Category Archives: Mystical Living

Better than Magic

By Swami Prajñananda

 I grew up in the Harry Potter generation.  My generation was in grade school when the first book came out in 1998.  We would read the book in wonder and then wait in anticipation for the next book to come out.  This was almost yearly until the publication of the final book in 2007. 

Our family had a specific order for reading the newest book.  I would get it first and read it in a day, maybe two.  My mom would then read it to my brother.  And finally my dad read it last.  I remember inhaling the books like they were food.  Diving into the world of magic — wands, spells, talking paintings — I was entranced.  Looking back, I see I had a hunger for more than what life offered.  I wanted the magic.  I wanted “The More.”  Unfortunately, no matter what I did, I couldn’t find what I was looking for.

Fast forward 18 years.  I discovered “The More” in yoga and meditation and specifically by receiving Shaktipat initiation.  Shaktipat is the awakening of your own inner power, the cosmic power of the universe called Kundalini.  I received this initiation from my Guru, Swami Nirmalananda.  This initiation opened up a whole new world for me.  But this time it wasn’t in a book; it was inside me.  And I remember thinking “this is like Harry Potter, but even better!”

Why was it better?  Harry Potter was incredible, magical, fantastical, yet the book didn’t touch all the levels of my being.  Once I received Shaktipat, the dimensions of my own being opened up.  I began meditating every day, and in each meditation, new wonders would unfold within.  This experience is described in an ancient yogic text:

Vismayo yogabhuumikaa.h — Shiva Sutras 1.12

The wonders of yoga are truly amazing. — Translation by Swami Nirmalananda

Yes!  The wonders of yoga are truly amazing, especially, once you have received Shaktipat. Kundalini, the energy of the universe, moves up your spine in every meditation.  Her movements are based on what you need.  She clears up the junk that is limiting you from experiencing your own Divinity.  While she clears up that which limits you, you get spontaneous movements, called kriyas in Sanskrit.  You may see colors or lights.  You may experience tingling or heat or cold.  You may get physical movements, hear divine sounds, have deep profound meditations, insights and more.  These are all symptoms that Kundalini is working within you, clearing that which limits you.

I needed a lot of physical healing at the beginning.  So in meditation Kundalini would move me into classical yogic postures.  I would sit to meditate and right away I would be moved into poses that I hadn’t even learned yet.  The effect was blissful!  My whole body felt alive, expanded and open.

As I continued meditating, my experiences became more subtle, and my focus turned more and more inward.  Instead of focusing on what my body or mind was doing, I was guided inward to discover the multiple dimensions of my own being.  And to discover the source of those dimensions — my own Self.  I am still in the process of this inner discovery.  And the more I meditate, the more wonders I discover inside.

Mystical You

By Swami Satrupananda 

“Who am I?” a devotee asked Ramana Maharshi, a sage living in a cave. Not understanding the first answer led the devotee to ask many more questions, 27 follow-up questions.  Here are a few:  

What is the nature of the mind?  What is the nature of the Self?  Is not everything the work of God?  What is non-attachment?  Is there no difference between waking and dream?  What is happiness?  What is the relation between desirelessness and wisdom?  What is liberation? 

If he had known his true nature, his confusion would have fallen away with the first answer.  Swami Muktananda described it this way: “God dwells with you as you.”  This is easy to understand because God, the Ultimate Reality by whatever name you chose, is omnipresent.  Therefore, God exists everywhere.  And “everywhere” does not end at the edge of your skin.  Your body, heart, and mind are also part of “everywhere.”   

However, Muktananda takes it a step further and adds, “God dwells within you as you.”  God is being you.  This is the answer to the question “Who am I?”  When you can answer this question, all other questions fall away. 

Literature explores the same question.  All stories fit into seven basic plots, according to author Christopher Booker.  In The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, he shows these plots are true for everyone across cultures and time.  A friend doing a PhD in literature added that all these plots explore the question “Who am I?”  Whatever the story, the hero is on an adventure to discover who they really are.  The same is true for your life.  Your life is an adventure to discover who you really are. 

Yoga leads you to the realization of your true nature.  Yoga is not merely a philosophical system that gives you a theoretical answer.  Instead, yoga is more like a full-contact sport.  It includes practices that engage all your capacities: body, breath, mind, heart and more.  You don’t merely intellectualize who you are; you experience it.   

