Seven Practices to learn how to Love

Seven Practices to learn how to Love

October 21, 2021

What is Love?

Swami Sivananda said that Love is the goal of life.  Love is the law of life.  God is Love and Love is God. To love is to fulfill the law.  We live so that we may learn to love in the eternal.

Love is oneness, union, unity, yoga.

Our human condition is separation. We suffer from separation and we long for union.

Our stories of love are the different stories of our Karmic lessons unfolding, experienced as pain or pleasure. Yoga helps to free us from the suffering coming from this duality and this split we feel between Self and Others, ourselves and our environments. 

Selfless love is to be learned

Our relationships are opportunities to learn selfless love.  Selfless love means to see the Self and divinity in Nature and in others as well as in one’s self.  It means not seeing the differences, but seeing the essence, the commonness that is One, realizing Unity in Diversity.

Love is selfless and unconditional.  Conditional love is selfish and emotional.  Emotions need to be purified to become pure love.   Emotions come from our lower mind and our subconscious mind which carries impressions of the past.  Yoga teaches us to purify the usual, habitual, tainted love, in other words, our lower mind and to activate our higher mind. 

Know that Love is not desire

Happiness comes from love.  True happiness is not just emotional and satisfaction of desire but the fulfillment of our soul longing to be united with the Supreme.

Know that Love is not Attachment

True love is not attached but detached. True love is warm and yet not emotional but is detached.  Detachment does not mean rejection.
It means learning to see the True Self that is Love absolute and bliss absolute and thus feeling fulfilled, not needing anything else.

Seven Practices

1 / Assert Being LOVE

Sometimes we go on and assert different things about ourselves, I am strong, I am powerful, I am rich, I am pretty, I am the daughter of who, I am Vietnamese etc… But now, assert that I am Love. Assert within you that Love is your essential nature. Connect wholeheartedly with the secure and fulfilled Divine Love. It is a question of connection, of feeling secure and fulfilled, very happy. Ask your heart intelligence. Close eyes, sit still, feel the inner voice.
Basically, there are two types of people: the emotional and the intellectual. Of course, we are both but there will be something that is more than the other. For those emotional nature, feel yourself strong and complete, not needy.  Often times your emotions are towards something or somebody. Now feel that you are withdrawing your emotions within yourself. Feel beyond the emotional need and assert I am Love. For those that are non-emotional, they are more intellectual, they need to relax, trust and allow the soft feeling to be towards people. You need to allow it because your intellect will block this feeling.

This is how we practice being love for these two types of people.

2 / Reduce the emotional extremes of the roller coaster of the emotions.

In the roller coaster, there are high hills which drop deep down, then the middle hills and lower hills. Try to ride only lower hills, if you can. Of course, in real roller coaster you have to ride them all. But regarding your emotions, try to keep the emotions calmer.

Recognize within yourself the high extremes. Consciously cut off the extremes. Not too much hatred, not too much love. Free yourself from the opposites.

Same as practice of equanimity or equal vision, now is equanimity of heart.  Free yourself from the duality of pleasures and pains, censures and praises, the dear and the unfriendly, always being moved by joys or sorrows, joy and sorrow, joy and sorrow.

Swami Sivananda said: “Love little but love long” and “you want love a lot and die!” [ laugh]

3 / Cease seeking for happiness but seek for peace of mind.

You will be shocked when I say cease seeking for happiness. But there is a reason. The reason is we have long past history to seek for happiness in a wrong place, so our happiness is often accompanied by pain. Your relationship with happiness is often a faulty one as you follow your emotional patterns of past, your instinctual desires and your inborn prejudices and experiences that you carried with you. Therefore, abandon your search for happiness but rather seek for peace and lasting happiness. In fact, this lasting happiness will automatically be there as you find peace and serenity, contentment. Do not make mistake, sometimes you feel like you are closed off, hard and depressed, not believing in love… that is not peace, it is some kind of resentment. Contentment doesn’t ‘t mean that you are closed. This is not it. Notice that love and happiness that come with fears and anxiety. This is not love. If you love and you feel anxiety and fear, you are going in a wrong direction.

4 / Practice heart opening. There are a few practices:

  • Seeing the divine in all, not just in your friends, your family… but in all. This will open the heart.
  • Seeing the good qualities in people instead of their imperfections and mistakes open the heart.
  • Exchange judgement for tolerance and generosity of heart.
  • Feeling compassion instead, it opens the heart.
  • Feeling forgiveness instead, it opens the heart and allows you to continue to live. Forgiveness unties the knots of your heart. Sometimes it is very hard to forgive. It is not accepting that the wrong has not been done, that the other person is right, but you need to forgive to continue to live your life.
  • Practice of gratitude opens the heart. Write daily 5 things you are grateful for.
  • Being sincere opens the heart. Try to be sincere and honest with yourself, it will help to create good relationship with others.
  • Being charitable opens the heart – giving what you can, give of your time, give a nice word or a nice thought, a silent prayer. You can pray for a lot of people every day. There are a lot of people to pray for. It will help to open your heart.

When the heart opens, it automatically attains purity. This allows true love to happen automatically.

Make sure not to allow your heart to close again because you can open the heart and it closes again. It is like for a door that has a spring system, it opens, and it automatically closed. Put a boulder, a rock in the door.  Your heart needs to stay open. You will not allow your heart to close. It is not like opening it on the weekend and close it during the week [ laugh]. Recognize possible reaction when you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation which triggers defensiveness and fears. Also, recognize that possibility when you are in a situation that brings you to the past. Then you would close your heart because you do not want to experience the same hurt again.  

This doesn’t mean that you are blind, that you will put yourself in a position to be harmed. You need to be aware, and you need to pull in your higher mind, your higher energy that can’t be touched, and pay attention that you do not fall back in the past patterns of defensiveness, fears, hurts.

You see, there are a lot of things to do to open the heart.

5 / Healing emotions

Everyone has familiar patterns of emotions. But these emotions are not really your true nature. They are just habits. How to heal emotional wounds and free ourselves from negative mental patterns and suffering coming from conditional love? That is the problem, the moment that you have these emotional patterns, you love but you can’t have unconditional love. And this will bring you pain. That is why you have to heal the emotions.

Fears (and anxieties)

Fears come from attachment and it can be paralyzing, you freeze. When you are afraid of something you lost yourself. You live your life to gain yourself, to be who you are; you do not want to lose yourself!

There are many forms of fear: Fear of death, fear of being alone, fear of public criticism, fear of losing. Heal the emotion of fear by replacing it with the opposite.


  • Courage
  • Faith
  • Detachment (opposite of attachment), letting go
  • Self-Enquiry: ask yourself questions, why I feel like this?
  • Self-confidence, self-reliance, count on yourself.

You are not being selfish here. You are being yourself, and the moment that you are your true self, it includes everyone.

Hatred is another pattern of emotion that you need to heal from:  hatred comes from love turning in the wrong direction.  It is opposite of love.


  • Practice compassion
  • See the self in others
  • Selfless service for people that you do not like
  • Practice Love in action

This will open the knots of the heart – your heart sometimes is tied up, there is no energy flow. These knots are there because of the past egoistic tendency and past prejudices that corrupt love into hatred. Sometimes you say:” I love everyone, I have no prejudices,” but this is not true.  Please sit down and think then you see that you have plenty of prejudices, you do not love people that are old, you do not love people that are  male, you do not love people that are female, you do not love people that are business people, you do not like people that are black, you do not love people that are white, you do not love people that are poor, you do not love people that are rich, you do not love people that are different than you.  You have a long list of prejudices. So, you need to actively work against it.

Because you want to deserve that love that you feel within you. But if you allow these emotional patterns to obstruct that love, you are the one that is hurt. So, you need to work on these prejudices in order for you to feel the love that comes through when the emotions are pure and when your heart is open.


Greed comes from our desire for safety and fulfillment twisted into insatiable desire for material objects. Remove greed to find safety and fullness inside.


  • Charity and giving
  • Contentment
  • Practice of gratitude
  • Renunciation: you can have but you do not want it, proving to yourself that you do not need it.

Desire, lust.

We talk about the instinctive desire for a mate, sexual desire. We are born in the body and we feel separated, we feel split, and there is a very strong impulse for procreation in Nature. We are part of Nature; therefore, the desire is strong. But You need to replace it with an equally strong desire for Union, Union with your own true Self! You need to become spiritual. You need to elevate your whole Self, so you seek for Union and you become One instead of missing your counterpart, a male is missing a female, and a female is missing a male, a male is missing a male, everyone is missing something. But you need to feel fulfilled, you can’t miss something, you have your Self! Then at that time you are free from this emotional pattern of desire.

6 / Cultivate faith

Faith in your own true Self, your Atman. Second, Faith in God- Goddess, Supreme Being and third, faith in the teaching, in the practice. When you do not feel well, go back to your practice.

In order to cultivate faith, you need to first establish your spiritual ideal of love. For you to love, you need to know what you love. Then cultivate this Divine love in your meditation and in all relationships and all situations around you. When you do this active practice, it will free you from usual patterns and will help you to achieve lasting happiness. In other words, you need to apply devotion in daily life.

Love of chosen Ideal starts from within

Love of our chosen ideal starts from within, from the hidden cave of our own heart. The Atman is residing in your own heart. Scripture said it is like the size of a thumb residing in the cave of your heart.  So, you need to have that love for the chosen ideal from the cave of your heart.  This would bring back the presence of love in our heart which is blocked by our identification with our separate self.  Because of that reason, very often times we have all these problems in relationships, especially close relationships, with your mother, with your father, with your husband, your children etc. that I why we need to actively replace these emotions with Divine Love.

Love of our chosen ideal is a most intimate sacred feeling and not a display or social conformity. The temple is in your heart.

Think of these qualities of your chosen ideal:

Our chosen ideal of love can have the quality we seek: purity, eternity, knowledge, true inner power, beauty, perfection, bliss, righteousness.

To note: Respect others’ way to truth

Remember “Names are many, but God is One. Paths are many, but truth is One”.

Love of Goddess

Love of Divine Mother or devotion to the Supreme helps us to relax, to self-surrender, to become humble, to break through our egoistic limitations, our emotional patterns and our identifications.  It helps us to surrender the ego, to accept and heal our emotions.

Chosen ideal can be Divine Mother Energy

  • You can see the Divine in the energy of Nature or energy of consciousness everywhere, in the food that you eat, in the sun, in the moon, in the stars.
  • Devotion can be to the Divine Mother, the Divine manifestation underlying life. Choose to identify Her as: Saraswati, representing energy of intelligence, knowledge, creativity, wisdom. Brahma is the creator.
  • Lakshmi symbolizes energy of peace, love, harmony, virtue, righteousness, beauty, prosperity, and wealth. Vishnu is the preserver.
  • Durga. It is the core of your inner strength and fearlessness. Siva is the destroyer.

The inner feelings (called bhavas). The feeling of Mother /son; mother daughter bhava is an inner type of connection which gives feeling of safety, trust, respect. We feel that we are protected by the divine mother.            

