Spiritual Discipline

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, given at the Zinal Conference, Switzerland in September

In spiritual life it is necessary to know exactly what you are trying to achieve. Whether in tantra or yoga, there is only one thing that man is trying to arrive at, and that is the awakening of his latent forces. These forces are a part of his existence. They are so important for his evolution that by awakening them, man can become superman.

Out of the ten parts of the brain, only one part is now functioning. Our perception, cognition, etc. are the outcome of this one part only. The other nine parts are inactive; they play no part, no role in our life. Men live and die without awakening these areas of the brain. Of course, the natural process of evolution is taking place, but it is going to take millions of years. By that time perhaps the earth might not exist. It is worth an experiment to awaken the totality of human consciousness in this very lifetime. In my opinion that is the ultimate purpose of spiritual life.

These nine areas of the brain contain potential energy, not merely psychic awareness but total knowledge and shakti. The brain is like a big city with beautiful roads, houses and street lights. Inside the houses are televisions, radios and electrical installations. Now this city is desolate and uninhabited because there is no electricity. All we have to do is to connect it with the main generating station and it will become a city of light and life.

The city is here in the brain. Illumining the city is the process for which the whole life has to be properly set. This objective must be very clear and exact in your mind. Now, how are you going to awaken or realise this divine city? Where is the generating station and the connecting cable?

Tantra and kundalini yoga have made it very clear that mooladhara chakra is the generating station, sushumna is the connecting station, and ajna chakra is the local substation. The existing amount of prana and state of mind cannot awaken this silent area. In order to feed that silent city we need an enormous quantity of energy. With the help of prana and mind, the intellect and the different systems of the body may function, but not the silent areas of the brain. In order to have the necessary quantum of energy, mooladhara chakra has to be awakened. Then the energy has to be conducted to ajna chakra via sushumna.

If awakening of the totality of energy and consciousness is the ultimate aim and destiny of man, what are those elements and behaviours which activate and which suppress this awakening? I am not talking in terms of good or bad. For me, there is neither sinner nor puritan. We have to make a clear-cut definition of pro-evolution and pro-awakening. If a certain type of life is able to create awakening, then that is the way we must live.

Transformation or self-punishment

Before an awakening can be brought about, a lot of changes have to take place, not only on the intellectual plane but in the basic structure of consciousness. The entire form must be changed. The very purpose of yoga and spiritual life is to bring about this state of transformation in the structure of the personality. When you accept the process of transformation as a primary hypothesis, then you should also be prepared to experience everything that follows transformation.

Transformation is a very clear process, and it forms the basis of the guru/disciple relationship. The same process is applied whether the relationship is external, in which case I am guru and you are disciple, or internal when a part of me is guru and a part of me is disciple. In order to clarify this, let us take the example of a carpenter.

A carpenter takes a piece of wood, cuts it into different sizes and then drives nails into it in various places. If only that piece of wood could speak out during this ordeal, it would make a horrible accusation: 'Look here, I am being misused and abused by this dirty carpenter.' But ultimately the wood is transformed into a beautiful piece of furniture as an outcome of the carpenter's cruelty.

Take another example, that of a tailor. A piece of cloth lying in a shop is brought to a tailor to be made into a shirt. First the cloth has to be cut to size. So the tailor cuts it with sharp scissors. Next he stitches it with a sharp needle until finally he pierces each and every part of the cloth. Imagine if you were that piece of cloth and I were the tailor. With every prick, you would say, 'This swami is so bad.'

Ultimately, however, it is not the cutting and stitching process that is important, but the finished product. The tailor or carpenter must have a very clear vision of this in mind before taking up the work. Otherwise, both time and material will be wasted. For example, if you give a saw and some wood to a person who is not a carpenter, who has no vision, he will cut the wood into many pieces. Finally, he will not know what to do with them, so they will just lie there, poor little bits.

This is what often happens in the life of yoga, whether you are dealing with disciples or your own self. Therefore, when you practise yoga and spiritual life, it is necessary to understand that the purpose is transformation and awakening; it is not self-punishment. There is not something inimical within you which has to be killed. During the process of transformation there are things which are left behind. At the same time, there are elements which come forth spontaneously. The human being throws off scales like a serpent. Therefore, it is very important to know exactly what you are becoming. If your vision is not clear, then whatever process you put yourself through will be one of self-punishment rather than transformation.