What does yoga promise you will experience? How will you answer the question “Who am I?”  You will realize that you are you, yet the you that you are is mystical.   

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When I first started yoga, I could sense the truth in these teachings.  But my mind misunderstood them.  I thought I had to let go of the non-divine parts of me and add the missing divine pieces.  I started to give away stuff that I didn’t need anymore.  One afternoon, I was stuffing bags with things to give away.  When I noticed my Canadian engineering ring on my hand, I paused.  An engineer is not divine, so I needed to give the ring up.  I took the ring off.  I panicked.  “If I am not a Canadian engineer, then who am I?” asked my mind in fear.  I quickly put the ring back on.  I knew that one day I would be freed from the ring.  But I knew I wasn’t ready yet. 

Two years ago, I faced the sacred fire to become a sannyasin (a renunciant).  I decided to let go of everything.  During the initiation, the hooks of desires dissolved, and the weight of worldly aspirations lifted.  I settled deeper into my own Divinity.  For the first few days, I was learning how to live from the new depth and freedom.  The world was familiar but my experience of being the Divine in a divine world was new.  Two days after the ceremony, noodles were served at a meal.  As I took the first bite, an internal voice shouted in delight, “I still love noodles!”  I was surprised that, while being the Divine, I still had the same preferences.  My mind jumped in, “I wonder if I still know calculus.  What’s the derivative of x2? 2x.  Yup, I still know calculus.” 

In that moment, I knew who I was.  I knew that I was God.  I knew that everyone and everything around me was also God.  And, at the same time, I was God being the same Canadian engineer who loves noodles. 

You don’t stop being you.  You stop being merely you.  You work so hard to be unique and special.  Then you get caught up in your uniqueness.  You compare your unique quirks and traits to others.  You work hard to maintain or change your unique qualities.  It’s hard work that never ends.  Worse yet, you are so much more than your uniqueness.  You are the One who is being unique.  When you find the Beingness that is being you, you find God.  And God is being you.  You find You. 

Yoga is the mystical science that gives you practices for discovering who you truly are.  You simply need to do them.  Of course, guidance along the way is helpful if not necessary.  Swami Nirmalananda has done the practices and knows the path.  She guides you along the way.  She helps you to embrace your uniqueness.  At the same time, she insists that you look deeper to find God being you.  Come spend time with Swami Nirmalananda and learn from her.  .  Do the practices she recommends.  They will help you answer life’s ultimate question: “Who am I?”  You will then one day give the divine answer “Me.” 

Ever New — Free from Old Age

By Swami Shrutananda

The Self is free from old age, so says yoga.  Take it personally: understand that your essence is free from old age.  Yet the human experience begins with, “I am my body.”  Thus, so much time is spent beautifying the body and trying to keep it looking young.  You diet and exercise.  You buy hair products as well as oils and lotions for your skin.  There is so much time, money and worry around aging.

It is true that your body is getting older.  This process has been happening since you were born.  It is the human condition.  As you get old, you lose the capacity to act in the world.  You lose your potency.  You feel less aliveness, enthusiasm and joy.  This is a description of your future.

While you do have a body, there is more to you.  You have a body as well as a mind and heart, yet you are more.  You are Consciousness-Incarnate.  When you know your Self as Consciousness, you are free from old age.  How can this be?

The Shiva Sutras describes how such a yogi lives in the world: 

Iccha “saktir-umaa kumari. — Shiva Sutras 1.13

The will power of a great yogi is the Divine creative force, Uma-Kumari.

The One Reality has the power of choice, the ability to initiate action.  This is Shiva’s power of will.  You have the same power of will to a lesser degree.  But Shiva’s will is completely unimpeded.  Shiva’s will is perfect will.

Omnipotence is Shiva’s power of potency.  Shiva can do anything, making a choice and then following through on that choice.  This is will power or the power of will.  Shiva emanates the universe within his own being through his power of will.

Your essence is already Shiva, the One.  At this level, you already are omnipotent but you don’t yet know it.  Therefore, you don’t have access to that power.  But how about when you know you are Shiva?  What kind of power will you have?  Your age won’t matter!  Your experience will be like that of Uma-Kumari.  Uma and Kumari are both names of the Goddess.  This omnipotence of Shiva is expressed through Shakti, energy, and Shakti is the Goddess.

