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.
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.
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.
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.