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Living the Yoga Life: Some Advice to Yogis

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There is a sharp demarcation between the conscious and subconscious minds. And the distinction is to be kept in mind lest we fall into the folly of those that believe their every dream is a revelation. It is very important that the yogi leaves his dreams in dreamland and does not carry them over into his waking life. For those who do not do this there is very real danger of delusion. Dream experience and waking experience have very different purposes and must be viewed accordingly. Few things are more tiresome than having to listen to someone’s previous night’s dream-dramas. Their recitation is almost always a sign of foolish self-centeredness.

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When food is cooked its polarity changes and it absorbs the vibrations of both the cook(s) and the environment where it is cooked. So it is traditional in India that only the cook is in the kitchen during the preparation of food.

At a certain stage in sadhana it may be beneficial to eat only the food you yourself have cooked. There was a time when I ate only what I cooked, and my cooking and eating utensils, dishes, cups, glasses, etc–everything I used or touched when eating–were kept separate. I alone touched them, washed them and put them away in a separate place of their own. In this way my sadhana shakti was preserved intact. I observed this for several months, and then it was no longer necessary.

So you might want to observe this, but only if your intuition tells you to. But remember: good sense and good manners require a sadhaka to behave at all time with consideration for others.

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An essential part of purity (shaucha) is purity of personal magnetism. The yogi must preserve the integrity of his personal vibrations, and this is particularly needed in the matter of food, since the subtle energies of food become our mental energies. Never should food be eaten that is mixed with the vibrations of others. We should not eat from the plate of another, nor let others eat from ours. That includes taking or giving something from our plate to another. And never should we eat something that has been partially eaten by someone else, or allow another to do the same with something we have partially consumed.

A lot of psychic vampires violate these rules so they can steal the vibrations of others and implant their negative energies in the bodies and minds of others. Sometimes it is conscious and sometimes it is not, but the result is the same.

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We focus our mind on every place and every thing but where it should be. The correct place for the mind is the center of our existence, our spirit-consciousness, and that is where it should always be established. It can never really be “at home” anywhere else. That is why Jesus said: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). We are spiritual beings and have no home but Spirit. There is no place on earth where we can truly come to rest and be at peace. We really do need to cultivate “the sense to come in out of the rain.”

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A flame both kindles light and gives light. Such is the rarefied viveka that arises in the yogi’s consciousness as he engages in sadhana. The yogi who assiduously follows that light progresses steadily and surely, gaining even more light. The yogi who neglects that insight will lapse into his former ignorance, claiming it is light. As Jesus said: “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23).

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A yogi must keep moving forward in his understanding, leaving behind his former limited insight. This process continues throughout his life and beyond, for Infinity is no quick attainment.

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We must be ever open to better understanding and realize that today’s understanding may be tomorrow’s misunderstanding. Those who do not keep moving on, stagnate. It is true there are shallow and fickle people that flit from teaching to teaching and from teacher to teacher, never really learning or practicing anything to any degree, but they are fools, not yogis.

The sum and substance is this: a true yogi is always ready to move forward, and that requires leaving things behind and knowing they should be left behind.

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One of the most horrible things I ever saw was in a restaurant that had a huge aquarium. In the aquarium was a kind of miniature frog. Anyone with sense would have realized that it could not just be dropped into the water but needed a solid area above water so it could breathe and rest. But no one with sense was around, so the miserable little creature would frantically kick itself to the surface of the water, breathe a moment, and then apparently pass out and sink down to the bottom. In just a matter of seconds it would regain consciousness and again desperately impel itself upward to breathe. This terrible spectacle went on and on, over and over. I have never forgotten that unfortunate frog. So many people live in this pendulum manner, swinging back and forth from spiritual high to spiritual low, between pure exalted consciousness and degraded low consciousness. This is not a truly human mode of life.

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Most people live in a wandering manner, like people walking their way through a crooked, meandering path in the forest, not seeing where they are going or where they have been, truly “not seeing the forest for the trees.” Traveling a great highway is just the opposite. Easily the traveler sees before and behind. Further, instead of moving on a roundabout path of twisting and turnings, every single step carries him in a straight line to his destination. One time while traveling in Turkey I happened to come across a road built by the Romans that was still being used. Even though it went through mountains, there was no doubling back at all–it was a marvel of engineering. In the same way the yogi must think, speak, and live in a completely straight line, ever moving toward the goal.

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Never trust the mind completely, because its nature is to change. We must center our thought in our buddhi, in the faculty of discriminative intelligence, and never let feelings or emotions influence our behavior. Through meditation and japa we must elevate our consciousness to increasingly higher levels.

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The yogi at every moment must be moving onward, for there is a very long journey to take before we are established in the practice of yoga. And then a further even longer journey is necessary through higher worlds to reach ultimate Self-realization and become permanently free in spirit.

