Tantric Listening

By Rebecca (Rasa) Rivers, interviewed by
Lissa (Yogyananda) Fountain

Most often, Rasa listens to the Guru Mantras track on Gurudevi Swami Nirmalananda’s newest CD, Spiritual Hunger and Fulfillment.  For 25 minutes Gurudevi chants the traditional invocation:

gurur-brahmaa gurur-vishnur

gurur-devo maheshvarah

gurureva para-brahma

tasmai shree-gurave namah

“I find listening to this verse so deep and quieting,” says Rasa.  “With it playing in the background, I can go into a quiet place inside of myself.”  Owner of Northern Light Yoga in Canton NY, Rasa purchased a copy of Spiritual Hunger and Fulfillment at a recent training.  Of the six beautifully complex tracks, she also especially loves “Bhagavan Namah” and “Purno’ham” for their “devotional quality.”

Rasa is grateful as well for the English translation of the “Atma Shatakam” (Adi Sharkaracharya’s poem of bliss and consciousness).  She describes, “Gurudevi’s words are so beautiful.  I appreciate the power of what is being said.  When I listen to chants in Sanskrit, I feel both the physical and mental effects.  Yet when I hear the words in English, they go deeper into the structures of my mind.  Understanding the words seems to do that for me.  Similarly, repeating Om Namah Shivaaya, our mantra, affects my body and mind.  But knowing that it translates to ‘I honor my own Self’ brings a part of my mind along in a deeper way.  There’s an internal shifting into Consciousness-Itself.  I appreciate that the English translation of Shankaracharya’s poem which Gurudevi provides does the same.”

Listening to the “Atma Shatakam,” Rasa feels she is being reminded of the Self-Realization path.  She says, “It’s like a map.  I know where my mind is going.  Even if I am identifying with something in the moment, I know there is more to me: Shiva.  It’s comforting to know that.”

She likens this experience to learning the philosophy behind our vichara (guided self-inquiry) process.  She recounts, “Studying the kleshas (inner bindings) and understanding them made my mind more transparent.  I could see: ‘Oh, there’s a klesha.’ And then I’d be less drawn into it or bound by it.  By listening to this chant, I often see where there’s another identification. In seeing it, I am less drawn into it or bound by it.  The chant helps me know there is always something more to discover within.  It is very freeing.”  Rasa can imagine sharing Spiritual Hunger and Fulfillment with her deeper students and meditation satsang gatherings.  She feels these students are better prepared for its depth and teachings.

Listening to this CD is a tantric practice for Rasa.  “It infuses my worldly life with practice,” she says.  “I can play it in the background during the day to spiritualize my work and make it like a prayer.  Listening to this CD lowers my resistance to whatever I may be resisting.  Cleaning the kitchen becomes a part of my spiritual practice!”  With a quiet mind, Rasa is beautifully getting things done in the world while maintaining a focus on the Self.  What an amazing gift Gurudevi’s new CD is to all of us!

When a Door Closes, Another One Opens

By Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda

Things are changed and still changing.  We don’t know what’s going to happen, nor how long it will take.  Life has always been uncertain, but the uncertainty is now in your face.  It is a spiritual lesson.  Are you ready to open that door?

The door opens to an inner vista, a deep drink from the inner well that is so deep, it goes all the way to God.  You find your way there accidentally, when you chill.  Well, it’s chill time.  If you’re stuck at home for the interim, turn your home into a yoga cave.  Use some of the tried and true techniques to find your way all the way in.  It doesn’t have to be accidental.  It can be on purpose. There’s one big difference between yoga and Buddhism.  Buddhism is about ending suffering while yoga is about discovering inner bliss.  Patanjali defined it clearly thousands of years ago:

Yogas-chitta-vrtti-nirodhah.
tadaa drashtuh svaroope’vasthaanam.
– Yoga Sutras, chapter 1, sutras 1-2

Yoga is the quieting of your mind.
Once it’s quiet, you abide in the
bliss of your own beingness (svaroopa).

It’s true, when you chill, you can drink deeply from within.  But sometimes you’re chill on the outside while your mind is racing inside.  And sometimes you just fall asleep.  That sweet space, between crazy and unconscious, can be hard to find.

