Monthly Archives: December 2019

More Joyous

by Gurudevi Nirmalananda  & Swami Shrutananda (the yogi formerly known as Vidyadevi)

It’s the season of joy!  Our year-end holidays, with the decorations, music, gifts, special foods, family and friends, makes this a joyous time for so many people.  Yet for others this is a time of stress, anxiety or unhappiness, and the knowing that their expectations or hopes of joy can’t be fulfilled.

The problem is that the percentage of your life during which you experience joy is too low.  Even when you feel such joy, it is too short because the situation you depend on for your joy doesn’t last.   You invest so much time and energy trying to create certain circumstances, ones that will make you more joyous.  But it doesn’t last because you’re looking for the joy to come from outside.

The yogic sage Shankaracharya said, in his text titled Vivekachudamani,

“…your own innermost Self [is] the ceaseless joy within you.”

This means you have the capacity to experience “ceaseless joy” within.  Instead, you settle for only periodic joy.  Life really is about joy.  Being more joyous is THE measure for quality of life.  The problem is that you’re dependent on unpredictable externals to trigger joy for you.  You’re not getting it from your “innermost Self.”  But you can.

You can go a yoga class when you are not feeling joyous at all and you’ll feel different at the end. If a researcher gave you a psychology self-assessment test before class, you might be at 40% or 62%; the test at the end would show you higher, maybe 78% or even 90%.  If you have been looking for yoga to make you more joyous, this is a sign of your intelligence.

Shankaracharya warns,

“The true nature of your own Self is extremely subtle. It cannot be perceived by the mind, due to the density of which the mind is made. It is known in your inner state of absorption, which is attained by plunging inside. Plunge deep within your own being to know your own Self as Consciousness-Itself. Allow yourself to know and to be that which you already are.”

You already have these deep inner experiences in Svaroopa® yoga classes, in your own home practice and especially in Svaroopa® Vidya meditation. By plunging deep within, having the inner experience of the extremely subtle reality within, you know that which you already are, your own Self as Consciousness-Itself.

You already rely on yoga to make you more joyous.  Svaroopa® yoga reliably gives you your own Self.  When you lose your Self, simply do more yoga and meditation.  If it worked before, it will work again.  It will give you what Shankaracharya promises,

“At this innermost level, you never cease to experience infinite joy.”

This is the way a yogi lives in the world.  What a way to live!

Do more yoga.


Originally published November 2014

Use Everything as a Reminder

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

I found myself singing along with the music as I stood in line at Starbucks, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la, La la, la la.”  I love the decorated shop windows and the little huts going up in the shopping malls — “Santa Claus is coming to town…”  This is a joyous season, whether you celebrate Christmas or not.  At the same time, this is the most stressful time of the year, and a time when more people commit suicide than any other.

Two people can walk down the same sidewalk, passing by the lights and decorations on every side, and have two different experiences.  This is because it doesn’t matter what you are looking at on the outside — it is what you are looking at on the inside that matters.  The lights, decorations and music are all reminders, but what they remind you of is different for every person.

One person is reminded of all the people she still has to buy gifts for, and how limited her budget is.

Another is reminded of the upcoming visit to his extended family, and is looking forward to the reunion with great joy.  Yet another dreads the family scene/  These two people can even belong to the same family!

Someone else is reminded of so many joy-filled Christmas mornings and is delighted to be creating the same for her own children or for a family whose name she got from a list at the local homeless shelter.

One person will look at all the happy shoppers and be reminded of all the poverty and injustice in the world.  She may donate her time or shopping money to an organization that is working in these worthwhile arenas, or she might just complain about life.

There are many people who see every decoration as a reminder of the Divine Birth they celebrate from 2,000 years ago.

Some are reminded that they don’t celebrate Christmas because their religion is different than mainstream America.  Some of these people like being different.  Others want mainstream America to approve of them.

Some people use the joyfulness of the season to remind themselves of all the reasons they are not joyful, whether it is the problems of their life right now or the history of their life so far.