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It is very important that the aspiring yogi knows that effort and perseverance are needed, otherwise he will fail and be no better off than if he had never heard of yoga. In some instances he may be actually worse. Those who wish to succeed in yoga must be prepared for difficulties and determined to overcome them.

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In this age of easy-come-easy-go “spirituality” in both East and West, it is thought that a person need only learn some yogic technique, practice it and attain liberation. But it does not happen that way. That is why in the Yoga Sutras (2:30-32) Patanjali lists yama-niyama before anything else:

1) Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness

2) Satya: truthfulness, honesty

3) Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness

4) Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses

5) Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness

6) Shaucha: purity, cleanliness

7) Santosha: contentment, peacefulness

8) Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline

9) Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study

10) Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God

Every one of these, except for the tenth, are processes of purification, and the yogi needs all nine. Without them, the tenth step, offering of one’s life to God, would be a mockery.

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The aspiring yogi has to empty himself of all that has gone before and dig out of the mud of past and present lives and start over. His life’s motto should be: “Behold I Make All Things New” (Revelation 21:5).

Jesus puts it another way in the Aquarian Gospel: “The man who hears the words of life and does them not is like the man who builds his house upon the sand, which when the floods come on, is washed away and all is lost. But he who hears the words of life and in an honest, sincere heart receives and treasures them and lives the holy life, is like the man who builds the house upon the rock; the floods may come, the winds may blow, the storms may beat upon his house; it is not moved. Go forth and build your life upon the solid rock of truth, and all the powers of the evil one will shake it not” (101:29-32).

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We freely talk of karma, but how much do we grasp? We agree with Saint Paul’s definition: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7), but what about the reverse: Whatsoever a man does not sow, that shall he also not reap? Yama and niyama are the seeds that must be sown if we would reap the harvest of liberation through yoga sadhana. Otherwise we are tossing our life into the wind. I have seen it over and over. If sadhana is not based on the necessary foundation the whole thing will collapse.

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Right here I could tell you the history of beloved friends with whom I began my study of yoga, friends who meditated faithfully and for a while made the search for God the core of their life until slowly, little by little, their aspiration waned until they were only empty husks with a past but (for this life) no future. Some kept up a pretence of yoga, but most did not. The result was the same.

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At the beginning of my yoga search I heard a recording of Yogananda in which he said that his hearers who persevered would find people to their right and left falling away from the search, many of whom would come right to the door of liberation and fall asleep. His concluding words were: “But you go after God.” We all sang together, “My Lord, I will be Thine always,” but nearly all took back their resolve and turned away.

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Yogananda wrote another chant, “They Have Heard Thy Name.” It was recommended that we sing it in intercession for those who were in spiritual need. So one day I was singing it for some of my friends who had abandoned the yoga life. When I came to the phrase: “Those who are drowned in sin, to whom will they go? They have no one, Lord, they have no one; do not turn them away,” suddenly I realized that I was insulting, even blaspheming, God with these words. Those people I was singing about were not turned away by God. They had deliberately, intentionally turned away from God, jumped into the ocean of samsara and drowned themselves! They had rejected God; he had not rejected them. Shame on me! I prayed for forgiveness of my outrageous presumption in singing those words. Yogananda knew what he was doing in composing that chant, but I was misapplying his intention.

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I have seen that many yogis fall into the trap of learning all kinds of externalized trivia, but they are only distracting their minds from the One Goal and keeping it on this world.

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Those who love the world obsess on the world. As Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). That is why he advised us: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). Spiritual insights gained in meditation should be stored in the superconscious levels opened by meditation.

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A yogi’s conversation and home environment should reveal his spiritual orientation. It should be with us as it was with Saints Peter and John: Those who met them “took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

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There is absolute necessity for sadhana in the form of yoga discipline (yama and niyama) and yoga meditation. There are those who fool themselves into thinking that if their mind is not avidly pursuing the objects of the senses, then they are all right. But if the mind is even capable of being attracted to sense objects things are very much not right. Some people live an entire lifetime in unbroken abstinence and in their next life spend their life indulging themselves. The very capacity for enjoyment of material and sensual things is a threat that must be eliminated from the yogi’s mind, both conscious and subconscious.

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An ancient occult maxim is: “Know, Will, Dare–and Keep Silence.” This is very much the case with the yogi. The yogi’s practice should be deeply personal and deeply interiorized. Sri Ramakrishna said: “A devotee meditates on God in absolute secret, perhaps inside his mosquito net [while others are sleeping and unaware he is meditating]. Others think he is asleep.” To a disciple who was building a small kutir on the bank of the Ganges for the practice of spiritual discipline, he said: “Let me tell you that the less people know of your spiritual life, the better it will be for you. Devotees endowed with sattwa meditate in a secluded corner or in a forest, or withdraw into the mind. Sometimes they meditate inside the mosquito net.”

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A lot of tiresome people with what Yogananda called “intellectual indigestion” talk on and on about unity and non-duality, their incessant conversation (even lecturing) being an act of confirmed duality in consciousness. A friend of mine once commented about a man who talked constantly on spiritual topics: “If you could get to God by talking about God he would have been Self-realized years ago.” But it does not work that way.

