On the path to a greater Awareness

– about a text by Swami Satyananda: Chronology of a yogi


Wisdom teaches us that we are more capable of meeting the spiritual if we have no expectations. That it is far more desirable to experience what is really happening, rather than the ideas that we, with our limited awareness, are able to form in advance.

Scope – the outlook, and “that which limits” or covers  – the light of the crown of the head.

It is in this context that the subject of this article should be seen. In advanced yoga, we aim at keeping awareness open and expanding. This can be compared to the state we are in when we identify ourselves with what we have learned by heart, with our habitual views and expectations.

Living with a greater awareness demands a body that does not give way to different states. The same applies to the relation you have to your mind: you must be prepared and trained in experiencing your mind as an observer, so that you don’t get carried away so easily by all the things that occupy it.

This does not come just by itself.

Still, a person may spontaneously have an experience of expanded awareness, of an undisguised presence. Words fail to describe this extraordinarily strong experience of being, of existence. The causes can be many, for instance a shock, a great sorrow, a sudden change in your life situation…

If you are not prepared and suddenly perceive yourself as naked – if the state is so strong that it is impossible to deceive yourself, impossible to hide behind roles, masks and justifications – then this experience is of course overwhelming and can create fear in some people. On the other hand, others find such a sudden change of awareness very positive, even though they are unprepared. Often, the experience leaves a void when it is over.

Ordinary yoga and meditation provide a good foundation for meeting such an experience in a beneficial way. Whether it is wished for or not, you will manage it better if you have experience of yoga. Also, people who have been subject to unwanted states can benefit from yoga.

The teacher – student co-operation

The tantric yoga tradition, however, also contains methods and ways of using yoga, which aim at opening consciousness and keeping it open, in a stable and harmonious way. The real yogis (whose equals are rarely found among western yoga teachers or among leaders of modern movements in India) have exactly this expanded awareness as a goal on their path.

In the original tradition, based on the teachings of Matsyendra and Gorakhnath, nobody is persuaded to become a yogi. Rather, attempts are made to dissuade the would-be aspirants from becoming yogis, or else they are scared off. It is up to the individual to show determination, single-mindedness and courage. When the aspirants begin their preparation, it is without fear of heightening their awareness or strengthening their energy level. Obviously, this is not like the relatively small and short-lived increase in energy that you can get, for example, after ordinary physical training.

The co-operation with the teacher, from whom the aspirant receives the secrets of the living tradition, happens in an artistic, a systematically scientific and a quite natural everyday way. The training proceeds gradually and with great precision, both in daily life, while learning the methods, and during initiation into higher states. Everything plays a part, the living conditions, the diet and the student’s ability to face him- or herself.

The teacher must also be able to guide the aspirant away from narcissism and self-indulgence. The aspirant should not lose him/herself in such involved and introvert states, or confuse them with the experience of, and the identification with, oneself as consciousness. That is to say, the aspirant should not identify with that which is experienced, but with the one who is experiencing.

Nothing could be more wrong than to consider the learning or the use of yoga methods as mechanical or automatic, the way much ‘fitness yoga’ is done.

Postures, breathing exercises and meditations can of course be described and observed from outside – you can have a certain knowledge of them. But the learning of, for example, the various kriyas in Kriya Yoga is accompanied by an experience and a state so fundamentally free, that it can only be known by those who have sought Kriya Yoga themselves, and really used it.

Normally, you imagine telepathy to be transference of thoughts and feelings; but in the relationship between teacher and student, it is about channelling the energy, so tensions, inhibitions and blocks can be released and flow onwards, or be ‘burned’ as soon as they arise.

The learning process is, above all, something that is experienced. In this way, insight is achieved. But behind this process, something else is going on: a purification of the energy flows, which is deeper than what is normally achieved with the ordinary yoga and breathing exercises.

Now, the student receives help to further harmonise and channel the energy, and guidance in being able to both confront and let go of the experiences that will come in the course of the purification process. This applies not only to potentially unpleasant experiences, but also to those which fascinate.

You don’t need to hide yourself behind a reserved attitude or forget yourself in a reaction. Reactions are something that most people experience when they start discovering themselves, but here the guidance helps you get out of them quickly again.

There are various meditation methods in the tantric tradition; authentic meditations. What some people today call meditation manipulates with positive and negative values instead of having a liberating effect, or plays on your expectations and ideas, creating fantasies on the basis of them. Incidentally, the same applies nowadays to what some people call tantric sex. It hasn’t got much to do with the expansion of awareness and increase in energy that is the purpose of the original tantric rituals.

 ‘Ignorance’ and conceptions

Both within spirituality and science – yes, also within yoga, when it appears like a dogmatic movement or religion – people often attempt to give a complete view of the world, of life. But to explain everything with theory and mythologies… Does that keep fear away? At any rate, it doesn’t give first-hand or direct experience of reality. It doesn’t teach us to see things anew or open our consciousness so that we experience in a deeper way.

Science isn’t just about new discoveries and realisations. I would like to question, for example, the size of the time frame used when describing the history of mankind. At present, a constant flow of new discoveries is slowly but surely dating human settlement and the rise of civilisation on the various continents far earlier than the information given in the history books and encyclopedias. The idea that everyone living today stems from an ancestral mother and father in Africa about 200.000 years ago, I do not think will be valid for many more decades. We will gradually realise that the time-scale of our history, or rather our prehistory, is much larger than what is maintained at present.

Until this view is definitely changed the attitude is: It’s scientifically proven! And that’s the end of it. We don’t need to discuss it any further. Unfortunately, the evidence in science is often based on excluding facts that don’t agree with the theory one is creating.

When “the Iceman” or “Ötzi” was found in the Alps some years ago, a professor in Munich found it irritating that it would now be necessary to place the beginning of the Bronze Age further back in time. Instead, he should have been glad that the picture of the world was questioned a little, so things could be seen afresh.

