Conversations with Swami Vijayananda
recorded by Aurelie Punya Simonet
Q. - Is it more advisable to follow the way of devotion or of knowledge?
A. - For some people devotion is more important, while others prefer the path of knowledge; but for everyone both are necessary, just like the two wings of a bird are indispensable in order to fly. Ma Anandamoyi used to say that knowing the Self is knowing God, and knowing God is knowing the Self: in the end both paths are united in any case.
Ideally, one should combine all paths: knowledge (meditation, discrimination, reading of sacred texts), devotion, karma-yoga, japam. For those who follow Vedanta, devotion is oriented towards the Guru, who is seen - beyond his physical form - as the Divine itself. In reality the only Guru is the Supreme, that manifests itself through sages who are like a canal. They are more or less efficient "conductors" of this divine energy; a Satguru alone, having reached Liberation, is a "super-conductor" that transmits divine power totally and without alteration.
Q. - Is renunciation (to material things, pleasures etc.) an important step in sadhana?
A. - Yes, if it is not temporary. But genuine renunciation is rare. Anyway, it is possible to follow a spiritual discipline while living in the world. It is a question of how mature you are and of how intense is your spiritual longing. Think of two children who get out of their school and go home: one has such an intense wish to see his mother that he runs home, while the other takes his time, plays and speaks with friends, and goes home later.
Q. - Was
total renunciation difficult for you?
A. - No, because the joy of being close to Ma took away all importance of other matters. About dispassion, Ma used to like telling the following story:
A very religious king had four spiritual questions that he was very eager to ask. So he publicly offered a reward to whoever would give him satisfactory answers. Many pandits and sages came, but the king was not satisfied with any of their replies. So finally a beggar, who had been asking for some time to be allowed to give his answers, was let in as a last chance for the king to obtain what he wanted. He asked the beggar his first question:
"Where does God live?" The answer was: "Where does he not live?" The king was happy, and he asked his second question: "What does God eat?" "He eats egos". The third question was: "When does God laugh?" "In two occasions: First, when a father dies and his two sons divide his land in two, saying 'this is mine, that is yours', since everything belongs to God. Second, when a baby is in his mother's womb, he suffers, so he tells God "Let me out, I promise I will do a lot of japam and meditation, but please let me go out!", and when he's out he forgets all about his promise".
Very satisfied, the king asked the beggar his last question: "What does God do?" "Well, this is an atiprashna (a transcendental question), so in order to reply I should be seated on your throne and you at my place". The king agreed. Once seated on the throne, the beggar remained quiet. So the king told him to give his answer, which was: "Well, this is the answer, this is what God does: he makes kings become beggars, and beggars become kings".
Q. - Did you speak to Ma about personal matters (apart from questions on sadhana)?
A. - It was not necessary, since I communicated mentally with Her.
Q. - Did you totally surrender to Ma's will?
A. - I followed precisely Ma's advice on physical matters; if she had told me to drown in the Ganges, I would have done so without hesitation. But regarding mind and emotions, I wanted to remain totally in control.
Q. - Was Ma sometimes hard with devotees?
A. - She could take a severe expression when necessary, but it was out of love.
Q. - How is it possible to get rid of doubts?
A. - Doubts are not to be eliminated, but they should be faced and fully dealt with, since it is a necessary step towards strong and deep faith. If you are not sure that your spiritual practice is useful, then remember that the conquest of oneself is the biggest conquest of all. Mind is like a horse that you want to educate firmly and softly at the same time. The idea is to stop identifying oneself with mind and thoughts (as well as with the body).
Q. - What should we understand about the fear of dying?
A. - The survival instinct exists in order to protect the body and creates a fear of death that is the basis for all fears. It also creates an awareness of impermanence, which awakens us by reminding us that we should not lose time: we should do our best to remove the obstacles and veils that separate us from our real and divine Nature, the eternal Self.
Q. - And
how can we conquer fear?
