May I answer that by Swami Sivananda

  • By Swami Sivananda
  • November 2003


Q87. What are the qualifications of a real Guru or a true guide? Is it possible for an ordinary human being to select a real guide? If so, how? 
A real Guru is a Srotriya and a Brahmanishtha, one who is learned in the scriptures and established in Brahman. He who is wise, desireless and sinless can be a true teacher and guide. The Guru, by virtue of his wisdom and capacity, draws towards himself the souls fit to be guided by him. When one feels that he is thus spontaneously drawn to a Mahapurusha whom he cannot help loving, admiring and serving, who is an embodiment of unruffled tranquillity, mercy and spiritual experience, such a great one can be taken as the Guru. A Guru is one in whom the disciple can find no defect and who serves as the ideal to be reached by the disciple. In short, the Guru is God in manifested form, and when Divinity is seen in a person, he can be chosen as the Guru. The relation between the guru and the Sishya is genuine and unbreakable, even as that between God and man is. It is a natural law that when a certain event has to take place in the universe, the conditions necessary for the same are brought about exactly at the proper time. When the disciple is ready to receive the higher Light, he is brought into contact with a suitable Guru by the Supreme Dispensation.

Q88. How does the mind differ from the Soul? 
The mind is a special, limited particularization of the Soul-consciousness. which is unlimited and never ceases to be all pervading. The mind is the form of the collective totality of desires, and hence, it is inert and powerless. But it appears to be conscious and powerful as the Inner Self or the Soul is reflected through it. The mind alone is the real person or the individual and it is the real doer of all actions. It is the experiencer of every condition in the universe, both objectively and subjectively. The Soul is the Absolute which is not really affected by any experience of the mind. The mind is mortal, while the Soul is immortal.

Q89. Our sages and Tapasvins make use of tiger-skins or deerskins. Does it not amount to sinful violence to kill an animal or get it killed, particularly in the case of those who are out for spiritual advancement? Does it not sound suicidal for a hermit to sit all his life on the skin of a dead animal and aspire for deliverance or Mukti for himself? 
The most important point to remember in connection with the use of deerskin or tiger-skin as Asana or seat is that the animal is never killed for obtaining its skin. The deer was always a part of the ancient Ashrams of Sannyasins and Maharshis; and they should have found the skin of the deer, when it died its natural death, an easily procurable material for the Asan. To those living in dense jungles, therefore, deerskin and the bark of trees should have been more easily and abundantly available than cloth.

Tiger-skins, too, were procured in a similar way, though much less numerically, and that accounts for the wider use of the deerskin as Asana. In fact, Mriga-charma is prescribed for Asana; and Mriga means deer.

From the spiritual point of view, the sages found that doing Sadhana seated on a deerskin was highly conducive to Siddhi. They power generated in the body through Sadhana was preserved by the skin.

Q92. Why was Gita taught on the battlefield? 
There was some meaning in the Lord’s choosing the battlefield for the Gita teaching. Yes. He wanted to point out to us that wisdom should not recline on the armchair. If his wisdom did not accompany a man to the field of battle, it was no wisdom at all! Any man could talk philosophy “after dinner”; any man could discourse upon the most intricate points in the Yoga Shastras sitting comfortably near the fireplace. But that is no wisdom at all; it is mere lip service to the supreme science of Knowledge of the Self. It is hypocrisy. These people generally fail when they face a trial, when their wisdom is put to the acid test of practical demonstration, when they find themselves in a crisis.

Krishna’s Panchajanya roars a big ‘No’! No, no. that is not wisdom; real wisdom will serve you right on the battlefield, right in a crisis, and will enable you to surmount the obstacle, resist the temptation, arise victoriously from the trial. You will convert the trial into a great opportunity for everything your genius. For, genius is often made by crisis.

A strong character will not succumb to tests and temptation, however strong and powerful they may be. On the contrary, a strong character reveals its strength only at the time of such crises. A morally weak man talks philosophy when things are getting on the way he wishes them to; but his philosophy takes leave of him at the sight of a test. Whereas, a morally strong man may give no indication whatsoever of his strength in ordinary times; but when a great trial faces him, he reacts most surprisingly and reveals his character.

That is what Sadhaks should understand from Krishna’s choice of the dreadful platform of the battlefield for His discourse. It was, as it where, a fitting preludes to the great Yoga of Equanimity that He was about to preach through Arjuna to the entire humanity.

