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English issues

burning-incense

Question of Paramananda: My question is connected to the daily practice. To what degree is important the correct verbalization of the prayers and mantras? How is this connected to the understanding?

Swami Tirtha: Well, about this I suggest you to meet and consult one very strong gopi mataji in Slovenia – she is well informed about the practices of different nations in bhakti. Sometimes she shows a different style, different types of chanting of the different nations: how the Russians are chanting, how the Japanese are chanting – all different, different styles. How the Orissa devotees are chanting. Sometimes you cannot recognize that this is the maha-mantra. But I am sure God understands.

So, practically it’s impossible to copy the original. Nevertheless we have to try our best to come closer to the proper pronunciation. But this is very important what you say, because there are 84 millions creative mantras for this universe – it’s an extreme number. They are like the codes of creation. Brahma uses these mantras to create the world again and again. Just like an instruction manual, how to assemble a kit. Like, for example, kids get some models of airplanes or something like that: ‘Put this here, put that there’. So, just imagine if you read the mantras improperly. Then the wing will be like this and the back will be in the front, and seats will be outside, right? So, mantras should be proper. These are also creative mantras. Because they will create understanding in our system – how to proceed in our spiritual life. But if we cannot do it properly, then what to do – don’t do anything? No, better we learn one mantra. Which one? There is one mantra for excuses. “Vidhi-hinam mantra-hinam yat kinchid upapaditam“Whatever I had done without the proper mantras, without the proper rules, please excuse me, my Lord, and see my little humble offering!” And whatever mistake is there – something you have omitted, something you don’t know, something that is improper – by the blessings of the maha-mantra, by the blessings of devotion you can bridge this gap. But if you don’t have devotion and you don’t know the mantra – that’s bad. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t know the mantras properly – if he or she has devotion. But if we have devotion, then we should learn the mantras properly.

There is a classic story about that. Once a young brahmachari said in the ashram to the old swami: Swamiji, you told me how to offer the incense: ‘you should make three rounds at the feet like this and then three times here, then there…’ but if I count how many times I have to offer, I cannot concentrate on Krishna!” What was the answer of the master: “My dear son, if you meditate on Krishna, you will offer it properly”. So, following the rules doesn’t block our meditation, it helps our meditation.

Once there were two rascals who were chanting so to say the Names, but instead of “Krishna” and “Rama”, they were pronouncing “Krushna” and “Ramo”. And at the end they met two demons whose names were Krushna and Ramo. So, beware of that. Try to say it properly.

 

(to be continued)

 



Go-Ra

(continues from the previous Friday)

 I had been coming to this ashram hundreds of times. But this time I lost my way. And I said: ‘Well, well, nevertheless we should find this ashram.” So, I decided to rely on my spiritual GPS. I said: ‘Well, if the search is intensive enough, although you don’t know any of the roads, you have to find it.’ I was going forward, turning here and there – all unknown places, streets that I’ve never seen! When approaching the ashram I felt somehow that this spiritual GPS must work well. Yet even then when I knew that this is the path, it looked so new, so unknown. Even when the tram crossed the road, I knew that this is the place, but it was like I’d never seen it before – that was my feeling. Finally we arrived. We met some devotees on the corner. And then I was thinking why it happened that the same roads that I had been using for hundreds of times looked so unfamiliar, unknown to me. Then I understood the reason. Because usually we meet the devotees on one spot and then we come together. Then I can follow them. I don’t have to check the corners, the street names, this and that. Simply by following them I can reach the goal.

Do you see the point? Spiritual life, divine reality is not like Sofia – it’s much bigger, more complicated. There are more turns. Only one difference, there is no U-turn. In the spiritual world everything exists except a U-turn.

I want to share with you that this was like supporting the philosophy – that if you have a guide, you will reach more easily. You can reach without a guide. It is possible to reach certain levels of destination. But if you have a guide, you are more safe. And without practically any efforts you can reach – if you follow properly. You see, these small little stupid things – to lose your way – help you to understand something. Therefore guidance, spiritual guidance is a worshipful object for us. Because it will help us to find properly and easily the way, to reach the destination. Because those who are locals, they know the way, they are familiar with the rules there. Therefore we have to find such a guide who knows. Then it is easy.