A. - When a fear or emotion arises, it is important to stop and face the physical sensation - usually unpleasant - that is its source. The idea is to observe the body's subtle sensations that create the emotion, without letting the mind interpret them nor become agitated, and without yielding to the impulse to escape from it. Going to the inner source of the fear is the way to conquer it.
Q. - People
in Western culture speak often about "enjoying the present moment". What do you
say about it?
A. - The present moment is Conscience, not enjoyment. To be aware with vigilance of whatever is there now leads step by step to the real joy of Unity. On the other hand, enjoyment of worldly pleasures leads necessarily to suffering, since it is part of duality.
Q. - What
A. - It is self-respect.
Q. - What is the importance of humility in sadhana?
A. - It is very important, because its opposite (pride, arrogance) leads to "fall down": it does not allow the sadhaka to be receptive, patient and compassionate. Humility also unalbes to see the lessons given by life and also by some people whom we consider as an "ennemy"! Humility and compassion unable to see the good and divine part of everyone, which should go with lucidity, keen attention and being realistic, pragmatic.
Q. - Does the ability to bear physical pain help to control the mind?
A. - Yes, because pain is usually only 10% physical, and 90% is the mind that adds worry, associations of ideas, interpretations, memories etc. By avoiding pain, escaping into the mind, we make pain bigger. On the other hand, if we look at it directly, calmly, silently, pain goes back to its real proportions, usually quite bearable. Sometimes it even disapears! So mind control and pain bearing often go together and help gain inner stability.
Q. - Why is self-restraint necessary in a sadhana?
A. - Self-restraint is what makes a human being different from animals, and it is necessary for any social life. It is especially important in sadhana, because the ability to control emotions - this is the basis -, actions and thoughts is what enables the sadhaka to turn his attention inside, instead of letting the mind be attracted by external pleasures and interests. To look inside and know oneself is the essence of sadhana, and it is possible only with good self-control, because without it all attention and energy go out, to the enjoyments of the senses etc. Only restraining oneself from satisfying certain desires does it become possible to concentrate fully on spiritual practice.
But it is important to avoid extremes and rigidity: during the prohibition of alcohol in the USA, there were more heavy drinkers and gangsters than ever! The ideal is to find a balance. If you are too strict with yourself, your mind will find a way to "revenge"… For example, if you try to reduce greed for food, but like to eat chocolate, have a little of it regularly, instead of non eating it at all and then have a whole pack of it when you cannot resist anymore! Don't fight against the mind as if it were an ennemy; explain to it gently - as with a child - that what he wants is right (happiness and peace are our real nature!), but that it looks for it in the wrong direction, outside, where everything is transitory and at some point most of the times becomes disappointing. It is like a mirror effect: people run after their own reflection in a mirror… A lasting peace and genuine happiness can be found only inside of yourself.
Q. - What to do when one feels discouraged?
A. - Think of the story told by Ramdas: when you want to make a stone into pieces, you have to hit it many times. For a while it seems to have no effect, but in reality each time you hit, the stone's molecules are changed, and it prepares it for the final blow, when suddenly it will explode. It is the same in sadhana; each effort counts, even when it seems useless. Some day your efforts will bear fruit. Patience and perseverance are essential.
You might have noticed that when you sleep at night it is better to stop making efforts to fall asleep; if you just relax it will come naturally sooner or later. At a certain stage of sadhana, one should also adopt this attitude regarding Self-realization.
Q. - Why are some people Self-realized, while so many others are not?
A. - From the point of view of a great sage, we are all Self-realized. One day I asked Ma to give me Liberation, and she answered: "But you ARE free!"… It is only the veil of ignorance that makes people think that they are not enlightened, and act accordingly. This is why sadhana is all about removing these veils (of negative emotions and beliefs), and about acting according to morals and Dharma.
Q. - Divine Grace is always present, but often we do not know how to be receptive… So how can we open ourselves to Grace?
A. - By constantly reciting you mantra with love, thinking of its meaning. And by living a pure life, for example being perfectly honest, avoiding to do harm to anyone, etc.