As regards to medical research, we can’t complain about it’s interest in yoga and meditation. I know, however, that effective medical methods are directly hindered by misinformation and inadequately performed studies. One example is Chelation therapy (EDTA) for heart diseases and hardening of the arteries. From my knowledge of many cases of improvement, not to say direct cure, I am convinced that EDTA is more effective than most medicines on the market – and with minimal side effects. This treatment is extensively used by clinics in many countries. So why is it opposed? Well, what would happen to the shareholders of the big pill factories, if it came into use in the larger hospitals and not just the private clinics? The EDTA substance, which cleanses the body from heavy metals and gradually breaks down the calcification, is so commonly available, that you can’t obtain a patent for it!

It is a shame that the effects of this substance are not more commonly known. It could save the lives of many, prevent amputations and bypass operations and cut health service expenses by millions.

The problem with the truth is that it cannot be determined once and for all. If both the scientist and the spiritual seeker really want to gain insight, they must first of all be able to not know – to let themselves be surprised. But this is dangerous; it touches what is safe and established. It touches their view of the world or the way they perceive themselves.

Which one of the priests or scientists in the day of Galileo dared look through his telescope? Not one. They already knew that the Earth is the centre of the universe, and that the planets and the sun and everything else orbit the Earth.

Why was Socrates proclaimed an enemy of the state in his old age? Because he taught the youth in the streets of Athens about ‘ ignorance‘ (the ability to wonder) and not to defend ready-made explanations! He also said, ” Know thyself.”

A crisis like the one both Socrates and Galileo apparently caused in their day, can be compared with the one you might run into when you meet yourself. However, what you meet when you get to know yourself isn’t worse than the ideas you already have, quite the opposite. Not much unconscious fear remains when you have lived through the meeting with yourself.

 Awareness training

To keep an open consciousness, training in being awake and aware is needed. In meditation, you learn to find your way to, and get accustomed with, your true identity – yourself as the experiencing awareness. It is about you who experiences, and not what you experience, either inwardly or outwardly.

Also, you must have knowledge of how to raise the energy level in body and mind – in order to change the states and remove the inhibitions, which bind body and mind.

The ability to experience and the ability to strengthen your psychic energy are two principles that support each other. When consciousness and energy merge into a unity in this way, we can speak of a heightened awareness.

We can train one of these abilities with the seven steps of the meditation Inner Silence, Antar Mauna, and the other with the many methods in Kriya Yoga. But there is more that plays a part and must be taken into consideration.

The concept of evolution is one of the greatest and most destructive illusions a person or society can live in. Those who ‘strive’ on the spiritual path, seem only too often to want to be elsewhere than where they are.

As if insight is to find other places than where you are already.

That which is here is elsewhere.
that which is not here is nowhere.
(Vishvasara Tantra)

At times, the term evolution is used in a misleading way about cyclical occurrences. For man, you could, in a spiritual sense, speak of a ‘pupa phase’ and a ‘butterfly phase’ or of maturing, but it has nothing to do with ‘growth’ or ‘development’.

As guide and trainer for those living in an ashram, I must concern myself both with inner and outer matters – and they seem to be connected. If you can’t find what you’re looking for inside yourself, you certainly won’t find the things you need externally. And vice versa, if you live here and now outwardly, there is a good chance that you’re also in accordance with yourself inwardly.

One example is a young aspirant being given a Karma Yoga task to mend something in one of the houses, which is a few kilometres from the main buildings of the school. Suddenly, I see this person on a bike or with a tractor, driving off at full speed to fetch a tool or some material at the school. When I stop him and ask if these things weren’t available on the spot, I get the answer that they are probably not. However, when we go to look together, we are able to find at once what we need, right where he was to begin with.

There are different degrees of expanded awareness. It begins with a presence and sensitivity so strong, that it cannot be distinguished from intuition. You see what you need to see.

It shows itself quite simply in practical matters in daily life: In class, the student who doesn’t do the exercise properly, is the one you see directly. A fault in the administration shows up in front of your eyes, without you having looked for it.

And in the inner life: When you momentarily react or try to hide an emotion or a thought from yourself. When you are about to let yourself be overwhelmed or about to forget yourself…

You know when you can let go – and when it’s a matter of endurance. Around you things fall into place by themselves.

The opposite is to be unaware, inattentive and insensitive towards the needs of other people, and to submit to influences, inhibitions and the moods both of others and yourself.

You know when you can let go – and when you must persevere. Around you things fall into place by themselves.

 An expanded awareness

(Exerpts from an evening’s discussion about, among other things, a text by Swami Satyananda, with the people who live and work at Haa Retreat Center. Some are yoga teachers with a long full time yoga teacher training behind them, others have arrived recently, and one is a student from India staying at the retreat center with a scholarship for one year. The way in which you live and work, as well as doing yoga and meditation in company and alone, and where most people are also training to become yoga teachers, is what I call a ‘spiritual workshop’, an ashram .)

Swami Janakananda: “Why do people live in an ashram? Why do you live in an ashram?”

One of the aspirants: “Because it’s interesting!”

Interesting! You can say that again!”

“Nice training!”

“Nice training for what? Nice – is it really ‘nice’? Now, you have to be honest!”

“No, not ‘nice’ – I would say ‘good’. You experience what is good for you.”

“OK. But why Yoga? Can anybody tell me – what is Yoga?”

Another aspirant: “Somebody said to me the other day that the contents of your mind are pretty tangled – and then you do yoga and meditation and it untangles the threads.”

A third: “OK, it untangles it… But can everybody do it? What about those who cling to their intellect and their so-called intelligence? Can everyone open themselves to such an experience?”

“What was it Woody Allen said: ‘ Intellectuals can be absolutely brilliant, without having the faintest idea about what’s going on.’ ”

The Seer

“What are we talking about?”

“Working with yourself and with others.”

“Yes, but what is that really? There must be some motivation for living in an ashram. Does anybody else want to tell me what yoga is?”

“I see it as a help to get to know yourself, and at the same time to learn to observe your personality and your life and to become one with it.”

“It’s said strongly in one of the old scriptures: ‘ Looking at the eyebrow centre is not yoga. Yoga is only to become one with the seer – nothing else.’ That’s what you’re saying – ‘ learn to observe’ – can you learn that?”

