Q: Swamiji, what is an ashram, and what does it do for householders?
A: Ashram is a Sanskrit word, which means a place of spiritual and physical labour, where the disciples and also the inmates have to put forth a lot of their physical and mental energy in order to work out their karma.
The mind is turbulent, and if you do a lot of yogic practices without going through the process of karma yoga, which is done in the ashram, then you have a lot of mental problems. Therefore the ashram system was created long, long ago in order to provide an opportunity for disciples and inmates to live in a community with their guru and express their mental, intellectual, emotional and physical energies in the form of work. Of course, nowadays we don't have this tradition as it was in the ancient days, but we are trying, especially myself, to revive it. Around the world, I have asked my ashram people to organize their ashrams in such a way that spiritually minded people will be able to come and stay for some time in order to relax the confusions and strangulations of karma.
Ashram life is a steppingstone to higher spiritual meditation. Ashram life provides you with an opportunity to practice non-attachment. Ashram life also provides you with the possibility, with the concept that life can be led with greater simplicity than we now think.
In any ashram, the important elements are the guru, the disciple (shishya) and the relationship between the two. The guru and the disciples make an ashram. The disciples strive to reach the highest summit in spiritual life. When they are confronted by the turbulence of the mind, they go to the ashram, stay there for some time and then return to their daily life and do their spiritual practices with absolute regularity, faith and devotion.
Q: At what stage does one have to make the choice between the two paths of void and light? Does the choice depend on personality and inclination? Can the guru advise the appropriate choice?
A: The choice depends on the disciple's efforts. If the disciple has a basis, a concrete symbol, and if he has thorough control over the mind and consciousness, then he goes through the path of light. But if the disciple has no concrete symbol of his own, if he is in a hurry, and if he is not under the total control of his guru, then he goes through the path of shoonyata.
Q. Milarepa talks about a sound one can make to keep warm. Can you show us how to make this sound?
A: Aum is the sound by which you can generate prana, by which you can generate heat. This chanting of aum can be done in quick succession, for as long as you are able while exhaling... aum aum, aum, aum... and then making the same sound as you inhale. That is the sound which generates heat, which generates prana.
Q: Is kundalini sexual energy?
A: Kundalini is not sexual energy, but sexual energy is an aspect of kundalini.
Q: I feel that the exploration of the spiritual realm comes more easily to an introverted personality than to an extroverted one, whose energy tends to be directed towards others. What appropriate methods does yoga have for both personalities?
A: Well, as far as my personal experience goes, spiritual insight or spiritual awareness is quickly available to a person who is extrovert by nature. People who are introvert by nature will find it very difficult to maintain the awareness, the continuous flow of awareness, required during meditation. Therefore in yoga and in ashram life we make people extrovert, even those who are introvert by nature. We awaken and widen the scope of their sensory activities. We give them the practices by which they will develop all the five senses of touch, sight and so on. These have to be made sensitive.
At a particular stage of his evolution a yogi becomes very much extrovert. By this I do not mean that he is given to the sensual life, but that he becomes aware of everything which is outside and which can be received or understood by his senses. Therefore it is my personal belief that those people whose senses are extrovert can reach this spiritual point more easily and quickly than introverted people. Those who are introvert by nature will have to externalise their sensory perceptions, develop them, make them more keen and sensitive, and then introvert them.
Introversion is a spiritual disqualification in yoga. In our ashram when I find sannyasins or students who are introverted by nature doing a lot of meditation by themselves I stop them. I say 'Don't do it, because you do not know how to manipulate the mind; you do not know how to control the mind. You become spontaneously introverted by nature. If your mind dives deep while you are doing a lot of meditation and japa, have you the capacity, have you the method to bring it out again?' Therefore, the mind should not be introverted unless it is first externalised. Introversion is neurotic behaviour.
Q: You spoke yesterday about finding the right yoga to suit each individual. How does one find this?
A: Temperamentally, the whole human population can be classified into four groups: dynamic, emotional, mystical and rational.
None of us is purely dynamic, or emotional or mystical or rational. For instance, some of us are predominantly dynamic, but we have emotions, mysticism and rationality. Those who are predominantly dynamic must take to karma yoga as the primary sadhana, as the main spiritual practice, but also using bhakti yoga, raja yoga and jnana yoga.
Those who are predominantly emotional must accept bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion and love as their primary and main spiritual practice, and along with that a little karma yoga, a little raja yoga and a little jnana yoga.
Those who are predominantly mystical by temperament will have to accept and practice raja yoga, that is, the yoga of meditation, concentration, contemplation and samadhi. But side by side they will have to accept karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga as part of their sadhana.