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Uma is the mature goddess, like a grandmother.  My grandmother had big cushy thighs, a soft belly and big heavy breasts.  When my grandmother wrapped her arms around me and nestled me in, there was nothing that could touch me.  Do you know what I mean?  Also, she had a constancy in her love that a mother is not able to attain.  Only a grandmother can do this.  A grandmother can give everything else up for that grandchild, at least in that moment.  She can be that safe harbor.  While your relationship with your mom can be stormy, a grandma is a whole different thing.

Uma is has this incredible inner stability and constancy in love and support.  This is so incredibly beautifully expressed in the ancient statues of the fertility goddesses.  In many countries, a woman is considered beautiful when she has a little flesh on her bones. She is so beautiful both physically and spiritually.  Her mind is so clear, so pure, and her emotions are stable.  The American ideal of feminine beauty does not correspond to most of the world. 

The Goddess Kumari is the 12-to-16-year-old girl, still developing, with a beautiful face.  She dresses up in silks and golden bracelets.  The bangles on her ankles have little bells on them.  She wears earrings and flowers in her hair.  Her long hair flows down her back. She is absolutely intoxicating.   

Dressed like this, young maidens draw your attention.  How beautiful the young girls and even the boys can be at that age.  While still virgins, they have never been touched and never been kissed.  They are on the verge of life’s promise, “The whole world is ahead of me. I can do anything. I can be anything.  I don’t even know what I want to be.”  This is Kumari.

Now what does all this have to do with you and omnipotence?  Experiencing your own Self is having that ability to manifest anything, to do anything, to bring anything into existence.  This is the feeling of Uma and Kumari together.

You experience the innocence and the joy of discovery that Kumari has in every moment.  When you were young, you experienced that everything was new.  You had a curiosity about the world.  You wanted to go places and do things.  You felt, “The world is my oyster.”  You were open to everything and anything. 

When you live in the knowing of your own Self, you have all of this with the stability, the depth and maturity of Uma.  You have both at the same time — Uma Kumari.  As a yogi, you have the energy — the power of will — that is both Kumari (ever new) and Uma (full, stable, mature and all-knowing).

You see this capacity in the great masters of Consciousness.  They are free from old age, omnipotent, ever young.  They are the embodiment of knowledge.  Gurudevi Swami Nirmalananda is such a master.  She has not retired from life, but fully participates.  For the Ashram she is involved in program development, marketing and management.  She oversees interior design and decor in the Ashram’s two buildings.  She makes yoga’s ancient teachings relevant and available in the modern world through her writing and discourses.  As an active citizen in society, she votes and keeps current with the news.  She is up to date with technology, scientific studies, etc.  This is Uma.

And I also see Gurudevi’s delight in the newness of a sunrise, a monarch butterfly, a returning student.  She makes me laugh when she marvels again and again over what she calls “golden globes of goodness” — chickpeas.  There is a delight that arises from within her in every moment.  This is Kumari.  There is a newness of things, even though Gurudevi has seen it or done it before.  Everything in every moment is ever new!  Except it is all known thoroughly.  This is Uma Kumari.  This is how a great master lives in the world.

This is also a description of your future.  Your essence is free from old age.  When you know the Self, that newness and maturity both arise within you.  You experience this incredible capacity to do anything you choose, pouring yourself into this divine play of the world.  Every moment will be fresh, new, and known.  What a dynamic joyful way to live in the world.  How do you get there?  Do more mantra.  More yoga and more meditation.

Shiva Being You

By Swami Prajñananda

“You matter.”  “Don’t give up.”  “You are not alone.”  These signs touched me deeply when I saw them around our neighborhood.  I looked them up online and found that they are called “signs of hope.”  They all started with a mom in Oregon.  She started these “signs of hope” after a string of suicides in her hometown.  They made a difference.  Starting with only 20 signs, now her signs and tokens number over one million.  They are located in more than 28 countries and all 50 states.  I was not the only one touched by these signs.  What is it about them?