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When we enter the One we do not keep talking about the One, we become the One, and then who is there to talk to about it, or even talk to? As Sri Ramakrishna often said: “A salt doll went to sound the ocean but it melted away no sooner had it descended into it. It turned into the same form. Who then was to surface and tell how deep the ocean was?… The sign of perfect wisdom is that a person becomes silent upon its attainment. Then the salt doll of the form of the ego melts in the ocean of Satchidananda (existence-consciousness-bliss) and becomes one with it and not a trace of the feeling of distinction remains.”

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One of my acquaintances in India had lived there for a little over fifty years. Since he was European, when Arthur Koestler (hardly known to anyone now, but he was famous then) came to the ashram where he was living, he was asked to speak to him. At one point in the conversation Koestler, who considered himself quite a philosopher, asked Vijayananda if after attaining liberation he would then help others to also attain liberation. Vijayananda asked him: “If you are asleep and dreaming you are in prison, do you say to yourself: ‘When I wake up I am going to come back and set these people free’?”

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It is very crucial that the yogi should internalize his practice and keep it to himself, only speaking about it to qualified teachers or yogis who have years of experience behind them.

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Do not dissipate the calmness and centering gained through meditation by talking about it to others. Experiences in meditation are not only subtle, they are fragile, as delicate as spun glass, and speaking about them can shatter their beneficial effects. Bragging, eulogizing, and swapping notes about meditation experiences is a very harmful activity. Avoid it.

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Do not satisfy any curiosity about your personal yogic experiences or benefits except in the most general terms. Naturally you can tell people that meditation helps you, but do so in only a general way.

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Missionarying is one of the first delusions that strikes spiritual aspirants when they finally find how worthwhile spiritual teaching and practice really are. Happy at their new discovery and wishing well to others, their motivation is positive and even laudable, so why do I call it a delusion? Their delusion is the assumption that others have the same qualifications and levels of dedication that they possess. They start thinking of all their relatives and friends (especially best friends from school) that are so “spiritual” or “looking for something real,” often stating that “they are really ahead of me,” and remembering how close they were to each other and how inspiring and worthy of respect they were, etc. So they set about writing letters or making phone calls, often spending a good bit of money buying books they are sure will “light the fire.” And they are right: the fire gets lit, but it’s the fire of contempt, rejection and resentment. In all my many years I have never seen even one such person react in a courteous manner, much less with interest. The poor missionary is ultimately hurt and bewildered, finding that his old friends are no longer friends at all but spiteful and angry at being pestered.

One of my friends received a hate-filled letter in the form of a long satire which charged her with being fanatical, pushy, hateful (!) and alienating her friends. “But we even promised each other that if we ever found anything real we would let the other one know,” she told me, in profound shock. “We used to talk about spiritual life for hours….” Others of my yogi friends were accused of becoming Satanists and even drug addicts.

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If someone is not truly spiritually hungry (whatever claims they may make), they will react negatively when being faced with genuine spiritual opportunity. For having a mind and heart full of the ego and the world, the suggestion of authentic spiritual life repulses and even offends them. All their “aspiration” is an act, though they often do not know that.

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The yogi can never let any thing or situation inhibit his wise discrimination (viveka). The “marriage” of the intellect and mind are not a matter of give and take as earthly marriage must be. Rather, it must be the constant ascendency of the buddhi and the complete subjection of the manas. This is no easy condition to attain, and is certainly a tremendous accomplishment to continually maintain it. The mind is needed, but it must serve the intellect at all times.

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The buddhi is the etheric level, the anandamaya kosha which is composed of the element of akasha, whose property is sound (shabda). Consequently, the conquest of mind and the mastery of intellect can be accomplished solely by sound–by mantra. Through sound the yogi comes to know well the truth of the final Brahma Sutra (4.4.22): “By sound one becomes liberated [Anavrittih shabdai].”

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The sun does not move, but the movement of air causes the water in which the sun is reflected to ripple, and a child or foolish person may conclude that the sun is moving. If the mind is responsive to external stimuli and loses itself in the phenomena that are only appearances, not actualities, it develops an affinity for them that is incredibly hard to control and banish. We become enamored of maya; in love with it and therefore enslaved by something that does not even really exist.

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Once things start getting serious in his practice, the yogi begins finding out that his mind is incorrigible in its infatuation with even the silliest and most obvious illusions of the mind. Knowing that his addiction is to something that is nonexistent, he yet finds himself reflexively involved with the mirage and seeking for even more involvement with what he knows is nothing. Like a child he prefers Pretend to Reality; he knows it, yet does not rebel against it.