“I’ve become better at it.”

“Yes – it grows. You learn it through training, don’t you?”

“An ashram must be a place where you’re kept at it all the time – otherwise you shouldn’t call it an ashram.”

Kundalini and life in the Ashram

“Can’t you achieve this – or try to – outside an ashram?”

“That is of course a good question. I have several students who practise advanced yoga at home, as a support in their daily or creative work.

But let me use the Kundalini experience as an example. In her book: Kundalini – Psychosis or Transcendence? Doctor Lee Sannella writes that an ashram seems the right place to be if you want to get the full benefit of ‘ kundalini as an inner therapy.’ She bases this statement on quite a number of examples, so-called ‘case histories’. Some people were, for example, cured from manic-depression after going through a kundalini rising. This was done under skilful guidance, in the setting of Swami Muktananda’s ashram in South Fallsburg in New York State, USA. Swami Muktananda was among those who know how to channel and harmonise the energy.

Doctor Sannella also asks the question whether it is possible to handle such experiences outside an ashram, when they come unexpectedly. When you are not prepared with yoga and if you’re alone, or in the hands of a society which has no knowledge or understanding of what it’s about.

Let’s look at our subject from another point of view. When you live alone, you’re not kept at it by the ashram routine. You’re not inspired to remain awake, and it can be difficult to keep to a discipline.

Carrying out a regular yoga practice in such a way that you’re always in contact with yourself and can maintain an expanded awareness is very much supported by life in an ashram.

Outside the ashram, the circumstances and the attitudes that dominate society as a whole, can make you forget both wisdom and training. When you’re on your own, it’s difficult to let go of wishful thinking and other illusions. There’s no help to see through them at once, when you’re lacking the ‘mirror’ and the understanding of the ashram environment. But unfortunately, the courage, the ability and the knowledge that are necessary are not found in all ashrams.

The fundamental effects of yoga

Let us return to the question, what is yoga?”

“For me – I mean – I feel better when I do yoga. When I don’t do it, I can easily fall into a pretty dull state. So I do yoga again and get out of it.”

“So what would you say that you experience? What is it you achieve?”

“A sort of clarity, energy and even happiness! When I experience this in myself, I want to share it with others. Sometimes it’s frustrating, because some people don’t have such an outlook on life that you can convey this to them.”

“Yes, very likely. But when you’re teaching in an evening class, even though some of the people present may not be where your ideals would like them to be – or that’s what you think anyway – does that really matter? When they go home from the class they feel much better.

Isn’t that enough? You can’t expect everyone to take the same direction as you.

On the other hand, you should have the ability to keep the door open, and be there for those who want you to teach them how to go further. So your teaching must contain this possibility.

A higher state of consciousness

“Unfortunately, there are some yoga teachers and other ‘spiritual’ teachers, who claim all sorts of things, but who haven’t experienced the heightened state of awareness themselves. The fact is that you can’t figure it out in your mind. Nor can you get it out of a book.

The day you experience breaking through to a greater awareness, you might very well feel shaken for a long time afterwards. I was, anyway. When I drove through the streets of Copenhagen in the sixties, for instance, and I saw people waiting for the bus or walking along the street, I said to myself: ‘Where are these people?’ I got scared. To me, it looked as if they were nowhere – what I mean is, I noticed the unawareness – and it scared me!

These ideas also turned out to be partly built on illusions. I had to learn to see through such concepts. Just because I experienced things more strongly – that didn’t mean that I knew what kind of states other people were in. That was probably why I said to myself: ‘I’m going to my teacher’s ashram, not so much for greater awareness, as to learn to build a bridge to the normal state of consciousness.’ My awareness was so great that I felt that I could disappear in the collective consciousness at any moment, and forget all about my individual little thread I was also holding on to.

Of course, I hadn’t yet received any training in being a witness.

Living in an ashram can only be part of the work of self-realisation if you use the place and the conditions, and wish to receive the guidance and help you can get.”

You must be able to let go

“What you call spiritual awakening, or self realisation – can it be done step by step?”

“When I was younger, I expected it to come suddenly, like a miracle – and to a certain extent it was like that for me. That is, part of it happened suddenly, but still, it wasn’t that easy. The work was there and had to be done gradually. With the help of the tantric meditations and the ashram training, I learnt to stabilise the whole thing.

Swami Satyananda taught me this. Luckily, he isn’t just a learned person. Yes, he is learned, no doubt about that, but he didn’t base his training on the learning. He didn’t try to give me any form of intellectual information – he didn’t use books, lectures and so forth. Of course I’ve read books, but he taught me to count on my own experiences. He said: ‘Why read when you’re together with the ones who write the books?’ In other words, let us communicate directly since we’re together anyway.

So, I made a decision: ‘OK, I’m here – I surrender; no matter what tasks he gives me, I’ll go at it hammer and tongs.’

Some people didn’t dare to just give in and be there. They questioned all sorts of things – the way people behaved, the roles they played, the food that was served, the frequent power cuts, and every time the water supply failed… Of course, they could leave any time they wanted to, but they needed an excuse to rewrite their own story inside their head. They couldn’t face the fact that they were incapable of carrying through their original decision. It’s amazing how many excuses people use to avoid their habits being upset, and to avoid themselves being touched. But life touches you, you can’t avoid it – until the day you start counting on yourself. Until then, is what happens in your life other people’s fault?

What we have talked about here, is an introduction to what I really want to say…

One day, Swami Satyananda gave me a short article to copy-type.

He called it Chronology of the yogi. In the following text it is written in italics.

 Chronology of the yogi

‘The practice of yoga will not bring about realisation. Because the purpose is not that.’

It’s obvious: you don’t struggle to achieve this with the help of an exercise, so that those who do the most exercises get there first. It’s not that simple.

‘The experience of truth or whatever you want to call it is not an event to become, but it is a state of being. What you wish to realise through yoga is already in you, in the same purity in which you will realise it, after the removal of a kind of avidya [ignorance] . Frankly speaking, all the practices are only aids for developing individual awareness to such an intensity and height – of course very slowly – that the practitioner becomes almost a seer of himself. Not only a seer of himself in vague terms, but a seer of everything he does, feels, thinks etc. Therefore, this awareness should not be allowed to be developed by those people who have not achieved a certain knowledge of themselves.’