For one, they are beautiful expressions of affirmation.  Yet, what really touched me about them is what was left unsaid.  They are a response to the pain and despair that leads someone to take their own life.  They are signs of hope when you feel like you don’t matter.  They lift you up when you are ready to give up and feel completely and utterly alone.  

This angst and despair is called the human condition.  You feel that you are small and unworthy.  It is the “human” condition because everyone feels this way.  You may not notice it all the time.  Most people do a very good job of distracting themselves.  Yet, instead of merely distracting yourself, what if you could discover the more that you are?

In our yoga retreat center, a dorm room sign says, “You are more than you think you are.”  And it’s true.  You are more than your mind could ever imagine.  Our Master Teacher, Gurudevi Nirmalananda, describes it this way:

“Infinite Reality is taking on all the forms in the universe in order to experience being the forms. Shiva is being you in order to experience being you. You are the One, the divine, scintillating light of consciousness, in individualized form.”

April 2014 Contemplation: “Infinity in a Body
by Gurudevi Nirmalananda & Swami Samvidaananda

You are so much more than you think you are.  You are the Divine Reality that has always existed, exists now and will always exist.  You are Shiva — Infinite Reality.  Shiva is being this entire universe: from the atoms to the planets, the trees, animals and very personally you.  You see it in the phrase “You matter.”  You are made of matter, made of energy.  But what is the source of that energy?  Shiva.  You are not only made of Shiva, but Shiva is being you.

This can seem quite abstract, and yet it is actually extremely personal.  I really understood this when I experienced it after taking vows as a yoga monk.  There was both a deepening that happened and a crystallization of my individuality.  The deepening was an inner opening and settling into my own essence — Shiva.  And at the same time, there was this blissful tangible embodiment of my body and mind.  It’s like I finally accepted that this body and mind are Shiva.  And they are the equipment Shiva needs to shine into the world.  From then on, I have loved myself more than I ever had or could before.

This is what happens, and more, when you discover who you truly are.  To discover your own essence, you must go deeper than your body and mind.  While they are made of Shiva, they will never give you the knowing that you are Shiva.  For that, you must meditate.  Meditation is your pathway inward.  It gives you the tangible experience of cosmic Shiva while in your own individual form.  When you open your eyes, you are sitting deeper within yourself.  As you continue to meditate, you will fully embody your own body and mind.  You will shine into the world.  You can enjoy your life knowing that you are the One experiencing your life.  For you are Shiva being you for the pure delight of being you.

Seeing Differences

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

When I was a teenager, I felt my face and body did not measure up.  The “look” promoted in all the movies and magazines seemed completely unattainable.  Especially I disliked my nose.  I remember telling a friend that I thought she had a perfect nose.  I wished mine was like hers.  Surprised, she shared that she thought my nose was perfect and she wished hers was like mine.  I was shocked!  We were both wishing for what the other had.  Worse, we were in pain about it.  Any time you see differences, you will be in pain.

Just as noses come in all sizes and shapes, so do trees.  Recently I walked through the woods on a sun-dappled afternoon.  I sat and watched the light flickering through the leaves of a stand of trees.  The trees featured many shapes and sizes, all of them so beautiful.  It’s easy to see beauty in the differences when you look at trees, but not when you look at people.  Why?

It’s because you don’t feel threatened by a tree.  But with every person, you wonder if they are friend or foe.  Your mind harbors a background anxiety that undermines your ability to be welcoming and friendly.  Worse, you compare yourself with everyone you see.  It’s painful, whether you come out on top or they do.

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There’s another way to live.  You can see the differences, yet love and appreciate them all.  My children taught me this – all so different, yet all so loveable.  I have the same experience with meditation students.  They bring their mind and body, which have been through life experiences as well as prior studies and trainings.  Each of them that asks a question gives me a gift, an insight into their starting point and an opportunity to help them with their upliftment.  It’s so beautiful to see their uniqueness, yet with the Divine shining through.

It’s like a building with stained glass windows.  The light shining through is the one light, yet each window colors that light in its own unique way.  But a visitor will walk down the row and say, “I like this one and don’t like that one.”  What if you looked at the light that’s shining through?  Every window is a marvel, a work of art that can move you, if you let it.

In the same way, this entire world is a glorious creation, with one light shining through all beings.  People, like trees, are all worthy of being treasured and cared for.  Regardless of the shape of their nose or color of their hair or skin, they shine.  There is one light shining through all eyes, regardless of their color or shape.  Look at the light!  See it in all its glorious forms. 