The other forms of divine connection based on habitual feelings.  

  • Friend-Friend
  • Divine father – son/daughter
  • Husband – Wife
  • Lover – Beloved
  • Servant – Master

In Bhakti Yoga, we have nine traditional ways to cultivate selfless love in daily life. According to the teachings of Bhakti Yoga these 9 practices help to overcome egoism and bring you closer to Union with the Supreme.

  1. Listen to inspiring Divine stories – Develop the capacity to listen to other stories of living, interacting with Nature without judgment.
  1. Sing Mother Nature’s glory – Learn to praise her and look for the amazing qualities of her in Nature sciences (our bio diversity) and one’s own marvelous body. Applying to your relationships, learn to see good qualities of others.
  2. Remember of Her/his name and presence in prayers – Greeting each other with Om Namah Sivaya! Learn to see Divine Mother presence, feel the sacredness of our relationships  with Her.  Be grateful for all beings , trees, plants, animals, food, people whom you interact with in your daily life.

Spiritualize your life

4.   Service with humility –  Learn to actively serve Mother Earth  as Goddess , do gardening, planting , watering, cooking as children of the Mother.

5.   Worship – Learn to see the divine in some rituals. These rituals are very old you have to learn and practice and it brings you immediately to the divine feeling. Offer our time and presence to contemplate Nature and give to others beautiful gifts as if we are doing puja to all.

6.   Prostrations – Learn to give the utmost respect to animals, people you encounter or people surrounding you no matter who they are.

  1. Cultivate the feeling of being a servant of Mother Earth –  Learn to develop an attitude of self-sacrifice and not an arrogant attitude to be the conqueror of earth .
  2. Cultivate feelings of friendship of Mother Earth  – Learn to open your heart equally to all, without ulterior motives and discriminating who is higher or lower than you. Feel that you are the friend of the Earth, you do not want to hurt your friend, enslave your friend, abuse your friend.
  3. Complete self-surrender – Learn to accept all things happening to you and all actions of nature with equanimity and overcome your own expectations or judgment about anything done by yourself or others.

7 / Practice Self Love – Love of your own Atman.

Feel that everyone is your own Atman. There is no other. There is no duality, no separation. We are One.  The practice is to find relationship with Love itself beyond names and forms. Whoever there, you feel the Love. Whatever the circumstances, you feel the Love. So the relationship is the relationship with Love itself. The Atman is Love, so you have relationship only with the Atman.

To heal from emotional scars and patterns we need to learn Self-love. Self-Love and Love of God is the same. It is the love turned towards the Atman, your own true Self.

Self-love brings acceptance and makes the mind turn inwards to find Happiness.  Self-love or turning inwards to find one’s Self will make you stronger to be able to realize the love within that has always been there.

Self-love is not egoistic.  It is the lack of self-love and awareness that creates the patterns of need and dependency leading away from peace and love.  Self- love comes with  self-respect and self- discipline, of the mind and heart.

  • All relationships including relationships with the world of Nature are truly relationships with your own Self.  Do Self-Enquiry.We need to do self-inquiry to become free from past impressions and find our core Self
  • There is no separation. I am with you, I am You. This is Self-Love.

I love you no matter who you are. Show yourself so we have a relationship.

Om tat sat.

Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Ashram Vedanta Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam.  She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) program, an 800-hour program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

Swami Sitaramananda is the author of “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” (translated in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Russian), “Positive Thinking Manual”, “Karma Yoga Manual”, “Meditation Manual”, “Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnu” in His Own Words. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of “Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY) and “Meditation & Mantras” by Swami Vishnu. Many of her video & audio lectures on Yoga life, philosophy, and psychology as well as articles and webinars can be found on this website.

Swami Sita is an ardent supporter of the integration of the Vedic sciences such as Vastu, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She is an international teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Courses and Advanced Yoga teachers’ Training courses, as well as Meditation and Vedanta & Silence Courses both in Sivananda Ashrams in Vietnam and in Grass Valley, CA.

Why Meditate? Seeking beyond the Pattern of the Mind

Why Meditate? Seeking beyond the Pattern of the Mind

yoga camp Satsang Fri, 9/17 8:25AM • 36:04


meditation, mind, yoga, meditate, karma yoga, attachment, meditation practice, happiness, yoga meditation, self- development , self-realization, meditation life, emotions, problem, mental pattern, meditation methods, seeking peace

Today I opened the book and the message is about meditation again. I’d like to talk about meditation and why we meditate.

Why  meditate? What is Yoga meditation?

You need to understand why we meditate, then you can practice meditation for a long time and more seriously. The reason why we meditate, or we do yoga, is because in classical yoga, and yoga means meditation – meditation means yoga, there’s no separate thing. People think yoga means we’re doing some exercise and going to meditation is Zen meditation, or vipassana meditation or something separate. However, In the ashram,  everything we do is included in the word meditation, and everything is preparation for meditation. Everything is meditation, everything is preparing you for meditation.  

Why do you meditate, why are you more serious about following the discipline?  Because the discipline of yoga and meditation – can you give me some answers? To seek enlightenment?  It’s just a word, enlightenment. I want something more real, an answer that is more real.  What’s the real reason?  To calm the mind, thank you.  Somebody else, please.  To calm the mind – why?  Because too many thoughts.  Past, future, so much restlessness in the mind.  Somebody else?  To become conscious.  You have taken the workshop this afternoon.  Why do you want to become more aware, more conscious?  It will create happiness?  More correctly, you want to be happy in a stable manner. 

Happiness is your true nature

If anyone is seeking for happiness and happiness is our true nature, we seek for our true nature.  And the mind is always projecting different things. That’s why we run after that. We waste a lot of energy, and we don’t find what we want and then we think something’s wrong, and we change. Changing, changing, changing, changing of the mind – all the time changing. Always finding fault with something. But we find ourselves, very often times – tell me if I’m correct – often we find ourselves feeling like we are repeating the same kind of thought or dissatisfaction. The same.  Then at that time, after some time – because in the beginning, we think that it is the fault of somebody, or something or the circumstances – we change, we change, and we find the same thing. And then we change again, and we find the same thing.

After some time like this, what do we do? We start to realize that it is not in the external condition. And with that, we ask ourselves the question – maybe it’s my mind? That’s how you start meditation – to seek to know your mind and seek to know the truth behind the mind. Because you’re starting to realize that the mind doesn’t give you the answer. Whenever you come up with a change, or with a different idea, it’s always coming from your mind. I repeat again, whatever you come to as a solution to your life, or whatever you complain about, this solution comes from your mind, that’s the problem The solution when it comes from your mind, will again be repeated. Because your mind is never ending, telling a different story. Different things that you want to try. You start to seek meditation when you understand that the mind is going through this pattern and you want to undo the pattern, you want to figure it out.

Seeking beyond the Pattern of the Mind

What is behind this pattern of the mind? the pattern of the mind can be very deep. You want to find out the truth behind this pattern of the mind. That’s why you meditate. Because if you have this thing repeated all the time, some kind of unanswered question that is not possible to answer, then you would find suffering, you’ll be suffering. And you always find some kind of solution to your suffering, but it’s always there. It’s a problem. That’s why eventually you turn within – you try to find, you know, maybe that’s the way my mind thinks, that it will always bring me to the same place.  By this time, you will be seriously seeking within instead of always looking for something outside of yourself.

This question of why meditate is very, very important. Because if you have the right reason why you meditate, you will continue for a long time. If you don’t have the right reason why you meditate, for example, you want to meditate out of curiosity, or because some people or books influence you,  it will not last long.

Only when you realize that your life always goes around and round and round and comes back to the same place, that you want to break through, you want to understand what is behind it and this is when you become more serious with meditation.

Do you agree? Yes. 

There are a few techniques of meditation that you need to explore, and you need to practice, and you need to become very good at it.

Synthesis of Yoga

Swami Sivananda taught what we call the synthesis of yoga, and it is a combination of different yoga practices. That’s what you are learning here at the ashram. When you are immersed here, you learn these different methods and they are all intricately working together for that same goal. The goal is to bring you closer, to make your mind calmer and bring you closer to the realization of the happiness that is already there within you.

There are different methods of meditation. And it’s all in the book of Swami Vishnudevanandaji called ‘Meditation and Mantras’. For those who do not have the book, you can buy the book, you can read it and study. But the main thing is you need to have a teacher. To meditate by yourself alone is very difficult.

Karma Yoga

What are the different methods for meditation? Number one is called karma yoga meditation. That means how to meditate on your life itself , on your karma, so that your life is not a burden and your life is meaningful.  That is called karma yoga meditation, but you have to turn your karma around, so that it becomes meaningful for you. And then it gives some kind of meaning to all your daily activity. That is meditation. Normally in normal life, you have work and home and work and traffic, and entertainment, all different things are separate, not integrated, not understood. But yoga is the method to transform you so that you can come closer to who you are, closer to the happiness that you are seeking. Karma yoga meditation is the method of selflessness, the method of turning your activity from fulfilling your personal gain to something selfless. The other way to say it, you have to give yourself out in order to find yourself. If you don’t give yourself out, you cannot find yourself.  That’s something you need to meditate about. That means that you need to turn your karma into your dharma.  It’s a lecture in itself. So, karma yoga meditation.

Bhakti Yoga

Then you have bhakti yoga meditation, that means how to turn your emotions into pure love. We talked about that a little bit yesterday, how to become devotional, how to channel your emotions so that your emotions are not going to repeat the pattern and make you feel stuck. Meditation is for you. It’s not for me or anybody. Meditation is for you in order for you to find yourself. You feel that your emotions are the problem, and you have a lot of attachments, and it creates a lot of pain. You get attached to people and things. Then you need to learn how to channel these emotions, so that they can give you more satisfaction or more happiness, more peace, more satisfaction for a long time.  One hundred percent sure that this is what you want, but you don’t know how. Everyone at the bottom line, wants to have one hundred percent love and all the time. True?  

Yoga gives you the answer, but you have to practice. You have to learn to observe your mind and see the problem.  Because if not, then, like I said, it could repeat the same pattern. The same pattern of attachment and then forced detachment and attachment to something else and forced detachment and romantic ideas about this, romantic ideas about that, and pain. You don’t want that. Bhakti yoga meditation is teaching you how to love and to be fulfilled for a long time. One hundred percent love, this is what you’re looking for.  You think that is possible? Who believes it is possible?  You have to believe it is possible otherwise you will not even try.  I believe it is possible, that’s how I tried. I practice it because I believe it’s possible. I believe that I deserve it. And I believe one hundred percent love exists. That is called turning this emotion into meditation. Bhakti yoga meditation. Study the saints lives, they tell their own stories and it is are very inspiring. They have beautiful devotion, so beautiful.

Raja Yoga meditation:

Raja Yoga meditation is what you practice at the ashram. You practice controlling the prana, you practice turning  the senses inward,  withdrawing of the senses, being more with  yourself and less external.  You practice concentration and calmness of mind. You practice one pointedness of mind so that the mind will be still and will not hide your treasure within.   

