The state of Ahimsa – Developing Harmlessness

In Patanjali’s Eight-Fold exposition on the path to enlightenment he succinctly states the stages all seekers must go through to realize the Self, the goal of all Yoga.  The first stage or limb of that journey in yogic development is a series of  psycho-physical self-restraints called the Yamas.  It seems that if we are to truly know the Self, be enlightened, or realize unity with creation, we need to experience a definite change in our own physical and mental attitudes.   The single most important attitude that must be developed in the Yogi is that of Ahimsa, often translated as non-violence or non-harming.

If the Yamas were the building blocks of personal transformation, then ahimsa would be the cornerstone of that foundation.  Ahimsa was popularized by Mahatma Gandhi who practiced it as a penance. He took ahimsa to an extreme and in doing so set an almost unattainable standard for the rest of us to strive towards.  Our world today is a chaotic one where individual drive and self-righteousness easily bring people to blows, our leaders consider war and direct violence an answer to many difficult international situations, and the vast majority of our TV shows and movies are filled with violence and aggression.  As one Yogi stated this world is not conveniently arranged for the practice of ahimsa!

For sure the first step to non-violence is related to our physical actions.  Hopefully everyone reading this article has already established non-violent behavior towards other people!  A cursory glance at the Yoga Sutras and you might think you have cracked it…the pondering student reflects that he has not engaged in any fights this year, so this ahimsa is not so hard after all.  However, for someone to perfect ahimsa, it goes much much deeper than our physical actions: we must conquer the psychological and emotional traits.  The Yoga sutras are notoriously cryptic. The individual sanskrit words are like a technical and logical code to be unpacked and examined by those with intuitive insight.  One thing my own teachers have expressed to me is that with each Yama (restraint) the Yoga Sutras provide a definition of what it means when someone has perfected that state of being. This gives us a clue to what Patanjali really means when he tells us to have ahimsa. The Sutras state that the evidence that one is established in ahimsa is as follows:

Sutra II:35  In the presence of one who is firmly grounded in harmlessness all hostilities cease.

Ponder that statement for a moment……have you ever been in the presence of someone who radiated such inner tranquility that you felt a palpable peace just by being next to them?  The consciousness of someone established in harmlessness would essentially override or transform the state of someone who harbored negative thoughts and emotions toward them.  That’s profound and a highly advanced state of consciousness!

Many Guru devotees like to tell tales or even show pictures of a wild tiger who, on approaching their Guru, becomes as tame as a pussycat.  This is proof to them and to skeptics that ahimsa has been perfected and their Guru is an advanced Yogi.

So there is more to this non-violence than just restraining outward actions and even your inner thoughts. Sure, it’s good work to not get furious when traffic is bad on the way home from work.  This is yogic training but to really advance your practice (yes this is a yoga practice in itself) can you face traffic and not react?   Remain calm and equanimous as you navigate frustration, challenges and crises.  What about when someone criticises or hurts your feelings and your mind plays the game of payback trying to find the ego’s victory in your imagination?

These mental scenarios go on and on. Those of us endeavoring to improve our state of ahimsa are each trying to figure out what is the most appropriate non-harming response in every significant situation.  This causes a lot of reflection and consternation as we have to balance being truthful and standing up for what we believe in.  This interpersonal scenario opens up the most controversial element of ahimsa. How far do we take non-violence even in the face of attack? When do we walk away versus have the courage to stand up for ourselves, perhaps even in the face of abuse, and strike back?  This dilemma has been debated for ages.  For this article, all I will offer is the guidance of Yogis who state there is a Dharmic (righteous) duty to the truth and overcoming negativity. Hence we must take action in the face of such negativity both individually and as a society.  To allow ourselves and even our society to be downtrodden by negative influences is in itself harming to people.  Therefore, it is our duty to stand against negative influences. The big differences are that, as Yogis, we recognize people’s harmful actions as coming not from their true Selves and we act for the good of the whole not just ego based reactivity.

The line of action versus passivity is a fine one between seeking the highest good in each situation and assuring ourselves that our initial reactions are not just our ego trying to win its corner.  Discernment and self-observation need to be developed throughout our lives.  For the purpose of this article I want to remind you of the Yogic tools that can help you develop equal mindset in the face of challenges.

Integrate meditation into your daily yoga routine.  If you have an hour to spend on yoga, I suggest 5-15 minutes of that time spent in sitting meditation.   Even if your meditation abilities are not so great, it still works wonders.   Studies show and yogis describe how our sense of self expands in meditation: we are less concerned with the little things and we feel more compassion and even a direct connection to others. When we meditate daily our reactive mental process quietens.  With compassion, lower reactivity, and expanded sense of self, we literally don’t want to harm other people, animals or our planet because we are connected in our consciousness.   Ahimsa develops naturally with regular meditation.

