Spiritual Guidance

Spiritual Guidance

Spiritual Guidance

by Swami Sitaramananda

Question:  How would I benefit from living in a spiritual community following a guru lineage?

Answer:  The guidance of a spiritual community following a guru lineage is essentially the teaching of life lessons. The education is the grace of the guru helping us to destroy our illusions. The daily training in the ashram requires us to go beyond bodily needs, and likes and dislikes. It requires us to reach out to this universal storehouse of energy using our will, our positive mind and our devotion.

Satsang with swamis by the Yoga Farm Pond

Learning is Every Day

Everyday we learn that we are one, no matter what, a realisation achieved only by diving deep within, by taking recourse to those skills learned in satsangs and lectures. We learn to discriminate between the real and the unreal, the Self and the not-Self, the permanent and the impermanent, that which lifts us up and that which brings us down. We learn dispassion, compassion, forgiveness, control of the mind and the emotions. We learn to see the Self in all.

In the ashram we learn to turn within to discover our inner motives, our emotions, our desires, our contra – dictions and our expectations. 

We learn dispassion, compassion, forgiveness, control of the mind and the emotions.

Turning Within

I have learned that for a young spiritual mind to develop a powerful sense of discrimination, it needs to be protected from outside influences. In this way the mind can strengthen by leading a simple and focused life, away from distractions, overload of useless information, and emotionalism. We learn that to care for the world we need to avoid the world drama, and to concentrate only on raising our own vibrations. By doing so we purify our minds.

Swami Vishnudevananda giving spiritual guidance to his students
Swami Dharma teaching to a group of students

Seeing the Bigger Picture

Living in the wake of the universal mind of the guru allows for us to feel, in a very direct way, that the world is our family. The guru is concerned about the welfare of the whole world, not only our little corner. As part of an international organization we come into contact with an array of cultures, forcing us to break down any pride we might have in nation, race or gender. We learn to serve all and to find joy in serving all.

A purified mind functions in a different way, not propelled by impulses and emotions, nor governed by intellect, but moved by intuition. The intuitive mind makes no mistakes, since it is coming from a higher source.

Conclusion

Life in the gurukula system is intense and rich. It is not running away from life, but facing it. It is a life of purification. It is not about our separate lives or identity. It is beyond our own ideas. Faith is the final recourse, faith in the teachings of the guru as well as faith in oneself and one’s capacity to attain Self-realisation.

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© Swami Sitaramananda 2018 – No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the author.
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Suffering Can Be Our Greatest Teacher

Yoga is a scientific method to alleviate suffering and help people find the Truth and Essence in the teachings of all religions.

Understanding Emotions

Emotions are a major cause of human suffering and are the root causes of many kinds of diseases. Emotions come from deep samskaras (imprints in the mind). The mind carries these emotional grooves and habits.  Some examples are:

  • Deep experiences of attachments and losses, and as a result we experience the consequent emotions of grief, fear and sadness.
  • Habits of desires lead to the consequent emotion of anger when the desires go unfulfilled.
  • Memory of the insecurities of the past and our built-in survival instincts bring about anxieties, competition, greed, and jealousy
  • Repeated mistake between love and lust brings in emotional confusion and fear rather than trust and causes swinging patterns between hatred and love.

These experiences are written in our subconscious mind and they repeat themselves, becoming imprints. These imprints project themselves out, making the mind restless.

The emotional scars and traumas cannot be resolved through talking them out or replaying them in the mind.

We need to go deeper than what they are and change the paradigm, no longer basing ourselves on our ego/self but switching to the Atman/Self — our pure core consciousness that has no scar or imprint and is completely free. 

Suffering can be a stepping stone to spiritual breakthrough.

Yoga practice such as the 5 points of yoga comes in handy during times of suffering by offering systematic methods to get out of the box and move into a new paradigm of consciousness. As Einstein once said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that has created it.”

Healing Emotions

In addition to the numerous medical benefits of Yoga, we can find through Yoga a spiritual approach to healing the psyche and the emotions. Yoga understands and explains the ups and downs and highs and lows of the mind, the samskaras, and the deep karma they come from.

In Yoga philosophy when we talk about suffering, we talk about karmic lessons, and we are talking about samskaras or karmic imprints.