Q. - Is it true that if I think that I am a sinner, then I become a sinner?
A. - Yes, you become what you think, so don't identify yourself with your mind, but with your real Self, which is pure… and think about Ma as often and intensely as you can. When your thoughts escape in the direction of what you call "sin", observe these thoughts, whithout doing what they tell you to do; just watch them without judgement and let them go away. Remember that they are not you, just your mind, while you really are the Self. Then go back thinking of Ma or of your chosen deity.
Q. - What
is the importance of telling the truth?
A. - In sadhana, it is essential, being one of the five Yamas (cf. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra). India's moto is: "Only truth will win" (satyam evam jayate; one can read this on each Indian coin and bank note!). Of course, this is to be combined with another saying: "Victory is where Dharma is respected". In order to respect Dharma, one must also observe common sense; obviously there are cases when it is better to keep silent than to say a truth that can hurt someone uselessly!
About truth and humility, here is a nice story: a h'assidic sage was so humble that he did not realize how high his own spiritual level was. Too many disciples wanted to be with him, so the town's Rabbi advised him to tell them to go away, explaining to them that he had no spiritual power, and could not teach them anything. The sage did so, but the consequence was that even more disciples came, attracted by his immense humility. So the Rabbi said: "You all like humility very much, so you should tell them that you can do miracles, that you are a great sage etc., so they will go away!" The sage's sincere answer was: "I cannot say that, I cannot lie to them!"
Q. - What is the influence of food on sadhana?
A. - The way we eat has a big influence on our mind (jaysa ann taysa mann); what we eat and how we eat it can be a help (if sattvic) or an obstacle to sadhana (like meat). In this field like in many others, it is good to find a balance. Both asceticism and excess are to be avoided. Moderation is the ideal. One should treat the body with respect, but without identifying oneself to it, like a horse-rider treats his horse.
It happens to many sadhakas to look for some pleasure in food, since they do not allow themselves any other worldly pleasure. That might go on until the sadhaka finds real Joy in meditation; then he will feel no attraction towards such external and transient pleasures. While trying to keep a balance with sattvic food taken in moderate quantity, (giving the body what it needs, not less and not more), one should remember that what someone eats is not as important as how much sincere compassion and love this person gives!
Q. - What do you mean when you speak about the ability to control one's own mind?
A. - It is the ability to stop one's thoughts at will, to keep the mind silent when it is not necessary to use it. It enables one to dominate desires, fears, instincts and impulses; then reason controls passion. This discipline of self-control makes the difference between any strong person and weak person, and it enables a sadhaka to make rapid progress.
When the mind is under control, we see that no problem really exists. Problems are only in the mind! We don't have problems when we are in deep dreamless sleep; in that state the world doesn't exist. In a similar way, when we control our thoughts and emotions, we become free from the illusions and negative beliefs that veil reality, and we get in touch with our real nature, which is the Divine itself.
This is why spiritual practice consists of acquiring control over the mind and purifying it, so that our real Self can be unveiled and shine.
Q. - How
should we deal with Kundalini?
A. - The main rule about Kundalini is never to force anything, in any way. An awakening of this force should happen only with the close supervision of a Satguru (a fully realised Sage). Any opening of the nadis (first step to the awakening of the Kundalini) should happen only when the sadhaka has an excellent self-control (mainly over sexual desire and anger). The Satguru puts the disciple to the test to see if he (or she) can resist under the pressure of the enormous - and dangerous - intensity that comes with Kundalini.
So one should never do anything about it, just let the Satguru take care of it, while getting ready by leading a pure life (including strict celibacy) and learning to control the mind. Before reaching that stage or before having a close relationship with a Satguru, the way of karmayoga is the best, since it can be practised anywhere and under any circumstances.