Develop inner listening and introspection.  This applies to the steady stream of subconscious thoughts flowing through your awareness. We all know about negative thinking, criticism, doubt and despair, however at any moment we can change the thought.  Take charge of your mind and develop new mental habits for your well being.  Ask yourself, does this thought or comment present harm to another or myself?  What would be a more benevolent thought in this situation?

Once inner listening is established and meditation becomes more commonplace, you can take ahimsa practice to the next level, become aware of mental and emotional patterns, and begin to root out the weeds of the heart chakra.

When contemplating any tenent of yoga philosophy especially any of the yamas, mental conditions to be restrained I suggest taking a moment to reflect on the greater goal of yoga that is uniting and absorbing our individual consciousness to spirit or cosmic consciousness.  Much is made of “being one with the Universe” it appears from frontier science that we live in an ocean of consciousness, we are interconnected beings literally so how we think, speak and act has a direct impact on the greater consciousness whether we ignore it or not.  Simply put if we are all One then if I harm another I harm myself. If I strike another the energy created must circle back in the unknown future in the same way a pendulum swings it must swing back.  This is the hidden natural law of cause and effect known in the Yoga tradition as karma.  Could you truly realize a unified at-one state if you harbored harming thoughts?  It’s just not possible.

For yogic development to occur there needs to be a positive flow of energy that works alongside the restraint of negative harming energy.  Each Yama (restraint) can be partnered with a Niyama (observance). We need to redirect the flow of energy.  If we just resist the negative flow, the energy builds up like water at a dam.  Develop purity in your thoughts and your feelings, fill your life with kind people, enjoy uplifting music and film, find beauty in the simple things, and place yourself in others’ shoes so as to know their suffering.  Speak your truth, yet listen to others, and know we are all brothers and sisters in this ocean of consciousness.

May your heart be filled with Peace

May your thoughts be calm and collected

May your words be as sweet as honey

May all hostilities cease

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Teacher Interview with Janice Cotto

Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Janice Cotto began practicing yoga in 2009.  She completed her 200-hour teacher training in 2013 and since then has expanded her education and commitment to sharing her experience with others. Janice currently teaches afternoon Hatha Flow classes at EastSide Yoga. Be sure to check the schedule and pay her a visit soon!

How would you describe your approach to yoga? 

My approach to yoga is finding spiritual freedom through the physical form. As humans we are physically connected to this planet and therefore we have the ability to utilize our physical form to create more potential for expansive opening and letting go. Strength and surrender are two pieces of a puzzle that we can find within our bodies. My approach to yoga is to allow our habitual thinking patterns and old habits come to a pause while we redirect our intentions to something greater. One of my favorite Iyengar quotes is “It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”

What led you to begin practicing yoga?

When I was 19, I was dating a guy who’s mom was really into yoga. She was a bright light and always positive and encouraged me to join her in a yoga class that she had been attending. I had done a few poses before but had never taken a public class. My first experience in public yoga class was extremely challenging. I had no idea what I was doing and the teacher kept coming up to me and making adjustment in my poses. I wasn’t embarrassed by being a beginner. I was intrigued by the challenge and wanted to keep going until I understood the flow and could do it without having to look around. It took time and practice and soon I became drawn to the therapeutic quality of flow. My start in practicing yoga definitely began as a physical practice, as many people start. Over time it turned into a journey within and I started to dive deeper into a spiritual practicing, binding my mind with my body. It changed my life and started to affect my life off the mat. When doing yoga transformed into living my yoga, I knew I had found what I wanted to do with my life. Share yoga and my experiences with others.

In your biography, you mentioned that you used to suffer from chronic back pain. I believe many us also struggle with that problem on a daily basis. What postures did you often turn to to help relieve your pain?

Lower back pain is one of the main complaints from most people. My history with overcoming my low back injuries included a sense of commitment to noticing how I was doing things all the time, not just on my mat. I used to wait tables and would use the same arm to hold a tray and stick my hip out, which over time did some serious damage to my Quadratus lumborum (QL) on my right side. It became so intense that I had a incident where I collapsed out of pure dysfunction. I knew then that something had to change. It took a while to undue the habits in my physical form, but a willingness to learn and listen to my body paved the way to healing. When people ask me what postures to do that help them with low back pain, sometimes I tell that its not the poses that you DO to create change, but rather the poses that you DON’T do. Not saying that you can’t ever do back bends or twists, etc. but modifying to your personal needs is crucial to self love and healing. For example, in poses such as forward folds where students are more concerned about having their legs straight, are risking the safety of their low back. Knowing when to modify and not letting the ego run your life or your practice are ways that helped me find freedom from pain and suffering.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned through your journey to yoga?