Therefore the first step of this progressive path of intimacy is to find a guide. Therefore they say: ‘guru can make you or guru can break you’. It’s important. And fortunately we have many gurus, many guides. If you lose the sight of one, you can find another one. If you don’t see let’s say Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s footsteps, because he was living 150 years back, then you can read his books and you will get some guidance. Or you can search for the followers who are presently here and then you will find proper guidance. “There is no loss in the spiritual life,” Krishna says. “And even a small little step saves you from the hardest and deepest pain and suffering.”[1] Because this is the path of enlightenment and if we follow that, we can come step by step closer to this ultimate intimacy.

If you read the meaning of our prayers, then you will see that these different prayers are just like the steps of a progressive and gradual development. First we turn to guru and then to the collective body of gurus – guru as an institution – so all the community of the masters and the spiritual guides come to help you. Then in the prayers we find the holy places and the holy representatives – the goswamis are mentioned of course, the vaishnavas are mentioned as the closest representatives of divine truth, Tulasi Devi is mentioned, etc. And then at the end you will find Mahaprabhu mentioned. Is that intensive enough? I think so. And His mantra is just before the Mahamantra. As though He is taking your hand and helping you to enter the temple room: “Come with Me! Here is the essence – Hare Krisna.”

So, from the first beginning – om agyanato the last help – Chaitanya Mahaprabhu – everybody is working for you. Because what is the happiness for a spiritual master? To see that his followers are progressing in spiritual life. This is real happiness. Therefore gurus want to help those who need their help to be blissful. So, these prayers help us to fix our mind, they lead us, help us to memorize what is the theory and then we have to put it into practice.

And when you start chanting the Holy Names, first of all you have to return back to the original point: “Om agyana – oh, Gurudev, thank you!” This is like looking back just above your shoulder. But if you look forward, of course there you also find your saints. And then a new set of progressive steps are ahead of you.

 

[1] Bhagavad Gita 2.40



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There are three intimate connections in spiritual life. One is the instruction, the second is the lecture and the third is the prayer or the bhajan. So, step by step we should approach the superior truth. Just like the sun is rising in the same way, our consciousness is being purified by the shine of the supreme truth. The sun rises step by step, slowly-slowly, even before appearing on the horizon it gives the light. But when it comes with full splendor, then you can really achieve the living and real connection to this eye of God. And when there is the sunrise, it moves so fast – few minutes and rises so much. In the beginning you can glaze into the eye of God. In the beginning you can tolerate that. Later on it is little more difficult – when it’s up there, you cannot stare into the sunshine. In yoga there are some practices, and especially ascetic types of renunciates, they have a practice to stare at the sun when it’s high and they don’t go blind. But please, don’t try! Don’t try to face the Supreme all of a sudden. You will be blinded.

Therefore we should follow the step by step process. But I know that the Bulgarians are very heroic. You want great achievements, so when I say: “Please, don’t do it!” you will naturally say: “Yes, I want to do this – stare at the sun!” Because it’s a brave achievement. But I have to tell you, to follow the step by step process is more brave. It’s more heroic. Because here you have to give up your private ambitions. There you can show your ambitions. But here you have to set them aside. You know: who wins over another one is strong; who overcomes himself is wise.

So, we have to follow this step by step process. Finally we shall come to something very intimate. But what is the beginning? Om agyanatimirandhasya gyananjana-shalakaya.chakshur unmilitam yena tasmai shri-gurave namah. This is the first step. That means: “I was blinded by illusion. I don’t see the sunshine. I don’t see even this bright color heralding the sunshine coming. I am in darkness, deeply enveloped by darkness.” Is that bad?

Pavitra: It’s a point of view.

Swami Tirtha: Correct. Because those who are sleeping in the darkness they feel quite well. When Indra by some chance had to take birth as a pig on Earth, he was happy with that. When the demigods came and said: “Oh, please, Indra! Can you come back to your royal position, because we need your protection?” he said: “But it’s so nice here! I have a very good body. I have my beautiful kids here and everything is so nice here. Why should I leave?”

