The Inspired Wisdom of Lalla Yogeshwari: A Commentary on the Mystical Poetry of the Great Yogini of Kashmir by Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke)
Lalla Yogeshwari, also known as Lalleshwari or Lad Ded (Mother Lalla), was a great fourteenth-century yogini of Kashmir. She created a form of mystic poetry called Vatsun or Vakhs (from the Sanskrit Vak, which means Speech) that were the earliest compositions in the Kashmiri language. Swami Nirmalananda’s commentary of these Vakhs mines the treasures of Lalleshwari’s mystic poems and presents his reflections in an easily intelligible fashion for those wishing to put these priceless teachings on the path of yogic self-transformation into practice.
Part 1 – Vakhs 1-30
With a rope of loose-spun thread am I towing my boat upon the sea.
Would that God heard my prayer and brought me safe across!
Like water in cups of unbaked clay I run to waste.
Would God I were to reach my home!
See how different are these words of a perfect paramhansa yogini from the self-congratulatory boasts of false yogis and gurus that love to spin poetic rhapsodies of their supreme realization for the admiration of their hearers and readers! She honestly and clearly describes the condition of all who find themselves in the ocean of samsara we call “the world.” And although established in the non-dual state of nirvikalpa samadhi, she is keenly aware of the difference between herself and Brahman the Absolute, and of her utter dependence on Brahman as the essence of her existence as a conscious entity.
With a rope of loose-spun thread am I towing my boat upon the sea. The “rope of loose-spun thread” is the store of our accumulated karmas, positive, negative and neutral. The boat of our life is being propelled upon the sea of continual birth and death by the force of those karmas. They are tenuous (loose-spun) because although karma is an absolute, it yet can be directed and modified by subsequent actions (karmas), especially by the practice of Soham yoga sadhana.
Everything that happens to us from life to life is not from outside ourselves, but from within, for karma is a creation of our will and our desires, our attachments, our attractions (raga) and our aversions (dwesha). Therefore we are towing our own boat of our embodiment in this world. Everything that happens to us is in a sense all done to us by ourselves through the karmic force we have set in motion in the past and which has created our present. Everything anyone has done to us in this life is exactly what we have done to others in a previous life. When Jesus said, “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12), he was not giving some noble ideal, some “golden rule” of high virtue, but was telling us how to create our karma: what we want to be done to us we should do to others.
The ego does not want to admit the truth that our own actions come back to us exactly in the actions and words of others toward us. People who cannot face their own negativity become very upset at hearing this truth spoken. Once someone wrote asking me why people were sexually molested in their childhood. I wrote back the truth: those who are sexually molested in their childhood have molested children themselves in a previous life. Explosion! I was summarily informed that she was molested in childhood so she would be able to help those who had been so molested. God save us from such saviors! I have known several people who believed in karma but adamantly refused to even consider that negative things came to them because it was their own past-life negativity returning to them. This is a trait of serious spiritual sociopathy.
On the positive side is the fact that great positive spiritual karma is created by us through Soham meditation, spiritual study, good deeds and a genuine positive attitude toward others. But especially through Soham meditation.
Would that God heard my prayer and brought me safe across! Here we see that Lalla is no simplistic book-advaitin who does not realize that although her Self is eternal and one with Brahman, it is finite and Brahman is infinite–and therefore she is utterly dependent on the Absolute. References to God hearing prayers and answering them is usually considered a characteristic of the followers of bhakti, and it is when it is meant in a childish, dualistic sense. But Lalla is a perfect jnani who sees the relationship of the finite with the Infinite in a correct perspective. They are one, but not the same (identical), they are different–distinct from one another–but not separate. Only the yogi really comprehends this, for it is a matter of perception-experience, not mere intellectual conceptualization. Nevertheless we see that Lalla prays to the Infinite and fully believes that she can be delivered from the ocean of samsara by the action of God–for this is the only way it can happen, since all occurs according to the divine order which is itself a manifestation of God. Lalla clearly sees the One in two, and the two in One. “This is the knowledge above all other: purifier and king of secrets, only made plain to the eye of the mystic” (Bhagavad Gita 9:2).
Like water in cups of unbaked clay I run to waste. Lalla means that without the insight she has just expressed, instead of remaining in unity with the Absolute she would become merged with samsara in ignorance, for water in unbaked clay eventually becomes absorbed by it and only a worthless mess remains. Wise are those who know the perils of immersion in relative consciousness to the exclusion of the true knowledge of the Self.
Would God I were to reach my home! Even an enlightened person cannot be fully at rest in the world because the Self is alien to this world. It belongs in the depths of the Absolute, not floating about in the fluctuations of samsara. The Self is essentially real and the world of relative existence is essentially unreal–illusory. So although the liberated person may rest in the Self, there is still a shadow of his dislocation from the transcendental realm. For all of us the situation is like that described in the poem in Mahler’s Second (“Resurrection”) Symphony.
Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest pain!
How I would rather be in heaven.
There came I upon a broad path
When came a little angel
And wanted to turn me away.
Ah no! I would not let myself be turned away!
I am from God and shall return to God!
The loving God will grant me a little light,
Which will light me into that eternal blissful life!
I will weep and weep for you, O Mind;
The world has caught you in its spell
Though you cling to them with the anchor of steel,
Not even the shadow of the things you love
will go with you when you are dead.
Why then have you forgotten your own true Self?
I will weep and weep for you, O Mind. On reading this sentence there came to my memory a high school classmate of mine that got his first teenage crush and spent a lot of time each day circling the block in his car in hopes of seeing his crushee through the windows of her house. At home he sat moping over his hopeless fixation for someone that literally did not know he existed. One of his aunts asked him what was the matter, and when he explained she commented, “Look, Jack, it is only in your head!” Where else would it be?
The mind is a wonderful thing, but also an overwhelming source of misery. The yogi, being introspective and more sensitive to the ways and depths of his mind than ordinary people, especially knows this to be true. The mind being a field of fluidic energies, it is its nature to fluctuate constantly in response to inner and outer conditions. And since we are not the mind but only its witness, however much we may identify with it, we are its observer and certainly may “weep and weep” for it and over it, both pitying it and pitying ourselves for our vulnerability to its instability and vagaries.
The world has caught you in its spell. Everything in relative existence consists of magnetic energies continually interacting with one another. The magnetic field of the mind immediately attaches itself to anything that vibrates in sympathy with it, and only with effort can it detach itself from something. It is like trying to pry apart two powerful magnets that have clamped on to one another. The interaction of the mind with the world outside itself is fundamentally a matter of polarities–attraction and repulsion. These two forces are called raga and dwesha by the yogis. The confusion that can be created by their alternating presence is virtually impossible to resolve.
The yogi must therefore become established in viveka and vairagya. Viveka is discrimination between the Real and the unreal, between the Self and the non-Self, between the permanent and the impermanent–right intuitive discrimination. Vairagya is non-attachment; detachment; dispassion; absence of desire; disinterest; or indifference–indifference towards and disgust for all worldly things and enjoyments.
