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YOGALife - Spring 1996
Table of Contents Om
 ·  Memories of Swami Vishnu-devananda:
- A Different Kind of Swami
- The Spirit of Renunciation
- Cherished Memories
 ·  The Yogi: Portraits of Swami Vishnu-devananda
 ·  Swami Vishnu-devananda speaks: Questions and Answers
 ·  Ekadashi
 ·  How to Get Vairagya
 ·  Brahmacharya
 ·  Sex is not compulsory

Swami Vishnu-devananda speaks: Questions and Answers

There are many doubts which people have in relating Yoga to everyday life. The following are taken from a Satsang with Swami Vishnu-devananda in which Swamiji answered many commonly asked questions.

Here is the list of questions:

Question: I have recurring feelings of guilt about sexual feelings. What should I do?

Answer: Concerning a feeling of guilt about sexual feelings; the entire universe is dependant upon sexual feeling. Otherwise there would be no world left. To go against sexual feelings is just like trying to climb up Niagara Falls. It is the great energy moving down from time immemorial. If it is forced shut, then it becomes stronger and rushes down. And to swim up the falls ... there are only a few who can. And that's not completely possible on effort alone. We need God's grace. That's surrender.
We don't try to suppress the sexual feeling. It is not possible. But we can sublimate it. Just as water, when it is flowing, flows from higher to lower, but, when it is heated, goes upward, so sublimation is making the sexual energy like vapor. This vapor is called Ojas. It goes upwards to the higher centers instead of going to the lower centers - the sexual center.
Ordinarily, when sexual feelings come, our own effort is not sufficient to stop them. But when you do Asanas, when you do Pranayama, when you do Japa regularly with the right diet - without onions and garlic and certain roots which overstimulate the nerves - then sublimation will take place little by little. That's when you start moving to the upper Chakras and reaches the brain. The same sexual energy will now form a creative force, a positive spiritual force. That's why you see halos around the heads of sages and saints; it is the Ojas Sakthi emanation. If a person has even partial control of the sexual energy, his face is different. He will never get wrinkles. The skin gets very dry and wrinkled when too much of the energy is wasted and made gross in the sexual act.

Gopis bathing
The Gopis bathing

Both male and female have that psychic energy which comes down from the brain and then becomes gross. The ejaculation is only a secondary thing. Once you learn to divert this energy and channel it in the opposite direction, it is no longer a sexual thing - just like Krishna who had 16,008 wives. All of the Gopis learned to control and to sublimate the energy. They each had a union with Lord Krishna, but it was not a physical union; it occurred in a higher state. The Gopis were tested to see whether they were able to sublimate this energy - the Gopis who were beautiful milkmaids so in love with Lord Krishna that they couldn't take their eyes away from him even one minute. They went to the Yamuna river one cold morning and prayed, "Let Lord Krishna be my husband." Then they went to bathe in the river. Lord Krishna came and took all their clothes which they had left on the river bank and put them on the top of a tree. Then he started to play the flute. The girls all looked up to see him and they discoverred that he had tied each one's clothes neatly, each on a different branch. They were cold and could not stay naked in the river for too long.. They had to come out, so they begged him, "Oh Krishna give us our clothes. Why are you naughty? Why are you doing this thing?" He said, ""If you want them, you can come and get them. I'll stay here and I'll give you your clothes. Just come out of the water." But they resisted. "Okay, then you can stay out in the cold." At last when they could not stand it any longer, they began to come out, with hands covering their private parts. But Krishna said, "No, no. You have to raise both arms up over your head." When they threatened to tell his mother and his father, he said, "Okay tell them if you want. That will not bring your clothes to you." At last they surrendered to Lord Krishna, raised their arms and came out. Krishna was not really trying to do any kind of mischief. The Gopis wantred the Lord to be their husband, but Krishna is not a human being. If the Lord is to be their husband, they must not think that they are women and he is a man. They must transcend the body consciousness. Male and female is only imagination: today you be Mister but tomorrow, after operation, you can be Miss. It all happens every day. But the Atman is the Immortal Self with which you are going to unite.
The saguna form of Brahman is Krishna or Rama. If you want to unite with Him, you can't think, "I am a male", or, "I am a female, I am coming to you and you must be my husband." So Krishna, when he heard the Gopis' prayer, said, "You are not ready." Every day the Gopis went and meditated in the cold morning. Krishna knew that were transcending the body but still they had a little ego, the female ego continued to exist. So long as they did not remove that female ego and so long as they contimued to think that He was just a male to be their husband, they were not ready to be united. That's the whole significance behind this. When they lost their body consciousness, the Lord said, "On the full moon you will hear my flute. You will come to Vrindavan, and you will have the cosmic dance with me."