So, if we are deeply engrossed in illusion, we feel fine. Yesterday Damodar mentioned: “Let’s hear something about happiness.” If you are in illusion, you are very happy. When you start to realize the perspective of spiritual enlightenment, you will be challenged, sometimes disappointed even. Because it’s so bright, it’s so high, it’s so far! Yet it’s so inviting! ‘I cannot resist! However far away it looks, I have to go! I’m ready to give up even my desire for happiness.’ Are you ready for that? But then, well, I wouldn’t say immediately, but step by step you will learn something about happiness and the power of spiritual enlightenment. So, “Although I am blind, I am blinded by illusion, yet someone comes with the torchlight of divine knowledge. He had opened up my eyes with the ointment of divine knowledge. My Guru gave me the sambandha-gyana, the knowledge of my belonging, therefore I pay my respects to him.”

 

(to be continued)

 

 

 



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Question of Damodar: I was reading a lecture and then I realized that I don’t have understanding what happiness means. I was thinking that happiness is related to some good luck. But there it was said that happiness is a quality, like other qualities of the character. So, it looks like it doesn’t depend on external factors. Could you please enlighten us on this topic?

Swami Tirtha: Well, better you ask a person who is happy, because he can tell personal experience. But theoretically I can also share something. Happiness – some think that this is the ultimate goal of life. Like a general, universal principle that everybody shares: ”Yes, I want to be happy!” But I have to tell you this is a goal for only the newcomers, neophytes. It is like a demo version: ‘you can become happy!’ Because actually it’s not enough if our ambition and our motivation is only our happiness. Happiness is not a goal, this is an instrument, or a secondary effect we can say. And if you mix the goals with the instruments, then you will make a major mistake. Because even if you reach, you will never be happy.

So, happiness is not a goal, it’s a result of something. Therefore our ambition, our goal should not be happiness, but the mission of our life. If this will be our highest goal, then we will be happy – if you do it, if you go for it. This is a sign of a saint – who lives for something higher than his private life. That means – transcends himself. If you transcend your material limitations, you dedicate yourself to something higher, of course all the lower platforms will be harmonized. Or even if they are not harmonized, but you get more and more trouble, you will be able to digest it, you will be able to face it happily. Therefore we can say: on a realized platform you are able to face piles of trials with smiles. How to reach that platform? It’s very simple. Now you might think it’s very complicated, but it’s not. Just go beyond yourself. I mean your material self. Come to the spiritual platform. Sat-chit–ananda – you are happy by nature, by birth. Your existence means happiness. So, simply we have to come to the spiritual platform – then it is given, provided. Therefore happiness is not a feeling; happiness is a state of consciousness. Or we can say it’s like a paradigm, like a worldview. Our paradigm is ananda.

So, don’t search for happiness – then you will find it. If you search for it, you will lose it. Why? Because who is the supreme authority of bliss? Who is that?

Hayagriva: Lord Chaitanya.

Swami Tirtha: Wow, yes! I always forget about Him! But give me somebody else, if it is possible.

Somebody: Isn’t it Lakshmi Devi?

Swami Tirtha: Very basic concept.

Kripadham: Radharani?

Swami Tirtha: Radha. Correct! She is the greatest authority on bliss. And She has got a nature of a lady – ladies can make you the most blissful. There is another side of the story, but I don’t mention it right now. When you miss this Mistress – that is very painful. She knows the art of happiness. And the beauty, the wholesome feelings of happiness don’t go without the bitter pain and suffering of utter intensity. She is like that – if you want to posses Her, She will escape. If you want to serve Her, She will come, She will stay with you. Therefore the same is with the bliss, with the happiness – if you want it, you will lose it. So, don’t forget, happiness is not a feeling, because feelings are coming and going. Happiness is an inner mood. If we want to summarize the message here, we can say: ”Don’t miss the Mistress!”