This is how we have to analyse our own temperament, and according to this temperamental specialty, we have to accept one of the four yogas. Karma yoga you understand. Bhakti yoga is devotion, singing, japa, prayer and so on. Raja yoga is meditation, kundalini yoga, kriya yoga, laya yoga - all of these come under the heading of raja yoga. Jnana yoga is contemplation, the yoga of thorough self-investigation.
Q: When one feels the strength inside, should it be hidden or allowed to manifest?
A: When you feel yourself to have strength, invest it properly: in the right manner, for the right cause, and with the right purpose in mind.
Q: When the strength is allowed to flow, doesn't it cause an overbearing manner?
A: Well, sometimes if the strength or the energy which is flowing through you is not allowed to express itself, it may cause a lot of mental problems. The energy, the prana, the vitality, which is in excess must be given a channel to express itself, and as I told you earlier, that channel has to be the right channel. If you don't want to express your energy in the external life, then you must invest that energy in meditation, in deep contemplation, in thorough and one-pointed relaxation.
Q: How does mantra affect the mind?
A: Mantra influences the subconscious mind and it explodes the deeper recesses of karma, thereby bringing the symbols of your deeper consciousness up to the surface. It purifies the mental area, making you free from the psychic diversions in the higher stage of meditation. That is its importance. Mantra induces concentration of course, but its most important role is to purify the whole area of consciousness. When you meditate you are interrupted by thoughts, and later on you are interrupted by psychic visions. These interruptions can be eliminated by a continuous process of japa and mantra. The more you practice mantra, the more you assure yourself of absolute and uninterrupted meditation.
Q: Is there a deeper significance in the use of flowers?
A: Oh flowers! The most beautiful thing that God has created besides the heart of man! The most beautiful thing is the heart of man, but the next most beautiful thing is the flower. In my opinion, therefore, flowers represent the most beautiful, the most delicate and the most pure sentiments of man.
So far as the practice of yoga is concerned, flowers have an immediate influence on the chakras and on the mind. They help the mind to go in.
Q: What is the difference between suppression and control?
A: Suppression is a kind of opposition to your own personality, where you really do not agree with yourself. But in control there is mutual agreement between both the elements of the mind. When I want to control myself, I agree with myself totally, in toto. In suppression, however, I don't want something and yet I still do it. That is the fundamental difference between suppression and self control.
Q: Once you see the temple of truth far off, how long should you let your mind function as to choosing the cleanest, quickest path? Or, who can help me fly?
A: Well, I have a very short and quick reply to this, because I would consider such a person who has seen or approached the temple of God, as my guru. Once you have seen the temple of God, you don't need to question. We will come to you for questioning. Once you obtain not the temple of God itself, but even a vision of it, the questions are answered, the doubts are dispelled and the confusions are rent asunder. The mind becomes very clean - not like the Sydney sky, sometimes sunny and sometimes cloudy, but absolutely bright and clean. Once you have perception of the inner temple of God, you are not only blessed, but thrice blessed, and you don't need to ask any questions.
Q: Some time ago I received a personal mantra which I used daily. However, I now want to practice ajapa japa. Should I use my personal mantra in this technique instead of the mantra soham?
A: In the practice of ajapa japa the mantra soham is used, but once you have your own mantra, you can substitute this for soham and synchronize it with the practice.
Q: Swamiji, what is the use of yoga nidra with regard to our day-to-day tensions?
A: Yoga nidra - practice it yourself and you will have the experience. In day-to-day life we get tired physically, we get tired emotionally, we get tired mentally. We pile up muscular, emotional and mental tensions. The build-up of those tensions ultimately affects our nervous system, our coronary system and the digestive system as well. If you practice yoga nidra daily, you can relax those tensions partly, if not completely.
Q: Swamiji, I am suffering from migraine headaches. Can you help me please?
A: Well, first of all, early in the morning, the moment you get out of bed and before making too much physical movement, drink two or three glasses of tepid water, and then vomit it out. Do this for a few weeks, if not regularly, say every third day. That is the first thing. Secondly, practice neti, where you use a neti pot, which has a spout, to pass tepid saline water from one nostril to the other, followed by bhastrika pranayama. And thirdly, to get rid of your migraine, take three or four days off and have a nice time at an ashram, where you can practice shankaprakashalana, total cleansing of the digestive system, from top to bottom, from one end to the other. So once again, firstly the vomiting business, secondly the nose cleaning business, thirdly bhastrika pranayama and fourthly, the total cleansing of the body. Your migraine will be finished, unless of course, you have a tumour in the brain.
Q: If the spiritual essence within us emanates from God, and we are somehow joined to him through it, then is the personality also from the same source, or is it an independent entity? If so, has it an ultimate end? If not, what is its point?