Q. - What is karmayoga exactly?
A. - It has to be distinguished from seva, which is unselfish service and can be a preparation to karmayoga. Real karmayoga is a mental attitude to be kept in all circumstances, in every activity. Ego's root is the wrong belief that "I am the doer and I enjoy the fruit of my actions", so ego loses its power if you keep aware that you really are just an instrument for the Divine, and if you simply do your own duty without caring for the results. If success comes it is fine, and in case of failure it is fine as well.
Little by little, you get a clear perception of the fact that you really are a tool for the work of the Absolute, and everything happens in a spontaneous way. You have less and less expectations and attachments.
Body, mind and emotions are a whole. There are no thoughts without emotion or without at least some kind of attraction or repulsion. A sage like Ma Anandamayi has no thought and no emotion, being pure compassion and pure awareness, and identifying with people in order to communicate with them in a "normal" way.
Q. - What is it like to be Self-realized?
A. - No "I" is there anymore, only pure Consciousness-Bliss.
In order to describe the ultimate stage of enlightenment - called sahaja samadhi -, which he had reached, Ramdas used to say about himself that he is like the Ganga: although he had reached the Ocean (the Absolute), he went on flowing towards the Ocean (living in the world), while being always aware simultaneously of both levels and of their Unity.
A perfect Sage cannot be said to "be happy", since he is supreme Happiness. He sees that the waves of the duality (the world) are made of the same salty water as the perfectly still water of deep Ocean (Bliss of Unity). The only difference is the movement. The perfect Sage sees that everything is Consciousness, beyond all the pairs of opposite like good and evil, praise and blame, pain and pleasure etc.
He sees that movement also is divine, and he knows that the movement will take everything away, so he does not try to keep anything nor anybody. He is without attachment or expectations; in this freedom genuine Love can be.
Q. - Would you please explain more about these two levels (duality of the world and Bliss of Unity)?
A. - The Divine supreme is Sat-Chit-Ananda, meaning Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, and it is also the essence of each person. In the world we see its reflection as Asti-Bhati-Priyo, which means it is-it shines-it is attractive. This reflection (the sense pleasures etc.) is only an illusion, but it seems real because it is based on the Absolute. It has its force, that is why it is so difficult to resist its temptations! The key is discrimination, which means to see that real Bliss is inside of ourselves, and the objects outside are disappointing and do not bring real joy, being only the result of a mirror effect.
Q. - Why do we lie so much to ourselves and consequently also to others?
A. - One of the laws of the creation, like also physics laws as gravity etc., is the law of harmony (called Rita). Rita is such that people cannot do anything "bad" without being in some way convinced that it is the right thing to do. That is why the mind finds all kinds of excuses, rationalizations and justifications when we go out of the way of Dharma. Thus, thinking that it is the right action, we can commit evil deeds while feeling in harmony with ourselves. The inner Self (the Divine) gives the choice between listening to the voice of Dharma or to the lying mind; but after a "bad action" the voice of the inner Self will manifest itself with remorse and a bad conscience, so that we can repair what can be repaired, and avoid making the same mistake again.
Rita is the law that explains why it is not possible for evil forces to win in the end: the final victory necessarily belongs to good forces, just like in the World Wars.
Q. - What are the main mistakes that can lead a sadhaka to lose the spiritual power gained in meditation?
A. - The first main temptation to use this spiritual power in a way that will not allow any more spiritual progress is using the power to heal. Instead of it, one should only use compassion or repeat a mantra to help people who suffer, but one should never do anything voluntarily in order to heal anybody (apart from taking him to the doctor!).
The second one is yielding to the desire to use spiritual power (and the charisma that often comes with regular meditation) in order to gain power over people, to gain money, or wasting the spiritual energy in sexual relationships.
The third one is the temptation to become famous or to be a guru. It is dangerous, because before achieving complete Self-realization a guru is like a blind man leading another blind man: both might fall… And after Liberation the sage does not have any desire to become a guru; his mere presence and his example make him naturally a Satguru.
When confronted with these temptations, the sadhaka should just be indifferent, not interested in nor afraid of these worldly uses of spiritual power. So he can go on his path, and when he will attain the Goal he will have spontaneously a positive, healing and purifying influence on the people around him.