But where is our happiness practically? Because theoretically and theologically of course we agree and we say: yes, yes. ‘But where is my happiness?’ Just look at the mothers, their happiness is so obvious. Or look at a vaishnava, his happiness is so obvious. His or her brothers and sisters – are immediate happiness for them. Or look at a master, guru – immediately you will understand where his happiness is. Because we are all part of a system. Sometimes you are a master, sometimes you are a servant. But whether you look into this direction, or you look into that direction – you find the objects and the sources of your happiness. On one side you see your master, your guru, your parampara. On the other side you see your brothers, you see your followers, etc. They are all inspirations of happiness for us. And it doesn’t mean that we depend on an external source of happiness. No, they are like mirrors multiplying your inner ananda. Therefore we are part of this system, ananda system.

But I fully agree with you when you said that happiness is a quality. And we can develop that quality, we can cultivate our happiness. You can train yourself to be more and more happy. Actually this is called sadhu-sangha, training for happiness – eating, dancing, singing together. Everybody is happy about this. I hope you understand, this is not a joke. If we can do it really as a spiritual practice, definitely it will bring out some eternal good qualities.

 



nm.ssm

(continues from the previous Friday) 

Radha Krishna prana mora – “The Divine Couple is my prana. They are my life, my life force.” We can study and learn this theory intellectually; and we have another option – we can feel it deeply in our hearts. For some people generally, and for some devotees practically, God, or Krishna, is very far away – like a concept. But Krishna notices this. Therefore He wants to exercise His very special feature – this is the mercy. Is God omniscient? Does He know everything? What do you think, Paramananda?

Paramananda: I think yes. I’ve heard there are some things He is not entirely aware of, but generally the omniscient concept is supported.

Swami Tirtha: Yes, be careful if you talk to theologians. Because this dynamic concept of God is very difficult to be understood by those who have theoretical faith. For those who have living faith, they will know that God grows: ‘Ah, my God is so perfect that He can become greater and greater every moment! And He can show His complete knowledge by playing the game of not knowing something.’ So when you are far away, when you feel far away from Him, He understands, He feels that. When you feel abandoned, when you feel alone, He is tortured: “How is it that you cannot see Me? How should I give you the eyes? How can I embrace you?” Not only His complete divine knowledge is questioned, but His omnipotence is also questioned. “How is it that I cannot reach you? How is it that I cannot help you? Ah, I feel so weak and lonely.” But then this lapse of knowledge is just gone, this emotional overwhelming feeling is just gone and He starts to use His brain. “I am called omnipotent, but I am limited. Who can help? God, please, help! But God – it’s Me, I cannot help Myself! What to do? Yet I have heard about somebody more omnipotent. Who is that? These are my servants. I have to ask them to go to you. I have to extend My mercy through them. Because you feel so lonely, I will give you a company. And through them you will understand Me.”

Therefore vaishnava is a sacred principle. They are extended second selves of God to you, personally to you. A friend is your second self, a vaishnava is your second life, your second prana. Therefore this is a very sacred object; it’s a worshipable object – the saints that we meet. And saints don’t depend on their qualities; it depends on your willingness, on your vision also if you see the saintly qualities of them. You can meet the greatest saint, but if you are blind and stupid, you will offend him. While you can meet a very small saint, but if you are fortunate and if you are pure enough, you will recognize his beauty and his greatness.

Actually Shrila Shridhara Maharaj says that “In spiritual life there is no periphery, everywhere is a center.” Do you understand what it means? Here and now divine perfection is possible. We don’t have to go to other places. You have to focus and purify yourself so much that you can become the center of the Universe. And there are so many centers, everybody is a center. It’s beautiful and it doesn’t diminish the power and the importance of the center – it multiplies. Of course this beautiful expression is mentioned in the yogic tradition and also in the occult tradition. They say that consciousness is such a circle whose center is everywhere and its periphery is nowhere. But it’s too dry compared to the version of Shrila Shridhara Maharaj. Therefore, if you want to find the center of the Universe, you have to find a saint. Because they so powerfully and so intensely live this dedicated life that this will happen. Therefore a vaishnava is a very sacred object. Because if you want to search for God, if you want to find God, there is one sure place where you will find Him – that is the heart of the pure devotee. He is always there. Potentially He is there in your heart also. Only you have to come to the platform of a pure vaishnava, pure devotee. Then His presence will manifest totally, completely.