Where your mind goes is personal to you, but it determines how your entire holiday season goes.  Your inner reality is so much stronger than the outer environment.  Yoga says, “Look deeper!  Look within and see that you are Divine Consciousness.”

A yogi uses every event as a reminder to look within.  Everything in the world is used as a reminder of consciousness.  Consciousness has become all that exists, and you can see this.  There is an inner dimension that far transcends the outer events.  Whatever you see, and whatever you do, say or think is an opportunity to recognize the divine within the mundane.  This includes the holiday decorations along with the traffic jams.  It includes the garbage that needs to be taken out, the ringing of the alarm clock, the errands to be run, and the smile of a child sitting in Santa’s lap, as well as the tears of another child who is afraid to sit up there.  This is true, not just for five or six weeks at the end of every year, but in every moment of every day, all year long — every year.

Along the way, you can use everything as a reminder to look at consciousness.  The One Divine Reality has become everything that exists, and you can see this (or remember this) in every moment.  You must learn to see it.  Without being able to see the divine in everything, you live like a thirsty man in a desert, looking everywhere for water and never finding it.  Instead, everything in life is a reminder of consciousness — just look again.  Look past your reactions and see the divine in everything.  Start with your Self.

Originally published December 2003

Beyond Instinct

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Animals are ruled by their instincts. As a human, your body has physical instincts as part of your basic equipment.  These instincts can lead you to eat too much, sleep too much, measure your worth by what you own, and seek love through sexuality.  This lifestyle will never be fulfilling because it is impossible to fulfill all of your instinctual cravings.  There’s a demon inside who always wants more.  You have to choose: are you going to experience and express your divine qualities or will your instincts lead the way?

While philosophers question what the human being is, yogis ask a different question: How do I become fully human?  The answer is that you must utilize the human specialty fully: cultivate your awareness.  As you explore your ability to be aware, you discover that awareness is more powerful than instinct.  It’s quite easy to do.  Here’s how: When instinct wants to take over, expand your awareness.  Instinct makes you Velcro your awareness to a single thing.  All you have to do is expand your awareness.

As an example, let’s consider a plate of cupcakes, the newest culinary trend.  When you focus on the specific cupcake you want, Velcro takes over your mind.  But if you expand your visual focus, like widening a camera lens, you see the whole plate.  Now you will want to offer your compliments to the baker.

Continue expanding your awareness.  Breathe and expand your gaze wider, and you will see the other people enjoying the yummies, Now your heart opens a little more, not only to the baker but to all those who are enjoying her wares.

Continue breathing and expand to see the room you are all in, with your host (yourself, a neighbor, the bakery or the yoga studio) giving generously of their facility and time.  You can keep expanding your awareness to include the city, state, region and whole country you are in.  You can include all the family members of the people present, and the generations that preceded and will follow them.

Now your instincts no longer pull you to the cupcake.  You may still choose to take one, if you like.  Yet your experience is now completely different because you are more aware.  The cupcake will even taste better, but that is not the point.

As you become more aware, you become more fully human.  As you become more fully human, you become more fully divine.  Your own divine essence shines through you because it is you.  While the divine is present in everything that exists, the human being has the capacity to experience it most fully.  You are the human who can experience and express the divine fully.  That’s what this human life is for.

Here are some of your divine qualities from Krishna’s list in the Bhagavadgita.  There are probably no surprises here.  You like yourself better when you live this way.


vigor, fortitude

generous nature

straightforward, speaking only truth

absence of anger, hatred and pride

freedom from need, greed and fear

peacefulness, gentleness, compassion

You must intentionally cultivate your divine qualities.  Instincts are seductive, but the light of your divinity is even more powerful, if you choose to follow it.  The key is choice.  In every moment, you have the ability to choose what kind of human you are being.

Originally published July 2010

What is Unique to the Human Being?