A: Part of this question has been answered time and time again by many seers, sages and saints. Part of it remains unanswered. That which remains unanswered I cannot answer, and that which has already been answered is very simple. The greatest power is inherent in every being. We are part and particle of it. But since maya, the supreme delusion, has veiled it, due to this veil we have, even to this day, forgotten our nature. Like a crazy man, we have forgotten our identity, and we have just been talking about the names of the forms. We have been talking about the body more than the actual self. Therefore the supreme spirit and this spirit in bondage are not two; essentially both are one. But actually, there are two eternal elements. The two elements which are eternal are known as purusha, or consciousness, and prakriti, nature; let us say for the time being, matter and spirit. Matter is eternal and spirit is also eternal. Spirit is the basis for matter, and matter is the basis for spirit, and spirit and matter move through creation in conjunction with each other.
As long as purusha and prakriti function in conjunction with each other, there is creation, there is maya, there is delusion and there is nascency.
Now, when both these two, purusha and prakriti, or matter and spirit are separated from each other in the higher spiritual practices, then the real nature of me and the real nature of the higher being become totally identical and inseparable.
Q: I have been dreaming something like five dreams a night and waking up after every dream. I therefore decided to have a pen and paper handy in order to record each dream upon waking. What is the cause of this dreaming, and can I derive any benefit from writing down these dreams?
A: Dreams are symbols. They are stages of experience, and they are also symbols of premonition. Therefore, no one should reject or undervalue their dreams. You must record your dreams, and after recording your dreams for months and years together, it will be possible to make a complete, thorough and true interpretation of them.
Dreams are the language of condensed thinking, deep thinking. Dreaming is a deeper state of thought, and no dream is futile, no dream is meaningless. But the language of dreams requires a thorough study by the dreamer. I request that you continue to write down the experiences of all your dreams as you have been doing. After every two or three or four months, read over your diary once again and try to relate the dreams with the happenings in life, and you will find the language.
Q: Swamiji, I find that I'm restless when I'm working. What can I do?
A: You don't like your work, I believe. If you want to enjoy your work you will have to make it a part of your spiritual life, a part of sadhana, a part of yoga.
If you regard the work which you are doing only as a way of earning money, then I can certainly help you with that restlessness. During the time that you are working you must concentrate on the work, but whenever you have a little time, or a pause in work, you must repeat your mantra. And every morning you should do a little more pranayama, and with the pranayama, a little bit of breath retention, or kumbhaka.
Q: Swamiji, what is the symbol, and what does it mean?
A: The symbol is the guide to the mind during the inner journey when you are meditating.
Q: What is the best meditation pose for people who cannot sit cross-legged, such as sufferers of varicose veins or arthritis? Can they sit in any comfortable position?
A: You can practice meditation in any way you like. Practice it sitting on a straight chair or an easy chair, or on your bed. For meditation, of course, we ask you to sit upright and straight; but when you are in tune with your inner self, it doesn't matter where you are or in which position you sit.
Q: Swamiji, can you cure diabetes through yoga practices?
A: Well, technically and legally speaking, I would not say that I can cure diabetes because the Medical Association would put me behind bars. I can manage diabetic patients very well.
Q: If the awareness of one's ego is strong, should it be suppressed? Or, since one vehicle of ego is relative to another vehicle of ego, does it matter anyway?
A: Well, if the ego is well under your control it is all right, go ahead.
You can surrender the ego to guru or to God. There are many ways you can surrender the ego, and by doing this you avert many accidents in life. There is also another way which is transmuting the ego. The transmutation of the ego can also be a scientific and systematic process, which takes place through the practices of raja yoga and meditation.
Q: What is the significance of astral traveling?
A: This is a very big question. Astral traveling is the traveling of personal consciousness, of your personal mind which is heightened. When you become consciousness, you throw it out into space. That is called astral traveling
Q: Does the ability to astral travel consciously mark a stage in a person's spiritual progression?
A: Astral traveling has nothing particularly to do with a person's spiritual progress. It is only one of the performances of the mind, of a strong and qualified mind. With regard to spiritual progress, astral projection or astral traveling is totally irrelevant.
Q: What would Swamiji's attitude be to the playing of Western music, either in the course of exercises or for recreation in the ashram?
A: Western music is an aspect of nada yoga, and Indian music is an aspect of nada yoga. Every culture has developed its own system of music. We should utilize these systems of music for self-evolution, and not only for recreation although this is also a necessity.
Q: Should I love one, or as a whole?
A: Well, everyone knows how to love. Love cannot be taught. The procedures of love cannot be bought from a store in Sydney. Every being, the cat and the dog, the elephant and the horse, the mammals, the animals and men all know how to love, when to love, whom to love. I think this is the only thing you shouldn't ask me about.