Suffering in our lives can point out the areas or tendencies we need to focus on to evolve so we do not repeat the same mistakes. In other words, we “work through the karma“.

We can be proactive instead of reactive as we take up the opportunity to alleviate our suffering by using the scientific and systematic methods of Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga.

These methods will calm the mind, convert the emotions and allow us to experience the Truth about ourselves. Patanjali, the father of Yoga, said in the Yoga Sutras, “The misery that has not yet manifested should be avoided.

Thus devotional practices and meditation practices, initiated by suffering, can blossom into awareness of our own karmic tendencies and samskaras and our willingness to transform our emotions by practicing pure love.

Videos – Yoga of Relationships

Videos – Yoga of Relationships

Yoga of Relationships

by Swami Sitaramananda

With the mind harmonized by Yoga he sees the Self abiding in all beings, and all beings in the Self, he sees the same everywhere.

– Bhagavad Gita

 

Yoga Life and Self Transformation by filmmaker Benoy K. Behl

Yoga Life and Self Transformation by filmmaker Benoy K. Behl

 
Yoga Life and Self Transformation
a film by Benoy Behl

An Ancient Path to Health and Happiness

We live amidst much turmoil and confusion in the modern world.  The state of mental and physical health has deteriorated considerably.

It is estimated that in Europe 70% of all costs in the health system are because of chronic diseases like diabetes, health ailments, hypertension and osteoarthritis.  There are hardly any permanent solutions to these from either medicinal therapy or surgery.

There is an ancient path which can lead us to health and happiness. It is Yoga.

Video Transcript

Introduction

It is believed that our true state is that of “sukha”, or eternal bliss. The purpose of Yoga is to free us from our turmoil and confusion. To liberate us from the shackles of our innumerable desires, which lead us nowhere at all. To awaken true knowledge within us. To help us to be in harmony, to be united with all that there is.

Real Meaning of Yoga

Sometimes we get mixed up and we don’t understand, we think Yoga is exercise, or sometimes we think it’s rituals, and sometimes we think it’s a religion, but in fact Yoga is a system of, we say of self-development, what that means, a system to control the mind in order for us to grow and rise in consciousness and in understanding of our true nature.

What’s happened in the western world is that we have been very good at pursuing the outer, material media based world, but we have lost our connections to a great extent with the inner world of consciousness and direct perception, so the great Yogis realized that the Yoga could be a great gift to the West.

Spiritual Path

So the spiritual path is a path of transformation from emotion to devotion, from egoism to selflessness, from restlessness to peace and contentment, and from ignorance to knowledge.

Veda is the knowledge and Yoga is the practice so yoga is woven in all the Vedic deities, mantras, rishis, practices and rituals. And we say that Yoga is the inner sacrifice, the inner ritual, which is offering of the inner divine forces, speech, mind and prana.

Today’s World

In the world today we have reached a stage of tremendous fragmentation, our language, our science is running after the particularized, we’ve reduced the human health to very complex chemicals, the question is how do we integrate our perception, how do we integrate our knowledge and how do we arrive at a holistic, totalistic understanding of who we are as individuals, of what the human being is, the nature of the universe, the nature of life,

Yoga as an Inner Path

And this is where Yoga comes in, because Yoga provides us an inner technology of the spirit, an inner technology of consciousness, an inner science of understanding ourselves so that we can directly perceive, and directly perceive who we are and what is the nature of reality behind all the glitter of appearances, whether through our senses or whether through the mass media.

Yoga takes us to awareness. True self-awareness. In Yoga you calm yourself. You see that you are less affected by the noise and turmoil of the outside world around you. We lead our lives controlled moment to moment by our bodies, by our emotions and by our minds. We do not really know what we are doing or why we are doing it. Yoga brings us to the moment in which we live. Gradually we become aware, first of our bodies and our breath. Yoga brings us to look at it, to control it. In that, the transformation has begun, we are becoming aware of ourselves.

Yoga and the Mind

From there we go to an awareness of the mind. Yoga and ancient Indian thought do not consider the mind to be consciousness itself. The mind is in many ways like our body. We have to see it, we have to be aware of it. Ancient texts point out that the mind is like a monkey which jumps about. It flits from thought to thought and we usually have no control over it. In Yoga we become aware of it. We step aside to become an observer. We see what the mind is doing. We are no longer carried away by the fluctuations of the mind.