Yoga specializes in showing you the way inside.  Instead of waiting for your mind to still, yoga has ways to gently apply the brakes.  The yoga poses and breathing practices can help with this, but they are the tip of the iceberg.  The 90% that’s underwater, hidden from public view, are the techniques that intervene with your mind. 

It’s clear that your mind needs an intervention.  Left to its own devices, it goes crazy and takes you with it.  Especially when you’re housebound!  Not only do you lack your usual diversions, you’re stuck with the people who know how to push your buttons.  Or you’re alone.  I’m not sure which one is worse.

How do you take care of your mind?  First you have to understand how it works, then you work with it.  It’s just like getting a new phone. First you have to understand how it works.  Then you can utilize it for the things that are important to you. 

So how does your mind work, really?  It will be no surprise to you:  your mind is incredibly repetitive.  It repeats the same things over and over again.  And over.  And over…  Once you realize how redundant it really is, you’ll be kinder to the elders in your life who repeat the same stories over and over.  You can see that you’re doing the same thing inside.

Since your mind is going to repeat something, yoga says to apply that power of focus to something better.  Apply your mind to Consciousness.  Apply your mind to the inner exploration of your own existence, so you can see what you are made of, in the deeper dimensions beyond your mind. 

An easy way to do this is to watch your breath, not to watch the movements but to find that sweet space between the breaths.  It is a doorway inside, taking you to the sweet space between crazy and unconscious.  Notice the brief pause after your inhale, before your exhalation starts again.  Then notice the brief pause at the end of your exhalation, before your breath comes in again.  Repeat.

The pause between your breaths is already there.  You don’t have to make it happen.  Let your breath be easy and find it — don’t force it.  It’s a game of hide and seek, not a power trip. Your own Divine Essence is hiding within you.  As a seeker, you look where it’s hidden, inside.  Peeking into the pauses is like looking between the slats of window blinds.  You can see the whole thing by looking through the spaces.  On a practical level, one of those pauses will be easier, longer or sweeter for you.  Great!  But continue to peek into the other one as well.  They start out different, but they open up to be the same, and then they open up more.  Don’t do this all the time, only when you’re chillin’. It’s better than worrying.  It’s better than panicking.  It’s better than trying to find more ways to distract yourself from the unpredictable world.  Instead of going crazy, it’s a way of going sane.

About Gurudevi Nirmalananda

By Ben Waters, interviewed by Lori (Priya) Kenney

After a spontaneous Kundalini awakening, Ben Waters had energy coursing through his system and knew he needed some guidance.  Through internet research, Ben made a lucky connection with a Svaroopa® yoga teacher nearby. He was thus led to Gurudevi Nirmalananda, only an hour from his home!  “It was perfect,” says Ben, who has now been studying with Gurudevi for six years.

“One thing I love about Gurudevi is that she is accessible. Available and approachable, she makes time for one-on-one talks. That’s big.  I know other people who have gurus. They either live in another country or just come around once in a while.  

“Gurudevi embodies that state I’m trying to get to, to transform into. She’s very real. She doesn’t look spaced out and is very grounded.  She doesn’t talk about lofty, unattainable stuff.  Her teachings and meditation instruction are accessible and profoundly deep.  She talks about having this amazing experience of Self-Realization and God within you, while also living an everyday life.  She displays that — she runs yoga programs and is a normal person, but so much more. 

 “I feel so much love from her.  I feel like she truly cares about everybody as well as me personally.  Every time I’m in her presence, there is at least one moment that I feel she’s there with me.  She does it with just a look, a tap on the shoulder or a comment.  She encourages me and I feel extremely supported by her. 

“Gurudevi has entered into my heart in a way that I can’t explain.  How does she do it?  I was skeptical at first but somehow she entered my heart. She is with me, even if I’m not in her presence.  She is the most important person in my life. 

“I admire her confidence and unwavering focus.  She is on point.  I’ve heard people ask questions and wonder how she will answer.  She exudes stability.  She’s confident about this path, these practices, where they will lead, and what they will do for you.  That means a lot to me. 