This is an incredibly dangerous situation. Its very obvious foolishness is its power. Nothing will arise against it to dispel it. A yogi can lose everything by indulgent inaction. I grew up with people who continually lied to themselves, declaring that deadly elements in their lives were of no real harm. I never saw them shake off that illusion. But this which I am describing is something infinitely worse. “Oh, that is nothing” is the seal of death for the yogi. This is why sadhana must become an inseparable part of his life. If it continues, it will of itself dissolve the mirage.

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Wealth often makes someone very small, even petty. Money is life energy, the life energy of those who earn it and those who spend it. It takes a very strong personality indeed to not be overwhelmed by the possession of great wealth. Wealth has the power to sap the life- and mind-force from those who think they possess it. Many of us have known wealthy people, especially “rich kids,” who were just walking shells, servants of money without any real personality or will power. It does not matter if they behave in eccentric ways such as dressing shabbily and being cheap in their daily life. After all, in this way they are hoarding their wealth and gaining more. Making money can be an unbreakable habit. I once met a very dynamic minister who in conversation told me: “Any fool can make money and stack it up and hold on to it. It takes a wise man to have no use for money beyond his basic needs.”

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When we draw near to God and begin to experience the true, eternal life, we attain unshakeable peace. It cools our mind and manifests as inner and outer content and tranquility. Life will still have ups and downs and backwards and forwards, but the sadhaka will be steady and optimistic about his spiritual future. In this condition his mind becomes increasingly refined and purified. For it is an absolute law: the pure in heart do see God, and those who hunger and thirst for that vision become filled with the divine.

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Spiritual life is a fully positive thing. Virtue is not an absence of vice but the presence of positive goodness. Fundamentalist Protestants love to brag about all the “sinful” things they do not do anymore, or never did do. They boast of all they have been “delivered from.” But it is not enough to turn from darkness; we must enter and live in the Light.

This perspective is essential for us. To decide to not be selfish is insufficient. We must decide to be generous. It is of little worth to resolve to not think negatively. We must think positively. Instead of thinking of all kinds of things to not do, we must make a list of positives that we will do. For example, instead of thinking: “I must quit thinking of X,” we should think: “I must always do japa and fix my mind on God.” Then we will not think of wrong things.

To “hate” sin is to love it, for we always think of that which we love. The wise thing is to love goodness and the highest good: God.

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“To the good all things are good.” I heard this a great deal in India, but never outside India. Yet it is true. I saw it as an actualization, not just an ideal, in Swami Sivananda, who saw not just the good, but the God in everyone. Of course, if we ponder the matter, we can see that taken to its furthest extent, Good and God are synonymous. That is truly good which reflects God. There is no good outside God, but since all things are in God, they, too, are good. This is not an easy state of awareness to attain or maintain, but it is certainly a worthy goal for all sadhakas. Those who strive for union with God cannot help but become good, and then in time become God. “Therefore be a yogi” (Bhagavad Gita 6:46).

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Samadarshana is the state of mind in which one sees all things as the One, making no differentiation in the sense of liking or disliking. It also implies perfect equanimity in all situations and toward all things. This is actually a divine trait, for in the Gita Krishna says: “I am the same to all beings. There is no one who is disliked or dear to me” (Bhagavad Gita 9:29). It is also a trait of the illumined, for Krishna further says: “He is preeminent among men who is impartial to friend, associate and enemy, neutral among enemies and kinsmen, impartial also among the righteous and the unrighteous” (Bhagavad Gita 6:9). And: “Absorbed in Brahman, with Self serene, he grieves not nor desires, the same to all beings, he attains supreme devotion unto me” (Bhagavad Gita 18:54).

An infant regards all with the same attitude, but that is no virtue, for it is based on ignorance and inexperience. Tamasic people have a knack for not caring what or who comes and goes, but that is the samadarshana of stupidity and moral torpidity. Real samadarshana is the result of Self-realization, a state of clarity of perception united with absolute stability of consciousness.

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The true yogi is not a juggler of intellectual words, but maintains awareness of his true nature as the Self–not intellectually, but through yogic application. “With mind absorbed in me, practicing yoga, taking refuge in me, hear how without doubt you shall know me completely. To you I shall explain in full this knowledge, along with realization, which being known, nothing further remains to be known in this world” (Bhagavad Gita 7:1-2).

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It is crucial that we understand the Self cannot be perceived by the senses. Because of not realizing this yogis can be deceived into thinking that they experience the Self when they have only had a sensory experience, even though it might have been a very subtle experience centered in the subtle bodies. Many have been deluded through this error.

The Upanishads tell us that when we experience any object, that cannot be experience of the Self or Brahman, for the Self and Brahman are beyond subject-object consciousness. Yogis must be very wary of any experience, for true spiritual experience is not in the senses, mind or intellect, but in the consciousness of Consciousness itself.

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“One acts according to one’s prakriti. Even the wise man does so. Beings follow their own prakriti; what will restraint accomplish?” (Bhagavad Gita 3:33). At the moment we are experiencing two “selves.” One is pure consciousness, our true Self, the witness of the various energy bodies which go to make up the relative part of “us.” The other is those levels of our being we are witnessing and which seem to have an independent existence of their own, and with which we usually identify.

