How to Make Good Choices in our Life – and not the Pleasant one

How to Make Good Choices in our Life – and not the Pleasant one

This podcast is a talk by Swami Vishnudevananda from the 1970s.  His talk focuses on what the difference is between something that is good versus something that is pleasant.  In this universe we always have a choice between 2 ways to go.  Something that is pleasant is for gratifying the senses.  For example when you scratch an itch it gives you instant relief but brings pain later on.

On the other hand something that is good does not give instant gratification and is a more rough and tough choice.  However the good choice is the source of all happiness and belongs to the True Self.

The pleasant path is more commonly taken and can be said to have big neon signs and gives you a golden nugget such as a trip to Las Vegas.  However following this path is like the moth which flies into a fire thinking that it will find happiness by ends in suffering.


Listen in for Divine Wisdom

How to Make Good Choices in our Life – and not the Pleasant one

Kirtan Chanting with Swami Vishnudevananda

This recording is of Swami Vishnudevananda singing kirtan music.  Swami Vishnudevananda lived with his master Swami Sivananda for 12 years. In 1957 he traveled to America, and in the early 70´s came to Europe, founding international Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers in many cities. He was a dynamic Hatha and Raja Yoga master, bringing the classical teachings of Yoga and Vedanta in its purest form to the West. Swamiji was also a tireless campaigner for world peace who brought the message of peace to many troubled spots all over the world. Thousands of students have been personally trained by Swami Vishnudevananda as yoga teachers and many more have been inspired by his books, “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga”, “Meditation and Mantras” and “Sivananda Companion to Yoga”.


Listen in for Divine Wisdom

The Yoga Way to Health, Peace, Truth and Spiritual Realization – reprinted from 1973

The Yoga Way to Health, Peace, Truth and Spiritual Realization – reprinted from 1973

Everybody knows there is such a thing as Yoga, but only a few are aware of what it could and should mean for them and for the whole world. Many in the West regard it as a system of physical culture with only a few knowing it as a self-realization practice.

What is really meant by Yoga?

The very word YOGA, a very simple one indeed, conceals much more than it reveals: hence the misunderstanding for want of a fuller comprehension and a deeper perception of the value of all its aspects: the physical as well as the spiritual ones, the outer and the inner. A fruit cannot be judged by the outer husk, which is no less an inseparable part of it, needed for its development and ripeness: we must taste it to know it truly and be nourished by it. So is Yoga.

Yoga stands in the same way as truth, balance, wholeness, rightness, a peaceful outlook and a benevolent attitude toward everybody, a progressive spirit and a deep faith in life and the deeper reality, of which life is everywhere a manifestation. Perhaps, its chief characteristic is deepness of vision, consciousness, thought, outlook—in spite of the utter simplicity of its rules and prescriptions—and for this very reason it may be little understood and not appeal too much to the mind which appreciates mostly the outer appearance of things. It can scarcely agree with a superficial frame of mind, bent on the little things and glamour, a lover of opinions rather than truth, since it needs maturity and true discernment: viveka or spiritual discrimination.

Proper Diet

Now, before going on, we should say something about eating. A Yogi must of course be a vegetarian, since under any circumstances, meat-eating means a complicity in killing. On the other hand, man is frugivorous being by nature and meat was never intended to be a food for him: it is the beginning and the way to human degeneration, and, apart from moral reasons, it always shortens human life.

8 Limbs of Yoga

As you most probably know, Yoga is said to be made of or comprise several aspects. Some even go so far to say that there is a Hatha Yoga and a Karma Yoga, a Raja Yoga and a Jnani Yoga, a Bhakti Yoga and a Laya Yoga, and that one can choose among them up to the point of accepting the one and rejecting the others. That would be the same as to pretend to use, for instance, the head only and neglect the hands and the feet.

You may, of course, for some time, try to follow one of them only; but you shall not go very far, nor for much time either. No more than you can use the head or the feet only, and leave out the trunk and remaining limbs. Yoga is a Path to Wholeness, if it is something at all, and it needs first and above everything a whole and wholesome outlook. Mind, body and consciousness should be exerted at one in each of its eight steps; neither can we safely fly above or neglect any one of them.

The Ultimate Goal

There is a higher step in which the sense of duality between the Knower and the Known is overcome. One may become so completely identified in his consciousness with the REAL (essence or hidden reality) of that which he contemplates, that the precious sense of implicit distinction between Knower and Known entirely disappears, and the sense of at-one-ness takes its place. And in a further stage still, the subtle difference implied in this at-one-ness vanished entirely, and one has become or is the object itself.