“She is loving but fierce, in a gentle way.  If you’re screwing up, she lets you know.  One time after a satsang, Gurudevi was asking questions about the teachings she gave.  I was in a spaced out state of mind.  When she asked me a question, I couldn’t respond because I was so much in the bliss.  She looked at me and said very firmly, “Get in your body! Now.”  It snapped me back into the present and in my body immediately.  It wasn’t mean but it was fierce.  She said, “I’m coming back to you in 30 seconds and I want an answer.”  Her words, her command, pulled me right back in.  I felt very grounded almost immediately and none of the bliss was gone. I could function with the bliss without losing myself in it.

“Gurudevi walks the walk.  I have watched her closely over the years.  There is nothing that I see her doing or living that is in conflict with what she’s saying.  She’s not saying one thing here and doing another over there.  It’s very clean.

“She gets people involved.  I’m kind of shy, but she reached out to me and said, “I’d like you to emcee these events.”  It makes you feel like she really wants you to be part of this family. “It’s great to see Gurudevi openly serve. I can tell she’s a servant of Consciousness.  When I first started, there were just four to eight of us at satsangs on Sunday.  Now people from all over southeast PA, NJ, and DE come regularly to her Swami Sunday Satsangs.  She’s serving this whole community all over as well as Ashram residents and yogis from all over the US, Canada, Australia and Europe, who are attending immersion programs.  It’s great to see how Gurudevi lives this life of seva (pure service).”

The Waiting Game

By Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda

I remember high school dances, with us girls all lined up waiting for a teenage boy to come ask us to dance.  Only once a year could the girl offer the invitation, on Sadie Hawkins Day.  The rest of the time, it was a waiting game.  It’s a waiting game again.

How long will this go on?  We don’t know.  How bad will it get?  We don’t know.  How long will it take to get going again?  We don’t know.  How many people will die?  We don’t know and we’re trying to make a big difference in that number.   You’re staying home and maintaining social distance not only to protect yourself, but to protect the most vulnerable people.  It’s a small price to pay in order to save millions of lives.

It’s true, tests are not readily available in most of America. It’s true, you can be sick and not have COvid 19.  It’s true, you can have it but not know it.  The reality is that lots of people get it and have no symptoms.

Even if you do get the virus, WHO tells us that the majority of people who contract Covid-19 suffer only mild, cold-like symptoms.  Most people who get it don’t need hospitalization — only some of them.  Basically, we’re all limiting our activities in order to protect the elderly and those with problems like high blood pressure, heart and lung problems or diabetes.  You’re related to some of them.  They are worth protecting.

What do you do while you wait?  Every little sniffle is scary.  The anxiety can be crushing, especially for those now facing financial challenges.  The isolation can make you feel isolated and depressed.  And it is going to continue for a while.  How long?  Nobody knows.

What a perfect time to meditate!  You’ve needed to do it for a long time.  Now you may even have time to do it.  And it may save your sanity.

What a great time to do more yoga!  Instead of getting by on 30 minutes of daily practice, you could do an hour or three.  Not only will you improve your immune system, you’ll even feel better.

What a great time to delve more deeply into the mystical teachings of yoga!  You can sign up for my online Year-Long Programme or work your way through our extensive library of freebies.  My own bookshelves hold a few yoga texts that I’ve never opened, even though they looked good enough to buy.  This is a delicious opportunity to read slowly, to savor the teachings that have come to us through thousands of years.

I once checked into a hotel in rural India.  It was located near an Ashram I was visiting daily for a week or so.  As the bellman walked me to my room, he pointed out the swimming pool and tennis courts, along with a game room where I could check out various games.  He said, “All this is to help you kill time.”  Shocked, I stared at him and said, “I don’t want to kill time.  I want to make the best use of it that I can.  That’s why I’m here, to study at the nearby Ashram.”

Do you plan to kill time for the next days, weeks or months?  Or might you make good use of it?

OM svaroopa svasvabhavah namo namah – Again and again I bow to your inherent divinity.