Sivananda Yoga of Swami Vishnudevananda

The Sivananda organization of Swami Vishnudevananda is one of the best, if not the best as far as my opinion goes, Yoga groups in the world, particularly in the Western world because they teach the classical and integral tradition of Yoga, including Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Vedanta, and even the importance of devotion, rituals, Ayurveda, even the Jyotish or the Vedic astrology. They provide also a teaching in an ashram, Karma Yoga setting, where there is the emphasis on selflessness and inner giving, Yoga as a sadhana and not simply Yoga as an exercise or Yoga as a business.

Four Paths of Yoga

Sivananda Yoga is a tradition that basically incorporates four paths of Yoga, it’s like synthesis of four paths of Yoga, it’s Karma Yoga which means selfless service to all human beings and all everything, all living beings basically. Then it’s Raja Yoga, it’s control of the mind, Hatha Yoga and Pranayama practice are part of Raja Yoga, then its Bhakti Yoga, it’s Yoga of devotion, that’s why we sing Bhajans here, that’s why we have altar and we have “murtis” and we express our devotion in this way. And also it’s Jnana Yoga, it’s the Yoga of knowledge, which is Advaita Vedanta, and this knowledge comes from Sankaracharya, it’s an ancient Saint, and our lineage, Sivananda lineage, it’s also one of the orders that Sankaracharya founded.

Five Points of Yoga

Swami Vishnudevananda created the five points of Yoga Life and based his teachings on this simple summary.

These five points of Yoga Life are discipline, proper exercises, asanas, proper breathing, pranayama, proper relaxation, savasana, proper diet, vegetarian food, positive thinking and meditation, Dhyana and Vedanta.

Yoga Foundations

A lot of people practice Yoga, but they jump over the foundation of Yoga which is the two main practices of yama and niyama, what that means, it is the prescription of the yogis of things not to do, and things to do, that means the restrictions and the observances.

It’s interesting to note that classical Yoga never began with the asana, classical Yoga began first of all with yamas and niyamas which are the dharmic values of living in harmony with the universe, and the dharmic attitudes of having respect, honoring, being aware of the interconnectedness, the sacred nature of all life. So the asana is actually a means of helping us relax out of body consciousness, relax out of identification with ourselves with the body and being able to then open up with the greater currents of the eternal life and to create within us down to a physical level a place of peace, stillness and silence so that we can ground and hold a deeper perception.

Our True State of Being

Hatred, violence, greed, these are things that tend to crop up in human interactions, and you could say its natural in a sense because we are under the impression that we have to get for ourselves, and we want to be happy, and so following those impulses of self-preservation and seeking enjoyment and happiness we tend to become greedy and we tend to become violent and angry and many negative qualities come out, but I don’t think that these things are our natural state, meaning I think that if we can settle down into out true natural state we see that we would really rather be free from these negative qualities. I think our true natural state would be where we are completely at ease, completely peaceful.

Love for Love’s Sake

My journey started 20 years ago at a stressful time in my life, and I had the idea that yoga would bring me some peace, but I did not realize how deep that peace would be, to start to feel that in your heart, that its love for the sake of love not specifically about a certain person or place, that deep love is so fulfilling, so beautiful and every day makes every day beautiful. You can access that peace at any moment, and that you can live in that peace, for more and more of your life, more and more time.

Testimonials on How Yoga Heals

Before I found Yoga I was in the Marine corps for four years, 2004 to 2008, I spent 3 of those four years overseas, thirteen months of those in Iraq. In the marine corps or in the military you are trained to live in the, I guess the sympathetic nervous state where you are constantly on call, however though that must come to an end, and they do not teach you how to undo that wiring, you know you are wired, but after the traumatic experience of Iraq I just was not able to handle alcohol any more, but I didn’t know anything else, by then it was a deep rooted “samskara” and I just kept falling into the trap of alcohol It was a very tough battle.