The mind is like a snake guarding your treasure.

There was a snake that stationed in front of a cave. Inside the cave there is a treasure, and this person wanted to get to the treasure but there’s a snake guarding in front . The snake was guarding the door of the cave so no one  cannot get in and get to the treasure. That person had a brilliant idea, he called a snake charmer, an Indian snake charmer with a flute. The snake charmer came  and played the flute, beautiful flute music, and the snake started to listen. The snake shook its head, shook its body,  charmed by the music.  Then this person sneaked in the cave and got to the treasure.

Meditation is sneaking pass the limitations of the mind to get to enjoy your immortal spirit. Our mind is guarding us from enjoying the treasure of our soul. There are many different techniques that you have to do to charm the mind.

Concentration; Keeping the Mind Busy:

Here is the list of  different methods of meditation that keep your mind busy in the right way.

  • Focussing on a mantra (Japa) is one way to keep the mind still.
  • Chanting outloud kirtan with the spirit of bhakti yoga  is a way of charming  the mind and keeping it somehow not obstructing you, your experience of connection.
  • Keep yourself involved in Karma Yoga activities all the time. Our problem is not that we have too much work. The problem is we have too much time on our hands. – 50 years ago, things are different  Before you had to chop wood, carry water, you know, light the lamp and then pull the water from the well and now everything is just push a button. You push the button, you have electricity, you push the button, the car drives by itself, you push it, and you have the laundry washed – everything is done automatically, so you have a lot of time.  
  • Keep the mind grounded: Do physical work like gardening at the same time leading a meditation life. Keep your life simple. This will keep your mind  grounded. When you have a lot of time and stuff, the mind will have different needs, and different preoccupations. Don’t complain when your life is difficult.   When your life is difficult, actually, you will have to chop wood, carry water. It will keep your mind very busy and actually, very healthy. The mind needs to concentrate so it doesn’t dream different things.   Different ideas all the time and these ideas are non-essential.
  • Travel and move less. During COVID pandemic time, people starts to distinguish between what is essential and what is non-essential.  Even before all these lock downs and social distancing campaigns nowadays, we taught it in yoga.
  • Reduce needs and distractions:   The governments in pandemic time distinguish what is essential and what is non- essential. They close first non-essential things – they close the bars, entertainment places, the coffee shops, the movie theatres, the clothing stores, the gyms. [Unfortunately, yoga is under the same thing as the gym ]. But Yoga has said for a long time the same thing:  Yoga says stay by yourself, don’t run around, be indoors, turn within, be content, be happy. Now the government says the same – I think the government should hire me to help people to stay indoors and be happy!.
  • That is Raja yoga meditation. That one-pointed state of mind, concentrating so that your mind will increase the vibratory wavelength and then you start to find peace and happiness. That’s very simple. Don’t have too many distractions. Don’t have too much desire. If you have too much time, your mind doesn’t know what to do.
  • Keep the emotions happy at the same time disciplining the mind.

Swami Vishnudevanandaji created this concept of a yoga vacation when he saw people left the city and go to the Laurentian mountains on the weekends. He understood that people needs to relax from their busy life and learn to integrate the yoga and meditation practice with their busy life at the same time.

  • Recharge the prana with regulated  Yoga life:

People comes back from their weekend get-away exhausted and they need to have a vacation from their vacation. That’s how he created this concept of having places like this where people can come, and they are on vacation but in a disciplined manner. They get up early, they exercise and they eat the right food and go to bed at the right time – That’s meditation the yoga way. When you try every day to control your mind, be more positive, be more focused, less distracted, less complaining, you are preparing yourself for meditation. Meditation is not just sitting with your eyes closed.

Self-Inquiry practice:

The last aspect of meditation is called self-inquiry.  Do Self-inquiry practice so you don’t go on believing yourself to be something that you are not. Thought is very fast and you are what you think. But you have to develop the capacity to turn your mind inward, to watch your heart and watch your mind and question yourself and try to find a different way to think about yourself that will be more correct or more truthful.

That practice of turning the mind to watch itself, to observe itself and to switch the thoughts from non-essential to essential is called self-inquiry practice. You can do it anytime, anywhere, but you have to be aware of yourself and you have to be able to learn, to learn to think about the way you think. You cannot just think and believe everything that you think is true. Yoga says to you no, no, no. Learn to discriminate between the real and the not real, the Self and the not Self, the Permanent and the temporary. You need to be more aware, and you need to watch and contemplate your thoughts. Keep only the good positive thoughts in the mind, and the thoughts that are illusory, temporary, not true about yourself and others– let them go. 


To summarize,

1/  think about why you meditate so that you break through the pattern of your mind, so that you will not be blocked by this pattern that will hide your true self and your true happiness. And so you can bring more light into your life – number one. Don’t blame anything outside.  It is your own mind that brings you disease or health,  happiness, or not. So, it’s like climbing a ladder. If you climb the ladder and you fall down and break your neck, it’s not the fault of the ladder it’s your fault. That means, how you use your mind is your skill.  You don’t know how to use your mind and your mind creates problems for you – that’s the problem. Everyone needs to learn how to use their mind better. And that’s yoga teaching – how to use your mind better. How to slowly, slowly control the mind. You know why you meditate, so that you go to the root of the problems, and you can control the mind. Or, if you don’t like the word control, you can say that you are tuning the mind. What it means, tuning the mind?  It is adjusting the mind to a higher wavelength, to a more correct way of thinking, the correct way of feeling that will last you a long time. You do this for yourself not for me, I do it for myself and I share. So why meditate? You need to ask yourself this question.

2/ The second thing is you need to learn the technique to meditate in daily life. You learn to meditate in your daily life activity – called karma yoga attitude, learn to be selfless. And to do your duty and let go of the results and don’t worry about what people think.

3/ Then, you learn to love correctly, selflessly, without too much attachment. Because attachment will make you suffer but love will make you feel happy. It’s up to you to figure it out – the difference between the two.

4/ Then you’ll need to learn to control the mind, turn inward, and to watch it.  To control the mind means to calm it down.

5/ And then you need to do self-inquiry, you need to observe yourself and ask yourself where does this thought come from? Is it important? Does it really help me or not? And then things that are non-essential, let go of them.  Keep only  something important that lasts a long time, keep this thought. And anything that is not important and changes – let it go.  Something that changes has no value, there’s no truth to it, but something that has value will last.

Additional story: Swami sita sharing story about how she chose community life :

Well, that’s it, any questions or anything? Enough? Time to go to bed. Thank you very much for being here. Thank you very much for setting up this beautiful place. Thank you very much for keeping this ashram so nice. It’s so valuable to see you sitting here. I’m able to sit here and share with you, with the Masters behind us, it’s all wonderful and the mosquitoes are not that bad. I used to live in the forest up here. I walked for half an hour to get there. When you cross the forest, there were so many mosquitos I had to wear a mosquito net over my head, so there is this round thing over my head when I walk through the forest.  And mosquitos, not mosquitos but black flies. So, I know this forest very well.

I used to have a house in the forest, I lived there happily. We built a house and one day, I still remember, on top of this hill, I crossed the forest and came to the top of the hill, and I looked down and I looked at the ashram, which at that time was very small, half size – one-third of the size. And then I said to myself, because I have a house, the house is a big house – twenty-four feet by twenty-four feet, two stories. Big, beautiful, in the forest. And I said, why do you want to live in your own house, far away at the top of the hill? I still remember, the words come – “no, I want to live here in the ashram.”  I followed that voice and moved in the ashram. And here, in the ashram, there’s no room sometimes. I had to live many times in the office, many times in the laundry room. And then one time I went shopping for something and I came back, and my room was gone, they gave my room to the guest!  I didn’t mind, but the problem was somebody moved my alter!  I was so mad. Then I realized my attachment again, when you’re upset at something it’s always because of your attachment, it’s nothing else.  I realized, well, whatever I want does not sit on this table, it’s not the altar, the alter is only a symbol of something that you hold dear.

That was the story of my choice of wanting to live in the ashram when there is no room for me instead in my own house and own space. Community life has something very good. Even though you feel that you don’t have time and space when you have to share but it’s actually very beautiful.

Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Ashram Vedanta Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam.  She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) program, an 800-hour program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

Swami Sitaramananda is the author of “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” (translated in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Russian), “Positive Thinking Manual”, “Karma Yoga Manual”, “Meditation Manual”, “Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnu” in His Own Words. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of “Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY) and “Meditation & Mantras” by Swami Vishnu. Many of her video & audio lectures on Yoga life, philosophy, and psychology as well as articles and webinars can be found on this website.

Swami Sita is an ardent supporter of the integration of the Vedic sciences such as Vastu, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She is an international teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Courses and Advanced Yoga teachers’ Training courses, as well as Meditation and Vedanta & Silence Courses both in Sivananda Ashrams in Vietnam and in Grass Valley, CA.

The Guru Tradition

The Guru Tradition


teacher, disciple, knowledge, student, guru, people, swami, lineage, mind, means, seeking, Self-knowledge, Self-realization, self-discipline, truth, faith, life, devotion, Vedanta, world, qualification of a seeker, spiritual path, spiritual tradition, spiritual liberation, meditation, mental control

The Guru-Disciple Relationship

When we talk about the guru, the most important thing to understand is that it is based on a relationship. A guru doesn’t exist by itself. Let’s say you talk about a husband-wife relationship. When you talk about a husband you imply that there is a wife and when you talk about a wife you imply that there is a husband. When we talk about the guru, we are talking about a relationship between the teacher and the student, a relationship based on knowledge.

The word ‘guru’ means the “dispeller of darkness”. Darkness means spiritual ignorance, or not knowing our true nature. The guru is one who dispels spiritual ignorance.

The Search for Truth
The teaching of oneness in consciousness is the highest level of Advaita Vedanta teaching.

Advaita Vedanta says that in reality, everything is one. There is no me and no you. It appears that I am sitting here and you are sitting there. This is a relative reality where we have different bodies, different minds, and play different roles. We call this world of duality, this multiplicity of names and forms, Maya, the cosmic illusion.

We crave to know the truth about ourselves. Because things are always changing, coming and going in our lives. We have feelings of separation, unhappiness, that we are missing something and get disappointed. We feel quite limited, in the dark, not knowing the truth about ourselves or our environment, the reality around us.

When dealing with ourselves, we see that we are changing. In fact, it is the mind that is changing. We feel life is changing and we are changing. There is also something that is not changing, but we are not quite sure what it is. That’s how we become a seeker. The seeker is one who seeks for the truth. That truth is the Truth of ‘I AM’, the Self that is not changing.

Seeking for the truth, you have to seek in the right place. At this time the student seeks a teacher, a guide who points out the right place to seek. The teacher has to be enlightened, not having the same darkness of the student.