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Echoing through the ages, the question continues to arise:  what is a human being?  Considered by the ancient Greeks and by many philosophers and priests since, the question is now being explored in modern media through comparison with vampires, werewolves and zombies.  While movies and TV shows are pursuing a lucrative theme, they are also offering a modern-day version of Krishna’s discourse in Chapter 16 of the Bhagavadgita, which is subtitled “The Divine and Demoniacal.”  Krishna expounds on your innate divinity and how to fulfill the purpose of your life for 15  chapters, and then clarifies that the human being is a mix of divine and demoniacal qualities.  You have to decide which qualities you will express in your life.

Yoga’s sages described that every species has a unique quality.  They said that the bee has the most sophisticated sense of smell, with modern-day scientists now agreeing.  The sages described the deer as specializing in sound and being very responsive to music, but scientists haven’t investigated this yet.  The elephant has the most sensitive sense of touch, which is why they throw dirt on their backs as a sunscreen.  If you have seen a baby elephant being massaged and cradled by its mothers and aunts, you understand how powerful their sense of touch is.  In my early years of study with my Guru, Vijayananda, the Ashram elephant, visited the courtyard every day.  Baba fed him chapattis (wheat tortillas), sugar cane and chocolates, ending the visit with an oil massage.  One of the attendants would lean a ladder against his side, climb up and spread essential oils all over his back, taking the time to rub the oils in.  It was amazing to watch Vijayananda’s eyes; clearly he was in bliss.

What is the unique characteristic of the human being?  As a human being, you have an innate capacity to be aware, a capacity shared by no other creature.  You are not merely aware, you are aware that you are aware.  You know that you know; you see that you see; you think that you think.  While your mind is very powerful, you are more than your mind — and you know it.  You are awareness itself; your own Self is Consciousness-Itself.

Yet you have an ability to lose it.  You can lose track of this great capacity in the blink of an eye.  You get lost in things, in events, in situations and in other people.  When you get lost in anything, it is your Self that you are losing.  As a human, you have both divine and demoniacal qualities, so you must choose what you are doing with them.

To understand the choices before you, you must first understand what the divine and the demoniacal are.  Yoga’s cosmology describes multiple planes of existence, including the three worlds:  this physical realm, the celestial sphere and the nether world.  The celestial realm abounds with devas and devis (divine beings, male and female), plus apsaras, gandharvas, angels, cherubim, seraphim and more.  Their bodies are made of light and they sip amrit, the nectar of immortality.

The nether realm is populated with demons — but they are not evil beings.  They are beautiful beings, with powerful bodies and huge sensual appetites.  They base their life and being on their instinctual drives.  Their primary motivations are power and pleasure, and anything that helps them satisfy these impulses is pursued with a single-minded focus, regardless of how it affects others.  Demons are selfish, self-centered, and unrestrained in their appetites, but they are not evil.  This is an important distinction.

Yoga’s cosmology says that evil does not exist.  There is no devil; there is no evil force tempting you; you have no evil hidden within you.  Instead, this is a cause-and-effect universe.  You choose to shine with the light of your own divinity, or you hide it with the shadows you create in your mind.  You must choose where to live — in the light or the shadows.  The most powerful tool you have is your power of choice.

Many of yoga’s practices address this predicament directly.  For example, when you choose to practice ahimsa, non-harming, you choose to resist the inner impulse to cause pain to others.   The impulse arises in every human; it is one of the demoniacal qualities that Krishna warns about.  To understand it more clearly, don’t call it “demoniacal,” but label it with a simpler name — “instinctual.”  Your instincts tell you to lash out, to get back, or to get even or to get ahead.  You must not follow your instincts.

Instead, look to a higher quality that is already there within you, a divine quality.  Find the empathy, love or compassion that makes you able to give another person some breathing space.  Or you can look for an intelligent way to handle yourself in a difficult situation.  Most importantly, you can find a way to remain peaceful inside, which makes you able to make better choices and follow through on them.

You must intentionally cultivate your divine qualities.  Yoga gives you the ability to make an intelligent choice, an inspired choice.  In every moment, you have the ability to choose what kind of human you are being.


Originally published July 2010

Krishna Avatar – Part 6

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Krishna and Balarama were growing up.  Krishna was so good a flutist, everyone was mesmerized by the music and sat listening to it for hours and hours.  Not only the people of Vrindavan, but also the birds and animals went through the same experience.  Both his father and mother, King Nanda and Yashoda, were so proud of their son, not really knowing who Krishna was.  Of course, if he had a flute in his hands, who would not experience a blissful state?