This is easy to do when you have found it in yourself.  This is your starting point.  Once you find the light of your own Divine Essence, you see it in all.  The differences remain, yet they don’t matter.  This is mysticism.  This is yoga.

What Feeds You?

By Swami Samvidaananda

I ate a cannoli the other day.  It was delicious.  We went to our local Italian bakery and sat inside for a pastry and espresso.  It felt like a major outing, especially with the year we’ve had.  It was fun, and satisfying, and fueled me until dinner.  Food is important.  Your body does its best when you feed it delicious, nutritious food.  And, of course, the occasional cannoli (or treat of your choice).  Every body is different, but you know when you feel well-fed.

What do you feed your mind?  An ancient yoga text says:

J~naanam annam. — Shiva Sutra 2.9

Knowledge is food.

J~naanam means knowledge; anna means food. Knowledge feeds you.  It’s built into our language: you can say you savored a book. Just like a good meal, you can devour it. You can polish it off. There’s a satisfaction and pleasure in knowing things. As a little kid I was eager for summer to end. I couldn’t wait to go back to school and learn new things.  My younger brother knows every detail of every episode of “The Brady Bunch.” It’s knowledge he will gladly share with you.  Thanks to the internet, you can instantly know about practically anything. Just like Jefferson Airplane’s song “White Rabbit” says, you can “feed your head.”

While entertaining, this kind of knowledge is not what the sutra points to. There’s a deeper knowledge that feeds you in an entirely different way. It’s the knowing of the hidden dimension of your being, called your Self. Your Self is your innermost Divine Essence. You are made of God and so is everyone and everything else.

There’s only One Ever-Existent Essence of Beingness. That One Beingness is being everything that exists.  And that Beingness is your Self.  Your Self is the source of your peace, your creativity and joy.  Your capacity for generosity, happiness and love arises from the radiant depths of your Self.

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You discover your Self when you dive beneath your ever-fluctuating thoughts.  How do you dive within?  By meditating.  Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation specializes in revealing the deeper dimensions of your Self to you — so you know who you are.  This is the knowledge that feeds you.  When you know your Self, you truly feel nourished.  There’s a blissful fullness and satisfaction to knowing your Self.  You are nurtured and sustained from within.

That doesn’t mean you miss out on cannolis.  Or that you’ll no longer delight in reading a book.  Whatever you choose, you’ll enjoy, appreciate and participate in it more than ever before.  That’s because you’ll bring your blissful Divinity to everything you do.  It’s the best way to live!

Weeding Your Mind

By Swami Sahajananda

Whenever a task absorbs your full attention, extraneous thoughts are quieted.  You naturally experience this effect of one-pointed focus in many areas of life.  Through these mundane activities, you can experience wonderful glimpses of Self, your Divine Essence.

You may have found it in practicing a musical instrument, cooking a new recipe, trying out any new skill or reading an engrossing book.  I apply one-pointed focus in weeding the gardens of the Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram where I live.  Lush, green and fragrant, the gardens are planted with native species.  To cultivate an optimal environment for these intentional plants, I remove the unintentional plants (weeds).  Identifying what stays and what goes is a practice in awareness.

This focus requires diligence, discernment and patience.  At the same time, such attention to weeding also uproots thoughts from my mind.  A clear, vast, space beyond my mind opens, just like a newly weeded area.  My mind feels lighter, clearer and more expansive.  Quieting my mind allows for that which is beyond my mind — my Self — to shine through.

The other day, my mind quieted when I was weeding — at first.  The Ashram grounds reflected the abundance of summertime in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  This profusion of plants and trees enveloped my senses.  But then I became aware of arising thoughts and being irritated by the weeds.  Why are you here?  Maybe you are not a weed?  Who am I to judge?  How can you grow so fast?  You are so hard to uproot!  And on and on.

Fortunately, I was able to catch my thoughts before they totally took over.  By Grace, I remembered Gurudevi Nirmalananda’s teaching on focus:

“You can harness this capacity of your mind to a different purpose, focusing inward for the exploration of your own spiritual essence.”