Q96. Sometimes, due to cold or some such reason, one of my nostrils gets clogged and the breath does not flow clear and there comes some difficulty in doing Pranayam. What shall I do to make the breath flow freely? 
Insert the end of a thread into the nostril. You will begin to sneeze. This will clear the passage. Or lie down for five minutes on the left side if the right nostril is clogged. This also will relieve. Do four rounds of Bhastrika Pranayam. You will be all right.

Q97. What is the difference between Jivatman and Paramatman?
Jivatman is the individual soul, a reflection of Brahman in Avidya or the mind. Paramatman is the Supreme Soul, Brahman or the Atman. From the empirical viewpoint, the Jivatman is a finite and conditioned being, while the Paramatman is the infinite, eternal, Sat-chit-ananda Brahman. In essence, the Jivatman is identical with Paramatman when Avidya is destroyed.

Q99. Through which opening does the soul leave the body?  
So long as Prana pulls up and Apana pulls down the life forces, there is continuity of life. But, the moment either of these becomes weaker, there is an exit of the life force. If the Apana gives way, then the Jiva will pass out of the body through either the head or the nose or the ear or the mouth. If the Prana gives way, then it will pass out of the body through the anus.

Q100. What is astral body?  
The astral body is the subtle body, which is within this physical body like the bladder of a football. It is an exact counterpart of the physical body. It is made up of the five organs of action, the five organs of knowledge, the five Pranas, mind, intellect, Chitta or the subconscious mind, and Ahankar or egoism. Some call it “the double”. It is this astral body that comes out of the physical body after death and moves to heaven. Death of this astral body through the knowledge of the Eternal frees one from the cycle of births and deaths.

Q102. Krishna is not the Lord. He is not an Avatar. He was a passionate cowherd who lustfully played with the Gopis. 
What was the age of Lord Krishna at that time? Was He not a boy of seven? Can there be a tinge of passion in Him? Who can understand the secret of Ras Lila and Madhurya Bhav, the culmination of the highest Bhakti, Atmanivedan or total surrender to the Lord? It is only Narada, Suka Deva, Chaitanya, Mira, Hafiz, Ramananda and the Sakhis or Gopis that can understand the secret of Ras Lila. The Sakhis only are qualified for this. Did He not play miracles when he was a body? Did He not show that He was the Avatara of Lord Hari? Did He not show Virat Darshan to His mother when He was a baby? Did He not kill the Kaliya serpent by standing on its hood? Did He not multiply Himself as countless Krishnas? Who were the Gopis? Were they not God-intoxicated beings who saw Krishna alone everywhere, who saw themselves also as Krishna? The sound of the Murali could throw them into a state of divine ecstasy or Holy Communion. They were above body consciousness.

Q104. Can a departed spirit take any material form? 
Yes. All spirits do not possess the power of materialization. Only advanced spirits that are endowed with psychic power are able to materialize. They take human form; sit in the chair in the seance and shake hands with those sit in the séance. They talk also. The touch is as tangible and warm as that of a living human body. In a short time, the hand of the spirit melts away. Photographs of the spirits also have been taken.

Q105. I would like to know very much where my husband’s soul is at present. I shall be obliged if you could explain to me what happens to the soul after death and what merits we could do for the peace of the departed soul and whether he could see or hear us, mortals. Is there any truth in what the spiritualists say that we could commune with the dead through a thing called ‘medium’ and is it really the dead person who answers? 
Do not allow yourself to be fascinated by spiritualism, medium ship, crystal gazing, etc. They will lead you astray. Communication with the dead and talking with the dead are all fads which have no connection with real spirituality. The purpose of life is different. The goal is to realise the essential imperishability of your Self. This alone will confer perfect bliss and peace.

The spirit is neither born nor does it die. Like a person passing from one room to another, the soul passes from one plane of existence to another. In the period between death and rebirth, the individual works out a certain portion of his Karmas in subtler spheres. At the appointed time, the soul takes up a new body again.

The best means of ensuring peace for the departed is to do Kirtan, increase your Japa, relieve other people’s distress by selfless service and charity, and do earnest prayer.

Do not try to commune with the departed soul of your husband. Communion with the departed soul will stand in the way of its onward march to higher blissful regions and make it earth-bound. Do not try to drag your husband down. It will disturb his peace. The spirit-guide which controls the medium is ignorant and deceitful. It utters falsehood.