Why not? I talked about it on the Christmas course – it was Yogeswar who asked me about the psychic symbol. The psychic symbol appears when you have reached a state where you have given up effort completely – it’s a kind of feedback, but on a deeper level than, for instance, biofeedback.

With biofeedback, when you have the electrodes on your scalp and earphones on, you hear a sound. It’s only when the brain relaxes that the sound disappears. The first time it happens by chance, then gradually, you learn to make the sound disappear and to keep the brain somewhat relaxed.

The psychic symbol brings about something similar, but in a deeper and more comprehensive way. When you give up control in your meditation, give up your ideas and will power – when you become receptive and start to experience – at that point, the psychic symbol appears.

When you are so ambitious in your meditation, that you sit there and strive, it never appears. Whereas, when you abandon yourself to the process, the symbol shows itself. It can also turn up in other contexts, when you dare let go of the struggling and the critical attitude for a moment, to just experience and receive. In this way, you can compare it to biofeedback. The psychic symbol shows you that ‘now you are there’.

This, however, is just the first phase in the visualisation of the psychic symbol. The fact is that it can keep you awake in areas that are normally ‘unconscious’.

The second phase starts when you hold the symbol in your mind. Up to now, you have experienced the symbol at the end of your meditation. Now, you go further. You remain in contact with the symbol for a longer time, this phase sets in with an expansion of awareness.

What you first learnt about the psychic symbol, as the ninth step in the Ajapa Japa meditation, is that it signifies the end of the meditation and a focusing of awareness.

So, in advanced yoga (if you continue for a longer time beyond the habitual limits of the mind) the symbol means the following: Now, the expansion of awareness starts.

Seeing yourself

The psychic symbol tells you, among other things, that if you go on, you will be able to ‘read’ or ‘see’ your personality as it is. Not just the ideas you have about yourself, all the nice things that justify your actions and thoughts – like ‘oh, I’m so good’ – or the complexes and neuroses you pity yourself for. You won’t just experience things that you already know about. There’s more to discover and become aware of than that.

Let me give you an example. The other day I heard someone say that it would be nice if criminals also had a criminal picture of themselves. But they haven’t. They have all these illusions about how nice they are, how charming they are, how good they are (corrupt politicians for example). They find many ways to justify their actions – at the same time as their acts are criminal. Therefore, there’s no hope for them.

It’s the same as with some alcoholics. They say: ‘No, alcohol isn’t a problem for me.’ And they keep on saying it! Until the day they drink and drive, and run someone over. The only way you can start a cure for these people is if they realise that they have a problem, and that so far they’ve been lying to themselves. Then the cure can begin.

Imagine if the criminals, the corrupt politicians, could do the same: think of themselves as criminals. Realise that their acts are criminal, that they subject other people to a criminal behaviour, which causes pain and suffering. That they treat others, and speak about others in a criminal way. But in their own minds, in the ideas they have about themselves, everything is right and proper, and fits the picture they have of reality.

Everyone who suffers from what is called avidya (ignorance) doesn’t see himself or herself as they are. I don’t mean to say, though, that their personalities are necessarily evil.

Self-insight does not result in you realising that you are a bad person – on the contrary. But still, you’re in for a surprise. Suddenly, you see yourself naked! There you are, without all the pretty manners and smiles, the roles, the pride… Maybe you realise that you habitually use other people. Do you want examples? Men who use women, and the other way around. People who use others, for money, emotions, a position or whatever.

One day, you stand there naked in front of all this, and you don’t really know what to do. At the same time, you understand that very few people have arrived at such an insight. The apparent unawareness that you experience around you frightens you, and you realise that you need guidance.

I’m telling you now about my own experience. You realise that you really are responsible and a creator of your own future.

“But how do you get there? It’s difficult to be honest with yourself…”

“You can’t do it just through the intellect. You have to be thrown into a state of greater sensitivity and greater ability to experience – an expanded awareness. And as Swami Satyananda says in the beginning of the text I’m reading here: ‘gradually and slowly’.

If we are to meet the demands that Swami Satyananda makes here, we must train the mind. This is done with the various methods of yoga. It is done through meditation and it can be done with the psychic symbol. Of course fundamentally, this is based on personal guidance.

Using the psychic symbol, you can make conscious those areas in the mind that are normally unconscious. When the symbol has appeared at the end of the meditation, you hold on to it longer than you have done so far. Hopefully, there’s nobody around to disturb you. You don’t need to do it forever – just, say, uninterruptedly for half an hour.

Nakedness

In the course of this process, you gradually start to realise who you really are – and when you have established yourself in this, you also see what your personality is like, that it consists of a bunch of programmes. Until this is experienced, nobody really knows that this is the case – well, maybe in theory, but they haven’t met it in themselves. They would rather remain in the illusion, that what I think, the opinions and habits, tastes and interests that I have, are “me”.

Your personality consists of a collection of values that someone has influenced you to have – or that your clever intellect has picked up from books you’ve read. Ideas you wish to follow, or roles you play for yourself and others. This is not nakedness.

A great deal of these programmes are definitely good and necessary, they are what we call culture. It would be good, though, if we could use them consciously and change them when it is suitable – and not to be under their sway, as slaves of the mind.

So awareness in this context is a kind of nakedness. And when Swamiji talks of awareness, of attention, this is what he means. The text was written while I was living with Swamiji. Those of us who were there at that time understood each other. We all came with a more or less expanded awareness. I mean those who were living permanently in the ashram – there were, of course, many who just passed through – but those of us who lived there weren’t a large group. We knew what he was talking about when he spoke of an expanded awareness. And he knew that we knew.

‘What you wish to realise through yoga is already in you, in the same purity in which you will realise it, after the removal of a kind of avidya.’