Because alcohol poisons the body and mind, and it leaves you in a state where the only solution that you can see is more alcohol which is obviously the worst thing that you can do. I use Yoga to safely safeguard my addiction and to understand and embrace my addiction, but at the same time, to remove the veil of that I’m a victim of my addiction and that I can’t do or live a certain life, yoga has freed my bondage to the addiction, you are not tied to a pill, you are not running to a cabinet, you are not getting on the phone to a doctor, you are nor freaking out because you can’t find a certain physical item that you are using to aid yourself in relieving any pain or suffering that you may perceive, and be having at that time. 

It is certainly a journey, it’s a journey every day, it is the process of accepting every moment as perfection and trying to find peace amidst a very unpeaceful mind.

Ego Satisfaction

The modern world is trying to follow through on the promise of ego satisfaction, all the way down the line, as far as it can possibly go, still hoping that at the end of this road there will be some final and perfect payoff, that if we continue to upgrade our phones, and continue to have higher definition video quality, and continue to have more and more convenient and delicious foods, whether they are nutritious or not, that somehow at the end of the day all of this sensory experience will lead to a lasting state of satisfaction, and we just haven’t figured out how to stop, or when to stop, or how to look in a different direction, and this is entirely the promise of yoga practice. 

Bringing Mind to Stillness

When you do asanas your mind becomes focused, and when mind becomes focused it becomes still, and when mind is still there is no desire in it and when there is no desire you attain happiness. It’s all about mind, and controlling the mind. It’s very hard when your mind is running like a wild horse, unwilling to follow any discipline, and it’s very tough to gently rule, to gently take over it and make it listen to you, to make it follow what you would like it to do. 

Yoga and the Breath

Yoga beautifully brings people back into their bodies, and it’s to that aspect of Yoga I really attribute its stunning success in the last 20 years. It also provides people a connection with the breath, and the breath has an amazing capacity to bring healing. Swami Vishnudevananda came and shared a life and shared a way of life not defined by one ideology or another ideology, but suggesting to people that they can find happiness within, that they can find calm within, that through the stabilization of the mind the world can be made a wonderful place. That this interiority was a message very much needed.

One of the great blights of contemporary society is a sense of purposelessness, what is this human life in terms of purpose, and with our consumer society, which can be quite glamorous, we can feel fulfilment if we have this style, and what yoga does is it says step it down, go back to the essentials, go back to your breath, go back to your body, because whether you are wearing yoga pants or whether you are wearing a sarong, or whether you are wearing a three piece suit, you are breathing, your body is there,

Feeling of Connection

Your subjectivity creates this relationship with the world, and that rather than seeing the world as something without meaning, rather than seeing the world as simply something to be defined through our consumer choices, if we can feel and recover that sense of intimacy between self and world, then we’ll have a sense of purpose. Now that means that each individual is given an opportunity, whether collecting garbage, whether washing the dishes in the kitchen, whether driving whatever automobile, that person is given the responsibility of being accountable to immediacy, and finding a path, finding a way to see purpose, to see meaning in the most simple and in the most everyday. All dharma is to be found in every single job, and if we can recall that sense of purpose then we are going to move out of states of alienation and into states of interconnectivity.

Testimonial

I spent six years in the United States Marine Corps, as an infantry officer in the J-Tech, went to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Veterans’ administration I have an 80% disability rating for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Before I came to the Yoga farm I was very angry and unhappy about my station in life, and I did not treat myself or others well.

Coming to the Yoga Farm has been an extremely rewarding experience because I’ve learned a philosophy, or I’ve started to learn a philosophy about life which gives me hope.

Years ago when I started to practice regularly I could really feel that each morning that I practice I can deal with whatever comes during the day easily, so by these practices you connect yourself to something higher, to some guidance and to some great intelligence that comes through the mind. In Israel Yoga is very popular, and I will not be surprised if in Israel we will have the largest number of teachers per population.

Yoga in Japan

A lot of need for Yoga in Japan, because in Japan after second world war spirituality or even religion is quite diminished, so many people got lost. What is the purpose of life? We feel like we are becoming machine, and we start to feel we don’t have much creativity and things, and no place express our feeling, and yoga is a way to bring us slowly back to our feet on the ground again.