The paths are many, but the truth is ONE

Since Reality and God are synonymous, that is also the essence of true religion—the truth in every religion, above and beyond the outer garment constituted by its symbol and dogmas, beliefs and practices. So, whichever spiritual path one may have followed, he may find through Yoga the way and means of attaining the Reality, under whatever name he may have earnestly sought.

Sivananda Ashram Yoga Camp magazine, Summer 1973

Understanding Karma with Swami Vishnudevananda – reprinted from the 1970s

Understanding Karma with Swami Vishnudevananda – reprinted from the 1970s

Question: If a man steals, is he creating new karma, or is he suffering some karma from the past?A  ction and reaction are one and the same. You can’t separate the action from the reaction.

If, as I’m walking along the street, I see a person lying injured, I can’t say, “Oh, it’s his karma. Let him die there. He is suffering because he did some wrong karma in the past,” and then walk by. His karma may be bad; he is suffering for that. But I also have a duty: to help. As a human being, love and compassion are inherent in me. He may die. I may not be able to save him. But I must try.

Example of suffering dog

As an example, there is an artist from Bulgaria living near the Yoga Camp. I used to take people there sometimes to see his paintings. One day I went there and he said, “Swamiji, our dog is missing. If you ever see him anywhere nearby, please report it to me.” The next day I was driving to Montreal alone and I saw a dog just like his lying on the road. It was partially paralyzed from being hit by a car. I thought that it must be his missing dog, so I put it in my station wagon and directly brought it to the artist. He took one look and said, “Swamiji, it’s not my dog.”

So now what shall I do? Shall I throw the dog back on the road? No. I am stuck with a paralyzed dog. I must do whatever I can. So I brought it to a veterinarian. He found that the pelvis and legs were broken, that it would never be able to walk again. The animal was in such tremendous pain from internal injuries that he had to be put it to sleep.

It was very hard for me to do that, but I brought the dog to the ASPCA and told them the situation. They said, “Okay, we know what to do.” I was asked to bring the dog over to be put inside a window. Do you know what was behind that window? The gas chamber. But what could I do? I couldn’t keep it since it was in such pain with no way to be cured. That was the only thing I could do.

So, with my own hands, I put a live dog into a gas chamber. Do I get bad karma for that? If I do, I don’t mind at all, because I couldn’t bear to see the suffering of that dog. That was my entire intention—to end his suffering.

So, it is not the action but the intention. My intention was not to bring any suffering to the dog. I would have done anything if I could have saved that dog and given him help. But the dog’s karma was that he had to die, and at the last moment I must carry him to the death chamber. That’s my karma. Somehow some past relationship existed. But I did not do my part with malice or anger; I was helpless.

Swamiji’s pilgrimage example

I’ll give another example of how karma works. I was on a pilgrimage as a swami. The custom is that we wander penniless, begging food when hungry. I wanted to go to the Himalayas at about 15,000 or 16,000 feet, then Badrinath, with only one small blanket. I had never seen snow before in my life. I was barefoot and had no money because I had decided to go by begging, even though it is very difficult to get any food in those places.

Many pilgrims carried their own food. In those days there was no bus or anything, just a small, tiny path. Each day you walked about 15 or 20 miles and then rested and cooked a little food before continuing to walk until evening. But, as I didn’t have any food or money, I had to rely solely on begging in order to survive.

After walking a few days, hunger came more and more. One morning, when people started cooking their food, I climbed up to the nearby village to beg some food, but there were only very poor people so I came down without getting anything. I was lying under a tree. I had only my cloth and a blanket and a vessel. I was really hungry and tired. It was evening and I had to walk again without food. I was only 18 or 19 then.

As I was thinking that I must get up, an old pilgrim walked by. He saw a swami lying under a tree and he asked me, “Are you hungry? Do you want something?” “Yes, I am hungry. I want something.” Pilgrims usually carried only enough food for 30 days. He carried some dried beet fried in ghee and with sugar on it. He had just a certain amount, enough so that he can reach his destination and then come back, because there’s nothing to get on the route.

But from this small ration, he took some, carefully, and gave it to me. I put out my cloth and he put the food in there. I was so happy—something to eat and it smelled so wonderful, too.

Then I thought, “The sun is hot. Let me take a bath in the Ganges. Afterwards I can really enjoy the food.” So I left the food there on the shore in my cloth and jumped into the Ganges. After one dip I came out shivering. As I picked up my cloth, all the food fell out into the water.

Do you understand the suffering I went through? Food came to my hand, almost to my mouth. But my karma was that I could not eat. The pilgrim’s karma was to give me from his own rations. It doesn’t matter whether I am going to eat or not. That’s not his problem. He has to share his food with another hungry person. And he did this with all his heart. But my karma was there—I could not eat.