Sannyas initiation
Swami Vishnu-devananda initiating a student into the Holy order of Sannyas. Part of the ceremony involves raising the arms over the head in the same way as the Gopis were instructed to do by Krishna, symbolizing total Self surrender and renunciation.

So, sexual feeling is difficult to conquer unless and until you convert that emotion into devotion to God. For example, nuns stay single but they are married to Jesus. It is not a sexual marriage; it is a divine marriage. They connect themselves to Jesus so that they will somehow be able to sublimate that energy. The sexual feeling comes to all. Guilt shows that you know that something you are doing is not being done in the right way. When you have a guilty feeling, repeat God's name and surrender again, "Thy will be done, O Lord. I did my level best and now it's up to you."
It is the same with our lives. This energy is very difficult to conquer. Every sage and saint and Yogi in the Himalayas has had problems. It is not only you who has this problem. Because they go into the Himalayan caves, do you think it means the problem goes away? It multiplies rather. So don't worry about this feeling. Sublimate it. Each time, repeat your Mantra and if this feeling comes even then, offer it as an offering to God. If anyone says that he has conquered sex, he in not true to himself nor true to the world. It takes till the last breath. You never know when Maya will attack you. Even if you are a hundred-years-old, it still can overcome your thinking.

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Question: I can't get into chanting. I like meditation and Hatha Yoga, but chanting seems very alien to me.

Answer: You don't want to do that, what's alien to you? If you go to India and try to take idli and sambar and curry, it's quite alien. You prefer to have hot dogs and hamburgers. It's a habit. To change this habit, you must practice. Practice makes perfect. And how long will it take until you become perfect? The amount of time is immaterial, just practice, practice, practice.
Hatha Yoga is not just Asanas. It is the control of the mind. There are eight limbs: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. Hatha Yoga is Raja Yoga in its practical aspect. Raja Yoga is only theory. There is nothing there to control the mind. Asana is only the third and Pranayama is the fourth step. These two are not complete. Many people don't understand. Even teachers, when they say Hatha Yoga, they think only of Asanas. Asana is not all of Hatha Yoga; it is only one aspect.
"Ha" means Sun and "Tha" means Moon. Hatha is the union between the sun and teh moon, or positive and negative energy, or yin and yang. The two opposite energies are united. The Sun energy is the Prana by which breathing takes place. "Tha" is the energy going downward to the sexual organs. When these two energies are brought together, the energy starts going upwards, as I mentionned before. And, when it reaches the Sahasrara, you have united yourself with the supreme Siva. It doesn't come in a day or two. You have to develop it just like you develop your muscles. Each day that you come here, you put some impressions in your subconscious mind. One day it will come.
Even to have asked this question means you are developing. It doesn't come if your mind is not evolved. But you are not happy; you want an answer and you are struggling. This happens on the spiritual path. It's very difficult. You are walking on a razor's edge. You can fall either this way or that way. By keeping Satsang, positive qualities will develop. So don't worry about alien tastes. Just start eating the same food every day and it will become very tasty.

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Question: What can I do about taking other people's negative thoughts and feelings personally?