It sounds crazy, but yoga found me. It has a way of doing that. Whenever we are ready to receive something, we do.  Everything happens as it should, and nothing is an accident. Yoga taught me to listen to something other than the committee in my head. It helped me see myself through a lens that I hadn’t seen before. My reaction to poses on my mat started to show me how I showed up in my daily life out in the world. And sometimes that didn’t look so good, and so I learned from it and grew. It taught me patience, self-love, compassion and willingness to just let things be and witness the present moment unfold without an attachment to what “I” think it should be. It began as a physical journey for me and then out of nowhere I woke up to something more. It unified my body and mind in a way that I never thought was possible. I found God. A lot of people don’t like that word. Misconceptions arise when people hear the word “God”. When I say it a refer to the energy, prana, divine source all around us and within us.

What do you like the most about EastSide Yoga?

EastSide Yoga  is a sanctuary. There is so much love in this studio that you can feel it when you walk in. It harnesses a realness about yoga that is sometimes missing when you go to a class that strictly focuses on pushing yourself physically. Being challenged is good, and so I’m not saying that one shouldn’t do a hot class or a power vinyasa class because that’s how my path started, so I know that it has the ability to reach inward. EastSide Yoga reaches out to every corner of the yoga community, holding space in a way that is truly inspiring and makes me feel so blessed to be a part of.
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Finding the Self – The true goal of Yoga

What is Yoga really all about?   How can we realize the Self?   what is the source of our suffering? and how can we transcend that suffering?

These fundamental questions are answered succinctly in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, however the Sutras themselves are intrinsically cryptic and notoriously hard to follow.  For those of us who have tried and often struggled to make sense of them, this post is my attempt to bring to life the key concepts of Yoga so we can actually put them to good use. After all what use is dry philosophy unless it can transform us!

Buckle your seat belts as we take a journey into the deeper meaning of Yoga.

The author of the Yoga sutras and great sage Patanjali defines Yoga in three deceptively simple words.

Yogas – Chitta Vritti Nirodha

For those of us who have been through yoga teacher training or attended a Sutras workshop please don’t roll your eyes or leave just yet.   There is much more to this meaning of Yoga than meets the eye,  many books out there are scholarly translations which appear (to me) to over intellectualize the experiential consequence of this Sutra (or thread).   So here goes. (see footnote)

Let’s try to understand vrittis:  Vrittis are whirlpools of consequential energy that have settled within our subtle body in the area of the spine where chakras reside.  Each vritti is comprised of centripical force arising from our inner reactions to outer circumstances. In effect creating a vortex of energy within us.  As an individual the ego defines our reality in selfish terms, for example, why did this happen to me?  how could they have treated me this way?  I don’t like this etc.  Although the myriad reactions and responses we have day to day may seem normal and natural according to Yoga they take us away from our natural state of being and our ability to know of realize the Self.

For every personal bias (desire/attachment) and every reaction that takes place mentally a holding pattern comes into play,  it’s more than just a thought, that thought pulls energy and creates a little eddies and it lingers in our subtle spine.

We all know that during our life time we have loads of reactions taking place, many desires and attachments.  Unfortunately it seems that vrittis are not just held from this lifetime but there are vrittis from previous life times, we bring them with us when the soul descends into the body.

Vrittis do relate to karmas otherwise known as the cause and effect principle.  Karma is a natural law and driving force of our material (dualistic) Universe.  Karma is the law in motion that brings balance into effect individually and collectively.   Every cause produces energy a potential and circles back to fulfill what we put in motion either physically, mentally or emotionally.   If you can grasp the circular nature of energy spiraling each vritti we cause pulls effect into itself.

Take a moment of reflection,  remember the last time your mind connected to an unpleasant memory and made you go “into” the memory, at that point feelings arise and if an emotional responses comes you feel a restriction in your heart.   Before you know it this memory image “sucks you in” then somehow you forget the present reality and are consumed by this memory.  When you are sucked in who may forget where you are, you may even create a false ending to the incident.   Has that ever happened to you??

I am pretty certain to happens to all of us and if so you were pulled into a Vritti, a vortex of energy that will draw karmic consequence.  According to Yoga this experience is more than just psychological its energetic. The vortex (vritti) is real and is the chief source of our suffering.  Now image thousands of vrittis trapped inside, they pull the life force from us and blind us from the truth.  These distortion of our consciousness prevents us from knowing the Self!