This diagnosis and recommended cure is drastic, but what is more drastic than finding ourselves in this world without a clue as to how and why? Only those who can even conceive of breaking through this imprisonment may hope to find the way to freedom. Certainly there is cause for weeping when we consider the agony and tears of the lifetimes through which we have already suffered.
Though you cling to them with the anchor of steel, not even the shadow of the things you love will go with you when you are dead. A ship’s anchor works by hooking itself on to an immovable object on the ocean floor. To be safe the chain and anchor must both be of steel that cannot rust or break. But Lalla tells us the truth: even if our attachment and desire to hold to them are made of the steel of the mind and will, not even their shadow will go with us through the gates of death. At the time of her death Queen Elizabeth I said, “All my possessions for a moment of time!” But the bargain was not struck.
Why then have you forgotten your own true Self? This is certainly a rhetorical question, because in the history of humanity no one has not forgotten the true Self. The necessary question is: How will we remember our true Self? And there is only one true answer: Soham yoga.
There is a yawning pit underneath you, and you are dancing overhead.
Pray, Sir, how can you bring yourself to dance?
See, of the riches you are amassing here, nothing of them will go with you.
Pray, Sir, how can you relish your food and drink?
There is a yawning pit underneath you, and you are dancing overhead. The inescapable, yawning pit of death is beneath us awaiting our eventual descent into it. The moment we were born we began moving toward the brink of that abyss. At every moment of our lives the death process has been going on in our bodies, even if it was sometimes the prelude to the formation of new flesh or attributes. We have to die in this way to keep on living, but the final end of life is death itself. It wins out in the end
Pray, Sir, how can you bring yourself to dance? It takes a great deal of deliberate unawareness to keep on absorbed in the dance that takes us over the edge of life into death. “I want to live!” is a foolish and futile ambition when the purpose of life is unknown or ignored, and we continue in the ways that can only end in the pit.
See, of the riches you are amassing here, nothing of them will go with you. People pass their lives getting things, all of which must be left behind at death–if they have even been with them that long. We begin with nothing and end with nothing. And in getting these things we have violated our true nature as the Self and sown karmic seeds that will bring more bondage and more frustration in this life and future lives. A terrible investment!
Pray, Sir, how can you relish your food and drink? Years ago I read a description of how a pig considers himself the apex of existence. He has a nice sty in which to wallow, a wife and children, and someone who comes and feeds him every day. Surely he is the center of the universe, its chosen favorite. But all the time on the wall of the farmer whom he considers his faithful servant and benefactor there hangs a great, sharp knife with which that farmer will one day kill him. The pig has an excuse for such thinking, but what excuse do we have who see death around us from our childhood and yet give no thought to our inevitable fate?
A wooden bow and rush grass for an arrow:
A carpenter unskilled and a palace to build:
A shop unlocked in a busy bazaar:
A body uncleansed by waters holy–
Oh dear! who knows what has befallen me?
Lalla now describes herself and everyone else in this world.
A wooden bow and rush grass for an arrow. In ancient India bows were made of horn (buffalo or rhinoceros were preferred) or steel, compared to which wood was not as flexible and therefore not as capable of shooting as far as the horn and steel bows. Furthermore the wooden bows were subject to moisture that could make them flaccid and dehydration that could make them brittle and easily broken. Rush grass was just that: grass (not reeds) from which it was impossible to fashion an arrow. A wooden bow and rush grass for an arrow–such is the human being which is fragile and unable to meet the harsh forces of the world effectually, much less conquer or master them. In other words such a person is helpless and hopeless in the “battle of life” so glibly spoken about. And he is defenseless against the forces of inner and outer illusion.
A carpenter unskilled and a palace to build. The destiny of the human being is divinity–the passage from a mud or thatch hut to a royal palace, symbolically speaking. But we do not know how to build such a structure. Here, too, we are helpless and hopeless. Worse than useless.
A shop unlocked in a busy bazaar. Such a place will be looted by whoever sees its unlocked condition. In the same way the heedless person who has not taken refuge in spiritual life and wisdom will have everything stolen from him by the forces of this troubled world. Although the treasure of divinity is within him, the samsarin is daily looted by the thieves of illusion and delusion, by the passions without number. He will be tormented and ultimately destroyed from life to life by the five enemies–lust (kama), anger (krodha), greed (lobha), delusion (moha), and envy (matsarya)–and drowned by the six waves of the ocean of samsara–hunger and thirst, old age and death, grief and delusion/loss of consciousness. What will be left of him to salvage? And it will continue from life to life to life.
A body uncleansed by waters holy. I never really have ascribed to the statement “only in a healthy body can you have a healthy mind,” but there is truth in it, though not an absolute. And the same thing could be said about our environment, including our body. A daily life that has not been cleansed and purified by the continual presence of holiness in many forms is a life that is unavoidably unholy, however it may appear to us and others.
True Hindus (Sanatana Dharmis) worship God daily and drink the offered water (tirtha) afterward. Often they have water brought from the sacred Ganges which they drink and sprinkle to purify both themselves and their surroundings. And if possible they all wish to bathe at least once in the sacred Ganges, Yamuna, Kaveri, Narmada, and Godavari rivers as well as the Triveni, where the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers come together. Having bathed in them all except for the Godavari I can testify to the benefits gained. Of course the Ganges is not just sacred, it is a divine manifestation. The first time I saw it I nearly fell in because I knew that I was seeing divine consciousness in the form of water. And bathing in the Triveni was one of the most important events in my life.
Oh dear! who knows what has befallen me? It is called samsara. “Therefore be a yogi” (Bhagavad Gita 6:46).
By the highway I came,
But by the highway I return not.
And so I find me still on the embarkment,
not having gone even half the way,
And the day is done, the light has failed.
I search my pockets but not a cowrie find:
What shall I pay for the ferry fee?
By the highway I came, but by the highway I return not. We come into this world from higher (astral) worlds by the way of birth, but we return by death.
And so I find me still on the embarkment, not having gone even half the way. Most people (non-yogis) find themselves still enmeshed in ordinary life, not having progressed even half way to birth in a higher world after leaving this one.
And the day is done, the light has failed. Youth with its vigor and optimism and confidence has gone, and the shadows of evening, the eventual night and the journey of death is coming of a surety.
I search my pockets but not a cowrie find. We take stock of our life and weigh up its entire span in hope of finding something gained that will ensure a painless and peaceful departure.
What shall I pay for the ferry fee? But after death when we are ourselves put in the balance of karma and destiny, what will we have within ourselves that will gain us an easy passage over and the possibility of never returning here?
Ah me! the five, the ten,
And the eleventh, their lord the mind,
scraped this pot and went away.
Had all together pulled on the rope,
Why should the eleventh have lost the cow?
Ah me! the five, the ten, and the eleventh, their lord the mind,…. The five are the five bodies (koshas), corresponding to the five elements: ether (akasha), air (vayu), fire (agni), water (ap), and earth (prithvi), in which all sentient beings are encased. They are: Anandamaya kosha: the sheath of bliss (ananda), the causal body (karana sharira). Jnanamaya kosha: the sheath of intellect (buddhi), the level of intelligent thought and conceptualization, the astral-causal body. Manomaya kosha: the sheath of the mind (manas–mental substance), the level of the sensory mind, the astral body. Pranamaya kosha: the sheath of vital air (prana), consisting of vital forces and the (psychic) nervous system, including the senses. Annamaya kosha: the sheath of physical matter. The ten are the ten indriyas, the five organs of perception (jnanendriyas)–ear, skin, eye, tongue and nose–and the five organs of action (karmendriyas)–voice, hand, foot, organ of excretion and the organ of generation. The eleventh, the ruler/co-ordinator of these ten, is the intelligent, thinking mind itself: the intellect (buddhi).