The veil of ignorance

This kind of avidya stems from that which makes up a personality: what we have been told, where we’ve come from – influences we were subjected to by the environment and from the people around us where we grew up. That is why origin­ally, in the tradition I was initiated into, you didn’t go home to your family or your old friends, to ‘where things happen’, for 12 years. No matter how weak or invisible the conceptions seem in your original background, they will keep you in a state of mind where you identify yourself with an illusion, which makes it impossible to see through ignorance.

“Yes, I remember what it was like when I came home after living in a monastery in Thailand. My mother collected me at the airport. It was a shock. I’d trained my awareness for over a year. And there I was – it seemed to me that she was asleep.”

“I had a similar experience with my parents when I had been to visit them. The first year I was here, I chose to visit them just once – and that went well, of course. In the years after that, I’ve visited them more often. But last year, my father came to visit me here – and I realised that I was in a completely different state than when I was with him normally.”

“Yes. That must have surprised him too? Or didn’t he see it? Maybe he just saw the picture he normally has of you?”

“I couldn’t see him at all. I just saw a mist all week. It made me realise something. It also made me care more for the children in the family.”

“Yes, if you really see it – and if you, as I did, get over the initial fear and start living with an expanded awareness – you love your fellow beings. Not as children, you don’t have to patronise them. Respect them and love them, wherever they are – as you would feel for yourself, wherever you are.

Sometimes I’ve sat out here in the countryside with an expanded awareness and worked with other people, during the pretty wild seventies for instance. Then I went into town and talked to the elderly man who owned the local timber yard; he retired a long time ago. I just stood there and talked to him while we pulled some lists out from the shelf, which I was going to use at the school. During the few minutes we talked, I realised: Just look at me, how arrogant can you get! This man is so wise. Who do I think I am, just because I teach yoga? I don’t know if he’s ‘realised’, but he’s definitely wise. He has my respect.”

“Sometimes, it’s as if you know everything and other people know nothing – and other times, it’s…”

“Yes! At other times it’s just the opposite. As if everybody else has self insight.”

“Yes. But that’s not true. Maybe what happens is that you see behind their illusions, maybe you see the essence of their being – but it’s far from certain that the person you see is in contact with this essence.

Some people claim that everything is yoga; I’ve written it in my book myself, ‘there is nothing called yoga – it’s called life’. But that depends on how you’re seeing it. It’s not true in every connection. Of course not – you must be able to see what’s what. Otherwise you’re doing yoga a disfavour.

If you want to help someone you say: ‘Now, I’ll show you what you can do about your problem. This is yoga. Do it and you’ll feel better.’ Something like that. That’s as much as you can do for most people, and that’s what we do, isn’t it?

But there are some people who go further than that, they have achieved a certain insight. When they’ve let go of some of the coarser tensions and inhi­bitions, they see things in a new light. They want a more advanced guidance. Here, it’s important not to put them off with something they can sit and dream about, enough people do that anyway.

Other people need to have what happens confirmed. A woman in Smaland had an experience the very first time she participated in a class. Afterwards, she came very discreetly and asked: ‘Is it OK if I leave my body during the relaxation?’ The teacher could confirm this: ‘There are people who try to achieve such an experience for years, without attaining it.’ And she appreciated this experience.”

Experience and “experiences”

“But can’t too many experiences distract people from what is essential?”

“Yes, unfortunately. Here you need your intelligence, not for arguing, or liking and disliking – but for getting to the essential.

If you want to go all the way, it’s important not to hang on to all kinds of experiences or ‘abilities’. Some people, for instance, get carried away when they discover that they can see another person’s aura. Others begin doing so-called ‘healing’. People get fascinated by the experiences and lose sight of the aim. But we can go further than that.

Let us get back to the subject. Without a gradual training, it can be pretty overwhelming to meet yourself and to feel at the same time, in an unusually intense way, that other people exist in this moment, together with you – the direct experience of everything and everyone’s being.

Before you have achieved this, you are too proud, too insensitive. You consider everything you do and think to be right and true, but you don’t experience the connection with others. That’s avidya – you mislead yourself.

“So all you need is a shock?”

“Yes, it’s tempting to say that if nothing else helps, then a shock might be able to wake you. But there are other ways, and one of them is yoga used properly. Let me read it again:

‘Frankly speaking, all the exercises and practises are only aids for developing individual awareness to such an intensity and height, of course fairly slowly, that the aspirant can become a seer in relation to himself. Not only a seer in vague terms, but a seer of everything he does, sees, feels, thinks, etc.’

If you want to go out of your depth, learn to swim first

‘Therefore, this awareness should not be allowed to be developed by those people who have not purified themselves.’

“What does that mean?”

“I have a problem with such a statement, it could sound a bit too ‘holy’ – yes even judgmental if it’s misunderstood. And there are plenty of possibilities for that. It can also be used as an excuse by teachers who are cowards and who don’t dare do anything for others at all, but put them off with a lot of talk about understanding terms and philosophy and about how to behave.”

karma-yoga-carrying-a-pipe-RGB“But it means something else. It means you have to do some yoga – above all Karma Yoga. How can you consider yourself purified, if you can’t do something for others? If you react against things, as soon as it’s not just about you? Your subconscious is sure to react with a bad conscience, but you don’t notice it. And if you suddenly open your mind, you see it and get scared.”

“Swamiji, what if you do what you do because of feelings of guilt? I mean, if you do Karma Yoga because you have a bad conscience and you feel that…?”

“If you continue with your Karma Yoga, and I’m not just talking about the Karma Yoga training you’re given in an ashram, but also the initiatives and responsibility you take yourself, you’ll gradually free yourself from this feeling of guilt.

That’s what Swamiji means by slowly and gradually. You will easily manage what you meet in your mind, if you’re active and ‘purify’ yourself through actions that aren’t just about you, and the result of which you’re not too dependant on. Yes, of course you do your best, and with great awareness, but if something doesn’t succeed, you just continue and try again.

karma-yoga-in-the-fields-RGB“So, even if your motives appear to you to be a bit suspect when you do Karma Yoga, it doesn’t mean anything. The Karma Yoga will have a cleansing effect anyway?”