I started repeating the mantra given to me by Gurudevi.  The mantra refreshed my focus and then turned it around, taking me deeper within.  As I opened inward, I offered my seva of weeding to Gurudevi.  Offering this seva to the Guru in care of her home, I was filled with joy.  Weeding became a Grace-filled practice.  Full of gratitude, I was doing the seva with dedication and intention.  I became aware that I am Divine.  I felt my being enveloped with the Grace of the knowing of the Self.

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While yoga offers many pathways to access the Self, the most direct is mantra repetition.  This powerful technique brings you quickly and reliably to the Self again and again.  This experience doesn’t have to happen with eyes closed in a quiet room.  Through the practice of mantra repetition (japa), this experience can happen anywhere.

Applying your mind to mantra, you get more than a glimpse of the effulgence of Self.  The scope of the mantra’s power is astonishing.  Mantra is the living force of God.  Repeating mantra, you offer your mind sacred words.  Repeating mantra silently inside, you use your mind intentionally to open the way to your Own Self.  Your mind engages in an activity that brings you to spiritual upliftment.

Passed down from Guru to Guru, through century upon century, this mantra is infused with their Grace.  The blessings of each sage in this lineage empower the mantra.  Each time you repeat it, you bring yourself closer to knowing your own Divinity.  You don’t have to stop your worldly activities to engage in mantra repetition.  You can add it to whatever you are doing.  You can even add it to whatever you are thinking.  In minutes, you will find that your mind has shifted and quieted.  Thoughts dissipate as you repeat the mantra alongside them.

Our Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation mantra names your own Self.  Recognize the power of your mind and choose to focus your thoughts on your own Divine Essence.  Repeat mantra whenever you remember.  The more you do, the easier it will be to remember to do it.  Fill your mind with the mantra’s Divine words to find your Own Self as Consciousness Its-Self.

The Inner Boost

By Swami Prajñananda

When I was a little girl, my dad would put me up on his shoulders. I loved to be lifted  up in the air. At the fair one summer, he boosted me up in the night sky.  I soared above the crowds.  I wanted to stay there forever in timeless suspension.  But what goes up must come down.  And so I did.

As I grew, I got too big to be boosted up.  So, I tried to boost myself up.  Oh, how I wanted to soar.  And sometimes I did.  Yet, it seemed that gravity would always have its way as I came back down to “reality” every time.

My world changed though when I found my Guru, Gurudevi Nirmalananda.  I got boosted in a whole new way.  This time the boost was an inner boost.  I discovered that the heights I’d looked for on the outside were just as vast on the inside.  In fact, I realized that I had always sought the inner expanse.

It’s like when you climb a mountain.  You get to the top and look out at the view. You see the vastness on the outside, which then triggers the feeling of the vastness within.  When I received the inner boost, I was given a superpower.  I no longer needed to climb a mountain to access the vastness inside.  How does the Guru do this?  Gurudevi’s Guru, Swami Muktananda, describes this boost:

“Make friends with him who lifts you up to his own height, who releases you from the snare of name and form, and makes you as free as himself. “

-Swami Muktananda, Mukteshwari, p. 181

A true Guru lifts you up to his or her own height.  This height describes not how tall they are but rather their spiritual greatness.  The Masters in this lineage are spiritual giants.  They are completely free within.  And they have the ability to free those who come to them.  

What are they freeing you from?  Muktananda says it is from “the snare of name and form.”  Does that mean you won’t have a name?  And you won’t have a body?  No.  It means while you still have a name and body, you are not limited by them.  

The way that you interact with the world is through name and form. You have names for everything you see.  And if you don’t have a name for it, you can simply look it up on the Internet.  Your mind categorizes everything by giving it a name. This is quite necessary so that you can participate in the world.  Yet your mind uses names to limit you.

On a more neutral level, your mind gives you names to define who you are.  For example, you are a daughter or a son, a mother or a father, a teacher or student, a gardener, a baker, an athlete, a reader.  These words name the things that you do and the relationships that you have. Yet, you are more than any of those names can describe.

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In a more harmful way, your mind names your doubts and fears: I am not smart enough; I am not pretty or handsome enough; I am not charming enough; I am not good enough.  Your mind can name all the things that make you feel small.  Yet you are not small at all.  The names are small, but you are more than the names.  You are the vastness that you discover inside.  You are that vastness and even more.