Scraped this pot and went away. By “this pot” Lalla means her physical body which was ruled and conditioned by the eleven which in turn “went away” by the waning of their powers, especially through the ravages and degeneration of age. In India a wandering monk carries a water vessel, usually made of a gourd or coconut shell, called a kamandalu. But my friend Anand Maharaj carried an earthen kamandalu. Having not seen one before, I asked him why he did not have the usual kind. “Because this reminds me of the body made of earth that can be ‘broken’ at any time.” He was certainly a disciple of Lalla.
Had all together pulled on the rope, why should the Eleventh have lost the cow? The rope is the “rope of loose-spun thread,” mentioned in the first verse, by which Lalla was towing her boat upon the sea of samsara, endeavoring to pass through this world by means of yogic enlightenment which is here referred to as “the cow.” In the scriptural language of Hinduism, Sanskrit, the syllable go means both a ray of light and a cow. Lalla uses “cow” in this symbolic sense. If the eleven had all together pulled on the rope at the will of Lalla, then the mind would not have lost its illumination. But it did, and Lalla put forth her will at full intensity to catch hold of and retain the light. Although she had done so successfully, she laments having needed to go to such trouble and struggle. This is the perspective of any serious yogi. It value lies in the setting of yogi’s will to make sure that “the cow” never gets away again.
Forever we come, forever we go;
Forever, day and night, we are on the move.
Whence we come, thither we go,
Forever in the round of birth and death,
From nothingness to nothingness.
But sure, a mystery here abides,
A Something is there for us to know.
Forever we come, forever we go. This verse is about those who are immersed in samsara and its delusions which we call maya. Impermanence and constant change are its attributes, and so are the lives and minds of those in its influence. In Hebrew the word for samsara means “rolling” in the sense of constant movement and instability. So is all relative existence.
Human beings are in the grip of the dualities, the dwandwas, the pairs of opposites inherent in nature (prakriti) such as pleasure and pain, hot and cold, light and darkness, gain and loss, victory and defeat, attraction and aversion, happiness and sorrow, birth and death. They are the waves of the ocean of samsara which perpetually rise and fall, move back and forth, sometimes calm and sometimes stormy.
Forever, day and night, we are on the move. Since the external aspect of us is part of prakriti, we never stop being “on the move.”
Whence we come, thither we go, forever in the round of birth and death. We come from disembodiment into embodiment and back into disembodiment over and over again caught in that duality. “Thus they are seen, and appear unceasingly,… returning back to the new birth, new death: all helpless” (Bhagavad Gita 8:19). “Helpless all, for Maya is their master” (Bhagavad Gita 9:8).
From nothingness to nothingness. This has two meanings. Since nothing lasts, it is ultimately “nothing” essentially, and since maya is appearance only, even the appearance of birth and death are nothing. It reminds me of Thales the ancient Greek philosopher who taught that life and death are the same. When asked why he did not commit suicide and die he replied: “Because it would make no difference.”
In a sense karma is also nothing because at first it does not exist, then it is created, then it is fulfilled and ceases to exist for us. So we go from nothingness to nothingness as Lalla says. Further the Gita admonishes us: “Do not say: ‘God gave us this delusion.’ You dream you are the doer, you dream that action is done, you dream that action bears fruit. It is your ignorance, it is the world’s delusion that gives you these dreams” (Bhagavad Gita 5:14). Of course a dream does take place and at that time is real, but when we awake it is no more than an idea in our mind–so it exists but is not real! Therefore our idea of the nature of existence itself is an error, since we attribute it to that which never exists in our ignorance of the reality that is our Self which does exist. (You might want to read that over!)
Perhaps we should think of our situation as sitting in a motion picture theater. If we look at the pictures on the screen we are looking at something that is basically nothing and non-existent. But we can look around and see the others watching with us that are real and do exist. The movie will end and disappear, but the viewers will not.
The Gita should have the last word on this: “That which is non-existent can never come into being, and that which is can never cease to be. Those who have known the inmost Reality know also the nature of is and is not” (Bhagavad Gita 2:16).
But sure, a mystery here abides, a Something is there for us to know. And if we do not know it our life counts for nothing. We must know by our yogic experience the truth of the following verses of the Gita.
“Bodies are said to die, but That which possesses the body is eternal” (Bhagavad Gita 2:18).
“Know this Atman unborn, undying, never ceasing, never beginning, deathless, birthless” (Bhagavad Gita 2:20)
“Not wounded by weapons, not burned by fire, not dried by the wind, not wetted by water: such is the Atman, not dried, not wetted, not burned, not wounded, innermost element, everywhere, always, being of beings, changeless, eternal, for ever and ever” (Bhagavad Gita 2:23-24).
We must know the Self.
Whence I have come and by which way, I do not know.
Whither I shall go and by which way, I do not know.
Were I to know the end of it all and gain the knowledge of the truth,
It would be well, for otherwise life here is but an empty breath.
So there is something we must do: Soham yoga sadhana in which we fill the breath with Soham: intoning So when we inhale and Ham (“Hum”) when we exhale naturally. Again and again.
I have seen a learned man die of hunger,
A sere leaf drop in winter wind;
I have seen an utter fool beat his cook
[Who could not make a toothsome dish].
Since then I, Lalla, anxiously await
The day when the lure of the world will fall away.
I have seen a learned man die of hunger, a sere [dry] leaf drop in winter wind. The man’s learning could not prevent his death from poverty, but became as nothing more than a dead, dry leaf blown by the wind. Many times renowned or oppressive people have died, and those who saw them marveled that they looked so insubstantial or inconsequential, although many had respected or feared them when they were alive.
I have seen an utter fool beat his cook [who could not make a toothsome dish.] Lalla saw how worthless people could become oppressors of those who did not fulfil their will, and how those oppressed could do nothing about the situation but endure it, even though the mistreatment was capricious and far more severe than the failure merited. So it has always been between the powerful and the weak, the “high” and the “low.” Inequality and injustice are common, especially for those considered of no consequence in a society.
Since then I, Lalla, anxiously await the day when the lure of the world will fall away. Swami Vivekananda said that the world is like a dog’s curly tail–it cannot be straightened by any means. Lalla saw that the attraction of the world for the mind was the same way, and yearned for the time when the world would be as nothing to her.
Now I saw a stream flowing;
Now neither bank nor bridge was seen.
Now I saw a bush in bloom;
Now neither rose nor thorn was seen.
Now I saw the hearth ablaze,
Now I saw not fire nor smoke.
Now I saw the Pandava Mother,
Now she was but a potters’ aunt.