One day, taking the calves out for grazing, Krishna and the gopalas went along the Yamuna River to where a multi-hooded black serpent, Kaliya, lived with his family.  Kaliya previously lived near the banks of Ramanaka Dvipa, but had been chased away by Garuda, the king of the eagles, because Kaliya had been polluting the waters with its venom.

Now Kaliya was poisoning the Yamuna waters, knowing that Garuda wouldn’t come there due to a curse by Saubhari Muni.  Kaliya’s poison contaminated not only the waters, but also spread miles around, even polluting the air such that flying birds would fall unconscious or dead to the ground.  No one from Vrindavan went to the vicinity of Yamuna where Kaliya lived.

Reaching there, the boys were very tired and desperately thirsty.  They drank the poisoned water from Yamuna and fell unconscious on the riverbank.  Seeing this, Krishna immediately revived them with his divine powers and decided that Kaliya must be stopped.

Krishna climbed one of the largest trees on Yamuna’s bank and jumped into the middle of the poisoned body of water. His huge splash woke Kaliya, who started searching for the intruder.  Finding Krishna, Kaliya slithered near, furious that Krishna had entered its territory and disturbed its rest.  Not knowing who Krishna was nor his intentions, Kaliya ferociously attacked Krishna.

Krishna’s friends on the shore, except for Balarama, were terrified.  Some of them ran back to Vrindavan for help. The ones who ran back informed King Nanda and Yashoda about what was happening at the riverbank.  The whole of Vrindavan quickly followed King Nanda and Yashoda to gather where Krishna and Kaliya were fighting.

When they arrived, Kaliya had grabbed Krishna in his mighty coils and was squeezing him hard.  While Krishna was calmly watching what was happening from within the coils, the villagers were trying to figure out a plan to help Krishna.  On seeing this, as usual, Yashoda fainted, screaming her son’s name, ”Krishna!  Krishna!  Krishna!“

Balarama was enjoying the show, laughing inside because knew exactly what was going to happen.  When King Nanda was preparing to jump into the river, Balarama calmly restrained him and others from going in.  Then he attended to Mother Yashoda.

Krishna had been in Kaliya’s grip for a long time, though Kaliya was not able to crush Krishna.  Yet the villagers were in distress.  Deciding to relieve them from the distress, with one push Krishna came out of Kaliya’s grip.  This enraged Kaliya, as no one had ever escaped his coils, so he tried to sink his fangs into Krishna.

Kaliya spat poison all over Krishna, who was evading all the snake’s attacks.  The battle went on for a long time, above and under water.  While Krishna was having fun, the villagers were highly tense, but Balarama was enjoying the show.

After a while, Krishna jumped on top of one of Kaliya’s hoods and started dancing, embossing his feet on the snake’s hood.  Krishna moved from one hood to another, making Kaliya spit out all the venom and some blood too.  Krishna made sure that Kaliya didn’t have any venom left to harm anyone.  While on the snake’s hood, Krishna started to dance and play his flute with a blissful melodious sound.  Everyone could see this dance from the river bank, all puzzled about how this was possible.

The serpent got weaker and weaker, losing all his venom and energy.  He was at the verge of losing his life, so all of Kaliya’s wives prayed to Krishna to let their husband live.  They bowed to Krishna.  Krishna stopped his dance, with Kaliya barely conscious.  He ordered Kaliya and his family to leave Vrindavan, never to return to the vicinity.  He also commanded them to return to Ramanaka Dvipa, promising that Garuda will not hurt Kaliya due to Krishna’s footprints embossed on Kaliya’s head.

After gaining full consciousness, Kaliya complied with Krishna’s command, promising never to attack anyone, and returning to Ramanaka Dvipa with his family.  No one knew of the conversations between Krishna, Kaliya and his family, but everyone was relieved that Krishna was safe and Kaliya was gone.  Yashoda was the happiest!  Balarama was the only one smiling and calm through what was going on.  Since that day, that portion of the Yamuna was back to its original beauty and resourceful state.