New dimension of discipline

Many people undergo strict discipline in life. They fast and meditate, keep silence and practise celibacy. But unless you understand the real purpose for these restraints, they become a type of punishment which you inflict upon yourself. Sometimes you are angry with yourself so you undergo a life of austerity to punish yourself. This unnecessary austerity creates a great division in your personality. One part of you becomes a puritan and another part a sinner. The sinner wants to remain a sinner, while the puritan is always trying to punish and execute the sinner. This division of personality has to be dissolved. Neither puritanism nor licentiousness helps in spiritual life.

There are moments in life when you have to give yourself to the fulfilment of sensory pleasures in order to work out karma. In this particular respect, you should accept one thing without any doubt. The life of the senses and the mind is not anti-evolutionary, it is pro-evolutionary. Fulfilment of desires in life is a part of spiritual illumination. But, at the same time, you have to remember your purpose. It is not for the fulfilment of sensual life, but the fulfilment of your spiritual vision that you are following this pattern of life.

All spiritual practices ultimately lead you to the point of awakening. The life you choose, the religion you follow, all the food you have fixed for yourself, should be in accordance with the fulfilment of this purpose. Now that the objective is clear in your mind, you have to design each and every item of your life. The austerity, control and restraint that you practise must all have a purpose. Only then can you ensure that your life does not become a religious ritual.

Now we are giving a new dimension to this word discipline. Fulfilment of the objective has to be the purpose of discipline. Discipline for the sake of discipline is just abnormal behaviour. But when you are following a certain system of life which has an objective and a purpose, then discipline has some meaning. Discipline is different from individual to individual and from society to society. What is discipline for one may be a punishment for another, according to the level of understanding and the purpose.

Therefore, the aspirant of yoga should formulate the pattern of his life according to this threefold purpose: (i) the awakening of kundalini, (ii) the awakening of sushumna, and (iii) the awakening of the silent areas of the brain. Keeping these threefold aims in view, you have to set your yoga practices and formulate your moral code. Whatever you do for this triple purpose is to be defined as spiritual discipline.

Yogic discipline

For the awakening of kundalini, it is important that sushumna nadi be purified. In order to purify sushumna, you have to practise a lot of pranayama. When you practise a little pranayama only, it doesn't matter, but when you practise a lot, you have to take care of so many things. You have to know the rules and regulations which control the practices of prana in relation to food and life. This is a form of spiritual discipline, and the person who follows it will never feel any difficulty, sense of punishment or restriction, because the practice of pranayama is very necessary to awaken sushumna.

When you practise pranayama you have to practise kumbhaka as well. In fact, kumbhaka, which means 'retention of breath' is the ultimate definition of pranayama. In conjunction with pranayama, you also have to practise bandhas. When you practise moola bandha and other bandhas, naturally your mental and psychic system is affected. If your stomach, mind, or emotions are constipated; if your family or social life are too complicated; and if your mental personality lives like a vagabond dog, you can just imagine what the practice of pranayama with bandhas is going to do.

A strong kumbhaka with jalandhara, uddiyana and moola bandha, creates heat in the body. This heat is known as the fire of yoga. It is not only spiritual or psychic in nature, it is also physical and affects the metabolism as well as the psycho-spiritual system. When enough heat is created, there is a powerful explosion and an awakening takes place. How are you going to maintain a balance in the heat that has been created by the awakening? For this, there are special rules and regulations given in the yogic texts: "Neither too much eating, nor too much fasting; neither too much sleeping, nor too much vigil; neither too much talking, nor too much silence." Extremes are for from helpful on the path of awakening. The practitioner has to understand the important things: proper food, adequate sleep, and the right kind of social interaction. All these things create a balance, and they also balance the complications that could arise due to the awakening.

Think of yourself as a carpenter. The body, mind, psyche and spirit are your material. With these four materials you are creating a fully evolved being. With the scissors of spiritual discipline, you have to cut everything to size. This means that you have to train the physical and mental systems. Later you have to train the psychic system, and ultimately you will have to train the spiritual system.

In order to train the physical system there are the practices of hatha yoga. When you practise hatha yoga, you know exactly what the rules and regulations are. These are the discipline for the hatha yogi because through them he is able to fulfil his purpose. In order to train the mind, you have to practise raja yoga, and in order to channelize your emotions, you will have to practise bhakti yoga.

The channelization of surplus or unruly emotion is most important, otherwise you will have trouble in the psychic body. In order to train the psychic body, you will have to undergo a lot of difficulties. The psychic body is a wild elephant, or an untamed tiger. Being very powerful, it refuses to be tamed. It is the house of all psychic dreams and experiences. In order to tame this psychic body, the aspirant has to undergo a special type of life. Very few people leading a normal type of life have been able to obtain this psychic power. As you tame the emotions by bhakti yoga, the mind by raja yoga, and the body by hatha yoga, you train the psychic body by ashram yoga.