Here again Lalla is faced with nothingness as the nature of this world. The world is like a magician: now you see it–now you don’t. At first you think there is something meaningful, lasting or substantial in a situation, an attainment or a person. Then suddenly you see the nothingness and realize it was nothing from the first, only you did not see beyond the momentary appearance of it or the mistaken conclusions you drew about it.
A royal fly-whisk, sunshade, chariot and throne,
Merry revels, pleasures of the theater, a bed of cotton down–
Which of these, you think, will go with you when you are dead?
How then can you dispel the fear of death?
A royal fly-whisk, sunshade [umbrella], chariot and throne… These things are signs of royalty and therefore privilege and power, insubstantial and superficial though they be. Yet these things were jealously guarded in India. Early in the twentieth century there were riots in south India because some low caste people bought and used cotton umbrellas made in England, thus supposedly usurping the privilege and rank of their “betters” and violating the long-established social order. Was anybody reading the Bhagavad Gita?
Merry revels, pleasures of the theater, a bed of cotton down…. These things are only of the moment, their very nature is to end in a short while, and therefore have virtually no significance or value.
Which of these, you think, will go with you when you are dead? They truly are here today and gone tomorrow–as are the bodies we call “me.”
How then can you dispel the fear of death? Through possessions and privilege we live as we please, blind to the fact that they can be taken from us at any moment, especially by our inevitable death.
As the wise Solomon said: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity [hebel: that which leads one astray; emptiness].… I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.… Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.… For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14; 2:17, 19).
Yet there is a positive side, once we see the vanity of all that eventually passes way. So Theodore Tilton wrote in his poem Even This Shall Pass Away:
Once In Persia reigned a king,
Who upon his signet ring
Graved a maxim true and wise,
Which, if held before his eyes,
Gave him counsel at a glance
Fit for every change and chance.
Solemn words, and these are they;
“Even this shall pass away.”
Trains of camels through the sand
Brought him gems from Samarcand;
Fleets of galleys through the seas
Brought him pearls to match with these;
But he counted not his gain
Treasures of the mine or main;
“What is wealth?” the king would say;
“Even this shall pass away.”
‘Mid the revels of his court,
At the zenith of his sport,
When the palms of all his guests
Burned with clapping at his jests,
He, amid his figs and wine,
Cried, “O loving friends of mine;
Pleasures come, but not to stay;
Even this shall pass away.”
Lady, fairest ever seen,
Was the bride he crowned his queen.
Pillowed on his marriage bed,
Softly to his soul he said:
“Though no bridegroom ever pressed
Fairer bosom to his breast,
Mortal flesh must come to clay–
Even this shall pass away.”
Fighting on a furious field,
Once a javelin pierced his shield;
Soldiers, with a loud lament,
Bore him bleeding to his tent.
Groaning from his tortured side,
“Pain is hard to bear,” he cried;
“But with patience, day by day,
Even this shall pass away.”
Towering in the public square,
Twenty cubits in the air,
Rose his statue, carved in stone.
Then the king, disguised, unknown,
Stood before his sculptured name,
Musing meekly: “What is fame?
Fame is but a slow decay;
Even this shall pass away.”
Struck with palsy, sore and old,
Waiting at the Gates of Gold,
Said he with his dying breath,
“Life is done, but what is Death?”
Then, in answer to the king,
Fell a sunbeam on his ring,
Showing by a heavenly ray,
“Even this shall pass away.”
Why have you sunk deep in the sea of the illusory pleasures of the world?
Why have you pulled down the high-banked road which could have led you safe across?
The dense darkness of tamas surrounds you now, and, at the appointed time,
Yama’s messengers prepare to drag your body bleeding to death.
Who can dispel your fear of death?
Why have you sunk deep in the sea of the illusory pleasures of the world? That is not a very hard question to answer. We are sunk deep in the sea of the illusory pleasures of the world because when we were born both the traumas of the womb-experience and the birth process–during both of which we experienced our mother’s thoughts as our own including her fear and great pain at our birth–plunged us into material awareness to the exclusion any objective self-awareness. So to a great degree our conscious memory was blanked out and only our samskaras remained with us. But we also had to learn that we were not our mother, but a separate being about which we truly knew nothing. So we had to remember a lot from our previous life and work from there while learning from our present situation. Plus simple sensory experience completely filled our awareness and displaced any previous understanding of this world and the purpose of our being in it. Without our volition years of moment-by-moment experiences began flooding on (and into) us at every moment of every day. What else could we do but sink? Just “knowing better” was no deterrent while under the hypnotic control of externalized consciousness and experience. Unless we were in touch with our latent samskaras how could it be otherwise?
Why have you pulled down the high-banked road which could have led you safe across? Easy. We did not know it–or we did not recognize it for what it was. We did not willfully forget it, but in our many lives when we did encounter it, it did not make any sense to us. We had to make a lot of mistakes to get the idea there might be a better way than just running around like a heedless animal.
This reminds me of an experience I had when I was three or four years old. The grocery store in my little home town delivered groceries, and one day my grandmother was putting up the things she had ordered when she said to my mother, “Why this is vegetarian vegetable soup, but I ordered vegetable beef soup!” I heard this and asked, “What does ‘vegetarian’ mean?” My grandmother told me, “Vegetarians live in California and never eat meat.” I thought they must be very silly people indeed! And now I am one. But it took a lot of learning before I learned that vegetarianism is an essential of the high-banked road, since diet and consciousness are inseparable and the energies of the mind are formed of the subtle energies of the food we eat. My family considered themselves Christians, followers of Jesus, but in the oldest text of the Gospels, which is in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, Jesus himself says, “Take care that you never make your hearts heavy by eating meat.”
The dense darkness of tamas surrounds you now, and, at the appointed time, Yama’s messengers prepare to drag your body bleeding to death. Yama is the Lord of Death, controller of who dies and what happens to them after death. He has many messengers who come for the departing soul and take them over into the astral world. Lalla’s vivid words about bleeding do not usually apply, and the body she mentions is the astral body of the departed.
Who can dispel your fear of death? You yourself can do so by gaining the knowledge that there is no death through diligent Soham yoga sadhana in which your real nature becomes apparent. Further, through daily Soham meditation the bonds of the body and mind become lessened and death is as easy as changing your clothes, for “just as the dweller in this body passes through childhood, youth and old age, so at death he merely passes into another kind of body. The wise are not deceived by that.… Bodies are said to die, but That which possesses the body is eternal. It cannot be limited, or destroyed.… Worn-out garments are shed by the body: worn-out bodies are shed by the dweller within the body. New bodies are donned by the dweller, like garments” (Bhagavad Gita 2:13, 18, 22).
My mother and grandmother had something to do with my perceptions of death, also. I heard my grandmother and mother talking about going to the funeral. My question, “What’s a funeral?” elicited the vague answer that it was a church service that was done when you died. “What’s ‘die’?” (They should have known that was coming.) Apparently they held the mistaken idea that it is morbid to tell little children about death, although one of the reasons the Lord Jesus told His disciples to become like little children (Mark 10:15) is their capacity for accepting realities–even if they do not completely comprehend them. Therefore I got no answer worth considering. Standing there in the kitchen I made an interesting decision: I would “see” for myself what death was. And since I did not “know” I could not–I did.