The guru tradition is very old, before the time of Adi Shankaracharya (eighth century). Adi Shankaracharya himself was enlightened. When he was just six years old, he knew all the Vedas. When he was only nine years old, Adi Shankaracharya received permission from his mother to take sannyasa, the renunciation phase of life.

Following tradition, Shankaracharya set his heart to finding his teacher. He left home and found his teacher in a cave. His teacher’s name is Govindapada. How long did he stay with his teacher? We do not know but long enough for him to write many commentaries on important scriptures. The teacher then sent Adi Shankaracharya to teach. Following this important feature of the tradition, the teacher decides the time for the student to go on their own to propagate the knowledge.

In the Adwaita Vedanta tradition, Self-knowledge is revealed directly to the seeker of Truth after periods of discipleship, purification, study, and renunciation of ego. The teacher is the classical instrument of spiritual realization and spiritual knowledge himself. The teacher conveys spiritual knowledge not just intellectually but by their own life and example. The student then passes it on to others by their own life and example.

The Tradition of Teachers

This system of transmission of spiritual knowledge is called a tradition of teachers. The teacher passes on the spiritual knowledge to a student who will one day become a teacher. Self- knowledge is alive, eternal. It is the Knowledge of Oneness. The fact that you have this knowledge implies that you must teach others. Why? Because you and ‘others’ are one. Let’s say you are sick. Naturally I will try to find a remedy to help your sickness, because I care about you. In the same way the teacher shows care to their students by imparting knowledge to help them remove darkness or spiritual ignorance.

The Gurukula System
There are different levels of learning. The gurukula is the traditional system of learning where the student lives with the teacher. A six-year-old student would go to the teacher’s house (the gurukula) to learn Sanskrit, scripture, etc., from the teacher. Traditionally, we do not really call that student a seeker. The student prepares for knowledge and the teacher has time to understand the student’s readiness. The word adhikāri means a qualified student. A qualified student implies they are ready to receive spiritual knowledge.

It is said that spiritual knowledge is already within you. You have all the knowledge that you need. However, there are veils that cover your eyes. At this time, you need an external instrument to help you wake up to knowledge. That instrument is the guru.

Young students must prepare slowly. Sometimes it takes more than 10 years, during which time the teacher guides them like a parent. Following this classical tradition, after a certain number of years, the teacher decides if they should continue on the direct path of Self-realization, become a renunciate, or leave the Gurukula and become a householder.

Criteria for the Renunciation Path

The teacher looks to a few criteria to determine if the student is an adhikari, qualified for Self-knowledge, or not.

  1. The student has the power of discrimination, high intellectual power, to intuit the Truth from the non-truth, the Self from the non-Self.
  2. The student displays the quality of detachment. To detach truly, the student must have an idea, an awareness, of what is the Truth, what is the Self, what is the Atman. They will then not be involved in the non-Truth; they will not be involved in the non-Self. They have some idea but do not have complete realization.
  3. Six qualities of the mind (Shat-sampat) please see article Six Virtues of a spiritual Seeker
  4. The last qualification the student must have is mumukshutva — the desire to know. Mumukshutva is an inner yearning for true freedom, happiness, fulfillment, and liberation from suffering. Mumukshutva is the constant desire to know, no matter what. You are continuously seeking, because you have the desire for liberation and you will never give up.

Mumukshutva comes in the form of inner questioning from your desire to know the truth. You want to know the truth from your point of view, not the point of view of someone else; not the point of view of your friends or family. It is from your point of view that you seek to be liberated. The temptation is to settle down, to conform to whatever the world, your friends and family, are saying that you should do. To settle down means you no longer need meditation, yoga, inner seeking, creativity, self-enquiry.

Because Self-knowledge is the knowledge of the Truth, of Enlightenment, you have to do it on your own. You can have many friends on the journey. You can have a teacher on the journey that you can count on. But you have to do it yourself. You cannot conform to anything. People can give you encouragement, but they’re not there to hold your hand all the time. Even your teacher is not there to hold your hand all the time.

It is your own strength of character, your faith, your insight, your own intellect, and your own lifestyle, that allows your intellect to awaken and to be clear. Not to be blind. That you have. But you need to do it yourself.

The Teacher

Qualifications of the Teacher

The spiritual teacher (or guru) is a person that knows the Truth. We invite you to read the chapter on ‘Guru’ in Bliss Divine by Swami Sivananda. In the article, Swami Sivananda says the teacher must have an injunction from God. This is something we need to understand. How can a person have an injunction from God? It means it comes from a very high source. There is a call that you need to teach, that you need to share the knowledge. You know and you need to share.

The teacher must know the ultimate Truth, i.e., the Self. Having consciousness of the Truth, the teacher lives according to the Truth and is not subject to Maya or the untruth. That is the definition of an enlightened person. In all conditions one sees the light and the truth no matter what.

The teacher has already tread the “ABCs” of the spiritual path; and follows the guidance of scripture, has the ethical foundation, knows all the practices, has already struggled on some section of the path. They have done this for a long time. Therefore, they know all the difficulties of the path and they have gone to a place where they can be free from these difficulties. At the same time, they know where they have been and where you are now. From here they can help you.

According to Swami Sivananda, the teacher has double consciousness. What is double consciousness? The teacher has the consciousness of the Truth and also the consciousness of the world, of Maya. Therefore, the teacher is able to bridge our limited consciousness—identifying with our body, mind and senses—with the Supreme consciousness or Self-knowledge. The teacher creates a bridge when you come to a dead-end place, not knowing, and confused. The teacher helps you to overcome obstacles and regain clarity.

The Guru Tradition

The guru tradition is an old tradition from the time of Adi Shankaracharya (8th century) who created the 10 monk orders and four schools or institutions of learning. He installed his four main disciples to be the Shankaracharya or the teacher of these schools.

I have a scholarly book on the teacher tradition, A Tradition of Teachers, Sankara and the Jagadgurus Today” by William Cenkner. I would like to read about the guru-disciple relationship. It says, “To render service to the teacher is a primary obligation of the student, seemingly more important than the study itself.” The student has to do karma yoga in service to the teacher. When you go to a teacher’s home, you have to do service. Why? Through service, a strong bond (strong tuning) is established between the guru and the student.

“The pupil must have intellectual discipline to master the meaning of sacred text, grow in moral discipline, and bring the meaning of the sacred text into the student’s daily life. The qualification of the student must fulfill his consequent duties, gradually it will bring about an introversion, a catharsis and the capacity for greater personal experience.”

The Lineage

The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center displays two pictures: Master Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda. People get very confused, because one guru is already difficult to understand. How can we understand two gurus? It represents the lineage. Lineage refers to knowledge that is passed down from time immemorial to Swami Sivananda, Swami Vishnudevananda, to Swami Sitaramananda, etc.

What does lineage mean? Lineage is “To store in memory and to transmit the knowledge that leads to Self-realization”. There is a memory, the collective memory in one (the teacher), that stores this knowledge, this Self-knowledge.

Shankaracharya himself always started his teaching with prayers and salutations to the teachers of the past. He praised his personal teacher Govindapada. He wrote that the teachers have awakened those asleep and have completely saved me. He said, “I bowed down to my teacher, or knower of Brahman, who collected for us the nectar of knowledge from the Vedanta, like a bee collecting the best honey from flowers.”

When we talk about lineage we talk about traditional knowledge. “Lineage increases the value of the teaching, as it passes through the memory of the ages.” Vedanta proposes a rational understanding of the Self as a prelude to an intuition of the Self. Initiation into a tradition comes from the memory of the past. It is traditional knowledge that stands the test of time. Initiation into knowledge is a familiar point of departure in this Indian tradition. In Vedanta, it extends into lifelong practice of bringing into memory the line of past teachers. For example, I have a direct connection with Swami Vishnudevananda and he has a direct connection with Swami Sivananda. Swami Sivananda has direct connection with his teacher and with the lineage of Advaita Vedanta and Adi Shankaracharya.

Through this connection (the lineage), one taps into the eternal knowledge. That connection is based in seeking Knowledge. My connection with Swami Vishnudevananda is based in my seeking knowledge. I was not even aware that I was seeking knowledge, I was 28 years old. But I knew there is more to this life than the life I was living. And I knew inside there must be something that I was seeking, what I call the 100%. 100% means something that is absolute, something that you can 100% trust, something that you can 100% believe in. I had done a lot in my life until I was 28 years old. But it never gave me the 100%. So, I was never resting, but all the time seeking.

Meeting the Guru is Meeting One’s own Self

When I met Swami Vishnudevananda-ji, it was not the person that I met. Actually, when I met the person, nothing happened. He was a man, an Indian man, small size, who spoke English that I didn’t understand. I could have just walked away when people were making a big fuss about this man. But it is not about the person. It was me that was seeking to meet my true Self through the medium of the person. It is a process. I didn’t have self- awareness. You cannot see yourself because you only see through the eyes of other people, the eyes of society, the eyes of your family, the eyes of books, the eyes of secular teachers in the university and so on. I could not see myself even though I was called a mature person living her life. I held a position in public service but I still didn’t know myself. I still did not know the goal of life.

When I met Swami Vishnudevananda-ji, the teacher (not the body of the person, not even the personality), I was meeting myself through the medium of the teacher. It is a process that is so interesting, to see oneself through the eyes of awareness, through the eyes of the guru that has awareness.

The Process of Self-awareness

Self-awareness is developed slowly. Of course, I was sitting and listening to lectures for years, and I was serving the teacher for years. But something happens also, beyond all these words, beyond all these actions, it is an inner tuning. I remember my mind was full of thoughts, so much junk in my mind. The mind was full. I was a person of the world. I was listening to the news, watching TV or reading the newspaper, because when you are a person of the world, you have to know how the world functions. I had no clue that all this information wasn’t helping me. Actually, all these thoughts clouded my mind and made me more confused and less able to see myself.

Guru-disciple Relationship

When I met with the guru, I did not know that he is a guru. It was just the school that I went to, and the teacher has a lot of prana and knowledge. I had to qualify myself as a student, as a disciple, for a long time, many years. I don’t know exactly. But it takes years for you to realize: “Oh, I understand what a guru means now. I understand that I am a disciple. I understand this relationship of guru-disciple is meant for knowledge.” It does not happen overnight. It is a process of Self-realization.

In fact, you cannot talk of a guruasindependent from the student and at the same time, each student has a different idea of the guru. Swami Vishnudevananda appeared to teach this knowledge a certain way to Swami Sitaramananda. He will appear to teach this knowledge in a different way to Swami Jnaneswariananda and will appear to teach differently to Swami Dharmananda. Everyone steps onto the path of Self-realization in their own unique way. You cannot compare one student to another.

Each Person is Unique

Each person is completely unique. You are learning a unique lesson in this life. You are removing the unique obstacles, unique veils that cover your own eyes. You have your own personality that comes from years and years and lifetimes of learning. You are on your own path. You have a unique position in your journey to Self-knowledge, therefore, the guru will appear to you differently and will teach you differently.