Therefore we worship the vaishnavas, so that they can reveal their hearts. Therefore we worship Narrotama Dasa Thakura who reveals his heart. He said: “Radha-Krishna prana mora – The Divine Couple is my life. Whether I leave – jivane marane, jivo-va maro-va ‘whether you live or you die’ – They are my eternal shelter.”

We started our discussion about the meaning of life. Here is something for you to meditate on. No, not for you – for me also.

Question of Prema: Jaya asks where is Bhakti Abhay Narayan Maharaj?

Swami Tirtha: I cannot answer that question. But wherever he is, I am sure that he is connected to his most dedicated devotees. It’s not my business to make theories about whether he is here, or there, or coming back, or staying there – it is not my business. But I know that he is connected to some, and some are connected to him. I don’t know how much this answer satisfies Jaya. But you can think of it.

 

 



Overcome

Radha-Krishna prana mora[1] – “The divine couple Shri Shri Radha and Krishna, They are my life. Whether I am alive, or I die, I have no other shelter then Them!” Thank you very much for coming this evening, because today we have to discuss the meaning of life, which is a very serious topic. And as you are all very dedicated and intent practitioners of spirituality ,we cannot discuss the elementary, or the basic goals of life. But we have to focus our attention on the highest goal of our existence.

One story came to my mind. There was a sage who was sitting in the marketplace and distributed blessings to the different kinds of people. First came a young prince. To him the sage said: “Live long!” Everybody around was very satisfied: ”Yes, this is a nice blessing! Long life!” But the second one was a yogi. He also received his blessings: “Die soon!” Many were surprised: “What kind of blessing is this: die soon?!” But the third time a butcher came and then again he also received a blessing. It was a very enigmatic message. “Neither live, nor die!”. Nobody understood what message is this, while finally a vaishnava came. And he received also an enigmatic message: “Whether you live, or you die…” So, all the people around were stunned: “What kind of sage is this?” You know these sadhus and sages and rishi-munis are very strange people. It’s very difficult to understand their ways.

With the first blessing people were satisfied: “All right, long life, nice!” “Die soon!”, second message – what an astonishing, frightful message! But the third and the fourth, they were like riddles. Nobody knew what that was. So, they started to inquire from the saint: “We can accept your first answer, but what kind of sage you are!? Different people come to you for blessings and you give different messages? You should give one message, the same message – blessings!” But the sage started to explain. Definitely this story has happened in Kali Yuga where sages have to explain. Before they had better respect, better prestige. Whatever they did or whatever they said they didn’t have to explain. Now even real saints are questioned. No problem if the fake ones are questioned, but sometimes even the real ones have to explain themselves.

So, he said: “First, a young prince came. How can he achieve perfection?” Because everybody was asking for perfection. “How can he achieve? Perfection of a prince is a long life, while he can practice dharma and while he can use his royal power. And through this service of divinity, of the people he can purify himself. And finally, after a long life, he can return back home, back to Godhead.” “Yes, we agree!” said the audience. “But what about the yogi? The yogi also asked for blessings for perfection, still then you said: ’Die soon!’ What kind of blessing is this?” “Yes, yes, because he is very deep in his meditation, he has accomplished all the tapas and vrata and japa, and everything. So, what is left for him? If he leaves quickly this planet Earth, he will reach his perfection.” “Aha!” they said. “Now we understand. All right, we accept your explanation, but what about our butcher? You told him: ’Ma jivo, ma maro – don’t live, don’t die’ – what is this?” Then the sage said: “Well, what does it mean ‘don’t live’? Don’t live, because if you go on doing your job, your profession, you will commit the same mistakes again and again. You create, you accumulate such a huge balance of karmic reactions, and it’s too bad for you. So, you should not live. Ma jivo – don’t live. But if you die, you will face your reactions. Whatever stupidity you have committed before, you have to pay the price. And that will be a bitter price. So, don’t die! You shouldn’t live, you shouldn’t die!” Everybody was astonished: “Yes! He committed so many mistakes and oh…he should be saved from reactions. You are so great, our sage, our muni! You have given a real blessing! He shouldn’t live, he shouldn’t die! But what about the vaishnava, our local bhakta! What about him? Why whether he lives or he dies? ‘Jivo-va, maro-va’. What is this, you are so poetic!” Then the saint answered: “Ah, our bhakta is also an accomplished person. If he lives, he is with Radha Krishna. If he dies, he is with the Divine Couple too. So, for him life or death is the same.”