Mission of man

In order to evolve quickly, we must be prepared to accept any kind of discipline from physical to psychic, and we should not brand it as 'religious' or 'good for swamis but not for me'. If you want to fulfil your destiny, then you should be prepared to accept every discipline. To others, this may seem like a punishment but, in fact, it is not.

You are ready to undergo hardships for whatever you want to accomplish in the material life, not necessarily for the awakening of kundalini or spiritual powers. Many times when you are working on a project in your life, you follow a path of adventure. When you plunge into this adventure for the fulfilment of some material project, your normal life undergoes a total change in so far as programming is concerned. You no longer care for your family, the food you eat, where or how you sleep. The most important point is accomplishment of the project. In order to fulfil that purpose, maybe it is gaining an empire, the establishment of an industry, or the discovery of some medicinal plants, people throughout the ages have made all kinds of sacrifices. They have gone without the necessities of the ordinary life. They have jumped over their personal emotions, passions, ambitions. For an onlooker, it seems horrible, 'What kind of man is this? He doesn't eat; he doesn't sleep; he doesn't dress like a gentleman. He has no wife and children. Look how dirty he is; his clothes smell.'

A man with a mission does not care for pain and pleasure. Every man has to live with a mission, and the mission of man, the destiny of man, is to awaken the silent city. So the definition of discipline in the light of spiritual life, is that which we do for the fulfilment of this mission.


Satsang on Sannyasa and Gurukul Life

How does the way of a swami differ from the life that we know?

Swami literally means 'master of one's own self'. Swami does not mean a monk, priest or a religious personality. Swami is a self-master; nobody owns him and he does not own anybody. When you have a house, husband or wife, children, then there is ownership. In the life of a swami, there is no idea of ownership. Even if he is at the head of a large ashram or institution with plenty of money, it doesn't belong to him, much less to his relatives. It is institutional, not personal. That is the ideal of a swami. For instance, my guru Swami Sivananda, left nothing in his personal name when he died. His ability, capacity, and potentials were all used for the welfare of everyone and not for himself personally. This is the spirit of renunciation in sannyasa. In worldly life, however, most people suffer from insecurity. So in order to establish themselves, they have the frame of family, religion, nationality, caste, group, culture or society. They believe in all of these and secure themselves with a house, industries, economic status, property in their name, and a will in the name of their wife and children. They never let go because they are insecure.

But sannyasa is just the opposite. When you have realised that worldly life has not given you satisfaction, then you accept sannyasa, a life of total insecurity. Certain people are qualified for sannyasa and these people do not exist for themselves. A sannyasin may have many capacities, he may be a painter, writer, doctor or engineer, but he never utilises these for personal gain.

There are people who have greater intelligence and competence. They are rich in mind and potential, and need a higher path in life through which to express themselves. If you have an elephant, then where are you going to keep it? If you put it in a small room, either the elephant will die or the room will collapse. The life of a householder is like keeping an elephant confined in a small room.

If you feed a tiger with salad, just imagine what will happen to him. Salad is not the food of a tiger. In the same way, there are people who want to live a different type of life because their heart is not able to accept the slavery of customs. They need to experience life directly and to roam freely through the forest of the mind, without fearing any of its inhabitants.

Whereas most people are the slaves of their mind and senses, a swami is able to control himself. A swami knows how to conduct his emotions, jealousies, prides and prejudices, and how to keep his mind balanced. Even when all appears to be going wrong around him, he is able to maintain tranquillity.

How does one become a swami?

If you want to take sannyasa, you have to prepare your mind first. Then call a barber to shave your head, and live in the most simple and spartan conditions, eating and sleeping less, wearing only two dhotis, and keeping the mind under control through constant activity.

A sannyasin must have a guru. You should not say that the guru is inside. This kind of reasoning is a product of ego. If guru is inside, then wife is also inside. Why do you need her? As a newly initiated sannyasin, you must retire for some years to the peaceful surroundings of the guru's ashram, live with other swamis, and adjust your ego to theirs.

When your mind is stabilised properly, then you must travel far and wide. As you travel, gaining knowledge and intuition, you must have a clear goal in mind. You must be a clear thinker, saying whatever you think and know about yoga and Vedanta for the benefit and evolution of the whole society.

