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Living the Yoga Life: The Yogi

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Many saints have lived their lives surrounded by great crowds, yet have been a light of peace for those people. How? By being always alone with God in the core of their being. For God dwells always there in the heart of all as the Gita tells us.

“I am the Self abiding in the heart of all beings; I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings as well” (10:20).

“Also this [Brahman] is said to be the light of lights, beyond all darkness; knowledge, the to-be-known, the goal of knowledge seated in the heart of all” (13:17).

“Seated within the hearts of all, from me come memory and knowledge and their loss: I alone am to be known by all the Vedas; I am the Author of the Vedanta, and the Knower of the Vedas” (15:15).

“The Lord dwells in the hearts of all beings, causing them by his maya to revolve as if mounted on a machine” (18:61).


It is a mistake to think that when we are in the midst of many people we are with them only and not also with God. We are far more with God than we could ever be with them, since God is in our heart, and has been there from eternity. Living outwardly in duality we can live inwardly in unity. As Patanjali says, japa and meditation is the way.


In the state of realization the yogi is totally “asleep” to all externals, and therefore is not affected by them in any way. His chitta makes no response to anything, though he is keenly aware of all things. This is the state which Patanjali defines as yoga. It is the consciousness of perfect unity, even though diversity may be perceived by the senses. The chitta remains a still, perfect mirror of consciousness that is not conditioned or even touched by outer-caused experience. Such a one is always in Spirit, transcending all relative being and existence.


I grew up hearing mentally and spiritually lazy people protesting to others: “You are so much smarter/more spiritual than I am,” considering that a legitimate (and flattering) excuse for their being layabouts in mind or soul. Certainly there are great differences in people’s abilities, but on one level people are absolutely equal, no one being more gifted than another. The difference might be in the degree the abilities are being accessed, but everyone has the same potential. This is especially true in matters of the spirit.


Knowing himself as the ever-blissful Self, the yogi is ananda incarnate. “Even here on earth rebirth is conquered by those whose mind is established in evenness” (Bhagavad Gita 5:19). As the Gita assures us: “Be free from the triad of the gunas, indifferent to the pairs of opposites, eternally established in reality,… and established in the Self” (Bhagavad Gita 2:45).


As yogis we should be concerned with consciousness, aware that consciousness alone is real. When the great yogi Gorakhnath asked his teacher Matsyendranath: “What is the home of knowledge [jnana]?” the Master replied: Consciousness [chetana] is the home of knowledge” (Gorakh Bodh 21-22). Our sadhana must be the cultivation of consciousness.


“Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son” (Luke 1:31). These are the words of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. For years, when I was not a yogi, I used to wonder why the angel would say “conceive in thy womb,” for where else would conception take place? But when I understood the Gospels as mystery-dramas symbolizing the Christing of each individual, showing the path from the “conception” to the “resurrection” and “ascension” to Divine Consciousness, then I understood.

It is possible for conception to take place outside the womb. Such a conception is abnormal and cannot lead to birth, but it can occur. I knew a woman who conceived in the fallopian tube and the embryo had to be surgically removed. In the same way “spirituality” can be conceived in the intellect and the person become an avid student of spiritual books and other forms of teaching and talking. Or someone can “conceive” in their emotion and be swept along on a flood of “God loves me; I love God” and externalized and externalizing “devotional” activities.

In India people rhapsodize about Krishna’s “restless eyebrows,” Lakshmi’s pink feet, and Durga’s “parrot-beak” nose. I knew a man who was scarred all over from running through thick bramble bushes, thinking he was chasing Krishna. All this is silliness and unworthy of the descendants of the rishis of India. In time those who have wrongly “conceived” will burn out and get bored with it all, and their subsequent births will be completely unaffected by any of it.

The conception of spirit-consciousness must take place in the core of our being, and grow to “term” in the buddhi illumined by intuition. We must conceive in the “womb” of our own consciousness, otherwise nothing will come of it. We must work with our mind, developing its ability to guide us.


Obsession with an external teacher will not do the needful. All the guru-puja in the world will avail nothing. “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). It all begins, continues, and ends right there in our own mind, our own sadguru.


We must not think that the all-pervading Reality is big or small. Pervading something does not make the pervader take on the characteristics of the pervaded. Consciousness pervades all, but is untouched and unconditioned by it. Therefore It is neither vast nor tiny. Space simply does not exist for it. For example, materially-minded people think a very tall and large person is “a big person” and regard him as such. Conversely, they think a very small person is “a shrimp” and of little consequence. Perhaps this comes from too many lives, animal and human, living in social orders where the biggest are the leaders and the smallest are considered nothing and even left behind. Personhood is simply not taken into consideration by these people.

That which has bounds, though, is inherently limited and “small” both spatially and morally. Thus anything that has boundaries or limited (and limiting) qualities is ultimately of little consequence in the realm of the spirit.


Mistaking the outer for the inner is the besetting flaw of most religious thinking, and even yogis can fall into that trap, becoming absorbed in the outer ways and trappings of yoga and dharma, and thereby completely lose their soul-consciousness and be samsarins like nearly everyone else here on earth.