Stop the World!

by Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda

If you had taken two weeks of vacation, just to stay home, what would you be doing now?  More yoga, you might say.  An at-home immersion will not only help you sail through the anxiety and family tensions, but also banish the boredom.  Or maybe you’re going to have more screen time instead.

This two weeks off is a great way to learn how important being productive is to you, being a contributing member of society.  When you go to work, you pour your energy into something that makes a difference to others.   If you’re focused on family, what you do for them makes a difference.  All types of work ultimately benefit other people, maybe even uplifting or serving the world.  Yet it also keeps you busy, perhaps even entertained.

With the whole world coming to a halt, the big question is how long will it last?  For some people, this is about starvation or paying the rent.  If the hiatus goes on too long, they’ll have some real problems.  If you’re not challenged in this way, you’re still challenged.  It is a time of whole-world austerity, even for those providing essential services who are working overtime. 

Instead of meditating or doing more yoga, most people are looking for external things to do.  Doing is an essential component of your humanness.  Internet based companies will make more money during this time of social distancing, as will cleaning product companies and food delivery services.  Consumer interest is necessarily shifted to home based activities.  This shift is likely to stay with us long past the current health crisis.  More than an economic crisis, it is a cultural change that is likely to create more distancing, alienation and loneliness, all of which fuels anxiety even more.  You do need more yoga!

What do you do when you’re doing more yoga?  There are many body-based practices:  yogic breathing, poses, improving your diet and (timely) cleaning of your physical environment. 

Your mind also needs support, for which the foremost yogic practice is mantra repetition.  How many times can you repeat mantra in the 12 hours of daylight we have each day? I’ve created a new Japa Club to help you with this. It’s free.

Other practices for your mind include study of the texts and writings of the great masters.  What if you fill your days with books by saints?  Who will you be in two weeks?  Either that or you can catch up on Netflix.  Which one will be better for you; which will be more enjoyable?

For your heart, chant.  Put on songs to God and sing along.  You can even dance along so you get your body involved too.  You can also share your heart by staying in touch with fellow yogis.  If you’re used to seeing them in yoga class or meditation satsang, reach out to them now.  If you care about them, even if you want to be cared about, connect with those who share your yogic perspective and aspirations.

One practice puts it all together:  seva (selfless service or karma yoga).  This is the practice that meets the human being in their need to be doing things.  Many organizations have opportunities to do seva that doesn’t require you be onsite.  Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram is one of them. 

In supporting any organization and serving others, you put your body, mind and heart all to work at the same time. With these three capacities all focused in one direction, you can make a difference in the world in just two weeks.  And uplift yourself at the same time.  For Ashram seva opportunities, email us at seva@svaroopayoga.org.

Happiness & Bliss

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

Enlightenment will not give you happiness.  Instead you will abide in unending inner bliss.  This bliss is not the same as happiness, not even the same as lots of happiness.  Happiness is an emotion; bliss is a state of being.  Happiness comes and goes; bliss is constant.  Happiness is dependent on external things; bliss is independent, ever-arising from its inner source.  You look outside for something to make you happy, but you look inside for bliss, which is always there.

Inner bliss is an inner fullness, suffused with peace, joy and compassion.  These are not ordinary emotions.  Yoga describes them as “divine emotions,” not only because they are divine, but also because they come from a different direction.    

Ordinary emotions begin with external things (people or events), which your mind gloms onto and won’t let go of.  Your mind churns your heart, whether creating excitement, anxiety or pain.  Your entire nervous system goes haywire and you “feel” your feelings.  Your feelings are physical sensations caused by your thoughts, which is why we label emotions as “feelings.”  The events can even be long gone but your mind replays them, so you experience the feelings again and again, even getting stuck in a reactive loop that no one enjoys — not you nor the people around you.

Divine emotions arise from the deepest dimension of your own being, your own capital-S Self.  Meditation is the most efficient way to go looking for the source, which is why all of yoga’s practices are ways to prepare for meditation.  Exploring your own existence, delving inward to the source of your own beingness, you discover your Self, the One Reality who is being you.  Grounded into the inner infinity, you are being the One while knowing your own beingness.

