Inner Quest by Pandit Rajmani Tugnait

  • By Pandit Rajmani Tugnait
  • May 2003
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Clearing the Hurdles     
                                                       Purifying the Ego

17. Is it possible to become advanced in meditation practice and still have serious ego problems?
Yes, it’s quite possible to develop an advanced meditation practice in spite of a big ego or other negative personality traits. If an egotistical student works hard and does the practices correctly, he or she may develop willpower and achieve siddhis (extraordinary abilities), but an egotistical meditator can never become a sage.

As you develop your meditation practice, you will come to understand why ego problems are serious. It is possible to use meditation as a means to overcome an ego problem, but if you have decided to love your ego and live with it, then meditation becomes a means of nourishing and strengthening your ego. In that case, meditation will help you advance in your ego problems. This kind of meditation cannot unfold the joy of the Self.

Meditation is a powerful tool. Meditation with ego is like a flower with no fragrance. But meditation that is devoid of ego and nourished by devotion (bhakti) is like an eternal flower that yields the fragrance of the Divine. An egotistical meditator can harm him - or herself and others, whereas a meditator who is free from ego and guided by devotion can be torchbearer for the human race.

18. Isn’t strong ego necessary to live successfully in the world? Don’t I also need a strong ego to do spiritual practice?
You don’t need a strong ego to live successfully in the world. What you need is a strong will and the determination to direct all your energies toward your desired goal.

Western psychology has not clearly distinguished between the power of ego and the power of will and determination. In a sense, the power of the ego is blind, but the power of will has vision, because its source is in the pure Self. Ego springs from a false sense of identification (avidya) and usually focuses on preserving self-image and self-identify. Ego is accompanied by stubbornness, selfishness, and unwillingness to compromise.

The power of ego is like a little pool. In that pool, an egotistical person lives like a frog-his world is small, his borders insecure, and from his perspective, only his own thoughts, feelings and voice are meaningful. But the power of will springs from the inner Self, from pure Being. It infuses the mind and body with enthusiasm, courage, an ever-growing curiosity to know, and the energy to act. In yogic literature, this particular force-the intrinsic power of the soul - is called iccha shakti. It is from this force that all the aspects of our personality including ego, receive energy to carry out their activities.

In order to be successful in the world, you need a strong will, but that strong will needs to be properly guided. Then you will be able to develop a strong personality and cultivate a powerful self-image, rather than developing a trivial, egotistical personality.

There is a vast difference between a strong personality and an egotistical personality. A strong personality exhibits tolerance and endurance and forgives and forgets, in spite of having the power to vanquish and punish and an opponent. But an egotistical person exhibits his or her weakness by answering a pebble with a cannon. Such people lose their composure the moment they are even slightly hurt. They have a hard time forgetting the injuries they have received from others and even harder time remembering how much they have hurt others.

All the problems in the world - at home, at work, or in government - are caused by the collision of egos. These problems are overcome, not by one ego dominating others, but by a person of strong will and clear vision coming forward and overshadowing the trivial egos of those who are quarreling.

As for the question of whether you need a strong ego to do sadhana, the answer is “No, definitely not.” The stronger your ego the bigger the hurdle it will create. However, if you kill your ego, you might kill what motivates you to embark on the spiritual path and stay on it. Therefore, do not attempt to kill your ego or even to weaken it. What your ego needs is purification, transformation, and guidance.

19. How can you purify the ego?
You purify and transform your ego by using your present level of intelligence and your power of discrimination. By meditating, contemplating, praying, studying the scriptures, and seeking the company of the wise, you make your ego purer and less confined. This inspires you to move one step ahead. From here, the purified ego, accompanied by a sharpened intellect, gets a glimpse of the next level of expanded awareness and naturally aspires to reach it. Thus, the ego becomes the tool for purifying and expanding itself. In this way, the small ego begins its journey toward an expanded, more purified ego.

Along the way, it becomes apparent that this journey must end with the ego dissolving and becoming one with the pure Self, also known as Universal Consciousness. At some point the ego of a dedicated seeker merges with the infinite, Universal Ego, the soul of the Universe. Such an ego sees the whole universe within Itself and Itself in the whole universe.

20. That’s a bit too philosophical for me. From a practical standpoint, how do you go about purifying your ego?
Although it is terse and to the point, the true answer is one I’ve already given: contemplation, meditation, prayer, study of the scriptures, and the company of the wise purify the ego. However, any obstacle that arises again should be noted, and the student should focus on removing that particular obstacle. For example, if in the process of purification and inner expansion, the student is constantly facing problems caused by stubbornness, then he or she must find a meditative or contemplative practice that provides an antidote to stubbornness. If doubt, an inferiority complex, and/or vanity are the main hurdles, a personal practice must be devised that will help the student overcome these obstacles.

Be honest with yourself, and gather the courage to face your own problems. Start working with yourself without any hesitation. However, if you are not that strong or clear and, therefore, aren’t sure that you will ever be able to identify your own problems, find a teacher. But here, too, there is an obstacle: you must be flexible and open to learning from a teacher, and those are characteristics you will have to engender by yourself.