You need to learn the lesson yourself because you are walking on the path yourself, and you cannot just take on someone else’s experience. You can hear their testimony, but you cannot really understand because they have their own unique relationship with the teacher and the lesson to be learned.

The guru-disciple relationship is not a public thing, it is not one size fits all. The teacher, however, can have many types of students, because they have very high knowledge that fits all the different personalities of their students. Some teachers will have a few students, while other teachers will have many. Some teachers will have an international group, multicultural, all ages, different academic knowledge. In this case, the teacher is very advanced to be able to impart the knowledge to so many different types of people.

During my journey with Swami Vishnudevananda I didn’t talk too much with Swamiji nor did he talk too much. However, he gave lectures non-stop. Whatever he said, I thought about very carefully and it always opened something up for my own journey.

Our Ego Expects the Teacher to Behave in a Certain Way

It is only our ego that expects the teacher to behave a certain way. If the teacher does not behave a certain way and does not give us what we want, we blame the teacher. We do not see that this is our learning lesson. That’s the difficulty. Most of the time we are not ready for the lesson and we struggle. The more difficult the lesson, the more we struggle. When we struggle, and we are under the tutelage of the teacher, we may wrongly attribute the source of our misery to the teacher and oftentimes blame the teacher.

Sometimes I blamed my teachers. I said, “This is complicated, why do you make it so complicated? And I thought, “I just want to live my life. I just want to be positive in my life, who cares about immortality? Who cares about peace in the world?”

Swami Vishnudevananda-ji used to tell stories and laugh all the time. He told stories and stories and laughed. It did not make any sense. I was thinking, “Why does he keep telling stories, oftentimes the same stories? Why doesn’t he tell me all the serious things?”

For example, he told the story of an old couple. This story was in the newspaper. He always taught from the newspaper, from the magazine to give some real-life examples. The newspaper reported the story of an old couple that died on the dance floor. When he told that story, he was laughing. I said within my mind to Swamiji, “Why do you laugh about this? You know, the poor old couple died on the dance floor. You should have compassion toward them. Why do you tell this story in class? And we are laughing about this?”

I thought that Swamiji was not compassionate. It took me years and years to understand that the teaching was really about yourself. The teaching was about you. You need to behave according to your age, according to your maturity. Swamiji was laughing because this couple is old and they want to act like they’re young. They then went and danced on the dancefloor until they died. This is something incredible. The stupidity of the human mind. They don’t mature according to their age. They think that they have to be young and sexy and passionate, forever. This is the stupidity of the human mind.

Swamiji was laughing about it, because that’s the way he teaches, to make you laugh. When you laugh, you learn the lesson better. When you talk about something very seriously, maybe your intellect understands, but there’s something else you don’t understand. That’s why Swami Vishnudevananda-ji always taught with humor.

He was always telling stories. He was laughing all the time. I remember sitting in front of the Satsang and laughing and laughing and holding my belly and rolling. That is how it worked. I was a very serious person and he was able to make me laugh and then I thought about it. It is a laughing therapy. Because you know, you take yourself so seriously, you think that Self-realization is a big serious business. That’s one thing. So, he made you laugh—just to help you laugh at that one thing, but eventually to laugh at everything. I saw that he had that technique of taking everything in humor, so you somehow get it.


The guru-disciple relationship is based on our search for Truth or spiritual knowledge. It is a timeless relationship. As students, we must qualify ourselves to embark on this search for knowledge. The teacher sustains and transmits the knowledge through the lineage. The teacher is one who has walked the path and understands the many challenges their students face. I transmit the teachings in different ways to different people. I can be very serious. I can also tell a story.

The Sivananda organization is known for classical Yoga teaching. It is a monastic lineage that follows a classical system of transmission of the highest spiritual knowledge based on the guru tradition. Most of the senior teachers or acharyas are sannyasis. They are monastics who live by and apply the Advaita Vedanta teachings in daily life. Thus, it is a living tradition, shared by teachers who have dedicated their lives to the teachings and who wish to share this knowledge with the world.

Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Ashram Vedanta Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam.  She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) program, an 800-hour program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

Swami Sitaramananda is the author of “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” (translated in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Russian), “Positive Thinking Manual”, “Karma Yoga Manual”, “Meditation Manual”, “Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnu” in His Own Words. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of “Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY) and “Meditation & Mantras” by Swami Vishnu. Many of her video & audio lectures on Yoga life, philosophy, and psychology as well as articles and webinars can be found on this website.

Swami Sita is an ardent supporter of the integration of the Vedic sciences such as Vastu, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She is an international teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Courses and Advanced Yoga teachers’ Training courses, as well as Meditation and Vedanta & Silence Courses both in Sivananda Ashrams in Vietnam and in Grass Valley, CA.

Four Qualifications of an Aspirant

Four Qualifications of an Aspirant

Mon, 8/30 9:55PM • 38:15


detachment, happiness, seeking, discrimination, mind, ashram, desire, yoga, meditation, life, moksha, attachment, habit, ice cream, spiritual life. Jnana yoga, self-enquiry, Truth, Self-development, Self-realization.

The first level of knowledge is when you become a sadhaka, a seeker, a seeker after Truth. Somehow, you already know that you don’t know—that’s already significant. You are seeking for the Truth, seeking to know. But what are you seeking? There is sometimes darkness and sometimes light, and often, confusion when we embark on the inner seeking journey. It’s not a seeking outside. And you don’t need to come to the Ashram and do a Training Course if you can follow this guideline.

We are used to seeking outside for pleasures and happiness that are in the sensual world and that are temporary. If something does not happen the way we want, we are disappointed; we blame something or somebody. The reason for our disappointment is always external to us, in the external world.

Light in the darkness

But the seeker, or sadhaka, is a person of discrimination. This is the first qualification of a seeker according to Vedanta teachings. The second qualification is to have dispassion or detachment; the third is acquiring the six mental qualifications, and the fourth is having mumukshutva, a strong desire to know.

Since those present have completed the Yoga teachers training course and many have been on the path for a very long time, I believe that you all are quite serious. So, you are a seeker. Otherwise, you would not have gone through TTC, wanting to have more discipline in your life, learning meditation and yoga in a systematic, serious manner. That’s called mumukshutva, the desire to know. You have to know, more or less, what you are seeking. Otherwise, what are you seeking? If I’m looking for my glasses, I grasp everything around, asking, “Are these my glasses?” “No.” “Oh, maybe these are my glasses?” “No.” “Oh, these are my glasses!” “No.”

Why I am grasping? Because I don’t quite know. I’m putting each thing down, because I know that it’s not them. These are not my glasses. Why am I so certain that they are not my glasses? I can put the object down and reject it. Because I know, right? Because I know my glasses. And when I touch them, I have no uncertainty, no doubt. Why? Because I know them. The same in Vedanta, you are seeking something that you know.

Ask the right question

And yet, there is something in your mind that is so illusory, that causes you to look for something somewhere else and mistake something for what it is not. You have a pattern of seeking in the wrong place and you do not quite know what you are seeking. That’s a big problem. Thankfully, there are guidelines. In Vedanta philosophy, it is said that you have to qualify yourself in order for you to see or for you to find. Normally we seek outside, then say, “Oh, this, maybe it’s in the landscape?”

Or maybe, “It’s in the company?” Or maybe, “It’s in the weather?” Maybe: “Yeah, I want to be near the beach. And here it is too dry.” You are always looking for something—for happiness, in truth—but you fall back on the very bad habit of looking for it externally.

Happiness slips away

We try to change this with yoga self-discipline, to look in the right place. Eventually, you have to have the discrimination; you have to know what you’re seeking. Next, you have to be detached, be dispassionate, about things that you have mistaken to be “it”, to be what you are looking for. And still, you continue to do it again and again. You say you know that these are not your glasses, and yet, out of habit, you still go down the same road. You know that ice cream, sensual pleasure, etc.  are our habitual ways to seek happiness—in the senses, in the emotions, in sex, in name and fame and the ego—in the external world.

The external world means the world of the senses. You are here, but you are looking around: “Oh, I’d like to be at the beach.” And then you have that dream in your mind: “Yeah, I’d like to be at the beach in a five-star hotel. I’d like to have my piña colada…” “Oh, that is happiness!” You have had this impression in the mind for a very long time—it’s very deep. And, perhaps you have been living with disappointment for a very long time, too. You build up some kind of desire, and then you get the desired object, but you don’t get the happiness you expected. It slips through your fingers. It’s gone.

Again, you feel empty and longing—hankering after something, and yet not able to satisfy yourself and find peace of mind. Still, the mind keeps going in the same, deep groove. It takes a long time to change. That’s why you need to be qualified. In reality, the happiness you seek is right here and now. It is within you; it is always surrounding you. It is right in front of you. It is not outside. And yet, we have been mistaken all this time.

The long journey

Again, the first qualification of a seeker is discrimination. This faculty of intelligence in the mind is able to recognize that the Truth you’re looking for, the happiness you’re looking for, is not in this changing world—not in the senses, not in your habits, not in your emotions, not in this changing world. You begin looking for it in a different manner. You need to go within to find the unchanging, the permanent, the Truth, the sat—in a word, satchidananda atman—the Self that is full awareness, consciousness, and that is full of bliss. That is what you are looking for. You have sought it in many elusive forms, but this is the essence. Discrimination is the inner faculty that allows you to go beyond the illusions of the mind.

You are not new on this path. You have practiced before. You have been a seeker before, before this life. Maybe you have been seeking a long, long time for that Truth. But your discriminative intelligence is not yet sharp enough to discern where you go wrong, to recognize when you go backward and you’re in your old habit again. The habit leads you again to emptiness, to disillusion; it will not get you where you want. The discriminative faculty is that intuitive intelligence that comes from the wisdom within. It has been sharpened over lifetimes. It makes you feel that something is wrong. In fact, it makes you know, makes you decide, that something is wrong.

The dilemma of the oak trees

I will give some examples. About 25 years ago, Swami Vishnudevanandaji sent me here, to the Yoga Farm Ashram. I was not happy about it for many reasons. At that time, the Ashram was very small. There was an old farmhouse with grass growing tall and there was nobody here. It was not developed. That’s not what concerned me. I had a dream in my mind, an attachment to a certain thought, or samskara, that the ideal place for me would be in the mountains. Not in the valley. I like pine trees because, in my childhood, I lived on a hill of pine trees. And now I would be in a valley with oak trees and different weather.

Pine trees grow in a cool climate. But here I am in an area with oak trees and it’s hot. I have been sent by the Guru to be here. My mind complained, “No, I don’t like it.” Then I said, “Why would Swamiji open an Ashram in a valley like this? Just a few miles up the highway, there are pine trees on a hillside and nice weather. That would be perfect. Why isn’t the Ashram there? The Ashram here is not what I wanted.” So, then my mind is thinking, “I can go a few miles and get the ideal that is in my mind. Or I can come to this place, which is not my ideal at all.