But Kali Yuga went on rapidly. So, we also came to the stage where life and death is equal to many. But not on the same platform. ‘I suffer now and I will suffer after.’ Yet if we come to the platform of realization that ‘the Divine Couple is my only shelter’, then to be alive and to serve Them in this bodily form is the same just like service in any other form or on any other platform.

Strong words! Don’t accept them simply by obedience. Try to ponder, try to enter deeply this concept. And you will see that without realization you cannot imitate that platform. But as soon as you have that intense feeling, your life will also change. From a limited and troublesome life you will come to a blissful platform. Because this is the way to overcome the question of death. Come to a perfect stage of life – then you will reach perfection.

 

(to be continued)

[1] First verse from a song of Narottama dasa Thakura



satsang

(continues from the previous Friday)

 

Swami Tirtha: Yama and niyama, the prohibitions and recommendations – these rules as basic principles of yoga give the moral background, like a fundament to this lifestyle. And if you want to be a more active practitioner, then you can follow the sitting postures or go to sat-sang, have your breathing exercises and your deeper meditations. The elementary phases are like introductions into the stages of yoga and the highest phases are like the real manifest connection between the individual and the Supreme.

Question: And what is sat-sang?

Swami Tirtha: Sat-sang is a very interesting word. Direct meaning, word-by-word meaning is “to meet the truth”. But generally when people say sat-sang, they mean when they come together discussing or practicing some divine topics. Still actually the meaning is to meet the truth. This is the reason why we should come together, why we should practice together, why we should listen to the lectures, why we should follow joint practices or studies – so that we are able to meet the truth. Sat-sang.

Question: I would like to ask you: can yoga be taught to children? Is there a border line? How do you see this?

Swami Tirtha: Definitely, it should be! It should be taught to children, because education in the material system starts at about five-six or seven. And this is the proper time to educate human beings – to start their education in the mind or in an intellectual way. But if we implement these basic principles of peace, of understanding, of cooperation, of being connected to the Supreme or these divine levels of consciousness – if we implement them early, then this will be very natural for the kids. What to speak of the health response. To have a yoga lifestyle it’s very healthy. Not only by the physical exercise, but by the psyche, you can find personal inner peace more easily. And in this way you can learn new methods of facing the challenges and resolving your own problems. So I think it is very good if we start it as early as possible.

Question: And finally what would you tell a person, who wants to practice yoga?

Swami Tirtha: Don’t hesitate, start it!

 



together

Question: Are there any definitions of yoga? What is yoga according to the scriptures?

Swami Tirtha: Well, Patanjali Muni in his Yoga Sutras says: “when the disturbance of the mind is stopped, this is called yoga”. Chitta vritti nirodhah. So yoga is to stop the disturbed functions of our chitta, our conscious background. And this could be achieved through different methods. So this is one definition of yoga. Let’s say this is technical or a practical definition of yoga – what you will perceive, or what is the stage when you are in yoga.

Otherwise if you examine the word itself, yoga means connection. It reflects back to this previously mentioned idea that it connects the human being to the supreme consciousness. In Bhagavad Gita for example you will find another definition of yoga. It means a very intimate connection with God – that is also called yoga.

In one sense we should discriminate between the general paths of religions and yoga. Because yoga is not necessarily practiced in an organization, yoga is an inner mystic path, while religions are usually practiced in some formal organization also. If you belong to one religion, then you call yourself a Christian, or a Buddhist, or this and that. But these designations concern only some formalities. The essence should be the same – religare, religion also means “to connect back”. So beyond the formalities that sometimes divide people, we should try to come back to this general state of consciousness, original state of consciousness – being connected to the divine harmony.

Question: I’ve heard one more definition of yoga from Bhagavad Gita – that yoga is the perfection of action, the perfect action. Can you tell us something about this definition? Because the first – of Patanjali – is more as you said practical, and the other one is like very general, although also practical somehow.