Yoga in Vietnam

The Vietnamese they work very hard, the Vietnam war is just finished like 40 years ago, more than 40 years ago, and now we are try to improve our country, try to improve ourselves, and I am the first generation of the Vietnamese after the war, and we very happy, we don’t have to worry about food, about the war any more, but still, they had the idea that they had to work really hard to improve their life, to improve their children’s life, but, because they are rush and hurry, so there are a lot of stress, and they try to maintain their culture as well, and they try to adapt to new culture of new modern life. I think Yoga is very important for myself it is a way how I can find my peace, find myself, as well as I can help other people, it improves the consciousness or the peace, the happiness in myself, and try to cultivate it in other people as well.

Yoga and Iran

I came here and I did my TTC in 1983, so four days I was with him, and he advised me go back to Iran, start teaching Yoga, and now the people they need peace of mind and happiness, and the Yoga shows. So six months later I just left India and went to Iran, and started teaching the Yoga and day by day people became more interested of the Yoga, in even small city of Iran nowadays there is a Yoga center.

Testimonial – Yoga and Suffering

I am an actress from Sri Lanka, film actress, I have worked in more than 100 films. Yoga changed my life completely, when I was acting actually my entire life was in such a big pain, because as everyone knows, acting is “maya”, we always try to hide our real self behind our make-up, behind our clothing, behind our money, behind cars, everything, we are running for all those things and without trying to focus into ourselves, and find the true nature of our selves. I was like inside that “maya”, suffering so much, you will not believe that I tried to commit suicide seven times, because I couldn’t take it anymore. Then I had such a big knee problem, I even could not walk properly, and then one of my friends told me why don’t you do Yoga. When I was young I did yoga and I never knew the value of Yoga, but because of my knee pain I came here, and then within two weeks, you know, I was feeling good.

Yoga at Google

Googlers as a community embrace all the kind of things that Yoga philosophy talks about, how to take care of your body, your brain, your mind, so that you can function better and as a result bring out better products and services. For Hatha Yoga, asana practice, just at the google headquarters itself there are 37 classes a week, and then if you add all the other yoga classes that take place, asana classes that take place across all of our offices, New York, Tokyo, Beijing, Sao Paolo, it probably exceeds 100 classes or so every single week. But that is just asana practice, there is also a very popular meditation practice at Google, and it being a search company, the practice is amusingly and delightfully called “Search Inside Yourself”, and the “Search Inside Yourself” program is actually the most popular training program at Google, with a long wait-list. That juxtaposition and coming together of an ancient practice, a 1600 year-old practice, in the midst of an organization and technology and a movement that is much more recent, I find it delightful.

Testimonial – Yoga and Working Life

I used to be a flight attendant, for seven years, and it was a very glamorous lifestyle where I really enjoyed traveling to different places, meeting new people, understanding culture, experiencing the food and everything, but I always felt deep inside my heart that there was something like an essence that was missing, and Yoga definitely taught me how to be centered, like in control of myself, my feelings, I felt like coming into yoga and practicing it every day, not only the asanas but also the philosophy, its lifestyle, really helped me become grounded and understand my true nature.

Testimonial – Volunteering for the Sivananda Yoga Organization

I was previously working as a medical doctor, for nine years I worked in hospital practices, and I came to a realization that, the most useful thing I could do for people was actually just to listen to people and to be present for people, to let them share and express themselves, that was much more meaningful and useful I thought than necessarily prescribing tablets and pills, so I recognized I didn’t need to do that, I didn’t need to be sitting in a hospital to do that, and at that point in my life many things were changing, and that’s when I came in to the Yoga field, so I feel here in this area I am able to listen to people and share useful information with people, which has helped me and I see is helping other people automatically, and I think the strength of this organization is that it focuses on basic lifestyle practices, it empowers people right from the ground upwards.

Yoga’s Importance in the Modern Day

The big health insurance organizations are paying for Yoga and meditation instruction now. Yoga and meditation practices have been recognized as effective and have become accepted and part of the mainstream. Yoga is now part of American culture and is here to stay. In the future it will become more and more accepted. This is very important now, because we are at a time in history when these practices are very much needed. The world is now so fast paced and stressful, with so much constant sensory input. People need to have methods to attain inner peace. It’s very, very important that these methods are available to us, to find refuge in our own homes, or in our neighborhood Yoga studio.