In actuality, it is only the consciousness-spirit that is our real, permanent and eternal Self. The energy bodies are just koshas (coverings) of the Self. Intellectually understanding that this is true accomplishes very little. We must experience that for ourselves and prove its truth by applying the yogic practices which enable us to experience the nature of the Self.

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In the beginning Self-experience is an involuntary coming and going very much like the ocean tides. But in time we should become proficient enough to produce the state of genuine Self-awareness at will. This matter of being able to reproduce or enter into yogic states at will is very crucial. Few people can do it because they simply do not know the necessary processes. And they do not know them because their teachers did not know them, which is why such teachers cover up the true state of things by telling their followers that they will do everything for them (or already have) and all they need do is “surrender” or “just love,” and that will do everything. It will not, as the disciples will learn, even though it be at the time of death.

So until the yogi becomes able to not just distinguish between his spirit and prakriti, but to experience and direct them at will, he will indeed be subject to his prakriti. But with right practice in time it will certainly be gained by him.

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Many people are seeking God in various ways, but how many will find God? Not many. Why? Because they run after the unattainable, not truly understanding that since God and our true Self are one, we must seek our Self alone. And when we find our Self we shall have found God.

What is the practical side of all this? To get to our Self we must master all the bodies in which our Self is now encased (imprisoned, actually). In the Indian scriptures, horses always represent prana, the energies of which all the bodies are made. If we master and “ride” those energies through the breath, we will not vaguely “seek” God, rather we shall go to God step-by-step in a precise, methodical manner as masters of yoga sadhana. This is the only way. Others may achieve some kind of higher states, but it will only be temporary and they will eventually revert to their original condition, or fall lower than they were when they began yoga. (This happens to many.) Only the yogi who knows and applies the real science of yoga will attain and retain.

The yogi must thoroughly master the energy (shakti) of the various bodies and ascend to the Self. And he must do so quickly, not dallying or delaying. Otherwise that itself creates karma which will put obstacles in his way. The yogi does not meander on the path, but runs as fast as he can lest he fall asleep by the wayside and not reach the goal.

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A person may not be speaking outwardly, but chattering away in his mind. Anandamayi Ma was very definite about this, even saying that not speaking and keeping silence were two completely different things. Satya Sai Baba said: “Avoid those who while not speaking make gestures and write notes,” because that is hypocrisy. In India I became acquainted with a brahmacharini who would pester people to show her their watch. When she saw that it was time for her “silence” she would purse her lips together in a very determined way. Nothing would make her open them! But she would gyrate around and flail her arms and make “mmm-mmm” sounds and carry on like she was having a seizure to get her message across. Then, ironically, the moment she saw that her silence time was past, she would walk away and not speak a word to anyone. When I was living next door to the Hollywood SRF center I was surprised at the number of people who would come into the restaurant or wander around the grounds with a piece of paper pinned on them that read: “This is my day of silence.” I knew a yogini in New York City who would spend a great deal of her “day of silence” leaning out the window and looking at what was going on up and down the street.

On the other hand I have known yogis in India who lived in interior silence no matter whether they spoke or not. Their very presence was a blessing.

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At first the mind is our major problem, an incorrigible obstacle. Then we become yogis and learn to use the mind to tame, purify and refine itself. It is truly a miracle. First we see its errant ways, but through sadhana we come to understand its potential, and by persevering in sadhana we transmute it into spirit.

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The yogi’s mind is his primary teacher, for it is his applied will that ultimately delivers him. The external teacher is only secondary, and can never replace the mind-guru. The Self is the guru of the student’s mind. (Mind here includes buddhi as well as manas.)

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We seek God because we intuit the reality of finding God. As Saint Paul said: “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). This is a function of our own mind alone; no external force can bring it about or cause us to intuit these truths.

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The mind in virtually everyone is gripped by the world of the senses and takes it to be the ultimate reality. But when the mind begins to lose its grip on the world and begins to be transformed into the buddhi and the atman through yoga sadhana, it sees that the world is completely without stability, that it whirls around constantly and that he has been whirling too, dragged along by it, though he did not realize it. More and more the delusive nature of the world becomes clear and the yogi’s response to it less and less. Then truly the yogi’s mind is free of the habitual waves and it sees only spirit and truth.

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Viveka–discrimination between the Real and the unreal, between the Self and the non-Self, between the permanent and the impermanent–is a prime necessity for the yogi. At first it is a matter of intellectual analysis, but in time it ripens into a subtle intuition which enables the sadhaka to perfectly understand the objects to which he subjects his discrimination. It is meditation that refines and sharpens the buddhi, bringing about this subtle viveka. Such discrimination is a side effect of sadhana, a faculty that is produced by prolonged tapasya. It is not an independent faculty and therefore cannot be sought on its own. Rather, it appears automatically in the mind as a consequence of diligent meditation. There is no way to develop it specifically; it arises spontaneously from meditation. We do not even need to aspire to it. Nevertheless, we must first apply ourselves to the intellectual discrimination which prepares us for the subtle form.