I saw a bed and an old lady lying on it. She seemed to be suffering from some cause. As I watched, she appeared to fall asleep, but simultaneously a translucent duplicate of the woman rose up out of her body. I understood that the duplicate was really “her,” that she had gone out of her body just like I got out of my pajamas every morning. The “real” form began to rise upward right through the ceiling and roof of her house. She did not stop, but continued rising high, high above the town. When she got up into the clouds a golden light appeared and she went into it and was gone. I realized that she had gone “somewhere else” to continue living. I also realized that some version of this happened to everyone at the end of life, and that it would also happen to me. But I would still be alive, only in a different place.
One of the best expositions of immortality is the poem written by Emily Bronte only a few weeks before she died from tuberculosis.
No Coward Soul Is Mine
No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven’s glories shine,
And Faith shines equal, arming me from Fear.
O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life, that in me has rest,
As I, undying Life, have power in Thee!
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thy infinity,
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality.
With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.
Though earth and moon were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.
There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou–thou art Being and Breath,
And what thou art may never be destroyed.
Why do you dote upon someone, my Soul, who is not your true love?
Why have you taken the false for the true?
Why can’t you understand, why can’t you know?
It is ignorance that binds you to the false,
To the ever-recurring wheel of birth and death, this coming and going.
Why do you dote upon someone, my Soul, who is not your true love? Why have you taken the false for the true? Why can’t you understand, why can’t you know? Why are we attached to that which is ultimately nothing to us–and we are nothing to it? This includes objects, possessions, persons and nearly all the things that we consider part of our life. We truly are “dwellers in the mirage.” But how is this possible, and how has it happened to us?
It is ignorance that binds you to the false, to the ever-recurring wheel of birth and death, this coming and going. Again: it is all a mirage. What we see and experience is real, but our interpretation and understanding of it is false. It is real, but we see and live it as a lie. And since this is all in our mind, the only remedy is also internal: the insight given to us through Soham meditation.
O man, why do you twist a rope of sand?
You cannot tow your boat with it.
What God has written in karma’s script
Cannot be altered or reversed.
O man, why do you twist a rope of sand? You cannot tow your boat with it. We became acquainted with this rope of sand in the first of Lalla’s verses. It is the store of our accumulated karmas, positive, negative and neutral. Lalla, by the force of her yogic attainment, was able to tow her boat with it, but we who are samsarins cannot–though we should be wise and dedicate ourselves to Soham yoga sadhana as did Lalla. But at this time we cannot use knowledge of our karmas to direct our path in life, for we have no such knowledge. Therefore Lalla is speaking the truth to us when she says:
What God has written in karma’s script cannot be altered or reversed. That is, the law of karma which is imbedded in the very fabric of the universe and our bodies, gross and subtle, can never be changed or “broken” by anyone. Even God does not abrogate the karmic laws. So we have to learn the means of our evolution by learning and following the divinely-written law and the universal principles behind them which we can employ intelligently in our life–which we can then transform through the alchemy of yoga and wisdom (jnana). Thus we create for ourselves the karma of enlightenment and reap the harvest of Self-realization.
What was it you had sown which should have borne a rich harvest?
You had but tanned a carcass hide, shaped and stretched it taut on pegs,
(Your only care your own body which you pegged to the bonds of desire).
But counsel to a fool is labour lost,
Like a ball thrown at a big-sized pillar, rebounding but not hitting the mark;
Or fruitless as feeding a tawny bullock on sweet molasses,
And expect a yield of milk from him.
What was it you had sown which should have borne a rich harvest? Life is wasted by doing the wrong things in the wrong ways in the wrong places. So Lalla is asking us–knowing that we have not just sat in a corner and done nothing–what it was that we have occupied ourselves with all of our life up till now with no worthwhile results at all–just the opposite. We are paupers in the spirit, having “spent” our lives in vain pursuits. So she asks if we now realize what seeds we should have sown in our inner and outer life. For there is hope for us still if we turn ourselves into the right path and expend our time and energy in the ways of the Self.
You had but tanned a carcass hide, shaped and stretched it taut on pegs. Up till now we have really cared only about our bodies, looking after the external, even disciplining and altering it to conform to our wrong ideas about its and our reason for even being in the world.
But counsel to a fool is labour lost, like a ball thrown at a big-sized pillar, rebounding but not hitting the mark. Lalla speaks the truth to those she encounters, but they are old and skilled in foolishness if not in outright evil. So for her or us to advise or admonish them is a complete loss of time and effort which will rebound to us in the form of being ignored or our words misinterpreted and distorted and turned on us in justification for their folly, and their outright hatred and anger in indignant rejection of our words and efforts which they denounce as being foolish or evil, rather than they and their deeds and words being foolish or evil.
Or fruitless as feeding a tawny bullock on sweet molasses, and expect a yield of milk from him. Giving molasses to a heifer is considered a good way to increase the amount of milk they will produce. But to give it to a bullock is not just a total waste of time, it is insanity.
In your mother’s womb you vowed not to be born again.
When will you recall the vow and die, even while alive?
Great honor will be yours in this life and greater honor after death.
In your mother’s womb you vowed not to be born again. The Garbha Upanishad describes the various phases of the child’s development in the womb. In the seventh month after conception, the soul receives knowledge of its past and future. It knows who it has been and who it will be, what it has suffered and what it will suffer. This profoundly disturbs and even frightens the child, so it begins calling on God for help, even begging or vowing not to be born in an earthly body again.
When will you recall the vow and die, even while alive? The subconscious memory of the vow taken in the womb exists in us in the form of a samskara in our subconscious. When will at least the subliminal memory of that vow manifest as an inner urge within us to avoid further birth and death and their attendant miseries? Now in the body, will we follow our resolve and keep our vow to ourself and God?
Great merit will be yours in this life and greater merit after death. If we do keep that urgent vow, we will have great merit in this life and even greater merit when we leave the body and rise to higher worlds beyond the possibility of falling back into this material world. Surely this is the fulfillment of of all righteousness.
Impart not esoteric truth to fools,
Nor on molasses feed an ass.
Do not sow seed in sandy beds,
Nor waste your oil on cakes of bran.
Impart not esoteric truth to fools. This is a most important injunction for many reasons. 1) They will drive you crazy asking you over and over to explain, and looking at you blankly so you foolishly think you have failed to communicate with them so they still do not understand. 2) They will think you are yourself crazy or irrational or a fool and will say or act so and mock you and the wisdom you have spoken to them. 3) They will be outraged at you “confusing” them since they cannot understand what you said. And denunciation will not be far behind. 4) They will especially hate the esoteric truth that is the basis for disciplines, especially in diet and abstinence from harmful things such as alcohol, nicotine and mind-affecting substances. 5) They will pretend to accept what you say, but twist and pervert the truth you told them. For example, one fool claimed that the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita (2:19), “Some say this Atman is slain, and others call It the slayer: they know nothing. How can It slay or who shall slay It?” meant that abortion was not an act of murder. One man said to me several times, “I remember you once told me…,” and then proceeded to say idiotic and outrageous things which I never thought or said in my life. The purpose of these fools? To take vengeance on you for telling them the truth. Remember: they may be fools, but that does not mean they are not also cunningly intelligent. And evil.