When you open your eyes, you can stay grounded in the inner infinity of your own Self.  Now that expansive bliss and beingness can pour through your mind and emotions — this is what we call “divine emotions.”  They come from a divine source, an inexhaustible source, the source of this universe, which is the source and substance of your own Self.

Ever arising within, this bliss fills your thoughts and senses.  You see differently.  You think differently.  You breathe differently.  You step into your relationships more fully, more expansively, yet what you have to share is profoundly different, for you are sharing the bliss of Consciousness-Itself, your own Self.  What a way to live! You can’t get there by yourself.  Just like anything else you do, you need to learn how to do it from someone who already knows how.  More than mere learning, you need a boost, like a little kid sitting on their dad’s shoulders.  That’s called grace, the divine gift that reveals your divinity to you.  That’s why I studied with my Guru, and that’s why he sent me here to help you.  If you want to be enlightened, you’ll need to put some time and energy into it.  It’s a great goal, the greatest of all goals!  But to attain your goal, you need both: self-effort and Guru’s Grace.  Do more yoga.

A Yogi in a Pandemic

By Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda

Anxiety is peaking, growing higher than I believed possible.  Beyond self-quarantine, might we soon have people barricading themselves in their homes?  The enemy is their neighbor, co-worker, even family member, anyone who might have the flu.  Is it the virus that is pandemic, or is it the anxiety that’s pandemic?

Of course you must be intelligent about preventing disease!  But first you must assess the risk.   

  • Dr. Greg Poland, Mayo Clinic, explained:  30 million American have been infected with a virus in the last few months — the influenza virus.  About 1% of them needed hospitalization, and unfortunately about 30,000 of them died.  He says we are so “culturally numb to ‘just the flu’ that we don’t take it seriously despite the numbers. And in contrast, the coronavirus has killed about 3,300 in roughly the same time.”  — CNN

There have been 100,000 cases identified as COVID-19, now labeled as a pandemic by World Health Organization.  It’s true that the potential for global illness is huge.  Yet the reality is currently (fortunately) small, only .0012% of the population.  Don’t let the media fuel your anxiety unnecessarily.

Even air travel is not the scary thing that everyone thinks it is.  One airline describes it this way:

  • “We know that because of high cleaning standards and hospital-grade air filtration systems, the risk of catching a virus on an aircraft is low. Inflight transmissions have not been a feature of this outbreak… As the US Centres for Disease Control says, ‘the cabin air environment is not conducive to the spread of most infectious diseases.’”  — Qantas customer email

The reality is that it’s the flu.  The death rate is running about 3%, which means 97 of 100 infected people do fine.  This is not the black plague or Ebola.  The real problem is that the virus lives on, outside the host’s body, for up to two weeks.  Thus everything that an infected person has touched is a potential carrier for quite a while.  This also means it’s easy to control.

Hygiene is the answer.  While that’s not new, it’s a good thing to get everyone to pay attention.  From my Girl Scout camping days, and my many trips in third-world countries, I have relied on my immune system to handle a wide variety of threats.  As a yogi, I have an excellent immune system.  Yet the experts include me in one of the high-risk groups, “older adults,” along with people who suffer from chronic disease or long-term health problems.  So I’m washing my hands more often and following the other CDC recommmendations.

At the Ashram, we’re increasing our cleaning routines, disinfecting doorknobs and other surfaces several times daily.  We’ve added face cloths for your yoga classes, so you rest your face on a clean personal towel.  And we’re doing more — see our Coronavirus Update

Please take care of yourself and your loved ones.  Be intelligent and improve your hygiene practices.  But, while you’re doing this, take a look at the fear.  Anxiety diminishes your immune response, so the more you worry, the more likely you’ll experience the very thing you fear.  Planning ahead and taking care of yourself is not the same as worrying — it’s strategizing.  See my October 2006 Teachings Article explaining the difference, titled “Your Mind Needs Yoga.”

Keep breathing.  Be kind to those who are near panic, obsessing on something they actually can control with personal hygiene.  Remember, anxiety decreases your intelligence.  Settle deeper within, assess your risk and act prudently to take care of it.  And… do more yoga.