking on of what can only be a distraction from spiritual life and a lowering of your consciousness. A yogi must take on disciplines far beyond those of ordinary people who are samsarins slated for future births in ignorance.

If, however, you have an animal friend that you have lived with for years and who is attached to you above all others, then keep on as before, for it would be cruel to banish or abandon them. But when it dies, absolutely do not get another of any type.

(This is being written for your benefit by one who has deeply loved cats, dogs, birds and other animals almost from birth–not one who is indifferent to them and cannot understand affection for and attachment to them. Right now our ashram provides food and water for birds, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, wild turkeys, foxes and the occasional coyote, bear or bobcat. But we do not try to own and keep them.)

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As Yogananda pointed out, St. Francis de Sales used to say: “A saint that is sad is a sad saint!” and we are saints in training. A sense of humor is indispensable to the yogi–especially about himself. The good ashrams in India are what Sri Ramakrishna called “a mart of joy.” Those who live there freely laugh and enjoy jokes and even pranks. Swami Sivananda was known for his lively sense of humor, and Yogananda loved to tell funny things that had happened to him and also played pranks. (His favorite was dropping bags of water out of windows or spraying people with a hose. It was really a blessing with holy water!) Sometimes, because of Yogananda’s accent and hearty laughing in the telling of a story, people would say: “I could hardly understand a word, but I never laughed so much in my life.”

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When I met Swami Satyananda Giri, the author of Yogananda Sanga, in 1963, I asked him to tell me about Sri Yukteswar, Yogananda’s guru, since Satyananda had lived for many years with him and was the first person Yogananda took to meet him after becoming his disciple. Since it is usual for people to have a perception of Sri Yukteswar as severe and exacting, I was surprised to hear his first words: “In his entire life he never hurt the feelings of anyone, but was always gentle and kind.” (This does not mean he did not discipline those who asked for it, for discipline only “hurts” the sore ego.) But the most impressive thing he told me was his quotation of Sri Yukteswar’s often-said words: “He is a real man who can sing his life through!”

Since God is bliss, the yogi’s life should be joyful, based on optimism about his future in God and reflecting the divine experience that comes in meditation–and later all the time. Frankly, only the yogi can really enjoy himself without needing the frantic “fun” and distractions prized by those who live in a world of unreality, darkness, and mortality. So when I urge you to enjoy yourself I mean it in the perspective of yoga.

There is a story of a serious man who was shocked when he saw some very ascetic monks joking and laughing. Noticing this, one of the monks later on asked him: “Can you shoot a bow?” When the man said he could, the monk asked: “Do you always keep the bow strung tightly?” “No,” said the man, “If I did, the bow would loose its tone and become slack and useless.” “In the same way,” replied the monk, “it is good to relax the mind through innocent enjoyment and even laughter. A mind held in tension will either snap or go slack.” However there is a great difference between relaxing and being lax, and we should act accordingly.

It is good to do things just for the enjoyment, not insisting that all we do be “useful,” “constructive,” or “educational,” though the principles of yama-niyama can never be ignored or laid aside for even a moment.

Next in Living the Yoga Life: Use your mind

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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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