21. How can I know if my actions are coming from my ego or from my will?
The tussle between ego and will occurs when we keep doing things that others oppose or refuse to do things that others are urging us to do. In such situations, it is important to ask yourself if you are being driven by ego or by will.

The degree of fear involved in your actions-feelings of insecurity, the sense of tarnishing your self-image, and your concern with the opinions of others- is a sign that you are acting from your ego. A defensive attitude is a symptom of your hidden recognition that your ego is being threatened. This hidden recognition drives you to take every possible measure to protect your position and defend your point of view. Also, seeking a reward for your actions is a sure sign that you are motivated by ego.

When you are operating from will, your motivation is pure, unselfish, and free from the need to protect your self-image. Your actions are not influenced by your reactions. You are affected by neither positive nor negative comments from others. You are pulled to do what you do purely by the voice of your heart. When you are pouring your mind and heart into actions without seeking a reward, you can be sure that you are acting from the strength of your will.

22. What is the cause of fear? How can fear be overcome?
Fear is innate; anyone who is born is afflicted by fear. The greatest of all fears is the fear of death. This fear springs from the human tendency to cling to life without knowing what life actually is. We humans identify ourselves with our bodies and we are terrified by the knowledge that our bodies are subject to change, death and decay. From the moment of birth to the moment of death, we busy ourselves gathering any external resources that might help us preserve our physical existence; yet all the while, we know that ultimately all our efforts will be in vain and our bodies will perish. Because we think we are our bodies, this realization is terrifying and causes intense pain.

The desire for self-preservation springs from the ego. Ego is a psychological principle through which we identify with the body and the mind, thus confining our awareness to a very limited range. We become attached to this confined sense of I-am-ness and are consumed with the desire to preserve this identify with the body and mind.

The ego does not want its boundaries to be broken, but at the same time, it feels lonely when it finds itself isolated others. The ego does not want its privacy disturbed, but at the same time it wants to receive love from the whole world. Even though isolation is painful, we isolate ourselves, primarily because of our confined self-identify.

This tendency of the ego makes us fearful, selfish, greedy, and self-centered. Internally, we become misers - we do not want to give anything to anyone and yet we expect others to give to us, but we do not want them to break through the wall of self-identify that our egos have built. This self-created misery cannot be cured by anyone else or by anything external. The only cure is to trace fear back to its roots in desire, attachment, and ego. Unless we treat the aspect of our personality that is actually sick - the ego itself - there is no hope of attaining freedom from fear.

The problem of ego arises from ignorance - mistaking the unreal for the real. A false identify is developed: I am this body. So long as a human being does not know his or her immortal, eternal, blissful nature, he or she will always be afraid of losing this self-imposed identify. The body is not soul; it is not immortal. The body dies. As long as we remain ignorant and cling to the belief “I am the body,” we will be victims of fear. Knowing the Atman, the real self, is the only way of attaining final freedom from fear.
                                                                Fear of Losing the World

23. I’ve been a little lonely since yoga became part of my daily life. My friends and I don’t have as much in common, and they seem put off by my new way of life. This sometimes makes me feel uncertain about the course I’ve chosen.
Skillful action is one of the requirements of spiritual life. You may be creating unnecessary problems for yourself by talking too much about your spiritual path. This is common, especially in the beginning before you have actually experienced the support that comes from higher truth and before the ground underneath you is solid. When you are first beginning your search, you must be very careful.

Take care not to create conflicts with your friends and family members. Don’t challenge their beliefs and lifestyles. This will cause tension in your relationships. You don’t have the time to argue with others. In fact, you don’t yet have the strength to sustain your own assertions. Instead of clarifying your own ideas and strengthening your sense of purpose, wasting precious time in these meaningless debates can actually increase your doubts.

Remember that in a war, each side can easily justify its actions. Don’t expect to strengthen your convictions through reason and logic, and don’t expect others to validate your path. The best logician in the world may also be the best liar. Intellectual understanding ultimately comes up short. Intuitive understanding is the only way to know what’s right and wrong, what’s good and bad for you.

You must find a way of living that makes the best use of your time and energy. Only then can you overcome self-condemnation and the fear of being abandoned. Every human being is always alone. You came into this world alone and you will leave it alone. You will never get inner peace and satisfaction from external objects. You cannot share your itself, not even with those who claim to love you and those you claim to love-in fact, they are the ones that make you lonely.

Even so, at this stage, it is best not to become too adamant and say, “I don’t care whether others like my way of life or not.” Unless you got off to live in the forest or a mountain cave, you are at the mercy of the community in which you live, at least to some degree. Remain a member in good standing. That is the best way to ensure that other people will create a minimum number of obstacles for you. Maintain harmony with the external world while finding your way internally.