My karma was that I must have taken some food from someone’s mouth before, perhaps in a previous life. So I had to undergo the same suffering as I had created for another person. I did not share, so I suffered.

That evening I walked under painful conditions. I reached the next place where we were going to camp for the night. An old swami came and looked at me. He asked me, “Where do you come from?” “I come from Sivananda Ashram. I am going on a pilgrimage.” He took me by the hand as if he know me and led me to a small hut. There a sumptuous meal was waiting. After we ate, he said, “You cannot go alone; I will take you.” From then onwards, he fed me. So I must have also earned some good karma.

Our duty is to love and serve

Actually, you do not know whether you are undergoing the present karma or the past karma, but you must know ethics and morals: every action has a reaction. Keep that in mind. Then you don’t have to worry. You do whatever you can.

Karma has brought me so many things. I’ve got ashrams in various places. I’ve got Paradise Island which has a private beach, and I’ve got yachts and boats and so forth. But none of them do I keep for my sake or in my name. I don’t have a penny. I will not keep any money in the bank in my name, nor will I keep a house or anything. If I did that while all these people are working without getting a penny, my karma would be so painful, like the lowest animal eating human flesh.

So your karma will work out. Your duty is only to love and serve. Don’t worry about good karma or bad karma. We don’t know whether we are making fresh karma or enjoying old karma. We don’t know. Then peace of mind will come.

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Mantras and Meditation: Fancy, Fiction and Fact – reprinted from 1970s

Mantras and Meditation: Fancy, Fiction and Fact – reprinted from 1970s

This article has been taken from the new Yoga Life book, published late last year.  This is a collection of articles that come from the YOGALife magazine published by the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers from 1970 to 2012. Most of these articles are written by Swami Vishnudevananda or are transcipts from his talks. 

What is the oldest known method of meditation?

The oldest and most scientific method is Raja Yoga meditation. It is a steady discipline based on five principles: proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet and positive thinking and meditation.

Raja Yoga incorporates many techniques such as postural correction, breath control and sound. It is not just a simple exercise in relaxation, but a way to complete, lasting peace and fulfillment.

What is a Mantra?

A mantra is a mystical energy encased in a sound structure, which steadies the mind and leads it into the stillness of meditation, a state which is actually beyond the minds’s comprehension.

Where do mantras come from?

They are handed down by the ancient sages, who had Self-Realization for the first time using a particular mantra.

A mantra cannot be “Concocted” especially for the individual, as claimed, since mantras already existed in Vedic times, just as gravity existed before Newton discovered it.

How many mantras are there?

Although there are innumerable mantras, only a handfulare suitable for meditation.  They fall into six categories.  The first four, deity mantras, and the fifth, nirguna or abstract mantras, can all be chosen to suit particular personalities.

Finally there are bija mantras, which incorporate a one syllable “seed” sound, or “bija” and should only be used by students of advanced purification who abstain from meat, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, etc. There are also mantras for neutralizing poisons, snake bites, etc. and for exorcising spirits, but these are of a lower nature and are not considers for meditation.

Who can initiate mantra?

Only true spiritual masters of their chief disciples, who have served them throughout many years in intense Yogic practices.

Should a mantra be sold?

No. It is against all spiritual and psychic rules. If a mantra is sold it lacks the psychic benefits of true initiation and there will be negative karmic reaction for the teacher who initiates for profit.

Are there any secret mantras?

Not all mantras are known to all spiritual masters and can be found in ancietnt Vedic and Tantric texts and spiritual books, for instance Japa Yoga by Swami Sivananda.

No spiritual or scientific rule prevents you from discussing you mantra. Tests have conclusively shown that there is no charge in the pulse, heart and breathing rate of meditator after he has divulged his mantra. For your own convenience, however, you woul dbe wise to discuss it only with those who are spiritally inclined. IF you are told to keep your mantra secret, it may perhaps be to disguise its lack of authenticity or through fear of exposure.

What is real meditation?

True Raja Yoga meditation is not simply a relaxation exercise. Ultimately, it will help you to attain liberation from the clutches of the lower senses and mind and to reach absolute, unalloyed bliss.

By definition, meditation must be transcendental, the word being used not as an advertising slogan but in an attempt to convey the real beauty of meditation, in which all fears, desires, longings and negative emotions are transcended and the meditator reaches a transcendental or supra mental state in which he is able to identify with his all-blissful Self.  In the transcendental state, there is no awareness of body, mind or duality.  The knower becomes one with the knowledge and the known, and the experiencer one with the experience and the experienced.