Nor on molasses feed an ass. As we have seen, molasses is fed to bullocks so they will grow to be strong and able to plow fields and carry very heavy loads. A donkey can do none of these things, so to feed them molasses is to waste it. And so it is with people who cannot use (apply) the wisdom you give them.
Do not sow seed in sandy beds. The seeds will germinate, but the plants that grow will be sickly, weak and soon die. The same will happen with the truth told to shallow and rootless people.
Nor waste your oil on cakes of bran. They are unfit for anything, as are the fools you should avoid.
Yogananda used to say, “Company is greater than will power.” If you associate with fools you will eventually become one. Stay away.
I might disperse the southern clouds,
I might drain out the sea,
I might cure the incurable sick,
But I cannot convince a fool.
This is simple truth that should be taken to heart. Do not waste your time with fools. I once went with a fool to meet a real yogi living in obscurity in California. At one point the yogi looked at me, smiling, and said, “Why carry around empty space?” I understood and followed his hint.
What is bitter at first is sweet in the end,
What is sweet at first is poison in the end.
It all depends on the effort put in, and the unflagging determined will;
For whoever strives must soon arrive at the city of his choice.
What is bitter at first is sweet in the end. What is sweet at first is poison in the end. “Who knows the Atman knows that happiness born of pure knowledge: the joy of sattwa. Deep his delight after strict self-schooling: sour toil at first but at last what sweetness, the end of sorrow. Senses also have joy in their marriage with things of the senses, sweet at first but at last how bitter: steeped in rajas, that pleasure is poison” (Bhagavad Gita 18:37-38). In his vision recorded in the book of Revelation, Saint John saw an angel with a little book in his hand, representing true wisdom… “And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter” (Revelation 10:9-10). Sri Ramakrishna remarked that rock sugar is good for the liver, but it tastes bitter to a person with liver trouble. When I first consulted with Dr. Josef Lenninger, the great naturopath, he gave me a cup of clear liquid to drink. I did so and remarked that it tasted very good. “But if you had told me it tasted bad or bitter,” he told me, “I would have known you have liver trouble.” So “bitter medicine” is often needed by us in the search for truth.
It all depends on the effort put in, and the unflagging determined will. For whoever strives must soon arrive at the city of his choice. This is very true. The yogi’s success or failure depends on the quality and quantity of his sadhana supported by an “unflagging and determined will.” For whoever puts forth effort in valid spiritual pursuit shall attain his end in time and experience the liberation he has chosen as his place of permanent abode. “Seek refuge in the knowledge of Brahman” (Bhagavad Gita 2:49). “Strive without ceasing to know the Atman, seek this knowledge and comprehend clearly why you should seek it: such, it is said, are the roots of true wisdom” (Bhagavad Gita 13:11).
My Guru gave me but one percept:
“From without withdraw your gaze within
And fix it on the Inmost Self.”
Taking to heart this one percept,
Naked I began to dance.
In the Nath Yogi tradition God is the guru who is embodied in the Soham mantra. Lalla is relating to us what this Soham Guru directed her to do. The Gita says it very well: “Patiently, little by little, a man must free himself from all mental distractions, with the aid of the intelligent will. He must fix his mind upon the Atman, and never think of anything else” (Bhagavad Gita 6:25). He who follows this precept leaves all things behind and seeks the Self alone. “Naked” in his purpose and in the divesting of all other purpose or desire in his heart, he finds what he seeks and dances in his joyful freedom. “His mind is dead to the touch of the external: it is alive to the bliss of the Atman. Because his heart knows Brahman his happiness is for ever” (Bhagavad Gita 5:21).“When, through the practice of yoga, the mind ceases its restless movements, and becomes still, he realizes the Atman. It satisfies him entirely. Then he knows that infinite happiness which can be realized by the purified heart but is beyond the grasp of the senses. He stands firm in this realization. Because of it, he can never again wander from the inmost truth of his being” (Bhagavad Gita 6:20-21). “The abstinent run away from what they desire but carry their desires with them: when a man enters Reality, he leaves his desires behind him” (Bhagavad Gita 2:59). Blessed nudity!
He who wields the sword a kingdom gains;
Heaven [Swarga] is gained by tapasya and alms.
Follow the Guru’s word and gain
True knowledge of the Self within.
Of his own virtue and his sin
Man himself surely reaps the fruits.
He who wields the sword a kingdom gains. Many things can be a “sword,” such as wisdom, will power and discrimination between the true and the false. That is why the Gita says: “Still I can see it: a doubt that lingers deep in your heart brought forth by delusion. You doubt the truth of the living Atman. Where is your sword, Discrimination? Draw it and slash delusion to pieces” (Bhagavad Gita 4:42). The most powerful sword is the ceaseless pursuit of Self-realization through yoga sadhana backed by our total will power and wisdom in wielding it. Those who persevere in using that sword will gain the kingdom of self-mastery and Self-realization.
Heaven [Swarga] is gained by tapasya and alms. A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines tapasya: “Austerity; practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline; spiritual force. Literally it means the generation of heat or energy, but is always used in a symbolic manner, referring to spiritual practice and its effect, especially the roasting of karmic seeds, the burning up of karma.” That highest good which is beyond this earthly realm is gained by intense Soham sadhana and self-purification through discipline, especially a strict vegetarian diet along with abstinence from nicotine, alcohol and mind-affecting substances.
Follow the Guru’s word and gain true knowledge of the Self within. By practicing Soham sadhana according to the words of enlightened yogis, supported by the requisite purification and discipline, Self-realization is attained within the depths of the yogi’s own consciousness-being.
Of his own virtue and his sin man himself surely reaps the fruits. We ourselves have created our karma through our own past right and wrong deeds, thoughts, desires and will. All that is “done” to us in this world is really our own doing returning to us. It is an echo–our own “voice”–and will reveal exactly the nature of our previous actions. There are no helpless victims, only reapers of what they themselves have sown in the past. The ego hates this truth, but it is truth, nonetheless. Those who cannot face up to their own responsibility and culpability have no possibility of spiritual attainment of any kind.
The sling of my candy load has gone loose, (and it galls my back);
My body has bent double under its weight; how shall I carry the load?
The word of my Guru (that I must lose the world to gain my soul),
Has been a painful ‘‘loss-blister” for me.
I am become a shepherdless flock, ah me!
The sling of my candy load has gone loose, (and it galls my back). My body has bent double under its weight; how shall I carry the load? The folly of every human being is the outward search for pleasure, enjoyment and satisfaction, whereas fulfillment and happiness are found only within, in the Self. We keep accumulating the “sweet” things of life that are only pain and bitterness in the end. “Senses have joy in their marriage with things of the senses, sweet at first but at last how bitter: that pleasure is poison” (Bhagavad Gita 18:38).