Q109. Though I have attended Satsang all these years and though I have been doing Japa and Dhyan all these years, I have not yet a confirmed belief in God and His Name. There is yet Moha for family, for position, for money and for worldly life. It is strange, Swamiji, I confess. 
Maya is powerful, and except in very rare cases where the Samskaras are very strong, taste for a life of contemplation does not manifest itself in man. No doubt, Satsang Japa and Dhyan help a Sadhak a lot. But the Avarana of Avidya or the veil of ignorance is so thick that these are not sufficient to pierce it. they only create Samskaras which take shape in future births. But, if at the same time you do Vichara, develop Viveka and cultivate Vairagya, then the progress is extremely rapid. Vairagya and Viveka are absolutely necessary. Without these, no amount of Satsang, Japa or Dhyan will produce immediate results. Maya is extremely powerful: she can be annihilated only through Dridha Vairagya, only through intense dispassion.

Q112. Apart from the Guru, do you think that a mediator is necessary in order to enable us to attain Self-realisation? 
Yes, yes. That is the Tutelary Deity or Ishta Devata. The mind cannot all at once rise beyond itself. The ego will seldom cut its own throat. Your consciousness will find it a hard task to realise the Cosmic Consciousness, Therefore, the Name and the Form of a Deity are chosen to meditate upon. In due time, this Deity will manifest Itself before you and do the work of annihilating the ego and the mind, enabling you to realise Cosmic Consciousness.

Q116. Swamiji, I feel I have not understood the Mahavakyas and their significance properly. 
I will explain it to you. Listen attentively.

The first Mahavakya is: “Prajnanam Brahma. Consciousness is Brahman”. This is Lakshana Vakya. The teacher gives the definition to the student that pure consciousness is Brahman.

Then the teacher says: “Tat Tvam Asi. Thou art That. You are the all-pervading pure consciousness”. This is known as Upadesa Vakya.

Then the student contemplates on what the teacher expounded, in the form of the idea, “Aham Brahmasmi. I am Brahman”. This is Anusandhana Vakya.

Finally, the student realises that this Self which is within him is Brahman: “Ayam Atma Brahma. This Atma is Brahman”. This is Anubhava Vakya.

Have you understood now?

Q118. Why are Sadhus and Sannyasins enjoined upon to beg for their food? Don’t the sins and evil intentions of the giver of food get mixed up with his charity and thus spoil the mental peace of the Sadhus and Sannyasins by their contaminating influence? 
A true Sadhu or a genuine Sannyasin is he who has no attachment to the world even in the slightest degree. Such Sadhus are Brahma-nishtha Purushas (persons in the constant thought of the Divine or Brahman) unmindful of their bare needs even. They should not cook for themselves. Self-cooking induces in any person a desire to prepare this dish or that, to relish this sweet dainty or that. It causes Jihva Chapalya (unsteadiness of the tongue). The aim of all Sadhanas being to control the mind, for which control of the tongue is the best means, self-cooking is prohibited to the Sadhu and the Sannyasin; and in lieu thereof, begging, just to fill up the belly moderately, is allowed. So, begging is no sin for a Sadhu and a Sannyasin.

The fire of Tapas consequent upon Japa, Pranayam, Svadhyaya of the Bhagavata and the like burns all impurities that are likely to affect the God-intoxicated when they take food from ill-evolved and undeveloped souls-be they Brahmins or Pariahs.

Q120. Swamiji, how did Maya arise in Brahman?  
This is an Ati-prasna or transcendental question. You will find this question coming up to your mind in various forms: When did Karma begin? When and why was the world created? Why is there evil in the world? Why did the Unmanifest manifest itself? And so on. The same question is asked by Rama in Yoga Vasishtha and Vasishtha says: “You are putting the cart before the horse. You will not be benefited by an enquiry into this question at all. Meditate and realise Brahman. You will then know the answer to this question. The problem itself will have dissolved by then”. No one can answer this question. When Knowledge dawns, the question itself vanishes. Therefore there is no answer to the question at all.