It was already night.  The villagers of Vrindavan were all very tired from witnessing the long fight between Krishna and Kaliya as well as Krishna’s divine dance.  Their day had been filled with intense emotion and they had little energy to walk back to their village. The cows were hungry and tired too.  So, they decided to spend the night on the Yamuna riverbank.  King Nanda was worried about Krishna, thinking he may have been poisoned by Kaliya, so he wanted to keep an eye on him.

While they were sleeping, a great forest fire broke out.  It spread quickly due to strong winds. When the villagers felt the heat of the fire, they woke up and cried out for help. Hearing their cries, Krishna immediately opened his mouth very wide.  With one gulp, he swallowed the whole forest fire, saving all the villagers and their cows once again, as always the Lord protects his true devotees. Krishna was taken in grand procession back to Vrindavan by his friends, parents and villagers singing and rejoicing his victory and safe return.

King Kamsa was very tired of losing all his demons to Krishna.  He called the strongest demon he knew, Pralambasura, ordering him to kill Krishna.  They devised a plan to separate Krishna and Balarama, as it would be easier to kill them one by one.  Pralambasura waited for Krishna and the children in the area for few days.

One evening, Krishna, Balarama and their friends were playing in the meadow while the cows and calves were grazing.  Soft breezes carried the fragrance of the flowers over the meadow, through the forest and into the whole area of Vrindavan. The boys played different games each day, like hide and seek, tag, swinging under the trees, wrestling, and sometimes they would innovate new games as well.  They would dance while Krishna played the flute, or they admired Krishna’s dancing while they sang and clapped.

That particular day was hot and sunny, so they went deep into the shade of the forest, staying cool under the trees.  Pralambasura disguised himself as a boy and went toward the children.  He hid behind the trees. waiting for a good opportunity. Krishna saw him, a boy hiding behind a tree, and realized it was a demon in disguise.  Of course, Lord Krishna knows all things, including past, present and future, so he recognized the boy as Pralambasura.

Krishna invited the disguised Pralambasura to play with him and the gopalas.  He proposed they play tug-of-war, dividing them into two teams.  The losers were supposed to carry the winners back to the village when it was time to return.  Everyone liked the idea of a joy ride, hoping their team gets to win.  With Balarama on one side and Krishna on the other, Pralambasura joined Krishna’s team.   Pralambasura, as the boy, thought that his plan was working, that Krishna was so stupid as to invite him to play with him.

The tug-of-war ended with Balarama’s team winning.  Pralambasura devised the brilliant idea to carry Balarama away, he can deal with him first. He offered to carry Balarama back to the village while the other losing team members carried the winners.  As they started running, Pralambasura lagged and strayed, taking Balarama deeper into the forest, going in a different direction than the village.  Slowly Pralambasura shed the boy’s body, taking on his real form, hurrying to take Balarama away in order to kill him.

When Balarama identified that he was riding on a demon, he shouted, “I am being carried by a demon in the opposite direction of where my friends are headed.”  Krishna heard him and understood that Balarama wanted Krishna to stay with their friends and take care of them.  Their friends were worried that a demon had taken Balarama.  Krishna told them that he was worried too, but not about Balarama.  Krishna was worried about the fate of the demon.

Krishna was right; Balarama fearlessly began to strike Pralambasura. First Balarama tightened his legs around the demon’s neck, strangling him.  Then Balarama used his mighty fist to land a single blow on the demon’s head. The demon let out a fierce roar and fell to the ground, dead.

The loud sound was heard miles away. Balarama came dancing towards his friends. The gopalas embraced Balarama with great affection and began to praise him.  With his divine smile, Krishna stood looking at his beloved brother.  Pretty soon, all of Vrindavan resounded with the tale of Balarama’s strength.  His foster father, Nanda, remembered why he was named “Bala” Rama and Garga Muni predicting his extraordinary strength and valor at the naming ceremony   Kamsa had failed again.