Answer: That's your fault. Negative thoughts will be there always, but they will come to you only if your thoughts are on the same wavelength. If your thoughts are pure and positive, you will reject negative thoughts automatically. That's the law. For the time being, try not to move with people with negative thoughts. But if you have to move with them, repeat your Mantra mentally so you can counteract the negativity. Don't feel guilty about it. You can take a book, such as Bliss Divine or Sadhana, and read it. Your thoughts will become very positive and then the negative thoughts will be rejected. It will happen automatically, just as a ball thrown against a wall will bounce back. So there's no need to worry about it. Like thoughts attract like thoughts: negative thoughts attract negative; positive thoughts attract positive.
I'm only attracted to people like all of you. Even if I go to London or Paris, I just sit in the hotel - I only see my room. I never go down. I just come out of the airport and go directly to the hotel. I finish my lectures and they take me back to my room and then on to another airport. That's all; I have no interest in anything else. I move around but I am attracted only to people like you. Your thoughts are good so I came here. It's not an accident that I am here and it's not an accident that you are here. Your thoughts were able to tune to my thoughts. That's why you find different teachers more suitable to you; because your thoughts are more attuned to the particular vibration of that particular teacher.
Sometimes, with negative thoughts, you can get attracted to negative teachers, like the one with a hundred Rolls Royces who had his orange-robed followers take off their clothes and wear machine guns. Some people are attracted to things like that. That means that they have a very negative type of thinking. They will never go to people like Swami Sivananda or Ramakrishna Paramahansa. They don't even open the books of those great masters. They will only have the likes of someone telling them, "Enjoy yourself as much as you want. Don't worry about anything; you are going to die. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy." They believe in that because they want that. So if you have negative thoughts, you attract negative thoughts pure and come into this type of atmosphere; then you can escape these negative things.

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Question: How, being a Yogi, can you pray to God, when you don't know your own personality?

Answer: Both are one and the same. When you know God you know yourself. And when you know you, you know God. Because God is not different from you. You are that God - Brahman. So if you are praying, you are praying actually to your Self, to the Self which is within you. When you put that Self - the Atman - outside, it becomes God.. When you put that same God inside you, it becomes your Self. It's one and the same.
In the beginning it is not possible to see God inside, so you put Him outside and come and prostrate to Him. Even though I know the Vedanta philosophy, still I put up pictures of Master and of Nataraja. I prostrate before them before I sit so that my ego will not come up. I will never go without praying. Though I know the philosophy, I know that it's just only words. I have not completely reached the oneness with the Supreme; I have not melted my ego. Maybe through the God's grace and Guru's grace, I may. God knows. But on my own, I've got no strength. I also can fall down after fifty years spent on the spiritual path. There is still no guarantee that I'll stick to this path. Just as the king of England renounced everything for a woman, so also I might renounce all my spiritual growth in a moment, get married and live like a householder. There's no guarantee. Only God can help me.
I pray every morning and every evening: "Oh God, You came in this form. You made me to teach." I never think that I am a super Guru who came to bless you and take you to heaven. I've never said that. I am a struggling soul just like you. If God keeps me on the spiritual path, I'm very, very happy. But, it's not by my will power that I am staying on the spiritual path. Prayer is very essential. It doesn't matter in which state you are or what type of Yoga you are doing, keep that prayer always in your heart. Ask God to give you strength to stick to the spiritual path.

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Question: If a man steals, is he creating new Karma, or is he suffering some Karma from the past?