Q. - How should I deal with the "sattvic ego", the part of ego that is so proud of following a spiritual discipline, and often thinks to be more advanced and pure than most other people?
A. - First of all, remember that it is precisely this sattvic ego that does the sadhana, and that we need it, because he is the one who makes the efforts towards Self-realization! So let it be, but keep aware of it, and be careful about excessive pride that could lead to a fall. Later, when you are ready, the Satguru only will be able to eliminate this sattvic ego (which is only illusion!). That is the message of the story about the bandits' chief that becomes chief of the police: he will arrest all bandits except for himself… so at that point the intervention of a Satguru is necessary.
Ego is like the driver of a car, the car being the body and mind. When Self-realization occurs, there is no need for a driver any more, one becomes a pure canal for the Divine.
Q. - What can I do about all my defects of character and about failure?
A. - Keep in mind that in sadhana (and life) we have to learn to fall and get back up again and again, like a child who is learning to walk. The child will not say "I don't want to make the effort to try again"! When you see your faults and when you fail, just learn the lesson and go on, forgetting about the failure (excessive feelings of guilt are useless). Remember your victories!
With the right mental attitude, you can see that your defects of character are an occasion to learn, that the noise outside can be a help to concentrate on your inner silence etc. Socrates himself used the bad temper of his wife in order to learn how to keep cool in any situation; one day she was so angry with him that after screaming she threw water on him. Very calm, Socrates just said: "After thunder comes the rain"!!
A fall occurs every time we become proud, but it's precisely the way to learn humility. Remember that it is also normal to have defects of character, otherwise you would not need any sadhana nor any guru. Just stop identifying yourself with these faults, simply observe them, without acting upon them. For example, if you have a tendency to criticise people, keep lucid about them (see their defects clearly), but avoid thinking and talking about their faults, and put your attention mostly on their positive qualities.
However, it is important to be lucid while you see the divine in everyone: you should not mix with people who are not fit for you. Dirty water is also water, but you do not drink it.
Q. - How can we know whether we are making any progress spiritually?
A. - The most important sign is the diminution of negative emotions like anger, fear, desire etc., or at least a major ability to control them. This usually goes with more love and compassion for everyone, while being less attached to family and friends.
Meditation is actually mostly a help for that; there is little use in meditating if the results cannot be seen in daily life with a better self-control and more compassion! We should try to always keep in harmony with our surroundings and with everybody. So if you practice meditation regularly but cannot control your anger, you should stop meditating (just repeat your mantra and observe your thoughts), and start by learning how to deal with your negative emotions.
Q. - When negative thoughts come to my mind, how can I chase them away?
A. - The best way is just to observe them, and let them go without fighting against them, without acting upon them, just avoiding to identify yourself with them. Say "it is my mind, it is not me". Negative thoughts are a mere product of the mind with no reality.
A spiritual discipline helps to keep a silent mind; you learn to use it when it is necessary and to leave it quiet the rest of the time, just like your hands and feet remain still when you don't need them.
When you cannot do that, then an easier way is to substitute them with positive thoughts, with the repetition of your mantra, with prayer, kirtans etc. For example, if you want to conquer sexual and romantic desires, you can try to see the Divine in every person instead of their physical appearance, seeing the divine Mother in each woman and Shiva (or any other manifestation) in each man.
Q. - Would you please give us some advice on how to keep a good health?
A. - First avoid orienting too much your attention on your body, and put it more and more on the Divine, using japam, meditation, satsang etc. (these practices also have a very good influence on the immune system). The mind is powerful, so the more you think of the inevitable small physical problems (we all have some!), the more they become important. If you think about Ma or any other manifestation of the Divine, they become much smaller!
When you are ill, of course the first thing is to do your best to be cured; but before you are well you can try to use the suffering as an opportunity to become less attached to your body.
Q. - What
do you think of the numerous cases of depression in Occident?