An example was told to me by Peggy Dietz, one of Yogananda’s secretaries. A certain “spiritual light” of Los Angeles would occasionally come to visit the Mount Washington ashram on a Sunday when Yogananda and the residents would often be together in what had been the lobby when the ashram was a resort hotel. Eventually she would begin holding forth on the virtues of vegetarianism, going on and on, always ending with: “I have no meat whatsoever in my body. There is no meat in my astral body, either. I have never eaten meat in this life, and I never ate meat in all my past lives, either!” After the third or fourth time Peggy heard this rant (and the others had heard it many more times before she had come to live there), Yogananda very politely showed her and her coterie to the door, then turned around and said to everyone there: “My God, I wish somebody would slip her a ham sandwich. It wouldn’t hurt her a bit, and she would never know the difference!” As Sri Yukteswarji often said: “Too much of a good thing is no longer good.” It is good to be steady in any discipline, but a craze about something is not good.


A samskara is an impression in the mind, either conscious or subconscious, produced by action or experience in this or previous lives. A vasana is an aggregate or bundle of samskaras that creates in a person the tendency toward actions according to the nature of the samskaras. Everything we do creates samskaras which in turn create vasanas. Therefore a sadhaka in the beginning continually experiences the pull of vasanas contrary to higher realization. But the persevering yogi who conforms his life and thought thoroughly to the ideals of spiritual life creates spiritual, upward-tending vasanas that not only help him in this life, but in future lives or higher worlds. Such a person will gravitate toward the spiritual life and the truths the sages have discovered from living that life themselves. Such people will feel happy and at home with purity and holiness and unhappy and alien to worldly follies. Nevertheless, they must apply themselves to sadhana lest they exhaust the power of those positive vasanas and lapse back into the bondage of ignorance.


Any action arising from simple, egoic desire never produces any lasting benefit. Only that inspired by spiritually illumined insight will have a lasting effect, even through the rest of our life.


Insecurity and uncertainty is always part of the pursuit of desires, because we subconsciously know that it is in violation of our true nature. There is safety in letting our ego-born desires go unheeded.


Greed in all forms is a trait of the adharmic personality. According to Patanjali, a fundamental characteristic of the yogi is aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, and non-acquisitiveness. The human being bound by desire is bound inextricably to the cycle of birth and death. But the Gita teaches us that the ending of desire is the ending of samsara, the ending of rebirth.


There is only one God, but the deluded human being has thousands of “gods” he pursues, suffering four forms of misery: misery from not having what he wants, misery from getting what he wants, misery from fears he will lose it, and misery from getting it and finding it does not live up to his expectations. Only when we seek and find the One and realize our eternal union with that One will we be at peace and in joy.


A master is one that lives in absolute desirelessness. Since it is desire that draws us into birth and expels us through death, desirelessness is a state the yogi must aspire to. Proof of the power of a single desire is given in the life of Sri Brahma Chaitanya. In chapter six of The Saint of Gondawali we find the following:

“Shantabai, the Master’s daughter, was two years old. The girl was extremely handsome as well as silently playful. The Master, therefore, called her Shanti, which means Peace. She could not yet speak, and so used the language of signs. She showed great inclination towards devotion to God.… She would sit undisturbed for an hour to listen to the Master’s discourse on God and His devotion. When the Master asked her, ‘Shantabai! Do you follow me?’ She replied a ‘yes’ by her sweet, innocent smile. One day her aunt was worshipping the tulsi plant. The girl was in her arms. Just then the Master happened to come there. He asked the child, ‘Would you give me your necklace?’ The girl removed the necklace and put it into the Master’s hand. He again asked her, ‘Don’t you like to have the necklace? Shall I have it for me?’ The child picked a leaf from the tulsi plant and placed it on the necklace, thereby implying that she had no attachment to it. The Master happily remarked, ‘Well, child! God will surely give a lift to you.’ Six months later the child died. Her mother and the other ladies felt very sorry to lose her. The cremation took place in the evening. When the Master came back a disciple asked him, ‘Master, why do children, particularly gifted children, die so young’” The Master answered, ‘Desire is the cause of birth. Desire again becomes the cause of death. When a child is born, it comes to satisfy some desire. The common man does not know who comes to him as a son or a daughter. The saints know it. Sometimes it happens that some spiritually advanced souls fall a prey to some petty desire. This desire dominates at the time of death during the previous birth. Then it forces them to be born again, preferably in the family of a seeker or a saint. They satisfy the desire and soon depart from this world. That is why many gifted children die young. This girl was such an advanced soul. Hence we should not mourn her death.’”

The single desire for a necklace had brought the girl into birth, and her cutting off of that desire by handing it to her father (the putting of a tulsi leaf on the necklace indicated that it was being given to God, actually) freed her to pass through the gate of death into life.

By conquering desire we conquer birth and death.


The desirelessness of the adept yogi is not the mere absence of desire, but the state of realization which ends all desires and bestows liberation.

Next in Living the Yoga Life: Some Advice to Yogis

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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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