Swami Tirtha: Yes, because the ultimate things must be very simple, and at the same time practical. Yoga has got some principles. If we follow these principles, then first of all we practice yoga and secondly we can achieve the goals of yoga much more easily. We can say that there are “ten commandments” of yoga. Five are prohibiting you to do nonsense, negative activities that are not favorable for your spiritual goals; and five are recommendations, which will help you to come to the spiritual platform. And if we follow these five plus five principles, then we can perfect our activities.

Yoga starts with morals. Of the first two grades, levels of yoga, the first are the controls or the “no” that you should avoid – these are called the yamas. The five main avoidances are: first ahimsa – to avoid violence. Second is satyam or truth, to be truthful, avoid untruthful behavior or lying. The third is asteya, avoid stealing or don’t desire what belongs to others. The fourth is brahmacharia, or be faithful, control your sexual life. The fifth is aparigraha – give up the feeling of possession, the desire to possess. All those who follow these five “don’ts”, practice the great vow, this is called the maha vrata. Renouncing these basic impulses of human life is very beneficial for spiritual growth. And the five “dos” are the niyamas. The first is shaucham or purity; second is santosha or satisfaction; the third one is tapaha or simple lifestyle; the fourth one is svadhyaya or study of the scriptures and recitation of the Vedas; the fifth one is ishvara-pranidhana or dedication to Ishvara. Through these different practices you can achieve different goals, different blessings of yoga. There are three blessings that you can achieve – this is very good to know. The three blessings of yoga or the merits, the powers or achievements that you can reach are: the first is friendship or friendly attitude; second is compassion; and the third is your inner peace or inner bliss.

So, what is included here – avoid violence. I think in such a violent and wild world that we live in today it is very practical and very much needed to shift our basic attitude from violence and competition to peace and cooperation. Then faithfulness is there as an expectation; then physical, bodily and mental purity is also like an expectation – don’t crave for the belongings of others. So some ideas are very close to the ten commandments of the Bible. And the positive recommendations include for example satisfaction – to accept what we have, the conditions. I think this is very important. Because although we have created a civilization of comforts and technical equipments, still our inner peace is missing and everybody is complaining. Better we shift this for a simpler and more satisfying lifestyle and then may be we can implement the culture of satisfaction.

 

(to be continued)



meditation

Question: There are many schools of yoga known. Why do different kinds of yoga exist? What is the difference and the common in them?

Swami Tirtha: Recently they gave many, many different names to different yoga practices as in our age even in the west yoga starts to become very popular. Therefore sometimes people give different names like “integral yoga” and this and that. Although if we go back to the classical types of yoga, they are more limited (in number). One or two hundred years ago the authorities, who were living at that time, classified yoga under certain principles. And these principles are like: hatha-yoga – hatha means combining the powers of the sun and the moon; then karmayoga, karma is like some welfare activities, like proper action; and raja-yoga is combining the practices of ascetism or the asanas and the way of knowledge; and ultimately they also add bhaktiyoga, path of dedication, or the path of divine love. So in historical perspective usually this is what you find.

But if we go back again more into the past, in the revealed scriptures of India then you will find practically only three types of yoga – according to the main ideas and the main practices. One is called the path of action – this is the karma; the path of knowledge – this is the gyana; and the path of dedication. These categories are according to the Vedas, the revealed scriptures of India and they contain different information concerning these different topics.

Karma, activity, is not simply action-reaction, but this is the knowledge of the proper action, this is the knowledge of the ritual action – how to make sacrifices, how to purify our existence, how to go through the sacraments – it is all contained in the path of action. So in one way we can say that this is a heroic act, the path of the heroes. They should always act according to the moral standards and requirements, in a very faithful way, in a very pure way, in a very just way. So these aspects of karma-yoga are there, the path of action.

The second one is the path of knowledge, where you try to analyze and scrutinize the elements of life – material life outside, your internal body-mind construction. And by this analysis and deep study of the scriptures, you come to some conclusions. Because divine knowledge that you can achieve by cultivating this path liberates you from the bondages of material existence – you can achieve liberation by that.

And finally the third type of yoga is bhakti-yoga, or the path of dedication, and it concerns more like an emotional approach to the supreme truth, helps you to develop divine feelings, helps you to come close to your own spiritual consciousness, identity, and also to establish living and loving contact with the Supreme.