But what about form?  Muktananda tells you to make friends with one who releases you from the snare of name and form.  You don’t let go of form; rather, you let go of the snare of form.  How does form snare you?  Through the belief that you are your body.  Yes, you have a body and how magnificent it is.  As a human being you can do so much with your body.  And it can be a trap.  When you think that you are your body, you are then limited by what your body can do.  And you know what?  Your body can only do so much.

And then, there is your focus on the other forms of the world. You compare them to yourself.  You question whether you measure up.  You think that you want them, or you want to avoid them.  In this way, you get completely lost in form.

A true Guru releases you from the snare of both name and form.  Gurudevi guides you in finding the more that you are.  A true Guru lifts you up to her own height by giving you inner freedom.  This freedom is the freedom she found within herself.  This freedom is the freedom her Guru gave her.  This freedom is your own freedom.  All you need to do is discover it, inside.  How?  By making friends with the Guru.  You make friends with the Guru by doing the practices she gives you.  Ah, that means you must do more yoga!

Bowing — The Mystical Play

By Swami Satrupananda

Many yoga classes end with bringing your hands together in anjali mudra (prayer pose). You may bow your head to the teacher and say, “Namaste.”  Meditation programs with a Meditation Master might offer an opportunity to bow to them. Yoga is about knowing who you really are. It’s about you. So why do you bow to others?

Let’s step back and look at bowing around the world. I was introduced to bowing in church. Built into the pews were kneelers. Part way through the service, we would kneel, bow our heads and say a prayer. At an international conference, I was exchanging my business card with a gentleman from Japan. He held his business cards with both hands, bowed his head and handed one to me. Recently, I watched a video of the very popular Korean music group BTS. One of the group members spotted his parents in the crowd at a stadium performance. He immediately bowed down, fully prostrated, to his parents in front of thousands of fans. In many Eastern countries, children bow to their parents.

In the East, bowing is interwoven into their everyday life. In the West, we might bow at church.  But in our day-to-day lives, bowing is not as popular. It is perceived as being submissive, inferior, and subservient. This is part of the definition of bowing. Yet bowing also means to lower your head or upper body as a sign of respect. The businessman was showing respect as he presented his business card, not submission. The BTS band member was showing gratitude for his parents, not subservience.

With the popular namaste greeting, bowing is gaining a better reputation in the West. During the pandemic, a news article recommended namaste as a replacement for shaking hands. While bowing may be weaving into our culture, why is bowing part of yoga? It’s the expression of respect and gratitude that is important. In yoga class, your teacher says “namaste” as an expression of respect for you. When you respond with “namaste,” you are expressing your gratitude. And yet it is more than gratitude. In my Yoga Teacher Training, this definition of namaste was shared:

I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me. We are one.

When you say “namaste,” you are cultivating your ability to be in that place. That place in you is where you are the One. That place is the source of love, truth, light, and peace. And from that place in you, you see the same One, being everyone and everything. There is only One here. How do you get to know yourself as the One? By bowing. Namaste literally means “bow to you.” Bowing is an act of honoring.

You are what you honor. If you honor education, you’ll go to school and earn a degree. You become educated. If you honor family, you’ll spend lots of time with them, create family traditions and memories. You’ll be a family man or woman. If you honor a sport, you’ll know all about it. You’ll play it or watch a lot of it on TV. You’ll wear sporting gear or a shirt with your favorite team’s logo. You’ll be a sports person. You are what you honor.

Yoga says to honor the One that you are so that you become that One. My Guru’s Guru described it this way,  “When bow, you become one with that to which you are bowing.”

With the namaste greeting, you are bowing to the other person. Does that you mean that you become the other person? No. You are bowing to the One that is being the other person, while being you. This can get tricky when you are bowing to unenlightened beings. The not-knowing of their own One-ness blocks the light of the One shining through them. In contrast, when you bow to someone who knows their own One-ness and they see that One-ness in you, something different happens.

This has been my experience. Every time I bow to my Guru, Gurudevi Nirmalananda, I have an experience of my own One-ness. One day as I bowed to her, I had an inner vision of our universe. I was the whole universe and the whole universe was inside me. As I continued to surrender in my bow, my being expanded. I am not merely the universe; I am the infinity that includes the universe and beyond. I am the infinite One-ness. All of this from a bow.