But—what do I get? I get the teaching. I get the connection to the Guru, and I get to serve the Guru’s mission. I get to follow the schedule decided by the Guru. That is how the teaching is transmitted—through the schedule and through daily life. I get all this. But my mind is attached to my idea of what the ideal place for me is, what will bring me happiness. Thank God, my discriminative mind kicked in. It said, “Oh, okay. I have to choose between the weather, the landscape, the everything—and the teaching, and the connection to the guru that will lead me to go inside myself, lead me to the right place.”

So what do I choose? I chose the teaching, sacrificing my idea of an external reality that could give me happiness. I chose the connection, the austerity, the tapas, the opportunity to do practices. And that’s how I stayed here for 25 years. It wasn’t easy. These days, there are not many people here because of the Covid pandemic. Twenty-five years ago when I started, there was only half a staff. That was me; I split my time between the San Francisco Center and the Yoga Farm.

Now we have a dozen staff; it’s a big difference. My point is that your mind needs to start thinking differently about your choices in life. Illusion in our mind always brings us on the same route, leading us to the same disillusion. We go round and round and round and waste a lot of time. Meanwhile, you get old and you lose all opportunity for discipline, for meditation. You waste your life running after illusions. Time passes so quickly.

A lesson in Paris

Here’s another story of discrimination and dispassion. Once upon a time, I was not a Swami. I was like you, working. I had some money and time—and a vacation. I didn’t have a mission in life, nothing to dedicate myself to. I had no spiritual ideal, nothing. So I went to Paris. What do you do in Paris? You go sightseeing a little bit… and then what? You go shopping. What is Paris famous for? Fashion! So that’s what I did. I had money. I had nothing else to do with my life. So I went shopping for fashion, things that I would not normally buy. Back home, I tried the clothes on and said, “One day, I will wear this.”

But as I looked at myself in the mirror, it didn’t look like me at all. Why would I spend the money and wear such a thing? It was a very fashionable cape. So then, I just got rid of it. I wasted my money. I got rid of it after a day. Why? Because some amount of discrimination dawned. Your happiness doesn’t depend on your looks. If you wear fashionable clothing, you think that your look will give you success and happiness. If you have the look, you can be attractive. But will you have the happiness? No. I knew very quickly that it was an illusion.

When will it stop?

The first quality is discrimination—to think properly, to know what will lead you to the happiness you seek, avoiding your old groove or habit. The second quality is dispassion—detachment toward the habit, toward the karma, toward that strong desire and strong tendency. It builds up over a long period of time. It makes us go around in circles, go wrong, and not be able to stop. It was dispassion that made me give away the fashionable Parisian clothing and vow to myself that I would never indulge myself again. I had made a mistake, wasted my money, but I also realized that that was it, it was finished for me—finished forever and ever.

Temporary detachment

Detachment that comes with discrimination lasts, but detachment that comes from pain doesn’t. As an example, often a woman who gives birth finds it very painful. She may say, “That’s it, I will not have another child!” But then, after some time, she forgets. She goes on to have many children. That is a temporary dispassion or detachment. Another example is somebody suffering heartache from the disillusion of romantic love. Maybe their girlfriend ran away. Their heart aches and they run to the ashram.

I clearly remember one guy who arrived here in a red sports car. A sports car at the ashram! It represents rajas. He had just broken up with his girlfriend and he came here saying, “I will stay here forever.” He said he’d had enough of this girlfriend business! “I know now, I understand. I will stay here and do meditation. I will rebuild my life.” He sounded very sincere. We took him in. But this guy barely stayed a month. In one month, he forgot about the girlfriend. But do you think he got over the red sports car? He got another girlfriend!

Free yourself from the trap

What if you eat some ice cream, get a stomach ache and say, “Never again”? Is it going to last? No. Why? Because it’s not based on discrimination. In order to last, detachment must be based on discrimination. Otherwise, you will go back to the same thing when you feel a little bit under the weather, or when things are not going your way. Then you want to find happiness immediately—and the old samskaras, the old grooves, will kick in again. You will find yourself doing the same thing, again.

Use your intelligence to understand. Another example: you realize that ice cream is colored ice with sugar and a nice name. That’s it. Actually, the truth about ice cream is that it gives you a sugar high. Ahh, the coldness, and that name that sounds good—but then it gives you diarrhea. If you really think about it, then the detachment will be lasting. Then even if they come up with a new name for ice cream (or a new color, that’s how the industry works), you will not be tempted to buy it. You will not fall into that trap again. Now your dispassion is solid, based on understanding.

Be honest with yourself

So beware of anything that you find yourself doing again and again (and again and again) that gets you in trouble. Think of the moth that cannot resist flying into fire. It loses its wings. It becomes blind. Flying in and out, and back in again, blind, it literally kills itself. You can continue to do this yourself, but for how long? You lose all your prana and get sick. You cannot be young forever. This disillusion—this heart ache, sadness or depression—comes when your desire is unfulfilled.

Anger and resentment tax your system. You waste your time; you waste your life. So stop and think. That’s why satsanga, or company of the wise, is important. They don’t try to sell you ice cream or easy happiness. What do they tell you? You have to be disciplined; you have to look within. You have to cease your habit of attachment, your habit of telling yourself stories. They tell you the Truth. When you are in satsanga, it keeps you safe and sane. It keeps you on the right path.

The drama of not seeing

Another level of dispassion is detachment toward the difficulty of our karma. Life is not always pleasant. This morning is was nice at the Ashram, but then in the afternoon, some smoke blew in. That’s karma, the collective karma of California wildfires. Climate change is the collective karma of Planet Earth. It creates some difficulty for us. When we don’t understand, when things are negative, we collapse. Why? We believe it to be true. We forget our immortal Self and we lose our energy. The drama replays. We can’t see the happiness and find ourselves again. We fall back into the old grooves; we go back to old addictions, the old way of finding temporary happiness. We become blind again.

Attachment or detachment?

Forbearance allows you to detach from the ups and downs of karma, to have the resilience not to believe in it, but to remain in your Self. Discrimination lets us know that whatever is happening is temporary, it’s not the Truth. The Truth of your life is not the landscape or the weather or the people. It is not the company or the food you eat. It is your capacity to see yourself—your True Self—which is real, here and now. Separate from your mind, which is always coming up with new thoughts, new ideas and new desires to pull you away from meditation. Discrimination allows you to detach from the thoughts.

When you meditate, stick to the peace, even when thoughts come. Usually your most favorite thought will pop up during meditation to disturb you. You run with it and forget about meditation. The same in life, we constantly run after our desires, our ideas about this and that. We forget. We lose concentration, get distracted and find ourselves in the loop again. Discrimination is called viveka. Detachment is called vairagya. Detachment from the results of your actions is called Karma Yoga.

Detachment from thoughts is meditation. You are attached to things because of your emotions. To detach from emotions, you have to practice Bhakti Yoga. Cling to your mantra, to your way of connecting to the Divine in order to resist attachment. Attachment is not going to bring you happiness. It will ruin your life. You lose your way.

False identification

Detach from the results of your actions. Detach from this life, which is simply the result of your actions in the past. Detach from your feelings, your emotions. The moment we have a feeling, an emotion, we fall right away. We don’t have any discrimination, resistance, detachment—nothing. The feelings just pull us by the nose and we fall. We get ourselves completely confused. Detachment regarding the emotions is Bhakti Yoga. Detachment toward the mind and the thoughts themselves is called Raja Yoga and meditation—detachment toward the ego, the false sense of self, false identification. You know your ego: I’m the best cook, I’m the best teacher, I’m the best everything. What am I doing here? I need to do this, do that. We need to be detached from all these ideas about our identity as well.

Be curious to know

We must cultivate the six virtues and mumukshutva, the desire to know. In the process, you might have a glimpse of knowing that you don’t know and that you are seeking. But then you forget. The mumukshutva must be continuously nurtured. You must constantly know that you don’t know—and constantly be interested in knowing.

One thing I find very strange in my 40 years of teaching is that people are not curious about themselves. They know everything about the external world—they know how to shop, which company is good, what price, what car, what brand. They’re educated about politics and who said what. But about themselves, they don’t care. They think they know. The ego tells them plenty, and they’ve believed it for a long time. The society, the environment, their families have also been telling them. But that’s not who they are. Unless you ask yourself questions, you don’t know.

But people don’t ask questions. I’ve taught thousands of people. At the end of each TTC, I always say, “If you have a question, I am available. I promise to answer your questions.” And how many questions do I get? Very few. For a person to ask a question and come back with more questions is very rare. Most people don’t. It’s called mumukshutva—continuously cultivating your desire to know.

Hari Om Tat Sat. Thank you.

Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Ashram Vedanta Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam.  She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) program, an 800-hour program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

Swami Sitaramananda is the author of “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” (translated in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Russian), “Positive Thinking Manual”, “Karma Yoga Manual”, “Meditation Manual”, “Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnu” in His Own Words. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of “Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY) and “Meditation & Mantras” by Swami Vishnu. Many of her video & audio lectures on Yoga life, philosophy, and psychology as well as articles and webinars can be found on this website.

Swami Sita is an ardent supporter of the integration of the Vedic sciences such as Vastu, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She is an international teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Courses and Advanced Yoga teachers’ Training courses, as well as Meditation and Vedanta & Silence Courses both in Sivananda Ashrams in Vietnam and in Grass Valley, CA.



Tue, 7/27 10:27PM • 59:29


Spiritual life, moksha, goal, maturity, means, dharma, motivation, Guru, purpose, money, stage of life, castes, spiritual evolution, meditation, growth, karma, karma, enjoyment, world, society


It’s very nice to have you all here. And today is the full moon, and also Guru Poornima, which is a very special and auspicious day on the full moon that is traditionally offered to the Guru. You have Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Secretary’s day and Valentine’s Day, and in Vietnam they have a Teacher’s Day. I’m not sure if you have Teacher’s Day here, but in Vietnam it is very important. However, in India the teacher is called not only a teacher but rather a Guru. The day is called Guru Poornima, which means the full moon. So today, it happened to be the Guru Poornima, the Full Moon celebration of the Guru.

You can have a dance teacher, you can have a computer teacher, you can have a cooking teacher. Oftentimes people use this word Guru for this, you know, my cooking Guru, my dancing Guru, my music Guru, like this. But for us here the word Guru means a spiritual teacher, the person that teaches you the highest kind of knowledge that gives you liberation from suffering, liberation from bondage. That’s called a Guru. He / she is the one that removes your darkness and gives you some light. Tomorrow evening we have a puja, a special celebration, Puja, to dedicate to Guru Poornima.

The topic of the upcoming four days retreat at the ashram here is called the “Yoga of Transition.” And at the same time, we welcome the TTC graduates in this “TTC refresher,” that means knowledge being refreshed. Because if you know something and you don’t think about it, it gets dusty, it gets rusty, so you have to renew from time to time.


Life is continuously flowing. You are always in movement from one state to another, because that’s how you feel alive. If your life is not moving, then you feel that you are stuck, stagnant and somehow you’re not moving forward. Everyone wants to move forward in life. Sometimes you get confused because you don’t know where you are now, what you are doing, where you are going, and what is the right thing, because sometimes you receive pressure from all around, your parents, your friends and yourself. You say, “Life is pulling me in different directions and I am confused.”