Conclusion

Yoga takes us back to who we really are. Among all the noise and clamor of the material world, it takes us to the peace which we can find within ourselves, to a stillness, to a state which is described in the Yoga Sutras as “citta vrtti nirodhah”, a state in which the constant fluctuations of the mind have been stilled, a state in which we have gained mastery over ourselves. When we learn to observe ourselves, the outside world no longer has control over us. Good health and happiness are the natural outcome. At the end of the path of self-transformation is the reward of true knowledge, when we would truly know our oneness with all that there is, the state of Yoga.

Why We Chant

Transcript of Swami Sitaramananda

There is another way to connect to the inner truth within you. That is through chanting. If I go to a restaurant in China, I want to order food and communicate with people, then I have to speak Chinese. If I go to Spain, then I have to speak Spanish. If I go to Vietnam, I have to speak in Vietnamese. If I go to heaven, I have to speak the divine language. So Sanskrit is considered to be the divine language. It is universal. It’s not Indian. It doesn’t belong to any culture. It belongs to you, because the Sanskrit language has the vibration in your chakras; that means in your energy body. I told you yesterday when I went to Yoga retreat for the first time, I heard the chanting for two days and the chants followed me home. There it is not the normal language. People can talk to you, and then you forget. But the divine language talks to your energy directly, and it says things to you that you cannot even understand. It is said that it will remove all impunities in your astral body, or remove all the impurities in your heart and in your mind, and communicate with you about the divine truth that is within your heart and is universal. That is why mantras are made of the Sanskrit alphabet.
Now with mantra, you have the music. Kirtan is made of mantra with music and melody. Music is very powerful. It can bring joy and calm the mind down. If somebody is angry at you, you sing a song, and then they will be ok. Because kirtan is the language of the emotions. Now, you have Sanskrit/Mantra, and you have music/melody. Now, the third thing you have is your love. Because when you love somebody, you like to repeat their name. You like to talk to them all the time.
I know a lady and she loves her son. When she meets with us, she talks about her son all the time, “My son did this, my son wears this kind of clothing, my son plays this sport, my son is good in school…” All the time, she finds stories to talk about her son. So we were traveling in India, and on the bus she talked to everybody about her son. So one day, we went to many temples, and in the temple, you have to bow, you have to get the three powders and you have to drink some water, which are symbolic actions. She is tired. She is from America. And she said, “I don’t want this temple business. I don’t like it anymore.” To say that one time is okay, but when you say it many times it is more than just curiosity, it becomes a practice.
She said, “I don’t want it anymore, all this temple business.” And then on the bus, she took a photo of her son and passed it along to everybody. When the photo came to the swami there at that time, he was about to tear the photo. She said, “What are you doing? It’s my son.” So the swami said, “It’s not your son. It is just a piece of paper.” “It is my son’s picture. It’s a picture of my son!” So the swami explained, “The same thing in the temple, you have the picture or statue, they are made of clay, they’re made of paper, or they made of metal. It’s just the symbol.” It’s like the flag of a country. If you are going to take the flag of a country and wipe your feet, you will be put in jail. It just a piece of cloth. So it’s not just a piece of cloth, instead it’s the idea behind it that you respect.

Any symbol, like the picture or statue or image of God, just represents the divine reality that is universal and that is within you, but you forgot. So you have a symbol, so that you can remember. That’s all. The way our mind works is with sound or image. To think about something you cannot think about something abstract, you have to have words so that you can describe it. And you have to have an image. Let’s say I say the word apple. I say apple, then I see a round shape. Let’s say I say a house. I have the word, then I have the image. But each person will have a different image, you might have the image of your house, another person may have the image of a big company, another person has a small house image… It doesn’t really matter what kind of image you have. But the image comes from your mind, and the image comes from something you already know. Just the same, if you want to communicate with the divine, you have to communicate through the language and through image. That’s how you connect to the universal truth that is within you. The truth is not outside. It is not on the altar. It is not in the temple. The guru is not in the guru either. It’s not in the body of a person. It’s a universal truth that the guru has realized, and he shows you the way how to realize this truth yourself. It’s not something external. It’s something inside you.
When we chant, remember again mantra, which are pure sounds in Sanskrit that resonate with your chakras, purify your mind and bring pure energy to your mind. The next thing is the music, the melody that makes your emotions feel good. What’s the next? It is the love that is within you, that you express through the love of the name and form that represents the divine. It doesn’t really matter, what name or what form. Everyone has love inside. But you’re not just loving your husband, your wife and your children. There is an essential love within you. That’s the love of the divine, or love of the truth within you, or love of the Creator, or love of something that is connecting everyone together. We say love of the sun. It’s like the sun. The sun is shining on everything, and giving life to everything. The sun gives light and life. That inner sun, everyone has it. We say that’s the inner truth or inner light that gives light to yourself or your soul, makes you and me one, and connects everything together and makes everyone have light and happiness. Sometimes there is darkness inside, which comes from our own mind. So the mind is busy thinking, “I don’t have enough money, I don’t like my job, I don’t like my relationship.” So this kind of mind and thinking creates the blockage to the light. That’s why we need to chant, loud! We express our love and devotion. We express our connection to that inner sun. So we bring the best thing within us outside. We use Kirtan music and Mantra to be happy. So it cleanses the body and mind, especially, uplifts your emotions, and it opens your heart. Kirtan is about clearing away all the negative emotions, so you can connect to the divine within you. That’s very simple.