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“Dharana is the confining [fixing] of the mind within a point or area” (Yoga Sutras 3:1). When the purified mind is totally fixed on something then its true nature is revealed. The yogi must live in a continual state of discriminative dharana, focused on the truth of a person, situation or thing rather than the external appearance. Such insight is very close to the Self and can in time lead to realization of the Self.

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For success in spiritual life we must get ourselves “sorted out” and have all our levels of being integrated and working together, not overlapping or usurping each other. People are not just mentally confused, their outer and inner bodies are confused and in conflict. A prime example of this is people who deal with emotions by eating. Feeling and digestion are worlds apart, and to mix them up is very unfortunate. To feel inwardly small because we are physically very slight or short is to confuse the mind with the body. You get the idea.

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Paramhansa Nityananda said: “One becomes bad by oneself; one becomes good by oneself.” This is a principle that should have great impact on the spiritual aspirant. In the West it is believed that environment is the major factor in our development. In the East it is believed that heredity, especially as a manifestation of personal karma, is the major factor in all the forms of sentient life. So the West says we are a product of external forces that shape our psychology and therefore our behavior. Inside and out we are a bundle of responses to external factors. The East says the opposite: we are a product of inner impulses and perceptions that determine our outer behavior. Actually we have physical, psychic and spiritual “genetics.”

In Western religion everyone and everything is considered responsible for the individual’s behavior and troubles but themselves. “The devil made me do it” is employed in many variations. The sin of Adam, evil spirits and bad people are completely at fault–not us. This is of course utterly sociopathic. Western psychology only reinforces the erroneous views of Western religion, even if it considers itself an adversary of religion since it is a rival in the control and shaping of others’ minds. Both Western religion and Western psychology attribute every bit of our psychic existence to factors other than ourself. This of course implies that we have no moral responsibility whatsoever, even though Western religion tells us that God is going to send us to hell for our wrong actions, that it is everybody’s fault but ours, yet a just deity is going to punish us for behavior which is no fault of our own.

Nityananda is stating the Eastern position: we and we alone are responsible for our actions; no one else can be blamed. As the Theravada Buddhist monks recite every day: “I have nothing but my actions. I shall never have anything but my actions.” We engage in thoughts, attitudes, emotions and deeds that lead us astray and corrupt our hearts and result in negative outlook and behavior. We made the mess and no one else can clean it up. Religion offers “saviors” that supposedly can do it for us, but it is a lie: we alone have the power to save ourselves from the misery and distortion we have created. In the East it is understood that all things in our life are a result of previous action (karma) done by no one but us. We act and experience the karmic reaction. Everything in our inner and outer life are reactions to our prior actions. We are at the center of the entire thing.

We harm ourselves, but we also have the power to heal ourselves. The very fact that we dug the pit we now find ourselves in tells us that we have the ability to climb out and be free. So whereas the Western view is totally pessimistic and useless, the Eastern view is thoroughly optimistic and practical. The West only offers religious dogmas and rules of behavior that accomplish nothing but more confusion in our minds. The East offers Yoga, the science of knowledge and freedom. “Even a little of this dharma protects from great fear” (Bhagavad Gita 2:40).

***

A yogi continually advances in jnana. Just as a child grows continually, outgrowing his prior conditions physically and mentally, so does the yogi. People like to tell a child: “My, how you’ve grown and changed! I hardly knew you.” It should be the same for a yogi. He should continually expand and deepen his understanding, progressing beyond his prior views, sometimes by seeing them more clearly or more fully, and sometimes by seeing that he was mistaken, that the truth is more, less or completely different from his earlier opinion.

***

The inner bodies, including the buddhi (the faculty of intellect), are refined by right yoga practice and thus they are evolved, for the impulse to evolution is inherent in every atom. The yogi in time has everything, but the non-yogi never really has anything at any time. How few realize this!

***

When the yogi begins his practice, he will encounter all kinds of strange sensations as the subtle energy passages, known as nadis, in the subtle bodies are activated and purified. This often puzzles and even frightens the beginning yogi, but if he ignores them and keeps intent on his practice, all will be well.

The yogi is introducing himself into a totally different world, a totally different dimension, from that of his past experiencing. There is no drastic physical change in his appearance, but he is stepping into another world altogether. It is a fact that a devoted yogi only minimally lives in this world. Rather, he becomes a citizen of higher realms right now. He must be prepared for this. The stronger his practice the more he unfolds aspects of interior life that he could never have believed existed beforehand.

On occasion the yogi can feel as though he is viewing life and those around him in a very detached manner. Often it seems as though he is watching a drama going on in which he has little if any part. If he remains calm and observant and keeps a mantra the center of his attention, all will come out very well indeed.

