Please explain the significance of personal mantra and its ultimate effect on the results of meditation.
Every mantra has its own meaning, but knowing the meaning does not matter. In fact, if you do not know it, it's better. The meaning has no effect in practice, it is the sound that is important. For instance, Aum Namah Shivaya is a mantra. Shiva is one of the names of Lord Shankara, the Mahesha, the caretaker of the universe. This God is believed in by Hindu people to this day. But the word 'Shivaya' has such a lasting effect upon the faculties that are lying dormant in our inner selves, that it does not just refer to Lord Shiva, the God. Shiva means the supreme consciousness. This mantra, Aum Namah Shivaya, leads you ultimately to the supreme consciousness, awakening the dormant faculties.
Mantra is used for many purposes. There are many sources of mantra apart from the guru mantra, or the permanent mantra. Many tantrics and even ordinary devotees use them in their daily lives. In India they come from the Vedas, Gita, Ramayana and tantric texts. These mantras are used to pacify the mind and the emotions. There are different mantras for the different qualities and kinds of disturbances of the mind. Some of you have heard the thirty two names of Durga. This is a mantra which is chanted by shaktas - those who worship God in the form of nature, in the form of woman, in the form of activity and life. The mantra tranquillizes the mind, and leads to meditation.
Could you explain the use of images in meditation? Should the devotee concentrate on an image or does it appear spontaneously?
Spontaneously. If you have many different images in front of your closed eyes, then try to find one on which you can concentrate easily, spontaneously. If this is not possible with any of them, then only should you chose an external image, such as a picture of your guru, a deity, or a statue.
What is karma and how can one best work it out?
Working through karma is a long process, but it can be achieved by positive thinking. Karma is in different forms and different categories. There is individual karma, family karma, village karma, city karma and national karma. For example, in South Africa there were many car accidents until the speed limit was reduced to 80 km/h. In three months there was a drop of 45-55% in the accident rate. This is nation wide karma, which could be avoided. You can guard yourself from the effects of karma. Many people believe that what is to happen, will happen, must happen. But this is not so, one can avoid it. If there is going to be some pain in your family you can be warned and prepare yourself to face it. If an individual knows that he could contract diabetes, cancer, or some other disease which is said to be incurable, then it is possible to take precautions and avoid it. Karma can be avoided. Good karma can be created, and bad karma eliminated.
What should I do to gain control of my mind?
A difficult question, but everyone is here for this. The rishis, munis and sages have been working for it and trying to tell us about it. Our ancestors worked for it, and we are all working for it. All yoga techniques which are being taught at our ashrams are for the control of the mind. If you want to know more join the sannyas course.
Do children choose their parents?
Rarely. The parents do not choose the children, and the children do not choose the parents, except in the case of adoption. Only the adept, the siddha, the perfect person who has died by his own choice, can choose his parents.
Is it my responsibility to work consciously for spiritual development or to wait for it to happen?
It is better to work consciously at it, because you have no guarantee when it will come. Even if it does come it may not be in this lifetime. So why not work for it now?
I suffer from asthma. How can yoga help?
There is a BSY publication on asthma, which you should read. The course of treatment is long, and you should learn it here at the ashram. There is one main treatment called vastra dhauti, which consists of swallowing a long cloth, allowing it to churn around in the stomach, and then taking it out. It works fantastically in asthma. We have seen it help hundreds of people. Bhastrika pranayama is very beneficial. There are also many asanas which help. But you have to go to the root cause of the asthma, whether it is mental, emotional, physical or inherited. You must know what brought it about, and only then can you treat it properly and eliminate it.
In our Monghyr ashram there was a man who had terrible asthma for more than thirteen years. We tried to help him as much as we could, and he improved, but after living there for three months he was still not cured completely, whereas other people had been completely cured in one or two months. Then one day a young swami returned to the ashram from touring, and he went to this man's room. The man took an instant liking to him and invited him to go and live in his home in northern India. The asthma had started when one of the man's sons had been drowned in a swimming pool, and he saw his son in the young swami. After two days there was no more asthma. It is now three years since he has had an attack or any sign of the disease. That is why I said that you must study the root cause, not only of this disease, but any disease.
How does one cope with sexual frustration?
Practice yoga, particularly vajroli mudra.
I have read that each person has a guardian spirit or angel. Is this so?
I think this is man's prejudice. Really nothing exists but your own prejudices. When you are weak minded and someone says that you are nasty, you become nasty. When someone says you are nice, you become nice. If someone says there is a ghost behind you, you feel something moving. This is because you are weak- you must become strong! Otherwise these ideas of angels and devils will, work their influence on you. I've heard many people complaining about it in South America, North America, Africa, and Europe. I have heard many people say that they have ghosts or devils behind them, in their ears or eyes, or in their homes. I taught them yoga, higher spiritual techniques, proper mantras to remove this devil weakness from their minds. Then everything was alright. There are no devils, ghosts or angels. There is only your weak mind.