Answer: Action and reaction are one and the same. You can't separate the action from the reaction. If, as I'm walking along the street, I see a person lying injured, I can't say, "Oh, it's his karma. Let him die there. He is suffering because he did some wrong Karma in the past." and then walk by. His karma may be bad; he is suffering for that. But I also have a duty: to help. As a human being, love and compassion are inherent in me. He may die; I may not be able to save him. But I must try. As an example: There is an artist from Bulgaria living near the Yoga Camp. I used to take people there sometimes to see his paintings. One day I went there and he said, "Swamiji, our dog is missing. If you ever see him anywhere nearby, please report it to me." The next day I was driving to Montreal alone, and I saw a dog just like his lying on the road. It was partially paralyzed from being hit by a car. I thought that it must be his missing dog, so I put it in my station wagon and directly brought it to the artist. He took one look and said, "Swamiji, it's not my dog."
So now what shall I do? Shall I throw the dog back on the road? No. I am stuck with a paralyzed dog. I must do whatever I can. So, I brought it to a veterinarian. He found that the pelvis and legs were so broken that it would never be able to walk again. The animal was in such a tremendous pain from internal injuries that he had to be put to sleep. It was very hard for me to do that, but I brought the dog to the ASPCA and told them the situation. They said, "Okay we know what to do." I was asked to bring the dog over to be put inside a window. Do you know what was behind this window? The gas chamber. But what could I do? I couldn't keep it since it was in such pain with no way to be cured. That the only thing I could do.
So, with my own hands I put a live dog into a gas chamber. Do I get bad Karma for that? If I do, I don't mind at all, because I couldn't bear to see the suffering of that dog. That was my entire intention - to end his suffering.
So it is not the action but the intention. My intention was not to bring any suffering to the dog. I would have done anything if I could have saved that dog and given him help. But the dog's karma was that he had to die, and at the last moment I must carry him to the death chamber. That's my Karma. Somehow some past relationship existed. But I did not do my part with malice or anger; I was helpless.
I'll give another example of how Karma works. I was on a pilgrimage as a swami. The custom is that we wander penniless, begging food when hungry. I wanted to go to the Himalayas, to Badrinath, at about 15,000 or 16,000 feet with only one small blanket. I had never seen snow before in my life. I was barefoot and had no money because I had decided to go by begging, even though it is very difficult to get any food in those places. Many pilgrims carried their own food. In those days there was no but or anything, just a small tiny path. Each day you walked about 15 or 20 miles and then rested and cooked a little food before continuing to walk until evening. But, as I didn't have any food or money, I had to rely solely on begging in order to survive.
After walking a few days, hunger came more and more. One morning, when people started cooking their food, I climbed up to the near village to beg some food, but there were only very poor people so I came down without getting anything. I was lying under a tree. I had only my cloth and a blanket and a vessel. I was really hungry and tired. It was evening and I had to walk again without food. I was only 18 or 19 then. As I was thinking that I must get up, an old pilgrim walked by. He saw a swami lying under a tree and he asked me, "Are you hungry? Do you want something?" "Yes, I am hungry. I want something." Pilgrims usually carried only enough food for 30 days. He carried some dried food fried in ghee and with sugar on it. He had just a certain amount, enough so that he can reach his destination and then come back, because there's nothing to get on the route. But from this small ration, he took some carefully, and gave it to me. I put out my cloth and he put the food in there. I was so happy - something to eat and it smelled so wonderful too.
Then I thought, "the sun is hot. Let me take a bath in the Ganges; afterwards I can really enjoy the food." So I left the food there on the shore in my cloth and jumped into the Ganges. After one dip I came out shivering. As I picked up my cloth, all the food fell out into the water.
Do you understand the suffering I went through? Food came to my hand. Almost to my mouth. But my Karma was that I could not eat. That pilgrim's Karma was to give me from his own rations. It doesn't matter whether I am going to eat or not. That's not his problem. He has to share his food with another hungry person. And he did this with all his heart. But my Karma was there; I could not eat.
Now do you understand how karma works? My Karma was that I must have taken some food from someone's mouth before, perhaps in a previous life. So I had to undergo the same suffering as I had created for another person. I did not share, so I suffered.
That evening I walked under painful conditions. I reached the next place where we were going to camp for the night. An old swami came and looked at me. He asked me, "Where do you come from?" "I come from Sivanandashram. I am going on a pilgrimage." He took me by the hand as if he knew me and led me to a small hut. There a sumptious meal was waiting. After we ate he said, "you cannot go alone; I will take you." From then onwards he fed me. So I must have also earned some good Karma.
Karma has brought me so many things. I've got ashrams in various places. I've got Paradise Island which has a private beach, and I've got yachts and boats and so forth. But none of them do I keep for my sake or in my name. I don't have a penny. I will not keep any money in the bank in my name, not will I keep a house or anything. If I did that while all these people are working without getting a penny, my Karma would be so painful, like the lowest animal eating human flesh.
So your Karma will work out. Your duty is only to have love and to serve. Don't worry about good karma or bad karma. We don't know whether we are making fresh karma or enjoying old karma. We don't know. The peace of mind will come.

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Question: My question relates to the problem of suffering. It's hard to understand how God could create a world in which there is violence and war, that He would allow so many people to die in such ways. He just doesn't seem like a loving God at all.