The Brahma Sutra says: Lokavat Tu Lila Kaivalyam. It is only to pacify your doubt. It is really not an answer; for, there can be no answer. Yet the question will arise in the case of every seeker after Truth. You cannot help it. You will have to use your discrimination, pacify the doubt, and then through intense Sadhana and meditation, realise God. Then the doubt will vanish. A great Yogi and Jnani were worried with this doubt for twelve years. Then he told me: “The worry is over now. It troubled me for twelve years. I could not find an answer. So I have given up that pursuit and have taken to meditation, Japa and Kirtan. Now I find peace and progress”. Faith in the Guru, in the Granth Saheb, Kirtan, Japa, meditation and practice of righteousness these will enable you to progress in the spiritual path and will take you to That where there is no questioning possible.

Q121. I quite realise that contentment gives peace. But I have a doubt. If I become contented, all my ambitions will die. I will become lethargic and lazy. On account of my various ambitions, I move about hither and thither, I exert and I am energetic. Kindly remove this doubt of mine. I am quite bewildered. 
Contentment can never make you idle. It is a Sattvic virtue that propels man towards God. It gives strength of mind and peace. It checks unnecessary and selfish exertions. It opens the inner eye of man and moves his mind towards divine contemplation. It turns his energy in the inner, Sattvic channels. It transmittes the gross energy, viz., greed that is forcing man towards selfish exertions into spiritual energy, Ojas. That man who is contented is full of Sattva. He is more energetic now. He is inward. He has an inner life in the Atman. He is always peaceful. He turns out more work calmly and with one-pointed mind. All the dissipated rays of the mind are collected now. Do you understand the point now?

It is on the strength of contentment that the Sadhus and Sannyasins, and the Fakirs and Bhikshus move about in the world in a carefree manner by living on Bhiksha. It is contentment that gives strength to an aspirant to walk in the path of Self-realisation and emboldens him to march fearlessly in the rugged and thorny path of spirituality.

Q122. In all matters with which it is connected, science gives us a precise account of how a particular thing is constructed and how it grows. We are also given the successive signs that mark the growth. Are there, in the practice of Yoga, any definite indication to measure the aspirant’s progress-for instance, some experiences that he would have after, say, three months of practice, others which he would come upon after a year, and so on? 
Various Yogas give various experiences. The practice of Pranayam and Hatha Yogic Kriyas, for instance, would give a graded series of psychic experiences. Seeing all kinds of ethereal lights and hearing certain Anahata sounds belongs to this category. Here, the sages who have propounded these Yogas have given very definite stages of spiritual experience. As the Kundalini passes from Chakra to Chakra, the Yogi has certain definite, verifiable experiences. That is because each Chakra governs a particular Tattva, and its mastery, therefore, gives specific experiences.

Similarly, in Tantrik Sadhana also, they have been able to give a definite chart of spiritual experiences. Each Sadhana has its own particular Siddhi; and therefore, the experiences of all Sadhaks following a particular Sadhana are invariably the same.

But, these are all lower experiences of an inferior type. They are psychic experiences, which need not necessarily denote the aspirant’s spiritual progress. Even the Bhakta’s experiences of horrification, shedding of tears, etc., though they are not so perfectly graded as those of the Hatha Yoga practitioner, do not necessarily indicate spiritual progress.

When you enter the domain of the Spirit you come into the sphere of the Infinite. Infinite are the Yogas and infinite are the experiences too. Each man’s Yoga is his own. For, he has brought his own Samskaras and Vasanas and he strives in his own way to reach the goal. These two, interacting on each other, give him his various experiences. For instance, as he approaches the transcendental, infinite, immortal Self, the aspirant would enjoy great inner peace and indescribable happiness. He is not easily affected by what goes on around him. Not only this, he is able to radiate peace and happiness to all those who come into contact with him. He becomes good and radiates goodness. This is the most important sign of spiritual progress. God is perfect goodness. The aspirant who progresses towards the realisation of God, therefore, grows in goodness. His evil qualities slowly vanish and are replaced by sublime virtues. If this most essential element is not there, then all other visions and sounds are practically useless. By his mere presence the advanced Yogi is able to inspire people to lead a good life, free from hatred and malice. His heart is filled with cosmic love, and therefore, he serves all spontaneously and selflessly. These are all real signs of spiritual progress.

But, beyond all these, is the ultimate experience. That is indescribable. Peace and happiness, undisturbed tranquillity of mind-these are all great signs of progress, but they do not constitute the goal. The goal is to become God. You must become one with God. This is achieved through ceaseless practice of meditation after establishing oneself in virtue and goodness. That supreme experience, when the Yogi feels he is one with God, no words can describe.

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