24. Can you give me more practical advice about how to live in the world while growing spiritually?
Worldly and spiritual life cannot be completely separated. Because you cannot maintain your existence without the help of the material world, you must learn how to obtain sufficient worldly resources and how to use these resources as a means for obtaining spiritual wisdom. The trick is to expand your consciousness without losing yourself in the material world.

In relationship to the world, be vigilant like the hawk that focuses on its prey while keeping an eye out for possible danger. The heron is another model of the right attitude toward the world: it stands still in the water, as if in deep meditation, but when the right moment comes, it catches the fish in a flash.

Be still and patient when there is no need to be active. When it is time to act, perform your actions effectively and on time, and again return to a state of stillness. Learn how to relax like a dog relaxes. A dog falls asleep quickly, but if anything moves, it’s awake in an instant and ready for action. When the moment has passed, the dog falls asleep again. Work hard, but take it lightly. Perform your duties to the best of your ability, but with as little attachment as possible.

Don’t get lost in an endless round of worldly duties and obligations. No matter how skillful you are, or how selflessly you carry out your duties, there will still be an endless number of things left undone at the end of your life. If you don’t learn how to balance duties and your personal spiritual practice, you will be lost.

Regulate your life Go to sleep on time and get up on time. Maintain a schedule-when it’s time to sleep, sleep; when it’s time to get up, get up. After 10 p.m., even a five-minute deviation from your schedule makes a difference. For example, a close friend calls you after 10 p.m. and you feel you have to talk to him or her. Conversations with those who are close to you affect you deeply, so you may not be able to sleep for a while after the conversation is over. If your sleep is disrupted, it will be difficult to get up on time morning. If you sleep late, your schedule is in shambles. From the perspective of your practice, this conversation with your friend is not constructive.

When you are developing the habit of practice, everything counts. You have to consciously make a strong commitment to your practice and resolve that while you will not ignore the world, you will not let it get in the way of your sadhana either.

25. My husband and I are long-term practitioners of meditation. We are concerned that our son, now two, will be unduly influenced by the cultural emphasis on the external and the material. How can we nurture a love for spiritual values in our son? Should we adopt formal teaching methods or simply trust that he will pick them up from the atmosphere we create in our home?
You will create and nurture a great deal of love for spirituality in your children when you allow your own spirituality to manifest effortlessly in your thoughts, speech, and actions. Your children expect love and affection from you; the last thing they will accept is the imposition of rigid discipline.

Make sure your method of inspiring and guiding your children in spiritual matters doesn’t create a bad impression in their minds. Excessive preaching and lecturing and overt attempts to control their behavior will make a negative impression, and they may rebel. Instead, let them notice how much value you place on spiritual principles compared to all other components of your daily life. Through observation they will figure out the connection between the brighter and loving part of you and your spiritual practices.

Children are smart - their minds are like sponges, especially in the early years. They gather information by comparing and contrasting. They process this information and assimilate only that which makes sense. I have heard children talking about their homes, making astute comments about why their parents or their friends’ parents talk and behave in a particular way. If you are maintaining a spiritual environment in your home, your children will automatically figure out why, compared with their friends’ parents, you are so wonderful. That much realization will be enough.

26. What constitutes a spiritual environment and how can we maintain one in our home?
The foremost component of spirituality is love for inner truth. Creating a spiritual environment means working toward that inner truth, using all worldly objects and achievements as means. Meditation is a system through which we shift our search for truth from the external to the inner world.

To create a spiritual environment, therefore, you need only to maintain a regular schedule for your spiritual practice and let all your other schedules center around it. You may not be able to alter the time that you must leave for work or the time you get home, but leave for work only after you have attended to the core of your life - your formal meditation practice. It doesn’t matter if your practice time is relatively short. Your children will come to understand that the ten minutes you spend in meditation are more important to you than the ten hours you spend at your job. This concept gradually sinks into their minds and, one day, they automatically find themselves drawn to spiritual practice.

If, as in your case, your child is quite young, simply sit down at the same time every day and do your practice. If possible, let your partner take care of the child during that time. If isn’t feasible, let the child occupy himself with some other activity while you meditate. But be warned - because you are quiet and not paying attention to your son, he will want your attention. To get it, he may cry. If that doesn’t work, he may pull your hair or pinch you. If this happens, manage the situation by lovingly ignoring him. Let your son know that you love him very much, but that these ten minutes are very important to you and you will attend to him only when they are over. For a week or even a month, he will try his best to get you to acknowledge his right to your attention. But gradually he will see that you cannot be swayed and he will be trained. This childhood training is more important than any other spiritual training you may provide later on.

This is how I managed my practices while raising two children. I kept an extra pillow and blanket and a bottle of milk next to my meditation seat. When my son was two years old, he always woke up at exactly 5 a.m. and walked sleepily from the bedroom to the meditation room. He would cry if the door to the meditation room was closed, so I left the door open. I knew that he would be coming, so when he arrived, I extended my hand, and gently laid him on the pillow, put the bottle in his mouth, and covered him with the blanket. While he drank the milk, he fell asleep and I continued my practice.