Answer: That type of God you have created in your mind. You created a God to suit your own particular temperament. To you, God doesnít seem like a loving God. But how could a loving God forgive anybody? Iím not speaking in philosophical terms. A civilized person like you, of course, might be a vegetarian. However, suppose you went to a restaurant and ordered lobster. You can see the lobster in the aquarium, alive. It is taken, put in boiling water, and then served. Did you ever ask if God created this lobster? Had the lobster no pain in the hot water, so that afterwards you can enjoy it?
If you want God to forgive, then you must also behave like a human, loving person. You may not see its suffering, but a lobster suffers exactly like you and me from its point of view. Being compassionate means having compassion for all beings that God created. When you have that compassion, then God will protect you, then His grace will be there. Godís laws are clearly written. "Thou shalt not kill." "Love thy neighbor as thyself." You have disobeyed Godís commands, and now youíre accusing God of cruelty.

Holding hands in compassion
Being compassionate means having compassion for all beings that God created. When you have that compassion, then God will protect you.

Letís forget about the lobster. Americans and Russians have enough missiles to destroy each other many times over. How many times can you destroy something? How many times can they kill everyone? Have you ever thought that the Russians, Americans, Chinese, Hindus, Catholics and Protestants are all human beings? Death is as painful for Russians as it is for Americans. Death is as painful for the poor as it is for the rich. The moment we apply a label - communist, non-communist, Russian, American - we forget these are people. If these are things and not human beings, we see them as fit to be killed. Because another person is different, you are ready to destroy him. You not only want him dead, you want him to die in a miserable way. Where is your compassion? How can God forgive you then?
I'll tell you a story. You have heard the biblical story about the Israelites fleeing Egypt. The Egyptians were chasing them, the Red Sea opened, and the Egyptians drowned. The Israelites were happy, jumping and dancing. Does anyone know what God said? He admonished them, saying, "How can you dance when my children are drowning?" God did not favor the Egyptians or the Israelites. The Egyptians made a mistake and were brought suffering through their Karma. The Israelites had no authority to jump and dance because their enemies were dying. They should have shown compassion.
God loves not only Christians but that is what they believe. Hindus believe Krishna is on their side. Muslims think Allah is on their side and are ready to kill all non-Muslims.
You blame God for cruelty, but youíve forgotten his teachings. All are His creation, whether lobster, or saint, or sinner. You should love everybody. When you cannot love, you are punished for your actions. Your karma brings you about your particular state of suffering. How are you going to learn from your mistakes unless you are punished? God not only punishes now; your punishment will continue in the hereafter. Your good karma will follow you also.
Until and unless you change your thoughts and love everyone, you will suffer. You must see all as God, not as Russians or Americans, East Germans and West Germans. That's why I flew over the Berlin Wall. There was only one Germany, but they built a wall creating East Germans and West Germans. With those labels in mind, they start killing each other. Until you remove such labels, you will suffer here and in the hereafter, too. That's the purpose of suffering - to see that you are not a label, that you are not a human being. You are the infinite God. That thou art. The Self is immortal; there's no death or birth. You are not identifying with the God thatís within you. You are identifying with the body with name and form, so you are punished.
Pain is also a dream, but that pain is necessary until you learn. Each time you learn, there's suffering, and you change. Because of the subconscious memory of your own suffering, you donít want to see suffering in others as well. You need to learn to love everybody. Jesus said, "I and my father are one. I am in you. You are in me." You do not understand this philosophy and until you learn this, you will repeatedly be punished.
Several thousand lives you have lived and suffered, that's why you are listening to this lecture. Others won't come to hear this at all. You have an intuition of your past mistakes and you wish to correct them. That's God's Grace.
God's punishment is like that of a parent. A mother punishes her child, but not out of anger. Until the child is punished, he does not change in the right direction. We have all made so many mistakes. We are still making mistakes. I'm not saying I'm great and you're small or you're worse. I am also suffering. Everyone is suffering. If I suffer it is not God who brought that suffering. I brought it myself through my own actions. I have to pay and learn but I won't make my mistake again.
God is merciful. God said, "Love they neighbor as thyself, and "Thou shalt not kill." That is his philosophy. Don't think that he is not loving.

Om Shantih.

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