So, one concerns your activities, the other concerns your consciousness and the third one concerns your emotional dedication. In this way practically all the main fields of human activities, of human life are employed in different ways. Of course all the different schools – whether the old tradition schools like the karma, gyana and bhakti or the recent schools like raja-yoga, hatha-yoga, etc. – they do share some common elements.

One common element is meditation. This becomes a very popular expression, sometimes with little misunderstanding. Because meditation means that you connect your own private consciousness to the unlimited divine consciousness. This is like establishing a channel between the human being and the Supreme Lord or the supreme knowledge. And there are different techniques of meditation, but this is best to practice under some guidance or following some rules and regulations.

Another general feature of yoga is the lifestyle, the vision and approach of the yogis: peacefulness, ahimsa – or to avoid violence – sattvic way of life, these are all recommended in order to practice yoga properly.

Otherwise the differences, for example the different techniques for meditation are there. But the essence is to connect your consciousness to the supreme consciousness. Sometimes they do it through meditation on the rising sun, other times they do it by meditation over a candle. So there are different methods, different techniques of meditation, but the point is to be connected to the Supreme.

Also a very special type of meditation is the sound meditation. Practically in all yoga schools they vibrate the om for example, which is a universal sound vibration, very important at the beginning of creation, and very powerful in changing the vibration of all existence and consciousness. And there are some very artistic ways for meditation also, when for example people offer their artistic capacities like singing and dancing or some paintings in the service of God and then this dedication is also a way to express your gratitude. So there are many, many different ways, but the goal is the same – to connect the individual consciousness to the Supreme Lord.

 

 



shiva-shakti

Question: Maharaj, yoga is already very popular. Could you please tell us about the history of yoga – how and when did yoga appear and how did it come to us?

Swami Tirtha: Well, yoga is a connection to the Supreme or a way to establish a living and loving connection between human consciousness and supreme consciousness. This is an eternal path, so it is very, very difficult to trace back the historical perspective of yoga. Because as it is something revealed, it started at the creation of the world; the historical background is lost in oblivion.

Yet if we want to find the real origin of practical yoga, then we should go back few centuries, let’s say one millennium. Because at that time the overall conditions in India were very exciting. This was the time when the six classical schools of philosophy, the darshanas[1], were formed in India. Actually not formed, but more developed, trying to meet and discuss, and sometimes exchange ideas with each other. Because yoga, as the path of mysticism, is one of the six classical schools of Indian philosophical systems. And all other different systems, like logic or vedanta – these are different main schools – contributed with something to the general spiritual horizon of people. Yoga gave a general practice. So practically the steps of yoga and the methods of yoga are present in all other schools, in all other practices. Meditation, yoga lifestyle, or some principles and goals of yoga – they are practiced in other different schools of Indian traditional philosophy. In historic times the greatest exponents of yoga come about that time –the turn of the previous millennium. And the tradition that was going on and living was condensed by them in some sutras. Because sutra, as a piece of literature, is such a treatise that in a very condensed form preserves and conveys the message, the essence of one school. So the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are practically one of the most well-known and most important sources on yoga. They can be traced back about one thousand years back historically. Otherwise the science of yoga is an eternal path.

Shiva is considered to be the greatest yogi. He is like an archetype of yogi and he had shown humanity many, many different yoga postures. And from among these hundreds and thousands of postures 108 were selected as the most important yoga postures, asanas. And Shiva is practically always depicted in some form of yoga – meditation, yoga posture or some yoga mudra.

Question: Is it true that he first taught the positions of the asanas to his wife? So yoga is a loving affair?

Swami Tirtha: Well, you cannot imagine Shiva without Shakti, without Devi. So definitely in many, many respects they are together. And at the same time Shiva is not only a mystic yogi, but a very multiple character. Because he also acts like a destructor of the world; and also he is a great exponent of divine love. So many different aspects are mixed in Shiva’s character.

 

[1] Six darshanas are: nyaya (logic), vaisheshika (atomic theory), sankhya (analysis of spirit and matter), yoga (discipline of knowing the self), mimamsa (science of fruitive activities) and vedanta (the science of God realization)