In order to become a swami, you must know what you really want. The life of a sannyasin is the highest life. Once you have accepted it, you are indeed blessed, and if you are able to live in the spirit of sannyasa, you are one who walks with God.

Could you please clarify why you give the title of swami to people who are not yet masters of their minds?

Most of the people who come to take sannyasa, in this ashram anyway, are very serious minded. They realise that sooner or later they will have to become masters of the mind, but this requires a certain amount of preparation. You know what society is like today. A sannyasin does not drop from heaven; he comes from your society. Even though he may not like to succumb to the temptations of the mind, still he has his own habits, his conditioning. When he comes for sannyasa, he carries these with him. To drop these habits takes a long time and a hard, strict guru is necessary. But, sooner or later, those who are sannyasins should be able to control their mind through their higher self.

Why is it necessary for sannyasins to lead a simple life?

Sannyasins must have a very strong base in life. You know many years ago the saints used to go from village to village with only a shoulder bag. Some of them didn't even have that: they lived a very poor life. They often had no shoes. Sometimes they didn't have enough to eat, yet they were still able to give spiritual guidance to the people. Nowadays, life is very complicated, but the swamis have to live a simple life. Mentally they should be simple also, and the ashram should be simple.

Why don't sannyasins return home and teach their people how to live better lives through yoga?

After one has accepted sannyasa, he belongs to all, not to any particular group or individual. The rishis and sages who made the rules for sannyasa were very much aware of the limitations of the human personality. They knew that a sannyasin has a special role to play in society and that he has a special place in the heart of the people. But if he lives with his own relations, in his own village, the people will always be aware that he is their own son or brother or whatever relationship. Therefore, the moment you take sannyasa, forget that you were born to a family, forget that you were meant to love or be loved. The sannyasin has a twofold duty- to develop self-awareness and to spread the spiritual influence to as many people as possible.

Why must sannyasins leave the city and remain isolated in an ashram?

In the city, weak sannyasins have some difficulties, but in isolation they are helped by the situation. Just as a baby has to have the right conditions around him so he can learn to adjust, similarly, conducive conditions have to be created for the new sannyasins. Of course, these will not continue throughout life, but it takes some time for the mind to become stable and for a sannyasin to become seasoned.

When you season wood, you can even use it on a river bed and it will repel water. It does not rot or get eaten by insects, and it does not expand or contract so much. It is stable. Once the mind, body and emotions are stabilised, you will know where you are going and what you should do. Then you can roam freely like a mendicant and absolutely nothing will affect you. You can also teach yoga and effectively help many people.

You know what happens when you are exposed to society; you are influenced by friends and relatives who come to tell you so and so is married or divorced and this person wants to see you, etc. This may not affect all sannyasins, but it has adverse effects on some. When you are isolated from society, these things do not happen, and during the course of time the sannyasin develops sufficient detachment from these associations.

In the city you are not very far from the old type of life, where there are so many temptations and so much maya. If you are not strong, you succumb to them, but if you are far away, even if the mind is tempted, it is not possible to satisfy it. In this manner the negative aspects of the mind become weaker and weaker. When your mind is isolated like an island, it is able to conserve prana which then becomes your spiritual power.

Will you please tell us about daily life in your ashram?

Ashram life is absolutely different from any other way of life in the world. Just as you don't require air conditioners in cold countries, or central heating systems in tropical countries such as India, when you live in an ashram, you don't need to practise any spiritual sadhana. Yoga should be practised where the entire life pattern is un-yogic If you have the right type of ashram life and additionally you do the various yoga practices, you are only exerting yourself.

The ashram wakes up by 3 a.m. and until 5 a.m. all the inmates are busy cleaning and doing a little bit of study or writing work that I personally give them. All day the people in the ashram are engaged in practical, manual work. We have created a lot of work in order to keep the mind properly occupied, and all the inmates of the ashram are busy in those self-created activities. The beauty of ashram life is that since everyone is enthusiastically participating in the activities and trying to enjoy them, work becomes contagious and voluntary.

There is no religious insistence and life is conducted in a very simple way without any moral emphasis. Food, activities and mutual interactions are based on natural things. As I am not a religious person most people who live with me are also not religious. They are a mixture of Hindus, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims, but most of them are disillusioned by religions. We have no religious celebrations in the ashram.

The thing which people in the ashram like best is singing kirtan at night. Most people participate in that although it is not compulsory. The most compulsory thing in the ashram is getting up at 3 a.m. and retiring to your room at 8 p.m. Even eating is not compulsory; you need not eat if you don't feel like it.