I can talk more about Mantra. Mantra is a sacred sound formula that resonates and that lifts your consciousness from a low level to a high level. It is a sacred formula given by teachers that have realized these mantras. They realize the power of the sound and the formula of the sound. As I said, if you speak a language, you have to speak correctly so that the other person understands you. If you just say words without being correct, nobody will understand you. So the Mantra is a way of connection that is given to us by these Yoga masters, and we’re receiving it. (You chanted very nicely. I’m sure for many of you it’s the first time.) The idea is not that you are chanting good or bad. The main thing is that you just have to feel the love and devotion, and then you have to be willing to open your mouth and follow the chant. It’s very natural within you, and your whole body and your whole mind will go with it, and you feel good and you don’t know why. You feel happy and you don’t know why.

I can explain the meaning of these words. These are the Daily Chants being given by Swami Sivananda from the Himalayas; that Swami Vishnudevananda-ji adopted in his Ashrams called the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers. Of course, we learned it. We have been chanting it for years every day, morning and evening. These are Mantras. The more you chant, the more beautiful they are. These are not just some songs to entertain the emotions. These are the names and sounds of the Divine. You want to wake up the Divine within you, so you chant the mantra and you feel good.

So in the beginning, we always worship Ganesha, which you see on the altar, the elephant-headed one. The elephant is a very big animal, they are very wise, they live long, and they are vegetarian. They have big trunks. Wherever they go, they remove the obstacles. It says that when we live in life, there are obstacles that come from our mind, such as our own beliefs about ourselves and everything else. We need to remove these thoughts out of our way. Then we can connect to the Divine, to our own inner light and our inner intelligence. Ganesha has the body of a human and the head of an elephant, which means when you change your head to become the head of wisdom, then you are a different person, and everything you do and everything you think would be okay. It will not create obstacles for you, and everything will be good in your life. Do you want everything to be good in your life? So every day, pray to Ganesha. If you think about it a lot, all the time you pray, May all the obstacles be removed from my life, my life be successful, my health be good and my family be good and my relationship also good. So symbolically, you keep a picture of Ganesha, because the subconscious mind works with image. Inside of us, there is a kind of mind that works with image and symbols. Like for children, you cannot reason with them too much, but if you draw a picture and tell a story, then children understand. So the same thing with us, there is a kind of mind inside of us that understands stories, understands pictures, but doesn’t reason very well. This is the way the sages communicate, by image and Mantra, so we can understand something that our reasoning cannot understand. This is Ganesha.

Now you see here, Lakshmi. Lakshmi is like Kuan Yin, the female form, very beautiful, sitting in lotus, holding a lotus in her hand. Lotus represents purity, so she’s the one that makes you understand that you need to be purified, then you will be able to bring the good energy to you. That good energy will give you health, give you money and success, and also remove negativities out of your mind. She will give you everything good: good food, good friends, good company, everything good, so that is Lakshmi.