“Yes! When it comes to the spiritual path, we sometimes overdo it. We sit there getting all tense out of pure ambition! ‘I want self-realisation only for myself.’ On the other hand, it would be stupid to think that you should only help others. How can you help others to be happy, for instance, if you don’t know happiness yourself – that would be a serious illusion. There must be a balance between helping yourself and helping others, and this applies especially to teaching. If you do things just for yourself, it’s not certain you’ll get anywhere at all.

But it’s also about energy. The energy that you purify and get access to through the yoga exercises, is channelled and harmonised during the Karma Yoga activity. It isn’t just tensions in the muscles and bodily organs or inhibitions and limitations in the mind that you cleanse, but also your energy, your energy channels. Mind over matter they say, meaning that your thinking can influence the body. But it’s my experience that energy is over mind. So, if you master your energy, at the same time you master your mind and your body. Therefore, not only the physical exercises are important, but also the breathing exercises, Pranayama.

But let us go on with the text. So Swamiji thinks that people who wish to go further must go through a cleansing.

Otherwise, as I know from my personal experience, they will become conscious of their own inabilities, hypocrisies, pains, passions, and so to say lower instincts.

karma-yoga-building-RGBWhat Swami Satyananda says here, should, to a certain degree, be seen from the point of view of the culture you live in. Some cultures and some ages are more suppressive or more opposed to freedom than others. They encourage guilt and a bad conscience. In other cultures, many people try to meet life face to face, and let go of as many complexes and inhibitions as possible. The latter has been the case here in the Nordic countries during the last three or four generations. Certainly, we have a spiritual life here, but we don’t wish to live under religious suppression and manipulation. Therefore, many of us aren’t particularly overwhelmed when we see something in our mind that some priest or other says shouldn’t be there.When we read what Swamiji writes in this part of the text, we must also take our cultural background into consideration. After all, I’ve been in cultures where it was not at all possible to teach any confrontation exercises, or similar spiritual dances – like the Sufi practices we teach at Haa Retreat Center. They simply couldn’t look another person straight in the eyes, let alone touch somebody else’s body.”

“It reminds me of the film ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ Two nice young people suddenly land in a situation where they are confronted with a lot of inhibitions and bizarre peculiarities of the American culture. I wonder why it was so popular?”

“Yes, there will be a reason for that. There’s also a film with Michael Douglas, ‘ The Game’, which, in a nerve-racking way, describes how a person reaches an insight about himself and how he treats his fellow beings.”

“Lars von Trier’s ‘ The idiots’ touches a few raw spots too, I think – if you dare to involve yourself in it.”

“If you can see what it is you’re carrying around with you, you can also let it go. You don’t need to follow all the ideas and tendencies that pop up in your mind.

You have the freedom to choose. So, it’s important that you learn to experience your mind as an observer – without identifying with whatever is there.

‘Therefore yoga sadhana should be practised step by step. You should finish one thing at a time, so that the subconscious mind is not confused. It would not be out of place to tell how I, for a couple of months, as a result of an intense sadhana, became so aware of myself – excessively self conscious – that many a time I feared I would go mad. Because I saw myself (and I do not know in which state) as two. But of course, I was saved in time by Swami Sivananda, who was an expert in this matter.

My purpose here is to put before you the Chronology of a yogi with reference to your own consciousness. This awareness develops from subjective pratyaya [the contents of the mind] to subjectless and objectless consciousness. And you who have already freed yourself from the mental errors or its causes can safely develop this awareness to such an extent that you see yourself; you become a witness of yourself, and see in yourself something grand and glorious, and something worth appreciating. This is an important point, which the yoga practitioner mustn’t forget.

But it is not realistic that a man with all his frailties and circumstances should wait for such a purified state of mind, and then only take to the practices of yoga. If he thinks like this, he will never achieve yoga. Both are interrelated. Therefore it is safest in yoga to practise Karma, Bhakti and Jnana and their allied aspects.

Swamiji is now talking about yoga as a higher consciousness. What most people call yoga, in the East as well as in the West, he in the following calls preparatory methods. Personally, I would prefer to call them fundamental and necessary methods. They remove many hindrances on the way. They make the meditation easier – not to say possible. They make it easier to do what you want – for example to realise yourself.

Asana, [physical exercises], Pranayama [breathing exercises] and Hatha Yoga [cleansing processes like nose cleansing etc] are absolutely preliminary methods, and as such they should not be confused with the word ‘yoga’.

Realisation can come, Samadhi can be achieved, health can be maintained, psychic errors can be removed without asana and pranayama.’

That’s easy for him to say. He’s used these exercises to a very high degree and so have I. I wouldn’t have got anywhere without them. I certainly wouldn’t have met him. So what is it he means?

Actually, what we’re talking about this evening is the experience you want, and what you need to know when you want to go further than the well being, concentration and vigour that these preliminary methods can give.

Karma, Bhakti and Jnana

‘What is more important in this connection is that yoga cannot be achieved – can never be achieved without the practice of Karma, Bhakti and Jnana Yoga.’

“That Swami Satyananda has this view of Yoga is interesting – Karma, Bhakti and Jnana Yoga. Think of our Three-month Sadhana Retreats for example. I couldn’t run these retreats without Karma Yoga. It would be impossible.

Kriya Yoga gives you depth, energy and freedom from limitations – both those you have inherited from society as well as those which are self-inflicted – but it must be learnt together with a certain amount of Karma Yoga. What is the use of doing Kriya Yoga, if you don’t know how to make use of it in the daily actions you carry-out in the form of Karma Yoga? The energy must be transformed into action, so it doesn’t block.

Bhakti Yoga, for me, is something very special. Buddha asked his disciples not to worship. ‘ Make no images of me.’ But did they hear what he said? It would be difficult today to find a religion with more statues and pictures than Buddhism. Muhammed said the same, make no images of god, and the Jews also have such instructions.

I personally feel what Swamiji means here about Bhakti Yoga can be expressed in this attitude: Devoting yourself entirely to everything you do.

If you have this ability, you can let go in the face of life, and towards yourself – you don’t need to struggle or be on your guard all the time. You dare believe in life, you dare live it.