My teacher used to tell me that a young child can be taught during his sleep. Before having children, I never knew how this was possible. Now I know that my son learned meditation while he was sleeping next to me as I did my practice.

27. The Devi Mahatmya states that “although there are bad children, there can never be a bad mother.” Yet some mothers abuse, abandon, and even kill their children. How do we square this with the scriptural statement?
The Devi Mahatmya is a Shakta scripture, which means it comes from a tradition that regards the Divine Mother (Shakti) as the highest reality. The scripture is referring to the sublime form of motherhood that transcends the imperfection of human relationships. The mother spoken of is one who knows only how to give, love, and sacrifice herself for her children. These virtues do not grow in the contaminated soil of the four primitive urges (the desire for food, sex, sleep, and self-preservation), nor are they products of our biochemistry. These are divine virtues and they manifest more spontaneously in women than they do in men. That is why in the Vedic tradition, a dwelling is considered to be a home if a woman is at its nucleus. In her absence, it is merely a house.

The Devi Mahatmya is referring to a mother who loves her children unconditionally. She doesn’t care how good or bad her children are, but only for what they need and what will make them happy. Thus, in the mythology of the shakta tradition, the mother gladly severs her own head so that her children can drink her blood as wine and eat her body as bread. Such a courageous and compassionate mother is known as Chinnamasta and the followers of this branch of yoga say with confidence that Christ himself was a manifestation of Chinnamasta.

Because your question is specific to mothers, I will stick to mothers, but it should be understood that fathers also have these problems. The spiritual virtues of humankind have declined through the ages, along with many other virtues such as moral strength, truthfulness, and selflessness. That is why the statement that there can never be a bad mother seems far-fetched and unrealistic today. Negligent and abusive mothering is a chronic problem that has been passed on from one generation to another. If a girl is not raised with wisdom, love, and attention, she will have a hard time spontaneously exhibiting these virtues toward her own children, and her children will have similar difficulties. But if this cycle can be broken by cultivating an awareness of the virtue of Divine Motherhood, a woman’s inherited emotional injuries will be healed. As the pain she has undergone in childhood is eased, the positive virtues of Divine Motherhood will manifest in her, and she will give the best to her children without caring whether or not they are perfectly well-behaved or live up to her expectations for them.

The trauma visited on children by their parents is a hot topic these days. These are many, many counseling and therapeutic paradigms for healing this trauma, but so far 100 percent effectiveness seems to be rare. The spiritual approach advocated by yoga’s shakta tradition is to forget what has happened in the past and create a bright future for ourselves instead. However, these old memories cannot simply be forgotten, for they are powerful and push their way into our mind-fields. The only way to let the past be the past is to forgive our mothers. But forgiving implies that the mother was at fault, and as long as this thought remains in our minds, we are simply acting out a drama of forgiveness. Thus yogis advise that even if we were abused in childhood, it is still important to develop the attitude that “there can never be a bad mother.”

This can be done by contemplating on the truth that human nature is essentially Divine hurting others is not part of our intrinsic nature. No one deliberately sets out to harm others for the sake of harming them. This is especially true of mothers and their children. Mothers harm their children when their minds and emotions have been distorted by stress and their perceptions distorted by their own pain and confusion. People who do not realize this - that only those who have been hurt themselves can hurt others - and still try to get help from a therapist or a spiritual teacher usually are stuck struggling with the bitter image of a “bad” parent they are holding in their minds. Often such people see the therapist or teacher as the parent, and sooner of later they try to even the score with that image. That is when they turn on the therapist or the teacher, an occurrence that is becoming quite common.

28. Yoga philosophy seems to concentrate on individual transformation, but says little about the crucial issue of transforming the world around us. What about world peace and other pressing issues? Does yoga advocate withdrawing into meditation and ignoring the external world?

By no means. But yoga philosophy recognizes that communities evolve from individuals and that external peace evolves from internal peace. Any meaningful transformation of humanity must begin with the individual and proceed from there.

According to yoga, individuals are beings of light. If a humankind is to live in peace and harmony, this light must manifest and radiate from a significant number of individuals. The relationship between individuals and humanity is like the relationship between the trees and the forest. Just as a large group of individual trees viewed collectively is a “forest,” groups of individuals form families, communities, societies, and ultimately, humanity.