We cannot continue to hold on to them, for although they are heavy and wear us raw in their getting and keeping, they must slip away from us, for they have nothing to do with the Self. And no matter how much we try to lie to ourselves and act as though the Self is not our only reality, we constantly experience misery and sorrow because the “things of the world” are not only alien to the Self, they destroy the possibility of our gaining awareness and knowledge of the Self. They are, indeed, our “beloved enemy” by our own choice and deed. We have pain and are bent under the deadly weight of our search for that which cannot be found anywhere but within. Our condition is intolerable for us, yet we cannot (will not) let go of it and be free.
The word of my Guru (that I must lose the world to gain my soul), has been a painful ‘‘loss-blister” for me. The truth of the liberated siddhas that we must let go of the world and our attachments to it is also a terrible pain to us. Miserable because of the world and miserable because we cannot stand the idea of letting go and turning from it: that is the sum of our “life” in the world.
I am become a shepherdless flock, ah me! We have lost control of ourselves and at the same time are driving ourselves in the desperate search for–and grasping after–the world, which can never be ours because it is outside us. We think we are in it, but that is only an illusory dream. We are seeking for that which cannot be found because it does not exist in light of the ultimate Reality. It is false, but we are real: this is the antithesis that torments us. But we will not give it up, nor will we “shepherd” ourselves through self-control, the disciplines of yama and niyama and tapasya–intense Soham sadhana.
A thousand times my Guru I asked:
“How shall the Nameless be defined?”
I asked and asked but all in vain.
The Nameless Unknown, it seems to me,
Is the source of the something that we see.
A thousand times my Guru I asked: ‘How shall the Nameless be defined?’ I asked and asked but all in vain. Why? Because it was the wrong question. Buddha said that the right questions must first be asked before we can get the right answers. We ask a question because we do not know something, but we have to have some knowledge to even think of the right question. The sadhaka must possess a combination of intuition and intellect to make his search for truth possible.
A sadhaka must have all the qualifications before he can search for truth in a viable way that will ensure his finding the truth. We have to have a subtle inner knowing for us to reach the knowledge we seek. For example, we can ask someone we think is qualified to answer our questions, but at the same time we have to have the ability to discern whether the answers we get are true or sufficient. It takes insight to ask a question and understanding to determine if the answer is valid or complete. So we have to somehow know the answer before we do any asking. Samskara has a lot to do with this, and enough purification of intelligence and intuition to bring about the discovery we need.
Elsewhere I have told about two men whom I met just after they had come to India. When I asked them why they had come, they said, “We are looking for a qualified guru.” And they were taken aback when I responded, “But are you qualified to be disciples of a qualified guru?” That did not please them. When I met them some months later they told me that they had been getting initiated by every guru they met. “Just to be sure” was their answer when I asked them why they were doing such a thing. You might be interested to know that when I first met them I took them to meet Anandamayi Ma whose ashram was only twenty minutes’ walk from where they were staying. After about an hour they announced they had to go back for lunch. “Well, you know the way back here,” I told them. Their response was, “Oh, it’s too far to come back again.” But they travelled hundred of miles to collect their initiations from irresponsible gurus. Water found its own level.
Back to Lalla’s question. It has no intelligent answer because you cannot name the Unnameable or define the Indefinable. So the question has no value except that when asked it can be answered by what I have just said. There are those who try to increase the scope of their mind, and there are those who try to shrink reality down to their level in the hope of exploiting and controlling it and making it ego-safe. There is a genuine quest for increased understanding, but there is an ego-based fraud that seeks to justify its limitation with the “need to understand,” which really means “I will not acknowledge and accept the truth of something I do not like or want to incorporate into my thought and life.”
The Nameless Unknown, it seems to me, is the source of the something that we see. That is true. But it must naturally follow that we must consider the possibility that whatever comes from the Nameless Unknown is the Nameless Unknown Itself. For it is. How can we know if that is true? By becoming an adept yogi.
In life I sought neither wealth nor power,
Nor ran after the pleasures of sense.
Moderate in food and drink, I lived a controlled life,
And loved my God.
This is the formula for success in real life: the path to Self-realization, to the true love of the “God within my breast, almighty, ever-present Deity! Life, that in me has rest, as I, undying Life, have power in Thee!” that was known to Emily Bronte when she also wrote:
I’m happiest when most away
I can bear my soul from it’s home of clay
On a windy night when the moon is bright
And my eye can wander through worlds of light
When I am not and none beside
Nor earth nor sea nor cloudless sky
But only spirit wandering wide
Through infinite immensity.
I came straight,
And straight I shall return.
How can the crooked lead me astray?
Surely, no harm can come to me:
He knows me from the beginning of time,
And loves me.
This is extremely interesting. For the first time Lalla speaks as the Self in each sentient being–the part which is never touched by samsara. She is showing the truth of our inmost being and nature so we can realize that through Soham sadhana we can regain this perspective and free the part of ourselves that is under the spell of maya.
When we are asleep and dreaming that some terrible thing is happening to us we need not resolve or conquer the threat, but simply awake and find it was just a dream. Then all that frightened or pained us is gone and we realize that it never really existed at any time except as an idea and imagination in our mind. The one thing we needed was awakening and seeing that the dream was not reality.
By pandering to your appetites, you get nowhere;
By asceticism and fasting, you get conceit.
Be moderate in food and drink and live a moderate life,
The gates of Heaven will surely be thrown open wide for you.
By pandering to your appetites, you get nowhere. “Thinking about sense-objects will attach you to sense-objects; grow attached, and you become addicted; thwart your addiction, it turns to anger; be angry, and you confuse your mind; confuse your mind, you forget the lesson of experience; forget experience, you lose discrimination; lose discrimination, and you miss life’s only purpose” (Bhagavad Gita 2:62-63). This is the process within which we lead ourselves astray in this world or relativity which is also illusion. The first time I read it I was deeply impressed. Here was a scripture that told me exactly how my delusive mind works, so I had a chance to stop the folly. And this was in just the second chapter of eighteen! I read on and on, feeling that I was not reading a historical dialogue from long ago, but that my soul was talking to me and telling me the truth. And I wept in profound relief and joy when I came to the final verses:
“Such were the words that thrilled my heart, that marvelous discourse, heard from the lips of the high-souled Prince and the great Lord Krishna. Not with these earthly ears, but by mystic grace of Vyasa, thus I learned that yoga supreme from the Master of yogis. Ever and ever again I rejoice, O King, and remember sacred and wonderful truths that Krishna told to his comrade. Ever again, O King, I am glad and remember rejoicing that most splendid of forms put on by Krishna, the Sweet One. Where Lord Krishna is, and Arjuna, great among archers, there, I know, is goodness and peace, and triumph and glory” (Bhagavad Gita 18:74-78).
Since the senses are oriented toward and filled with the externals of material experience which are essentially a mirage, to live according to the attractions and aversions of the senses and believe that they are real and true, is not only to get nowhere, it is to be nothing. We ourselves become “hungry ghosts” pining after satisfaction through sensory experiences which are ghosts also. It is the state of death, but we can resurrect into life, the life of the spirit. However, we can go about this process in a wrong way.
By asceticism and fasting, you get conceit. Disciplining and denying the body its addictions is a step in the right direction. But since it still is focusing on the material aspects of ourselves, it can lead us into the self-deception that we are being spiritual and following a spiritual life, when we are only taking one of the first steps toward a real spiritual life.