What you carry in your heart should remain a secret. If it becomes concepts and pictures, it will stand in the way of your self-insight!

Jnana Yoga is something you do in practice. You achieve it through awareness training and certain meditations, especially Antar Mauna (Inner Silence), and through Satsang (being with the teacher). The essential guidance, however, is received in daily life, through living and working together with your teacher. In this way, you achieve insight about yourself, about your reactions and tendencies, and you gradually get to know the influences in your subconscious, which have an unnoticed effect on your life.

In some of the more advanced stages of Jnana Yoga, you are asked to give up all concepts, all ideas. Maybe you have been living with a certain conviction or had fixed ideas all your life, but you must be able to let go of them, so that you can experience directly and without hindrance. You will find this yoga expressed in a few particular books or scriptures; Yoga Vasistha (the esoteric Ramayan):

For the seeker both, actions (karma) and knowledge (jnana or gyana) are necessary, as two wings are for the bird’.

This is a knowledge that isn’t just about the limited individual self, but about the connection between everything, about the absolute, the whole. Books by themselves, however, are worthless. Without know­ledge of the real methods and without personal guidance you would just form new ideas and expectations, to put it mildly.

Insight is something else, direct experience is something else. Getting to know yourself removes fear – and I’m not talking about understanding yourself – but about an experience, about first hand knowledge.

Basically, Jnana Yoga is what we’ve been talking about today. It is about attaining an expanded awareness, and about how you manage the self-knowledge you gain from it.

(See also, Harmony between the experiencer and the experienced – On the Tantric meditation, Antar Mauna (Inner Silence)...

‘Finally:

The important landmarks in the life of a yogi are:

1. ‘Desire to attain insight and knowledge.’

2. ‘A process where you achieve understanding through satsang [where you communicate] with the teacher.’

3. ‘Preparatory exercises performed in accordance with the given conditions.’

This is in reference to Hatha Yoga, Asana and Pranayama.

In 1994, I visited Swami Satyananda in Rikhia, where he was living after his retirement. During our conversation he said, Bhakti is not possible without Pranayama.

Of course, I thought – Bhakti is a feeling, a state. It’s like a stream you tune into when you let go. I myself achieved becoming part of this current of energy when I gave myself up to it and let it happen. I discovered this stream of prana, which feels as if it’s connected to a source high above me, during the years when I did intense breathing exercises on a daily basis. So I could appreciate what he said.

You can’t tell this to just anyone, though. How could they understand what you mean, when it’s not a question of worship, but still a matter of devotion? That you become part of a vibrating current, which you get in contact with by using the breathing exercises in yoga – and which you remain in contact with during meditation.

You can use this current to get rid of even the worst states and tensions. It is, in the highest degree, purifying. It opens you, and a connection is established where the energy vibrates and flows both upwards and downwards. You feel what Bhakti is, when it’s not based on ideas. Without this feeling, you can’t get a proper flow of prana to arise. The feeling of devotion gives the current power – just like when you discover what it really means to let go. First Bhastrika (the Blacksmith’s Bellows), and then Nadi Shodana. The breathing exercise Nadi Shodana is most effective in this way, when you hold the breath by closing the nostrils with the fingers and not, which some people claim is more advanced, by using the chin lock (see also Breathe through the nose !).

When people don’t know of this experience, they may well sit there with their high ambitions and struggle frustratedly with their breathing exercises. They don’t know how you literally feel upwards during Nadi Shodana. Without the experience of the ‘flame’ or the ‘flow’, it is not so easy to hold the breath and get more out of it. Of course, everyone gets balance, mental clarity and inspiration after using Nadi Shodana – but this is also barrier-breaking.

4. ‘Initiation from the guru.’

5. ‘Return to Karma Yoga.’

At some point you must turn back to Karma Yoga! Why? Because you should maintain contact with life around you, and because you shouldn’t become self-centred and oversensitive. Through Karma Yoga, you remain grounded while you can expand the mind with other methods. If you are not grounded, you can’t live with an expanded awareness, or things start to drift. On the other hand, if you’re outgoing and active with the Karma Yoga, you can go far in a short time.

Someone once asked Swamiji: ‘How much should I meditate?’ You could see that this person wasn’t particularly active in his life. He probably had all sorts of dreams in his head, and supplied them with fuel from ‘spiritual’ books and magazines. So Swami Satyananda said to him: ‘Well, it depends on what you do otherwise. If you’re not active or doing something with your life – you shouldn’t meditate at all. But if you’re just a little active – you can meditate 15 minutes a day. Of course, if you work, let’s say, 4 or 5 hours every day, you can meditate for quarter of an hour. If you have an ordinary job of 8 hours a day, you can meditate for half an hour or an hour every day without a problem. And if you do Karma Yoga the whole day into the evening, let’s say 16 hours a day – then you’re on the safe side. Then you don’t need to sleep, you can meditate the rest of the night.’

That’s why we do Karma Yoga alongside the other methods.

6. ‘Experiment with intense Sadhana.’

In the beginning, when I did that: yoga exercises for many hours every day and breathing exercises four times a day, the result was of course a very great sensitivity – that’s why I had to turn to Karma Yoga. Therefore Swamiji says:

7. ‘Return to Karma Yoga.’

You can also say that you do Karma Yoga alongside your intensive Sadhana. But you could of course, as Swami Sivananda, do Karma Yoga 16 hours a day. He did this before he established his ashram – he also used the hours when others were asleep. Apart from his Sadhana, he helped people in Rishikesh curing leprosy, eye diseases etc. Swami Sivananda had enormous energy – which he got through being active, in combination with yoga and meditation!

8. ‘Checking up on the mind through negative methods.’

Usually, life ensures that you find yourself in situations where you get ‘tested’. But you can also take the initiative yourself and create a confrontation with states and situations which would normally ‘disturb’ you. You expose yourself to influences, so that you see if you can manage them without forgetting yourself.

9. ‘Intense Japa, (Bhakti) Anushthan.’

Simple mantra meditation practised with devotion over a long period of time, for example during a winter. This doesn’t suit everyone in the West, though. Other methods can be used, like meditation on the breath with or without mantra.