A. - Ma used to say that the world is a big madhouse… Who is crazy, who is mentally sane?
Apart from the cases of depression that are really psychopathological, many depressed people in Occident have a deep spiritual longing for renunciation, but they are not fully aware of it; it is not part of their culture and tradition, unlike Indian culture. A sign of this is that some people get better by orienting their life towards more sprirituality.
A good thing to be aware of is that even in the worst thing that happens there is at least one "white point", the seed of something positive; and even in the best thing or event there is a "black point", something that goes wrong or that is disappointing. This is well illustrated by the symbol of Tao (Yin and Yang). Depression also can sometimes be a "blessing in disguise".
Q. - What are the characteristic of Vedanta as compared to other spiritual paths?
A. - Vedanta is simple, it has no complicated methods or rituals. There is nothing external to fight against: all is inside of you. By purifying the mind through discrimination between illusion and Reality, and by respecting Dharma in every aspect of your life, you real Self appears!
The essence of sadhana is explained in just two words in Katha Upanishad: "Avriti Shakshu", which means "look inside". In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, Raja Yoga is discribed as the cessation of mental waves.
Although I like its simplicity, Vedanta is not an easy path at all - as a matter of fact it is not adapted to everyone. One of the main difficulties of Vedanta is renunciation. Very few people are ready to renounce pleasures, wealth, power, honours, worldly love… But those who can are on the surest way to attain inner peace, Self-knowledge and the supreme Joy that is infinitely more intense than any worldly pleasure.
Q. - Why are brahmacharin(i)s and sadhus so often easy to influence?
A. - Because being deeply oriented towards spiritual life, many of them are not aggressive, and are so kind that they tend to accept almost anything from anybody… It is a good quality for a spiritual seeker, provided he has also a great ability to discriminate between what is acceptable and what is not.
It is just what is expressed in the story that Ramakrishna told about the cobra who used to kill or do harm to many people. One day, the cobra was about to attack a great sage, who neutralized it without even touching it. The cobra was amazed and listened to the sage when he told it to stop harming people, because it was accumulating a lot of bad karma. The cobra agreed, and even received initiation from the sage. After its new guru left, the cobra repeated its mantra continuously and did not attack anyone, not even the smallest animal. It lived on some grass and herbs, becoming very slim and weak. The children were not afraid of it anymore, and even started being cruel with it, beating it and throwing it in the air. The cobra did not defend itself, practising a total ahimsha (non-violence). The next year, when its guru came back to see it, the cobra was not to be seen anywhere. The sage asked the children, who said that the cobra had died. But he knew that his disciple could not die before attaining Self-realization, since it was under his protection, so he called it. Finally he heard a voice saying "Guruji I am here!" The cobra was well hidden and in very poor health. So the sage asked it why it was so skinny and full of scars. The cobra said gently: "Oh, the children were just playing…" Its guru replied: "You are stupid! I told you not to harm anyone, but if someone wants to harm you, you can hiss and show the hood, so that he leaves you in peace!"
This is what we should do when we have a spiritual life: avoid getting angry and avoid hurting anyone, but when it is necessary pretend to be angry or even threatening, in order protect what has to be protected.
Q. - Does a yogi still has a fear of death?
A. - A yogi who has reached the supreme state is not scared of death anymore, not being identified with his body and knowing when he will die. He is also free of the most subtle fears, like fear of failing to accomplish fully his own religious duty, or of doing something wrong spiritually. He is fully identified with the Divine, and when the time comes his body will just fall, like a leave falls from the tree: the tree (the divine Conscience) is not affected by it.
Before you reach that state, remember what Ma used to say: death is like going from a room to another, or like changing your clothes. In reality, we are usually more afraid of suffering than of dying. Usually we imagine how death might be according to what we saw or heard about other people's death. So we often think that it might be terrible, although it is often just like falling asleep! Anyway, death is just the end of your "envelope", the body; the Being that is the real you is Eternal, and can never be damaged in any way.