Further, the ego identifies with the body and mind and never with the Self which is its antithesis and its ultimate dissolution. So externalized asceticism feeds the ego and the foolish think they are spiritual if they bend the body to their will through disciplines, especially painful or exaggerated asceticisms. Some are aberrations such as living on milk alone (there was a sadhu in India known as Milk [Dood] Baba, whose only claim to notoriety was having lived on milk for decades), drinking only water taken from the Ganges, eating nothing but neem leaves, extremely prolonged fasting, bathing in every holy river in India on the prescribed days, walking hundreds and thousands of miles to pilgrimage places, and engaging in utterly psychotic practices of self-torture or display. For example there was a man who lived on a pool (billiard) table suspended on ropes for many years, on which he urinated and defecated in plain view, and who was admired because his feces were hard and dry as though baked inside him–something which was cited by his devotees as proof of his inner fires of digestion! This is no exaggeration or myth. I knew a sadhu who had met this lunatic in his wanderings.
Such insanity is not confined to India but is a part of the “sacred” lore of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity.
Be moderate in food and drink and live a moderate life. Few things are more horrible to the ego than being thought ordinary, but it is good for the sensible yogi. Swami Sivananda used to sing:
Eat a little, drink a little,
Talk a little, sleep a little,
Mix a little, move a little,
Serve a little, rest a little,
Work a little, relax a little,
Study a little, reflect a little,…
If you look at videos of Sivananda which show him being visited by various spiritual figures, you will see that most of them have some kind of theatrical “look at holy me” clothing, tilaks (see glossary) and lots of holy beads. Sivananda, however has none of these. It is unfortunate that they came to visit and even honor him, but did not learn from his example of simplicity and modesty.
Of course we must not let our ego fool us into minimal discipline and observance in our spiritual life under the guise of moderation, either. That is a deadly trap, also. I grew up with spiritually lazy and cowardly people who liked to say, “You can go too far” and “You can do too much” in spiritual life. About such people Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:2, 5). And it is very small, I assure you.
The gates of Heaven will surely be thrown open wide for you. Those who are wise enough to be strangers and pilgrims in this world will find their home in the higher worlds where they are living already in their hearts. So they belong there.
Patience to endure lightning and thunder,
Patience to face darkness at noon,
Patience to go through a grinding-mill–
Be patient whatever befalls, doubting not that He will surely come to you.
Patience is a quality of steadfastness, of the ability to persevere unwaveringly in the face of opposition and distraction. It also implies tranquility of heart even when disruptive elements would impede our steady progress to the goal through Soham sadhana. As the saying goes: a saint is a sinner who never gave up. And considering all that the sadhaka has to endure, the similar saying that a diamond is a piece of coal that never gave up is equally relevant. Intense pressure and intense heat turn coal into diamonds and yogis into siddhas.
Patience to endure lightning and thunder. The ability to remain unmoved and calm in the face of threatening–even frightening–and disruptive situations, persons and inner fears and doubts is the requisite for success in Soham yoga. Negativity both inside and outside us will certainly arise or appear, and we must deal with it by either coming to active grips with it or simply holding tight to our ideals and ignoring it until it passes away and leaves us stronger and wiser in our pursuit of Self-realization.
Patience to face darkness at noon. The “dark night of the soul” leads the sadhaka onward to the full light of spiritual day. Also, to discover that what we thought was light is really darkness, that what we considered truth was actually falsehood, that what (and who) we thought we could relay on for encouragement and support either abandons us or turns on us and tries to deflect us from continuing in the yoga life is a heavy blow. But we must keep moving onward, for in spiritual life there is no standing still. Those who are not going forward are slipping backwards, though they may not realize it.
Patience to go through a grinding-mill. Going through the grinding-mill of life is to have everything go against us and to endure a barrage of opposition and a breaking apart of much that we thought was our support, and to lose much that we have loved, trusted and hoped in–including those we considered closest to us. To be whirled around and ground down unrelentingly is part of the price for the pearl of great price that is total liberation from all bonds. To gain all we must lose all–at least in our willingness to lose all to gain All. There is a hymn that speaks of “feet that have traveled the narrow way, faltering not in the battle fray, treading the thorns in the heat of day.” Such are the feet of those who will come at last to the end of the path that leads to divine consciousness.
Be patient whatever befalls, doubting not that He will surely come to you. Or rather, that he will reveal to you that he is there as your inmost being. “The devoted dwell with Him, they know Him always there in the heart,… they find the place of freedom, the place of no return” (Bhagavad Gita 5:17).
Steady practice of Soham meditation and the observance of the principles of right conduct according to the principles of Sanatana Dharma is the only way to Self-realization. Those who persevere, content in the benefits that Soham meditation gives from the very beginning, will most surely attain the goal of liberation (moksha). This can be the experience of every true and worthy sadhaka-sanatana dharmi. Doubt is dispelled by dharma.
Have no fear, O restless mind,
The Eternal One takes thought for you.
He knows how to fulfil your wants.
Then cry to Him alone for help,
His Name will lead you safe across.
Fearlessness, including complete freedom from anxiety, is a trait of the genuine yogi in the Nath Yogi tradition of Soham sadhana. The way to the Eternal is the path of the Soham yogi. As the great master, Sri Gajanana Maharaj of Nashik, said: “Soham is the sole savior.” This, too, is experienced by the devoted Soham sadhaka.
The joys of palate and fine apparel bring man no lasting peace.
They who give up false hopes and do not put trust in the things of the world,
Ascend, unafraid of Death’s terrors by scriptures told;
For having lived contented lives, they are not debtors of Desire.
[Alternate translation: And do not have to settle accounts with the cruel debt-collector Death.]
The joys of palate and fine apparel bring man no lasting peace. Only those who have realized the futility of centering their attention and interest in external conditions as the way to inner happiness and fulfillment and who have understood that there is no hope of satisfaction and peace in seeking in the things of earth and ego–and has therefore turned from them and left them behind–will ascend in consciousness and find that which brings total fulfillment: Self-realization. “Only that yogi whose joy is inward, inward his peace, and his vision inward shall come to Brahman and know Nirvana” (Bhagavad Gita 5:24).
They who give up false hopes and do not put trust in the things of the world,…. Anandamayi Ma often asked people, “Have you not seen what life in this world is?” For those who see clearly the truth about this empty and death-bearing material world are not deceived by the illusions so dear to the hearts of those it has hypnotized into seeing it in a completely false and unrealistic way.
Ascend, unafraid of Death’s terrors by scriptures told. For having lived contented lives, they are not debtors of Desire. [Alternate translation: And do not have to settle accounts with the cruel debt-collector Death.] Fear of death is the great blight and torment of those in this world who are tossed back and forth in the ocean of samsara where there is neither rest nor peace. Our embodied life is only loaned to us for a short time before the karmic forces are exhausted and we lose hold of this life through the death of the body. When the “loan” has been spent, then all is lost which we have fostered and been intent on throughout years and years. In a moment it is gone from our grasp. Young people especially never think of death, but assume they will live forever, even though all around them they see death is an unavoidable fate for every embodied being. What we cling to as life is really nothing more than the prelude to death.