Ashram life is difficult, but it is certainly worth trying.

Why do men and women stay in the same ashram?

I don't think men and women should be separated. God has not done it, so why should I? Separate facilities are all that is necessary. At the same time, we do not form attachments and personal relationships, because it is far better to live an independent life within the ashram. We work together, that's all. We are neither brother nor sister, husband nor wife, parent nor child. We have no relations with each other. I am not half and you are not half. I am one and you are one. I want you to be a complete unit. That is how one has to grow.

This reorientation to one another may take decades or even centuries. The old cultures and religions have not succeeded in changing man's limited attitudes and views of the opposite sex. Today there are still many weak men and women in the world. In the ashram, therefore, we have to learn to live together with full knowledge and a new awareness, just like a snake charmer.

You know, when you are worried and anxious, you use more energy. But when you carry a big tree with this girl or this boy, you use a lot less energy. Community life with hard work is good, but not two swamis sitting together, talking and talking.

Please tell us something about the children living in the ashram.

I will tell you about the children living in my Australian ashram at Mangrove Mountain. Most of them came to the ashram when their parents took sannyasa. They are very peculiar children, strong in inclination and completely different from their parents.

They have to attend school because it is compulsory by Australian law, but they are sannyasins first. The teachers find them very intelligent, open and disciplined. They never use bad words or talk about TV. Whenever the teachers get angry, the children tell them, 'Please practise yoga.'

All the children have shaved heads, and as soon as they get back to the ashram in the afternoon, they throw off their shirts and pants and put on geru. One girl of six years said, 'Oh, we don't want to read, we prefer to cook food at the ashram.' All the children are happy on Saturdays and Sundays as they can play all day and help prepare food for the hundred or more people in the ashram. When the children go to the forest to collect firewood, they come back dirty from head to toe. If anyone asks them why they are so dirty, they reply, 'Naturopathy'.

Indeed, children like the ashram life so much that some of them come to live here before their parents. One little girl stayed in the ashram for two years before her mother and father came to join her.

Why is the ashram so austere?

I have visited some of the ultra modern ashrams in India, but I do not believe in them. Even though I have had opportunities to create a modern ashram, I have purposely not done so. I believe people come to the ashram for a change. When you leave the modern society for a more austere way of life, you undergo a great metamorphosis of body and mind.

We have a very big ashram in Australia, sixty miles out of Sydney. There are no sealed roads for miles around, and there are pythons in the forests. For four years the ashram did not have electricity, and although we can build beautiful houses there, we chose to construct small mud-brick huts. There is no necessity for elaborate living quarters, electricity or septic toilets.

Maybe we live a backward way of life, but perhaps modern culture is also backward. Modern amenities make you dependent and lazy; you don't even have to think. You use a bathroom without thought or effort. You live like robots. In the ashram you can't live like robots; you have to think. When you live in luxury, your brain becomes very slow, but an austere life promotes a very active brain. Remember that a great metamorphosis will only take place in the brain if you undergo a major change.

I also think that separate rooms do not give us the opportunity to see where we stand with one another. If a group of people live together, they begin to understand the nature of human psychology. They are able to assess their own minds, their limitations and faults, which is a great change from the modern culture.

What is your idea of a beautiful ashram?

The ashram should be constructed along simple lines by the labour of sannyasins and inmates. It should be situated in an out of the way place where there are many difficulties. At times there should be a cyclone, typhoon, flood, extreme heat or cold. Sometimes it should be pleasant and other times very suffocating. This is my concept of an ashram, and a very beautiful ashram. This is how God has decorated nature.

How can a householder create an ashram atmosphere in the home?

The purpose of household life is not to amass desires and ambitions, but to exhaust them and get rid of the net of maya while performing one's duties. A greater number of ashrams, monasteries, churches and temples cannot accelerate the pace of human evolution until and unless the spirit of these places is imbibed by the householders as much as possible in their day to day life. If you find a better way of life in the ashram, you have to imbibe that spirit and bring it down into family life. The life of a householder can become sublime if you keep in mind the ultimate purpose of human life. Householders must practise yoga, simplify their lives, and create a system of harmony, orderliness and discipline within the precincts of the family life.

Ashram is not a monastery or nunnery. If one is sincerely following the path and is trying to fulfil the purpose of a swami, then his family environment becomes the ashram. Wherever you live, you will try to create a new system in your family and that will become an ashram. You will become a swami and your children will become your chelas, your disciples. It's only a transformed or sublimated way of life, a life of continual self-purification, correction and growth into the area of vastness and infinity.