The ancient teaching of the Vedas have given you some guidance. And of course, you need to have a teacher who knows you very well, who can tell you (more or less) where you are at, and what are the different steps that you need to take. Today I’m going to present to you a little bit of these different ideas to guide you.

Number one, you need to keep in mind all the time that you are an entity: body, mind, spirit. You are not just a body. Our bad habit is that we think of ourselves as only a body. If somebody asks you who you are, and you present yourself to somebody, you always say: “I’m 30 years old” or “I’m 20 years old.” You define yourself as the age of the body, as the physical body. But in fact you are more than that. And you need to keep that in mind.

First, the physical body, as you know, is born and then it grows, and the cells are growing and then decaying. So the state of your body depends upon your age, and your age will change a lot of things. So first remember the body.

Second, you need to consider the astral body, which in general means your mind, your energy. This energy comes also from the maturity of your mind, it depends on the quality of what you think. The thought that you have in mind sometimes gives a lot of prana and certain thoughts that you have in mind block your flow prana and make you feel very small and weak. So, the astral body is very important: your prana level, your mind, your subconscious mind, your emotions, the way you think, and your idea of yourself, all these are influencing the way you conduct yourself in life and the way you move in life.

Third, there is the core body which is called the causal body. The causal body is the seed body. This means that there is a reason that you’re born in this particular body and circumstances. According to Yoga philosophy, you are born to pay certain karmic debts and learn certain lessons. That’s why each person has different kinds of circumstances in life.

Somebody is born healthy, in a very rich family, and is loved, and somebody is born in a poor family, in a physically challenged body and is rejected and becomes an orphan. Why? There are different circumstances, different lessons that we need to learn. In the same manner, if you plant an orange seed in the ground, then what you expect is an orange tree. You cannot plant an orange seed and expect a banana tree. The law of cause and effect works very precisely.

Depending on the seed thought (the cause) that you have in mind, you will be born in the body of a male or a female in certain circumstances of your life, your father, your mother, your culture and all these things. There is something that governs your life in the core and that is your reason to be born. This is a karmic lesson to be learned at a deeper level.

Then beyond all this there is the Atman. Atman is your Self. It is your freedom, your Sat Chit Ananda, your bliss, your ultimate goal, what you truly want. Whatever you want in life is to know the truth, to not have any difficulties and to be aware, to be awake and not to be ignorant, and also to be happy and blissful. In general, we say that your purpose is to find your true Self, and that’s the purpose of all the yoga meditation practices and all Vedanta study. So you use the three bodies as your vehicles to navigate through life.

This knowledge comes from the Vedas or the Vedic culture. They give different sign posts that will help you to navigate this life. Vedic culture includes Yoga, Vedanta, Ayurveda, Jyotisha and Vastu. In Vedic culture the Guru, the spiritual teacher, is important. The Guru will guide you through.


The other important idea that you need to keep in mind in order to understand yourself, is the idea of the three gunas. The idea is that in life you are evolving from Tamas to Rajas to Sattva. So if you ask yourself: “Am I evolving? Where am I going?” Then the answer has to be: “I am moving from darkness (tamas, inertia, darkness) to rajas (movement, restlessness, egoism) to sattva ( purity, clarity, wisdom).

In tamas, the veil over your consciousness in the beginning is very thick, so you cannot see the oneness, you only see a big difference between you and me. In rajas, there is a little bit less thick veil, but you can only see partially, as you are self-centered and you only see from your point of view and you cannot see other people’s point of view, because you don’t have wisdom. In Sattva, everything is clear, light is coming in, and you see the whole big picture.

Your evolution from ignorance to wisdom corresponds with your age and stage in life. At a young age, there is tamas, ignorance. Then you grow up a little bit and then you care about yourself. Your ego becomes big and you only focus only on your needs. During that time, you still don’t see the picture of your relationship with other people, your relationship with the world. And then eventually, you become more enlightened, you become more sattvic, you become more wise and at that time your vision opens up. And then you start to situate yourself in a more correct manner, in relation to the world and in relation to other people. You see the big picture about life. And you also see the goal of life, which is to attain wisdom, to pay your karmic debt and to be free.

Your maturity comes with age, your biology dictates a certain psychology, a certain maturity. However, to note exceptions to the norm: Some people are very young and they are very mature. I met a boy who was six years old and he talked like an old man. He didn’t want to play, he was very serious with meditation and yoga. And I have met people 60-70-80 years old, and they are like kids. So, it depends on the individual.


  1. The brahmacharya stage, a student’s stage (6-25 years old)
  2. The grihastha householder stage is from 25 to 50.
  3. Vanaprastha, retirement stage (50-60)
  4. Sannyasa, renunciation stage

In brahmacharya you are studying the basics about life and your separate self, you learn asanas, pranayama and keep brahmacharya. Your duty is to your parents and your teachers.

Grihastha is when you get married, you have children and you participate in the society. Your duty is to your children, your family and also to your parents.

Vanaprastha stage is when you retire to the forest. Retirement here is not just like when you don’t have a job and you retire from the production line, the economical point of view. Retirement in spiritual culture means that you have done your duty, you have done your duty to family and society and now you’re going back to yourself. You might live a secluded life in an ashram (oftentimes in a secluded forest) and the only thing you do here is spiritual practices, yoga, meditation and so on. You don’t worry about politics. You don’t worry about what’s happening in the world. It is a certain state of consciousness where you withdraw within yourself, you allow yourself to live your spiritual life. Before you had to take care of the family, the society, the children and the whole thing. The fourth stage of life is the sannyasa stage. At that time your goal, your purpose, is only renunciation and you take a vow of renunciation.

The evolution between these four stages of life is based on the idea that you are born with a certain karma, the body is changing, but also you have to pay your karmic debt and then you have to go back to your spiritual nature, that you don’t have time to waste.

The evolution between these four stages of life is based on the idea that you are born with a certain karma, the body is changing, you have to pay your karmic debt, and then go back to your spiritual nature, so you don’t have time to waste. Sometimes if you don’t have this understanding of your biological, psychological and spiritual development, you can waste your time and be mixed up.

Example: I have a student who is about 50 or more years old, almost

  • She came to class every day, she took all the courses and she was very, very happy. She was a grandma. And then one day, she didn’t come to class. I met her and I asked her, ”Why are you not coming to class?” And she cried and she said, “Oh, because I have to go to work and take care of my grandchildren.“

I asked her, ”Why are your children not taking care of your grandchildren?” She said, “Oh, my children take care of the grandchildren, but they don’t have enough income so I think that I have to go to work and I have to take care of my grandchildren.“ Then she cried again. Why this suffering? Because she went against her evolution. She came to vanaprastha stage and she went back to grihastha stage.

Normally, you have to go forward and you don’t go back. You can go as slow as you want, but you have to go forward in life. So, that’s the whole idea, to have guidance, to know where you are and where you are going. What speed you’re going is up to you, but you have to go in the right direction and not go round and round and also not go back.


Motivation is called purushartha, it is about our inner motivation.

The scripture says that there are four motivations which everyone has. You need to recognize your inner motivation, what is the energy or the thoughts within you that push you to make certain decisions.

  1. The first goal of life is called kama. (Kama is not karma, there is no ‘r’).

This clarification is helpful for the Vietnamese speakers because they have a problem with words using “R” anywhere other than at the beginning of a word. For English speakers it seems not necessary and a bit disruptive to me. I would leave it out.

Kama means enjoyment, enjoyment of the senses, enjoyment of the emotions, enjoyment of life. So the first goal when you are alive is to enjoy life.

The goal when you first come into this existence is to enjoy life.

2. The next goal is called artha. Artha means having material wealth, in order for you to do what you need to do. It is a goal of wealth and everyone has this goal.

3. So the next one is called dharma. Dharma can be translated as righteousness, learning your position in life, in society. Dharma also means duty, and acting according to that duty.

4. And the last is moksha. Moksha is the goal of liberation, of spiritual knowledge.

According to Vedic knowledge, when you were born, you did not just start your life. You have started your life way, way before in many past lifetimes. And then in each life when you’re born in the body there are only one lesson, two lessons or a few lessons to be learned, and if you are not finished with your learning, you will reincarnate in different circumstances, a different body, in order for you to continue to learn.


Motivation of Kama in a Young Student’s life (Brahmacharya stage): The quality of tamas is dominant. When you have the goal

of enjoyment of the senses, enjoyment in life, then you are in tamas. You don’t have spiritual knowledge and you do not know the purpose of your life. You are spiritually ignorant. You think you are born with the five senses to enjoy.

In the beginning when you are young, (brahmacharya stage), you are in tamas and you don’t have the moksha goal. You have the kama goal. You want to play. Children just want to play and that’s it. They don’t worry about what is life and what is liberation from suffering. They don’t even know. They are suffering because they miss something, and they cry, and then they maybe take it from others.

People like Swami Sivananda, even when he was young, he shared whatever he had with other kids. But not necessarily every kid is like this. We are quite selfish. When we are kids, sometimes we can torture animals and if we don’t have something, we can go and steal from other people because we don’t know these rules of conduct. We are selfish. Tamas is strong, ignorance is strong.

Motivation of Artha in the householder’s life (grihastha stage): The quality of rajas is dominant. During this stage, you want to make money in order for you to enjoy your senses. You are more rajasic.

Rajas means you are dominated by self-motivated action. In this stage, if you see people suffering from lack of wealth or from limitation, you don’t move from your position because you need to have your money and your life and your desire fulfilled.

Motivation of Dharma in Retirement to the Forest phase ( vanaprastha stage) – The quality is sattva.

As you mature, Sattva, which is the quality of purity, of knowledge, of wisdom, starts to dawn. You start to think of the purpose of life, “who am I? What is the purpose of all this?” Then you move to dharma. I have seen business people who made a lot of money and gave it all to charity. For example, they share the company’s profit with the employees, who they consider to be their own family. They buy houses for the employees, and share the profit in the company. So there are business people who do not have the goal of making money for their own enjoyment only. They start to have a lot of sattva in their mind, or purity and they want to do the right thing. They want to do charity, they want to share, they don’t think that this is my money, this is my company, so they are not rajasic, they start to become sattvic as their motivation and behavior change.

In terms of time, the same thing can happen. Normally we say time is money. We think, ”Okay, my time, I’m going to take care of myself, it is my time, I want to live my life”. But eventually when sattwa dawns, you realize that this is not your energy, your energy is actually God-given energy and you are only a custodian. You are the one who is keeping the energy and then sharing the energy as an instrument, for a higher purpose that you do not control. Then you don’t think that it is my time, my energy, in order to get more wealth and more enjoyment. In sattwa, your thinking about your life changes. You think about a bigger picture, other people. You become more aware. In ecology, you start to think: “Oh my God, we are destroying the planet,” the climate changes and you start to spend a lot of time helping society, or helping to alleviate the climate change.