***

Sometimes the yogi sees very ugly and disturbing things, usually rooted in his past lives. If he remains calm and keeps on meditating, in time these things will evaporate and not recur. If the yogi dealt with negative spirits in past lives, especially in magical or occult practices, those spirits may come to him hoping for continuing association. At such times he must ignore them completely and fix his mind on the mantric vibrations. If ignored, after a while they will go away and never return. Some foolish, troubled or evil spirits are just wandering around, and when they see someone sitting for meditation they try to distract him and stop his spiritual practice. Indifference to them is the way. Just stay with God in the form of the mantra. Then you will experience the truth of Saint John’s statement: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (I John 4:4).

***

A yogi is the savior of his personal world, for he changes everything about himself and his life sphere as well, purifying his karma and his consciousness. All yogis are embryonic sages, and meditation on God is the most sagely of all activities. Even if we are beginners in yoga, we are moving into territory that will eventually open before us into infinity.

***

All caterpillars are destined to be butterflies, and no butterfly should disrespect a caterpillar, for that is what he once was and they in time will be a butterfly, too. Realizing that he was once where all those around him are at present, how can the yogi feel superior to anyone? Wishing them well, he should keep on diligently walking the path.

***

There is no place in the yogi’s heart for pride and arrogance, for even an adept yogi is just on the first rung of the ladder. The quest for godhead is a long, high road indeed.

***

Honor and dishonor are not realities, but only the opinions of fallible human beings. We are never what people think or say we are. We are what we truly are: the Atman-Self. So we also need not bother with what we think about ourselves if it is based on externals and our ego-centered ideas. Basically, we should ignore our ego and the egos of others and pursue the Self.

***

Paramhansa Yogananda often said: “Company is greater than will power.” There is no doubt that we are influenced by the people we associate with. If we are fortunate they will strengthen our good qualities, but usually they either infect us with negative ones or strengthen the negative ones we already have.

***

Yogananda said that when Jesus said: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34), he was referring to the vibrations of the mind that are projected through our voice whenever we speak. So we can be influenced by both the silent and verbal presence of others. Our aura, then, must be kept strong by japa and meditation.

***

When surrounded by many people we are susceptible to the influence of the vibrations emitted by their auras. To resist being influenced and perhaps even controlled by group vibration is a matter of great strength. Only those who have cultivated their inner strength through meditation and constant japa will have a chance of completely resisting external influences. And they will take no chances.

One of my university professors told us that just before America entered the Second World War, one of her very good friends had visited relatives in Germany. She wanted a see Hitler in action for herself, so her relatives took her to a rally at which he was to speak. At first she was disgusted at the insanity of it all, and when Hitler began to speak felt real aversion to him. Then something shifted in her mind and the next thing she knew she was standing up with tears flowing down her face and her throat sore from shouting Sieg Heil with the crowd over and over again. It was as though she had gone into a trance and awoke yelling and weeping hysterically along with the rest of the mob. She got out of there and left Germany the next day, utterly horrified at her experience.

The same professor told us that at the time of the second World War it was common for businesses that sold radios to have a speaker outside on the street relaying the sound of a broadcast to attract customers. One day as she was walking downtown, at a distance she saw a crowd gathered around one such store and hurried to see what the attraction was. As she came near she heard the voice of Hitler screaming and screeching in his usual manner. “The thing that shocked me,” she told us, “was that many of the people were standing there as though hypnotized, and not one of them moved away until the broadcast was over. And these were Americans who could not even understand German. That day I learned the power of speech itself, even if its meaning would be unknown.”

Having told two ugly instances, I want to tell you one quite wonderful incident that demonstrates this principle. An Indian acquaintance of mine during his university years went on vacation to Calcutta. He was riding in a car with several friends when suddenly he demanded that the car be stopped. He listened intently and heard a sound so faint it was almost like he was imagining it. No one else could hear it. “We have to follow that sound!” he insisted, and since the driver was a good friend, on they went with him hanging out the car window, listening. Several times he lost the sound and they had to backtrack, but after a while the sound became stronger and the others could hear it, too. The more my friend heard the sound, the more it drew him. “I felt that it was a matter of life or death to find the source of that sound,” he told me. So they followed that sound through all kinds of streets and lanes and finally could tell that it was the sound of a man’s voice over a loudspeaker. My friend felt as though in another world altogether. Finally they came to a vast open space where literally thousands were gathered. At the front, speaking into the microphone was Jagadguru Shankaracharya Brahmananda Saraswati, the head of Joshi Math in the Himalayas. When the speech was over my friend pushed his way onto the platform and saluted the Shankaracharya, who immediately asked him to visit him at Joshi Math. My friend did so right away and became his disciple and a monk there. Such is the power of sound, which is why the final verse of the Brahma Sutras states that liberation is attained through sound.