10. ‘Checking up on the mind through strong stimuli.’

Are you open and receptive to anything? Can you really experience influences and states without losing yourself? Here, Swamiji suggests that you check that, before you continue to awaken the awareness.

There are sure to be different things that would normally disturb your calm or your state. Do you forget yourself under their influence? Then back to Karma Yoga!

11. ‘Initiation into an expanded awareness, if everything is found OK.’

What is ‘awareness’ as Swamiji calls it? This initiation doesn’t come until point 11. So far, he has just talked about the preparation: Sadhana, yoga, all these things. So, awareness, in this connection, is when you’re suddenly there, when you see! When you experience everything in and around you, in a very strong state of being present. Can you take that? If you can, everything’s fine, you can just continue. But to be on the safe side, check it again – here in the ashram it’s easy of course, this is what we do. You find support in the meditations, where you’re constantly learning to experience in this way and to let go.

12. ‘Checking up on the mind with adverse stimuli or negative circumstances.’

I can recognise all the points that Swamiji talks about here, in my own life. At certain times, life has seen to it that I’ve encountered them, at other times Swamiji probably had a finger in the pie, like when I got teased in the ashram and my patience was put to the test.

When you meet with different things that touch you, this experience doesn’t come as something you’ve agreed upon in advance. You’re not prepared for what happens. It comes when you least expect it. In your attitude, however, there’s no question of running away from life; you face and accept whatever comes. You don’t try to avoid the sensitivity either. No, when you’re ready, you go further and deeper with your Sadhana.

All people go through upheavals. What we’re talking about here, though, is going through it with a heightened awareness.

It happens all the time – for example being involved in a court case, even if you’ve started it yourself; that is ‘adverse circumstances’ without a doubt. Or if somebody’s jealous of you and tries to hurt you via the press – I got a taste of that early on in my ‘yogic’ life.

When I look back over the years and see what I was subjected to, and how I was carried away by strong feelings, or just managed to keep my balance, I must say that ‘negative circumstances’ definitely deserve that name.

13. ‘If everything is alright, go further with the awareness.’ [So you can live in this heightened state.] ‘If not, then turn back to an ordinary meditation or relaxation – your practice is directed by the purity of your mind.’

14. ‘If the mind is found impure, so that it disturbs your ability to rest in yourself in such a way that it brings forth agony and repentance, turn back to Karma and Bhakti. But if you’re capable of remaining in an unaffected state of awareness, as an observer of the activity of your mind and its contents, then continue with the expanded awareness.’

This means that you are the witness, you are the seer or the experiencer of your mental state. You experience the mind without identifying with it, but without keeping it at arm’s length. You allow your feelings and thoughts to manifest and exhaust themselves within.

How do you identify with a mental state? It’s easy enough to demonstrate. I know a way to tease anybody here, and the person concerned would react at once and throw something back at my face. In that situation, you’re not capable of witnessing anything at all. You’re involved. And you have to learn to realise this, so that you can work with it, use yoga and meditation, and solve Karma Yoga tasks.

‘But the moment you find that the expanded awareness becomes the cause of repentance, agony etc., then it is always better for the spiritual aspirant to take a break and develop Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, and in this way to cleanse the mind.

This is the chronology of a yogi.’

“I have a question about the last part.”

“Yes?”

“Swami Satyananda says in the text, that ‘when your awareness is expanded, and you experience that this creates remorse and pain…’ Does that mean that when the awareness starts to expand, then you see more and more of yourself and your own emotions?”

“It doesn’t mean, at all, that you experience more and more in an intellectual way, where you can criticise or analyse yourself or other people – it’s not that kind of awareness. No. Here, you experience directly. You don’t sit and think about it or philosophise. It’s like when we use the meditation Antar Mauna (Inner Silence). I have taught you how to relate to the mind through Antar Mauna. But to trigger a greater awareness is another story.”

“Is it that you experience your feelings stronger and stronger?”

“Now, you can see them as they are, that is as emotions – and not as you. So, if you get a reaction, you can stand beside yourself and look at it, whether it’s strong or weak. You’re no longer driven to actions where you throw things at other people. You are truly unaffected. Still, you allow yourself to feel. It hasn’t got anything to do with controlling yourself, no, you’re resting in yourself, in the eye of the storm. Or in the words of Swami Satyananda:

Good or bad, I am the seer;
disturbance or one-pointedness, I am the seer.
If I change my physical position, I am the seer.
I am not the concentrator;
I am not the meditator.
No, I am just the seer of all that is taking place in me.
I am impartial, detached and unrelated.

It’s different if you’re a teacher. Then, you have to react, strongly and clearly, so the student wakes up.

However, we can’t live with intolerant ideals and expect ourselves always to be oh, so nice to each other. Of course, we should maintain a certain standard so that we can live together and preserve this unique situation which we call ashram. In this respect, living in an ashram isn’t much different from other places.

On the one hand, you can see people who get carried away by a situation, and who cling to the involved state because they identify with it. On the other hand, people who have the capacity to experience the thoughts and the emotions are not bound by them. They can change quickly between various expressions. Maybe you’re angry about something, but the next minute you turn around and crack a joke. In other words, the state itself wasn’t important, it was just used to communicate with. After that you move on.

Then again, you might have a student who doesn’t want to let go of his/her states. Then you feel like saying: ‘I’m sorry I can’t help you, go somewhere else to get help.’ However, to be involved in an emotional state or an intellectual attitude isn’t so bad. Most people are involved almost all the time.

In the daily life in the ashram, I notice when I get caught and carried away by something. With the help of the meditation and the people in my surroundings, I learn to see it and let it go. But if you have begun to experience in a more intense way and are unable to let go – then you need extra help.

The ashram has a safety net, which consists of the understanding that we have around these subjects, and of Karma Yoga.

Thank you for the talk! You inspire me.”


The pictures made of enamel on copper, as well as the triptych painting, are by Swami Janakananda. They are from his autodidactic yoga period before he met Swami Satyananda. The photos of karma yogis are by Ingela Hageman, Stockholm.