At first glance, it might not be obvious how a forest deteriorates when individual trees are diseased, yet it is impossible to have a healthy forest without healthy trees. Likewise, it is impossible to have a wise and just society without wise and just individuals. That is why the sages, whose concern and compassion for humanity are boundless, have always emphasized the enlightenment and self-transformation of individuals. As the quality of each individual’s life improves, the lives of those around her or him automatically improve, and this improves the quality of life for society as a whole.
                                                            Overcoming Obstacles

29. The four greatest obstacles to spiritual life are said to be anger, hatred, jealousy, and greed. But knowing this doesn’t help me get rid of these feelings. I don’t want to be angry or jealous, but telling myself not to be doesn’t work. How can I overcome these obstacles?
Teachers describe many techniques for dealing with these problems. The most common suggestions are: witness these emotions as if from a distance and let them go; analyze the nature of these obstacles, understand their causes, then deal with them appropriately; cultivate a positive attitude, which automatically will counteract these negative feelings; meditate and pray more; avoid situations in which these obstacles arise, and so on. But in my experience, none of these solutions work in the long run. They sound good in theory, but when we are caught in the throes of these powerful obstacles such advice is not very helpful. These solutions seem to work only as long as we are teaching them to others.

I will tell you what works for me, although I don’t know how easy it is for others to cultivate and live with this concept. What works for me is maintaining the constant awareness of my Ishta Deva (the completely personal concept of God). To give you a clear understanding of what I mean, I will relate one of my experiences.

Once my gurudeva gave me a japa practice (repeating a mantra a specific number of times). I was supposed to complete the practice in thirty-six days and to observe certain disciplines during that time. But I broke the disciplines and had to start all over again. This happened several times. Frustrated, I finally decided to do the practice in solitude while observing silence. Also decided to triple the practice so that I could do it in twelve days rather than in thirty-six.

It was January and I had lectures scheduled every weekend. All but one were in cities distant from my home at the Himalayan Institute. During that one weekend, I was scheduled to lecture at a seminar at the Institute. I asked my colleagues if it was possible to schedule my lecture for an evening so I could walk quietly over to the main building, give my lecture, and resume my silence. They kindly scheduled me for Saturday night. I moved to a secluded cottage on the Institute grounds and began my practice.

On Thursday, one of my colleagues heard that an ice storm was forecast for Saturday. Thinking it would be inconvenient for me to walk to the lecture hall in such conditions, she sent a note asking if I could lecture Friday evening instead of Saturday evening. I wrote “yes” and sent it back. A day later, she sent another note, asking, “Is it all right if you lecture Sunday morning?” Again, I wrote “Okay.” But Saturday morning she sent yet another note saying “I think it would be better if you lecture tonight.”

I lost my temper. Seething with fury, I thought, “She is deliberately trying to disturb me. She’s a bad person. She doesn’t like me . . . “ The anger and hatred occupied my mind so strongly that I could not do the japa of my mantra. Usually it took three minutes to complete one round on my mala, but looking at my watch, I noticed that fifteen minutes had passed and I was only halfway through a single round. I got scared and thought, “If I can’t overcome my emotions, how will I complete my practice?”

I took a shower to change my mood, but it didn’t help. I went for a walk hoping the frigid air would cool me off, but that didn’t help either. I didn’t want to be angry, but I didn’t know how not to be. I tried to witness my turmoil from a distance and let it go, but I couldn’t get any distance. I tried my best to analyze the nature of my upheaval and understand its cause, but my mind was so unsteady and scattered that it failed to focus on the process of analysis and self-observation. I also told myself, “Hey, be positive. She must be doing this for a good reason.” None of these techniques helped, probably because I was already in such a frame of mind that I could not apply them properly. I even went so far as to put into practice my childhood beliefs in purifying the meditation room, removing obstacles by reciting purificatory and protective mantras, and drawing a line around my meditation seat with another set of mantras. Nothing helped.

Now my frustration was complete. With a deep sense of despondency, I picked up my favorite scripture. The Ramayana, and begged for help. “You are a gift to seekers from the wise and compassionate sage Valmiki. You embody the noble deeds of Rama, who walked among humans in the flesh to uplift those who were stuck in the mind of affliction. Today, I am stuck. Come forward, O light of the sages, and uplift me.” So praying, I opened the book at random and saw the couplet in which Shiva is speaking to his wife Parvati. Roughly translated, it goes like this: “O Uma, how can one who has surrendered at the feet of Rama and consequently is free from ego, desire, anger, and greed, and who sees this world as though it is a manifestation of the Ishta Deva, maintain any anger or animosity toward anyone?”

I was awe-struck. I realized that my faith in my Ishta Deva was not complete. My surrender was not complete. As a result, I was still under the influence of anger, hatred, jealousy, and greed. I was certainly unable to see this world, worldly objects, and people including the friend writing those notes - as a manifestation of my Ishta Deva. What a low-grade aspirant I was! This realization lifted the veil from my ego and transported me to the realm where automatically I surrendered. My anger dissolved and I resumed my practice.

Only a person who has surrendered has the courage and ability to acknowledge his or her faults and still remain free from guilt. Only such an aspirant can pray with feeling, receive guidance, and overcome these four obstacles, which are otherwise indomitable.

30. My biggest obstacle is procrastination. I can’t seem to get around to establishing my practice the way I know I should. Why do I keep procrastinating?
One of the causes of procrastination is lack of desire. Without a burning desire, people tend to put things off. Small discomforts get in the way. For example, you think, “I don’t have a good room to do my practice in. next month, I’ll move and then I’ll begin my practice.” But next month, you have to paint the new apartment. Then you think, “My daughter is visiting. Once she’s gone, I’ll begin my practice.” These are all excuses, and excuses are endless.