I’m just giving this as an example, that you are not just only only leading your life in a selfish manner, but you start to give out your energy and your time and you’re starting to think of a bigger picture, the society, the environment, the world and other people. At that time the goal of dharma becomes more important. We move from darkness to light. It is good to recognize the transition, although sometimes it gets very confusing. Sometimes you feel inner conflicts. You think,”My parents say that I have to go find a job, get married, make money and so on. But I feel a very strong desire inside to help the world and to serve the world. I don’t think that I can live my life just thinking of, you know, two, three people in my family, and that will be sufficient for me. I feel that I need to be responsible for the world. I’m a citizen of the world. I am a member of the world family. And I want to give my time and my energy and care for the world’s family and try to live a dharmic life.”

Motivation of Moksha in the renunciation stage (sannyasa) as sattva becomes dominant.

At this time, your motivation might change again into the fourth goal of life called moksha. You start to practice yoga, and you start to practice meditation and you find a certain peace. Then you want more of this peace and more of that expansion of consciousness. When you expand your consciousness, you start to have the moksha goal. Now, you want to take more time to go to the ashram, to do retreats, and do karma yoga.

Swami Sita’s example of evolution in motivations :

“When I just arrived in Canada, I was 18. I was studying in university, and I have to find some money to send money back to support my family, but also to take care of my livelihood. I was 18. At that time, what kind of job? I don’t know society, I do not know anything. So I went to find out in the newspaper, and I found a job in an entertainment ground, an amusement park. In this entertainment ground, the girls I worked with were very young, they were my age and they enjoyed themselves, flirting, drinking… through their KAMA goal , right? And one person that was the most miserable in that whole entertainment ground was me. I was so out of sorts. It was not at my place, loud music, entertainment, amusement…it was an amusement park. And I was so unhappy. Why? Because I did not fit in this KAMA goal.

Even though I was just 18 and I could have played, I was not meant to be entertaining myself and entertaining people. That’s why I was so unhappy.“

“So I changed. And, you know, in order for you to change, you have to have some self confidence that you can do something else. I did not speak the language well and I was very young, in that country

Here I do not understand what you mean by “in that country”. You could say “in a foreign country” or “in a country with a very different culture”, etc.

and so on. But I changed. I learned how to become a secretary. It means I worked in an office, and then I had to go to learn how to type, and that was 50 years ago. Anyway, I had to go to learn how to do type writing on the electric typewriter, because at that time there was no computer. And then I changed my job. So eventually I finished school. And then I worked, and later moved to the ashram. Normally people’s salaries just come higher. And for me, the salaries have come slowly down. Because I kept choosing new motivation. I’m just sharing with you the journey. My journey was quite fast. My change was very fast. But for you the change is happening also. And you have to do soul searching all the time: what you do, what you want, and so on. It might be slower. But you are in movement as much as I am in movement. There are different voices within all of us that are talking all the time”.

“At that time I had a job. I had a very good job, a professional job. I had a great salary, and could travel as I liked. At that time, I traveled as I liked and bought a car and bought this and that. I went to Paris and bought fashion clothing and things like this. It did not last long. I can buy this fashion clothing and I wear it. But then I wear it one time and let go. Why? It was not according to me, to my motivation. It was not my motivation. I could have made money. I’m good at making money. I can do business and make money, but I do business for my family and I give them business advice, but I could not continue to do business, the ARTHA GOAL did not fit me and it did not work.”

“So, when I became a social worker, I did more things for society. Actually, I was working taking care of my family, but also doing social work at night. That means as a volunteer person. So, then I volunteered full time, I worked full time and took care of my family full time. But the dharma goal became very important. I cared so much about society that I suffered when society suffered. When there was something that happened, something unjust that happened to society, I was motivated to help. So I was in the street protesting things and I became a militant activist about different causes for children, women, poor people, the environment, social justice and so on. The DHARMA GOAL has become very important. And I was very happy to do that.”

“I went to the ashram when I was 28. I was already working for society a long time before that time. Because of karma, my family stayed in Vietnam so I went to Canada by myself to study. So all of a sudden, I did not have any family to take care of, so I took care of my society. Which at that time was Canadian and different people that lived in the city. They were all kinds of people and all kinds of cultures. At that time I did not think that these people were foreigners. I worked with Haitian people, Italian people, English speaking people, French speaking people, all kinds of groups, all kinds of classes. I was a social community organizer, social worker. At that time, I thought of these people as my family. The whole city was my family, and I wanted to take care of them. My DHARMA GOAL started early.”

“And then one day, the motivation changed again. I was burned out from doing action, social services, and then I realized the ego that was there, I realized a certain ego that wanted things to change the way I wanted it, the way I thought. So, the sattva started to come in a little bit more at that time, I felt, “Oh, now I understand God’s Will.” The words “God’s Will” are not easy to come by. Before I thought this was me, but now I started to realize, “Oh my God, there is something that is higher than me, higher than politics and everything. There is a Will that is determining what happens in this world, the way it works and that makes things happen. And that Will is God’s Will”.

“I was not born with the idea of God. But then, at that time, somehow it came to my mind. There is something that you need to tune into. And then you have to become an instrument of that Will. And there is nothing about you. So these words “God’s Will” came naturally. My motivation changed from DHARMA to MOKSHA, which is called liberation . Then I became a yogi, I became a sanyasi. I’m very happy now. That was my journey.”


According to guna and karma, you find yourself in a certain caste (or group) as follows: Sudra means when the tamas is strong and you are doing a service job, like my job at the entertainment ground and in a secretarial position before. At that time, you don’t ask spiritual questions. I believe the girls the same age as me at the entertainment ground did not ask existential questions. For myself at that time I already had a lot of questions, therefore I did not fit for long in the sudra group.

Here you can say: I did not fit in the sudra group. I did not last for a long time in that group. OR I did not last for a long time in the sudra group.

I briefly became a Vaishya, when I started doing business for my parents and I was more rajasic, but it did not last long. Then I became a kshatriya when I started to think of others, became an activist, and had a dharma goal. Kshatrya is a mix of rajas and sattva. Then the

last caste is brahmin when sattva is dominant, this is when I became a Yoga and meditation teacher and a sannyasi renunciate.


Tamas, rajas, sattva change. The biology, maturity and psychology change, the motivation, inner motivation, what you really want changes, and then the manifestation of the inner motivation, your occupation and your job changes. In Jyotish, there is a way you can see the motivations. For example, on a total of nine points (depending on where the planets in the birthchart lie), you can see a person’s motivation: If a person has Moksha goal 4, Dharma goal zero, Artha goal 4, Kama goal 1, then this life picture doesn’t make sense. The person wants to liberate himself from suffering but will not make an effort to live righteously, or to seek to know the laws of Nature, the big dharmic picture. Therefore he goes on accumulating wealth and at the same time wants to be free, and yet cannot be at peace with himself.

The advice is, “You need to do more selfless service, you need to increase the Dharma goal. You need to do more selfless service, and you need to give your money a little bit more in charity.“ So now the profile of the motivations changes: Moksha 4, Dharma 2, Artha 2, Kama 1. In this scenario, the Moksha goal is still there, given high value, but then you won’t feel conflicted. Before, you wanted to make money and at the same time you wanted to do yoga, and you wanted liberation, you wanted self-knowledge, and you didn’t do any service for society. When you run these two goals together and it doesn’t fit, then you have some inner conflict.

What you need to do is to put a little bit more time, a little bit more money into charity, a little bit more time into charity, thinking about other people, how you can help. And then don’t just sit at home, study and meditate. I’m sorry to say that. It’s not like I don’t promote meditation. But also in order for you to grow you need to do karma yoga. I mean, you need to serve other people, and it’s a way of meditation. Then it will smooth everything out. And then you will feel better.

Kama goal and Moksha goal: Let’s say you have some desire for self-knowledge. But you have a very strong habit, a desire for enjoyment of the senses. So how does it work? It doesn’t work. So you have to practice more yoga, but focusing on withdrawing the senses, in order for you to see a world that is beyond the sensual world. That is the spiritual world, when you start to meditate more and withdraw more, not running around shopping so much. Be content, be more within.

During the COVID pandemic time you have to stay home more. I think that it is a good thing that you stay home and you don’t go shopping or to coffee shops, sitting and drinking coffee and chit chatting with your friends. You cannot do this now. Vietnam is completely locked down, and here in America last year it was completely locked down. People complained and they were unhappy, but actually it was a very good thing. It forced them to move into another space where they had to be looking inside, working on themselves and not going into the outer enjoyment. The KAMA goal will be less, and the ARTHA goal also.

Sometimes we are forced in the time of COVID. We have to close our businesses and slow down. Before, the goal of making money was very important. But now the artha goal will be less, kama goal will be less, DHARMA goal will be higher, and the MOKSHA goal, the knowledge goal will be higher.


I hope that it helps you to think about your life and think about your priority. Of course, you can change your life quickly, but usually it takes time. At least you have to be conscious of your motivation and try to go forward and not go backwards. You need to become less selfish, and not more selfish. If your choice is more selfish, you are going backward. If your choice shows that you are less selfish, you are going forward. If you are more ego-oriented, then you are going backward but if you are more God-oriented then you are going forward. If you are able to surrender your personal will to God’s Will, then you are going forward. If you fight with God’s Will, and you want to impose your will, then you’re going backward.


You have to think of what motivates you inside. And then you have to have a very clear picture of your inner goal, and then you accept it.

The idea is we don’t usually know where we are. Sometimes, the inner motivation to grow is present but you are conflicted as you struggle with the pressure of what other people say and your own outer, louder voice of the lower mind and habits which pull you in a different direction. So then you’re all confused. This is why you need to meditate daily, be quiet, think about the purpose of your life and who you are and what you want.

The advice is “don’t jump too fast”, do not try to jump life stages and motivations too fast. Because if you jump too fast, you will miss something. For example, if you are young and you need to enjoy your life, that is perfectly okay. Then you need to have time for your enjoyment and at the same time, try to turn it into some sattvic enjoyment like seeing a nice sattvic movie, eating popcorn. It’s all okay. You have to manage these different inner motivations, avoid inner conflicts, accept your current situation and move on. Your inner motivations will evolve at their own speed.

Om Tat Sat

Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Ashram Vedanta Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam.  She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) program, an 800-hour program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

Swami Sitaramananda is the author of “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” (translated in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Russian), “Positive Thinking Manual”, “Karma Yoga Manual”, “Meditation Manual”, “Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnu” in His Own Words. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of “Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY) and “Meditation & Mantras” by Swami Vishnu. Many of her video & audio lectures on Yoga life, philosophy, and psychology as well as articles and webinars can be found on this website.

Swami Sita is an ardent supporter of the integration of the Vedic sciences such as Vastu, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She is an international teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Courses and Advanced Yoga teachers’ Training courses, as well as Meditation and Vedanta & Silence Courses both in Sivananda Ashrams in Vietnam and in Grass Valley, CA.