***

It is very significant that Sri Ramana Maharshi said that two things are essential for the seeker of enlightenment: a vegetarian diet and satsang. Both shape our mind. To keep ourselves always oriented toward the Self and its realization we must be very careful about the company we keep. We must actively seek out positive company and we must actively avoid negative company. Often positive company is very difficult to find. In that case, “You must not mix with others” should be the rule of life for us.

***

Even an adept yogi must consciously hold on to his inner state of peace when he approaches contact with worldly people, for they are in the belly of the tiger of samsara, of material, egoic consciousness, and it can be catching, for it is a spiritual malady. Yogananda often cautioned his disciples about this danger. Those who heeded it were able to help themselves and others. Those who did not were eaten by the tiger, however much they may have rationalized and pretended they were not. I was blessed to meet holy, angelic disciples of the Master who had remained true to his ideals. But I also met utter spiritual ruins who had not remained true to his ideals and were clutching to themselves the spiritual rags of a compromised and wasted life in hope of covering up their condition: “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). But they did know.

***

We must learn how to be in the water of samsara and not sink and drown. In India they use two similes: a lotus leaf and butter. They float in water and never absorb it. The yogi is able to be in the water of external experience and yet not get wet. All those who seek peace must learn how to swim in the ocean of this world (samsara). Then they can be delivered from it and pass to better worlds.

***

Because we project our ignorance onto the external world we attribute ignorance to it and speak frequently of “maya” and so forth, but creation is divine manifestation.

***

“He who agitates not the world, and whom the world agitates not, who is freed from joy, envy, fear and distress [anxiety]–he is dear to me” (Bhagavad Gita 12:15). Keeping this in mind, we realize that the adept yogi finds the world an abode of peace because he experiences being the witness, and is not caught in its ever-changing appearances. The universe is really wisdom embodied, but when misused by the unwise it becomes a source of pain and confusion. The yogi, whose buddhi has become subtle (refined), is not pained or confused, but moves through the world in perfect knowing and therefore perfect peace, making an instrument of his enlightened will.

***

There is a contentment that is pathological, arising from a false sense of egoic security. But those of subtle mind are at ease in the wisdom of discrimination which protects them from falling into the traps of suffering. They are safe and at peace in a dangerous and agitating world. Why? Because they are really living in the Self, untouched by the world. Through enlightened discrimination, through perfect viveka, we cultivate the seed of liberation until it comes to fruition in our perfect freedom.

***

If a yogi lives in solitude and does real sadhana, he benefits the whole world, for all is contained in the One.

***

“Save yourself and you will save thousands,” Yogananda often said. But first we must save ourselves. There are hundred of thousands (if not millions) of people who want to change the world, but they do not change themselves, so nothing happens. I knew two men who were thoroughly addicted to alcohol and drugs. They could blather for hours about profound philosophy while swilling beer and smoking marijuana. When one was dying the other came to see him. The dying man said: “Billy, I thought we were going to make a difference.” A difference in what? Yet this delusion persists in human beings. No telling how many people right now are confident that they are going to be major factors in “bringing in the (Newer) New Age.”

Half a century ago I knew just such a person. Alcoholic and drug-addicted, he clung to some psychic revelations he had had in which he was told that he was going to have a large role to play in bringing in the New Age. Meanwhile he was a parasite, living off of anyone he could, if they would provide him nightly with a gallon of Gallo wine to drink. Once that was consumed he would pass out and urinate on himself. Yet he said to me more than once: “My ‘forces’ tell me that I must wait a few years and then my powers will awaken and my work will begin. I think it is likely going to be in Brazil.” He did not have fare for a Los Angeles bus, but he would be going to Brazil.

On the other hand, those who do light their lamp can help others to light their way. Consider the holy ones of the past. Even if gone from this world for hundreds or thousands of years, they still inspire and empower many to find the Goal. I have met people who facilitated the awakening of untold thousands, some of them by staying in one place and others by traveling. Some wrote books and others did not. Some kept silence and others spoke freely. Some were considered geniuses and others were thought to be retarded or crazy. God apparently likes variety in his garden of saints. As Nagendranath Bhaduri said in Autobiography of a Yogi: “God plants his saints sometimes in unexpected soil, lest we think we may reduce Him to a rule!” But they had one thing in common: the ability to light lamps like themselves. As Swami Kebalananda said, also in Autobiography of a Yogi, “The numerous bodies which were spectacularly healed through Lahiri Mahasaya eventually had to feed the flames of cremation. But the silent spiritual awakenings he effected, the Christlike disciples he fashioned, are his imperishable miracles.”

***

Purushartha in the ordinary sense means the four goals of human life: wealth (artha), desire (kama), righteousness (dharma), and liberation (moksha). But for the yogi whose mind and intellect are free from the three gunas, it means spiritual attainment, fulfillment of spiritual aspiration, perfection in righteousness and liberation from ignorance and rebirth. For him the ordinary goals are impossible to desire any longer, for he possesses something much better: awakened consciousness.

Next in Living the Yoga Life: Qualities of a Yogi

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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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