Excuses are a from of “guilt therapy.” You collect reasons to justify your procrastination so you won’t feel guilty about it. The underlying problem is that you have not yet come to understand that your spiritual goal is the most important part of your life. Everything else is left behind at death. Only knowledge of the samskaras stored in the mind - go with you. You have not yet grasped this and may not even believe it. That’s why you continue to procrastinate.

31. Are there techniques that can help me overcome procrastination?
In our technological society, we have come to believe that everything depends on technique. Techniques help smooth the way, but when it comes to penetrating your own inner being, they are of no avail. What you need are some principles and a philosophy of life that will prevent your mind from being disturbed by the external world. You must have sincerity, otherwise you will procrastinate and your practice will be irregular. When you are sincere, you pour your whole heart into your practice, and when you do that, your practice will be so rewarding you won’t want to miss it. Your whole heart is in the practice only when you understand how crucial your practice is. If you believed that it is the most important part of your life - more important than your eight or ten hours at the office, for example-you would certainly do it.

Think about it. Why do you always get to the office on time? For one of two reasons-either because of fear (the fear of losing your job, the fear of losing out on a promotion, and so on) or because you love your work so much that you are eager to get started in the morning. If you really understand that you will lose your internal world if you neglect your practice, then you will put more emphasis on it. If you fall in love with your practice, skipping it will become unbearable. This is the role of knowledge. You must come to know what is important and eternal. Know which world you really dwell in, even in this life, even while you are in this body.
32. I value my meditation practice but I like to have fun too. I go out to dinner and the movies several times a week and often stay up late partying with my friends. I miss these things when I don’t do them, but I know they tire me out and disrupt my meditation practice. What shall I do?
The craving for sense pleasure is one of the stronger urges there is. Driven by these cravings, we continually change or postpone our spiritual practices, although at some level we know that a self-indulgent lifestyle is the breeding ground for sloth, inertia, fatigue, and procrastination. The problem lies in failing to understand the subtle line between enjoying sense pleasures and becoming victims of our sense cravings. It is the failure to recognize this borderline that causes us to repeat activities that leave us feeling tried, dull, and undernourished, so that we have no energy for higher pursuits.

To overcome this problem, we must come to realize that in living this way we are working for our senses rather than disciplining our senses to work for us. Our eyes, ears, nostrils, tongue, and generative organs are tools for nourishing ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The senses gather data form the external world and when coordinated with a properly trained mind, they are a means of gaining knowledge and attaining victory over the primitive urges and cravings. The senses are also instruments through which we can express the infinite creative force that lies within us. However, when we lose the ability to distinguish between enjoyment and indulgence, the forces of our senses make our lives chaotic, pulling us in this direction and that every time a craving arises.

This is a source of misery and it saps our energy. Constant awareness of the highest goal of life and proper understanding of sense pleasure are the keys to mastering our cravings and disciplining our senses to serve us.

Yogis advise us to enjoy the objects of the world in a manner that does not involve us in suppression and repression, but to refrain from indulging ourselves to the point where our energy is drained from our bodies and minds. If we adopt a balanced approach, there will be no conflict between spiritual practice and enjoyment of the world’s pleasures.

The key is to be vigilant in keeping track of our subtle urges toward sense pleasures. Only a trained mind and purified heart can tell us whether we are enjoying these pleasures within the limits of our natural urges or whether we are harming ourselves. If we learn to notice how we feel afterward, we will know whether we truly enjoyed a sensual experience or were being consumed by it. Once we have developed the ability to make this distinction, the next step is contemplation. Whenever we find that we have allowed ourselves to be ordered around by our senses, we should take time to contemplate on how we are depleting our energy and weakening our ability to attend to our spiritual practices. Doing this will help prevent the memories and subtle impressions of those pleasures from causing us to remain at the mercy of our senses. This practice is called pratyahara (sense withdraw) in the yogic tradition. In Vedanta, it is called vichara (contemplation).

33. I meditate regularly. From time to time I feel like I’ve reached an expanded level of awareness. The problem is that I can’t sustain it. I don’t know how to reach firm ground so I won’t be continually hampered by these setbacks.
It is frustrating to practice without seeming to reach the goal and it’s even more frustrating to lose ground. When we take this problem to a teacher, he or she usually tells us to continue practicing or to have patience, things will work out. These directives might inspire us once or twice, but if the problem keeps recurring, such advice loses the power to inspire.