When you bow to an Enlightened Being, they know their One-ness. They also see that same One in you. The One is being both the person bowing and the person being bowed to. The One is being the two honoring the One. That is the mystical play of bowing. Every time you bow, you play in that mystical non-dual duality. And when you bow to an Enlightened Being, they enliven that play. So you can know that you are the One bowing and the One being bowed to.

I Live in the Guru’s House

By Swami Samvidaananda Saraswati

I didn’t know I wanted a Guru, let alone to live in her house.  But from a young age I knew I wanted… something.  I was looking for something I couldn’t find in the choices that were presented to me.  I was told that when I grew up I could be a ballerina, teacher, wife, mother, secretary, nurse.

Then I met Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati.  She is a Guru, a spiritual teacher.  She offered an additional option: I could be enlightened.  She taught me about the Self, the Divine essence of my being.  It’s not just of my being, but of your being.  Your essence is the One Divine Essence that is being everything that exists, yet beyond everything that exists.  The One is called Self.  Because when you experience the One, you experience your Self.  There’s only One, and it’s you. 

Swami Nirmalananda (Gurudevi) doesn’t simply teach you about the Self.  She gives you the experience of your Self.  And she promises that one day you will never not know your own Divinity. You won’t merely have a glimpse of your Divine Essence; it will become your living experience.  You will BE the Beingness you are.  You will recognize everyone and everything that exists as another form of the same Divine Beingness.  In this tradition, this is called Self Realization.  It’s also called Enlightenment.

How can Gurudevi make that promise?  An ancient yoga text explains:

Gururupaaya.h — Shiva Sutras 2.6

The Guru is the means and the goal.

The Guru is the way by which you can know your Self and become enlightened.  Only if someone has something, can they give it to you.  If I wanted to give you a cookie, I’d have to have a cookie to give.  Gurudevi is a knower of the Self, so she can give that knowing to you.  She has the ability spark an inner awakening in you, so that you know your own Self.  The inner awakening is an initiation called Shaktipat. 

A Shaktipat Guru is extremely rare.  This initiation is her way of serving mankind; it is her gift to you.  Once your inherent Divinity is revealed to you, you can’t go back to not-knowing.  The pain and despair of feeling small, separate, and alone can no longer bind you.

At first, you can easily fall back into the old, limiting patterns in your mind.  They tell you are small, that you are “less than.”  But when you apply yourself to the practices, especially meditation, you dissolve those limiting patterns.  Meditation by meditation, you have experiences of your Self. 

You experience being happy, whole, fulfilled, peaceful, joyful, blissful.  These become new Self-made patterns in your mind.  Thus your mind will no longer block you.  So you must do the practices.  Once you receive Shaktipat initiation, your enlightenment is guaranteed.  But you play a part in how quickly it will happen.

And so, I live in the Guru’s house.  It’s called an Ashram.  One reason I live here is that it’s an option.  Gurudevi could live alone.  But from her unending generosity and dedication to supporting others’ Self-Realization, she established her Ashram.  She chose a home big enough that she can invite people in.  And she created a daily structure filled with yogic practices: meditation and chanting and seva (selfless service).  This structure ensures you are never too far away from your Self.

I live here because I’m dedicated to doing the practices that will get me enlightened.  I’m dedicated because I’m motivated.  Beneath everything else I’ve done in my life, there was a feeling that something was missing.  And there was: my Self.

I also live at the Guru’s house because I want to give back.  I want to support her and the organization she has created to give this inestimably precious gift to the world. There’s no amount that I can give that can equal the gift of my Self.  But I try.

This doesn’t mean you have to live in an Ashram.  Of course, it’s the purpose of a human life: to become Self-Realized.  It’s your personal destiny.  But you can experience the truth of your own being while you continue to live your life.  You can meditate, you can know the Self, you can be Self-Realized.  And you’ll continue to live the same life, with your same family.  You can do the things you’ve always done.

Except… you’ll be happy.  More than happy, you will know you own Divinity wherever you are in the world.  Whatever you see, you’ll be looking into the mirror of your Divinity all the time.  You get to choose if this is something that you want.  If you do, Gurudevi can help you get it.