Now here in the middle, you have Krishna. Also it’s a symbolic representation of Divine Love. He is standing with a flute in hand. So the teaching is to empty yourself like the flute and remove your ego, and I will play beautiful music through you. He’s very nice. He is standing in the moonlight. See the moon? It is more for those who like the moon. Some people like the moon, and some people like the sun. It’s just different characters. It doesn’t matter. The teaching gives you many images. So you can choose what you want, depending on your mind. Just like some people like green apple, some people like yellow apple, and some people like red apple. It doesn’t matter. So you have the image of Lakshmi. You have the image of Krishna. It is very beautiful, very romantic, in the moonlight chanting music. Maybe for you, this is very important.

Then you have Saraswati. She is a beautiful female, and she plays music. She has a book in her hand and she has mala beads in another hand. And she has the swan. She sits on the white lotus. It’s a different energy. You see she is very calm and very pure. She represents the purity within you. You have that purity, then the knowledge will come.

Then you have Durga. You see she is very different. She sits on a tiger or a lion. She has many arms, and in every hand, she has a weapon. She has a sword to cut. She has the bow and arrow to shoot. She represents the power of action of the divine, and that is stronger than your own mind, which can remove all the negativities in your mind. And she becomes victorious. Sometimes, we fight against our own negative emotions, our fear, our anger, and our desires, and we cannot make it. Our desires and negativities are stronger, so at that time you call Durga. You place a picture of her, and you say, “Mother Durga protect me”. And she will come and she will fight and you will feel good.

So whatever you want, you can place a picture. And you can connect by devotion and by prayers, then it will happen. So what will happen? You will feel good, because inside of you, the peace is there, happiness is there, everything you want is there, but there are many obstacles that come from your own mind. So chanting Kirtan can remove the obstacles, and practicing love and devotion will lift you up, make you more able to love, and then after that, you can love everybody in your life, and when you love, you become happy. So now we finish, and we will say more Mantra. I told you yesterday that you have to practice at least one month to learn all these Mantra and all these techniques on how to connect. So please take your sheet and at the end, there is a prayer (Om Trayambakam) for blessing, healing, and liberation. You can focus on yourself or somebody else, and pray for peace for all.

 

The Dynamic of Concentration and Self-Surrender

Swami Sivananda’s last instructions are, “Remember, Forget.” Remember the Divine and forget or let go, of everything else. This simple instruction summarizes the basic approaches of Yoga. On the one hand, Jnana Yoga nurtures the concentrated state of mind which is ideally focused on an uplifting object such as a divine name (mantra) or presence; and on the other hand, Bhakti Yoga is the practice of self-surrender, or letting go of our attachments: ideas and expectations, memories, concepts, and limited knowledge.

Both Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga require conscious effort. The Jnana Yogi focuses the mind and attaches to a worthwhile goal, such as Knowledge or the Self. Whereas, the Bhakti Yogi releases from oneself from effort, trusting in God, to relax on what already is.

The Jnana Yogi practices to strengthen the mind, to bring stillness and calm to the mind, to be able to reflect the true picture of the Self within, which is Happiness Absolute. The Bhakti Yogi knows already that whatever we come up with in our mind is limited, and knows that we do not know the bigger picture or the will of God. Therefore, the best strategy is to let go of all preconceived ideas and to detach.

If you are attached to any object of this world, be it a person, an object or a circumstance, you will lose your freedom and become enmeshed in that object. Attaching oneself to the Supreme purifies all Egoistic intentions, and draws one closer to the Supreme Being, to the Pure Reality. Attachment to the Supreme will eventually give you your Self and your Freedom.

To practice detachment refers to our human tendency to involve ourselves in every aspect of our life, and to treat even temporal objects as absolute truth or reality. Through our attachment to objects we lose the perspective that life is but  a big school to learn (to remember!) that we are the Atman, that we are the Truth in all things and not some separate entity or appearance. Detachment implies that one remains established in the Self and lets go of everything else.

How much we practice concentration and how much we practice self-surrender and detachment depends on one’s personality in the first place. An emotional person works it out by remembering God and by offering all of one’s emotions to the Divine, trusting that God knows best and all is happening by His will. A strong-minded person practicing Jnana Yoga, might just focus the mind on an uplifting object, meditating on the Divine, until nothing else remains.

Swami Sivananda said, “Serve the Self, Love the Self (or God), Meditate on the Self, and Realize the Self.”

Om Tat Sat

Swami Sitarmananda