Overcoming this problem requires understanding the law of karma, the simple law that you reap what you sow. If we do something, there is bound to be a result. The law that every action bears fruit also applies to spiritual practice. If we do not see a result, it is because the time is not yet ripe. The fruit is not yet manifest, although it may already be there in its subtle form. We need a sophisticated and sensitive instrument to perceive it-the powerful microscope of the inner eyes. If we don’t have inner eyes of our own, then we have to rely on those of an experienced teacher in whom we have faith. Such a person can tell us what is happening, although this is like borrowing a microscope that is too sophisticated for us to operate on our own and to which we don’t have continual access. The other option is to develop our own inner eyes, the eyes of intuitive understanding. Intuition unfolds gradually as we continue meditating.

However, this does not answer the question of how to gain firm ground and progress from there. We are motivated to continue our meditation practice in spite of this experience of slipping backward only if we are fully convinced that we are moving in the right direction. We can discover whether or not we are moving in the right direction if we have knowledge of the theory that supports our practice. It is this knowledge that engenders interest in the practice. The more we know of the philosophical and spiritual doctrines that stand behind the practice, the more we will be inspired to renew our efforts each time we slip from the summit. Knowing the philosophical and spiritual doctrines will not give us direct experience, but it acts as an antidote to discouragement, frustration, and waning motivation.

That is why yoga texts and experienced teachers advise aspirants to incorporate svadhyaya (the study of genuine scriptures) into their daily practice. These include the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Bhakti Sutras, as well as books by saints and sages such as Autobiography of a Yogi, Living with the Himalayan Masters, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, and In Woods of God Realization. In this way we will be inspired to continue to make efforts in our practice, which is the only way to solidify our attainments.

34. There are so many obstacles on the spiritual path that it seems like overcoming them one at a time will take forever. Is there an all-purpose remedy?
Yes - the grace of God. We receive and retain this grace by Ishvara pranidhana, remembering the name of God and surrendering ourselves to it. From the practical standpoint, all great traditions of the world place a greater emphasis on the name of God than on God Itself.
Unless we know the profound metaphysics of the Divine World, it is hard to understand how the name of God can cure our diseases, remove doubts, solve problems related to laziness and procrastination, and help us gain and maintain solid ground in our practice. But it works! This is not just an experience of one or two yogis or saints, but of everyone who has completed the spiritual journey. That is why prominent scriptures, such as the Yoga Sutra, clearly state that if some one takes this remedy whole-heartedly, and then no other practice is needed. It is not merely a remedy, but a compassionate and omniscient vehicle that knows its own destination. You simply get into this vehicle - the name of God-and it will take you to the goal and help you remain there.

Because our minds are distracted and our hearts are polluted, we have a hard time comprehending and holding on to the name of God-the mantra - one-pointedly. That is why we do not see dramatic progress even when we do lots of japa. The scriptures tell us to have patience and assure us that success is certain if we continue our practices for an uninterrupted period of time.

Even more important than sustaining an unbroken practice is doing the practice with love and reverence. Do not allow the repetition of the mantra to become mechanical. Let it flow from the depths of your heart. Meditating successfully on the name of God requires a one-pointed mind and a pure heart. Try to understand why your mind becomes disturbed and your heart is filled with impurities. If you look carefully, you will see that the causes are anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, and attachment. A person filled with these pollutants is like a temple filled with trash; the altar is obscured and the shrine buried. Clean the temple of your body and mind; let the altar of your heart be illumined with love and knowledge and you will find the Divinity shining within. Thereafter, no obstacle will be able to stand against the brilliant, sweet smile of the indwelling Divinity.
                                                                       Breathing Lessons

35. What creates blocks in the energy body?
Bad food, unhealthy lifestyle, sense abuse and, most of all, suppressed desires, feelings and lower urges. The seeds of mental and pranic disharmony are sown when we keep ignoring the voice of the heart - our conscience. This is the enlightened part of us that spontaneously tells us what is right and what is not. Because of our fears, attachment, social pressure, or simply out of negligence, we keep making the same mistakes despite the repeated warnings of our inner voice. The result is guilt and self-condemnation, which weaken us, drain our vital energy, and create mental, pranic, and physical obstacles.

To some degree, it is possible to unblock energy in the body by working with asana, pranayamas, and mudras. However, those suffering from deep mental distress must not push themselves to practice advanced yogic techniques, especially pranayama with breath retention, for it may strengthen and magnify such mental states, creating even bigger blocks in the pranic sheath.

36. If I feel a block in the flow of energy during the practice of asana or pranayama, how can I work through it?
Be gentle with yourself. Don’t push yourself to the point where you risk shattering your body and nervous system, First, work with the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Cleansing techniques, such as the nasal wash, upper wash, complete wash, and agni sara will help you cleanse and energize your system. If you have taken drugs in the past, gentle pranayamas, such as alternate nostril breathing, and occasional juice fasts will help also be helpful.

In the beginning, stay within your capacity. Then gradually expand it, a step at a time, and see how your body reacts. Nothing you do should make your body uncomfortable. A slow and steady, regular practice will unblock and release your healing energy, enabling you to heal subtle physical or emotional injuries at the same time. As the Yoga Sutra say: “One can grasp the true intent of yoga through the practice of yoga. Yoga is the way to gain knowledge of yoga. One who is not negligent in yoga practice remains established in yoga and enjoys the highest fruit of yoga forever.”

37. How can I prepare myself to practice yoga beyond working with the body and breath?
It has to be done systematically. Begin by observing where you stand in worldly and spiritual life. Notice how strong you are physically and emotionally. How fulfilling or dissatisfying do you find the world around you? How entangled are you with your physical complaints, biological urges, emotional issues, and worldly duties and obligations? This analysis will guide you in determining how much emphasis to put on postures, breathing exercises, and basic relaxation and concentration techniques.

Don’t forget to analyze the role that the four basic urges - food, sleep, sex and the desire for self-preservation - play in your life. Working with these urges is an important part of any yoga practice. If they are not properly regulated, they can undermine the positive effects of your practice. Therefore, know to what extent you are controlled by these urges and learn how to regulate them.

Many texts say that a student should practice pranayama only after achieving mastery of the asanas, but attaining perfection in asana is not a simple task. The purpose of asana is to create enough flexibility and strength in the body so that the body itself does not become an obstacle in meditation. This takes considerable time, and while you are doing it you can also work with the breath by using simple practices, such as deep diaphragmatic breathing and alternate nostril breathing. These will benefit anyone who practices them. There are breathing practices, such as bhastrika, kapalabhati, and ujjayi, which fall between asana and pure pranayama practices. They can be done daily, even if you have not yet attained mastery over your sitting posture. Meanwhile, keep refining your postures and preparing yourself for the practice of advanced pranayama.

38. How will I know if I am practicing correctly?
As a result of practicing asana, you begin to understand your own body language. The body develops its own sensitivity and knows whether the food you eat is “right” or not. Your internal clock regulates your schedule precisely, and your body lets you know if you’re exercising too much, if you’re sleeping too much, and so forth.

Something deep within will not allow you to indulge in unnecessary gossip or other useless sense activities. The body finds great delight in maintaining a peaceful relationship with worldly objects. A true practitioner of hatha yoga is not disgusted by worldly objects, yet feels uncomfortable with noise, in a crowd, or with the excessive company of friends and relatives. At the mental level, he or she develops a great deal of tolerance to the pairs of opposites-such as pleasure and pain, honor and insult, and so forth.

Progress in pranayama can be observed in several stages: in the first stage, the nervous system is being cleaned and strengthened so your body may occasionally jerk and tremble as the prana shakti unblocks the marma sthanas (vital points). After that, you may perspire a lot. In the third phase, the body feels light. In the fourth, the body begins to slim down, and you become radiant and energetic. The surest sign of success in pranayama is that a practitioner’s thinking is clear and, deep within; the veil of ignorance is destroyed by the radiance of the inner light. At this point, if a student has the guidance of a master, then advanced hatha yoga practices can be used to awaken kundalini. Such an awakening will bring delight without any of the side effects (shakiness, visual and auditory hallucinations, etc.) of which modern students frequently complain.

39. Is it possible to use pranayama and asana to forcibly awaken kundalini shakti? If so, what are the effects?
The aim of the classical yoga postures is to unfold the inner forces that lie dormant within. This process is accomplished first by bringing the solar (ha) and lunar (tha) energy currents to a state of harmony, and then by igniting the inner fire known as kundalini shakti. However, many of the exercises taught in yoga classes today are not standard, classical yoga asana, but preparatory practices. By doing such “warm-up” exercises, we cannot expect to awaken kundalini shakti.

Asanas that directly aim at awakening kundalini include siddhasana, matsyendrasana, paschimottanasana, and yoga mudra. These posture require a great deal of preparation, and this preparation must be completed before committing yourself to the intense practice of asana. A flexible body and a balanced nervous system are indispensable.

If you aspire to true attainment in hatha yoga, you must pay attention to regulating the four primitive urges: food, sex sleep, and the desire for self-preservation. These urges eventually come under your control when you incorporate the following principles in day-to-day life: eating moderately, in balanced proportions; living in solitude without suffering from loneliness; observing silence for certain periods of time every day; remaining free of expectations; controlling the senses; and having as few possessions as possible. As you work with them, you will come to understand how these six observances help regulate the primitive urges and how they help deepen the practice of hatha yoga.

According to Patanjali, the codifier of yoga science and philosophy, you should commit yourself to the practice of pranayama only after mastering one of the sitting postures. If asana (posture) is not correct (i.e., comfortable and steady), you should work only with simple breathing exercises while continuing to refine your posture. Powerful pranayamas, which in most cases involve kumbhaka (breath retention), should be practiced only after posture is perfected, and even then, only under the guidance of a competent master.

In addition to mastering asana, there are other prerequisites for practicing advanced pranayamas: first, eliminate jerks and noise in the breath and reduce the pause between inhalation and exhalation. Only when diaphragmatic breathing has become natural and effortless, and the spinal column has become flexible and strong, can an aspirant begin to practice pranayama to awaken kundalini shakti.

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