The mind according to Yoga has different components using the above example we can gain a better understanding of the mind.  Recall the example of the mind activating an old memory, initially the remembrance would have neutral, we perceive the memory like an image appearing on a TV screen.   This sensory part of the mind is called manas in sanskrit, essentially we view data without invoking a reaction.

Next part of the mind recalls the circumstance and analyses it, this happens quickly but if we stay calm it is possible to analyze the event and stay calm (for now!).  This deeper part of the mind is called buddhi (discerning intelligence).

Then the mind relates the prior experience to the ego (individuality) and at this point trouble brews as we begin to react inwardly, you might say at this point the vritti begin to whirl!  However our mental reactions are still relatively tame at this point.  The ego is defined as ahamkara. Our sense I-ness attracts and pulls every attachment and desire to itself, it’s a simple law of attraction.  If there are hundreds of little vrittis well our ego’s are one big Vritti! Imagine a hurricane pulling all events into itself, gaining strength and becoming an inner storm.  This is what happening to us in varying degrees.


Trouble comes when feelings are invoked,  when the old memory surfaces and feelings are “whipped up” an emotional response comes and it comes fast.  If you are sensitive or in hindsight you will feel this in your heart area, like a constriction.  When the emotions kick in you are fully sucked into the memory and are replaying often with fictional reenactments or conclusions.  At this point we are in delusion.  The feeling part of the mind, the deepest strongest part is called Chitta.

When pure the chitta drives our deepest longings, where we feel love, devotion and heartfeltness.  Pure feelings drive thoughts, words and actions, it’s a place of wonder and intuitive knowing and our greatest opportunity to know ourselves.  Yet the chitta (heart center) is typically our biggest obstacle as we go through reaction after reaction.

 To recap we have many vrittis which are karmic responses to causes we have created past, present and anticipated. The vrittis that become emotional “Heart-felt” responses are clinging to our individual consciousness, the deep feeling part of the mind called chitta.

The sage Patanjali defines Yoga brilliantly and simply as a stoppage or neutralization of all vrittis, every single one!  Then Yoga occurs, the yoking or reuniting of pure consciousness or Self.    It’s imperative to emphasize that Nirodha is absolute, not just putting the brakes on or forcing thoughts and feelings out, the vrittis are annihilated.

If you are feeling overwhelmed right now, no wonder.  The magnitude of vrittis either dormant or active within our being transcending all our lifetimes is a hard to handle and quite frankly a tad depressing.  Now suppose I am trying to transform myself and work on reactions, judgements and attachments it’s no easy feat,  I might be able to neutralize a few patterns however by the time that’s done, I will probably create a few more.

Don’t lose hope because there is pathway to finding the Self, there is a systematic method by which to overcome all of these mental and emotional patterns. And Yes, it’s called Yoga the art and science of realizing the true Self,  the Sutras lay out a step by step logical approach to calming the inner storm and bringing complete calmness.  I am less referring to Hatha yoga (the physical branch) but to the four principal paths of Yoga called Bhakti (devotion) Jnana (wisdom) Karma (action) and Raja (meditation).

Patanjali follows the famous Sutra with a simple and concrete statement.

Then the Yogi abides tranquilly in the Self

When Yoga is attained we reunite with the Self literally and the storm of our consciousness is no more. It is akin to the sun (soul) shining after the storm has passed and we can see the light once again.  We know who we are and we abide free in ourselves.

There is a beautiful sanskrit term Jivanmukta which translates to One who is freed while living, when the chitta is free, the heart is pure and calm, we can experience this World freely without bondage to any more reactions/karmas and only then realize our vast limitless potential

If this feels so remote, I say don’t despair dear ones according to the great ones it’s our destiny to realize the Self. Our very Universe has been created as a vehicle to bring us back to this pure natural state.  It is said eons past and mankind wandered in ignorance the first step to realizing the goal is to know the goal and the means of doing so.  Awareness of the goal is a mammoth step forward towards finding the Self.

I bow to each of you knowing that each of you are expressions of something great, something Divine.


Note – For those that studied Yoga Sutras the common translations for vrittis are waves. It was Paramhansa Yogananda that stated that definition fell short of their beheld state.  They are whirlpools, turning and blocking the flow of life force in the sushumna.  In asana paravritti is a twist this gives a clue as to the correct definition.

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Yoga Nidra Practice

Yoga nidra, or “conscious sleep” is a wonderful tool for deep relaxation.  Here is a very short “nidra break” that you can try at home when you are feeling stressed or anxious.  Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes, and give yourself a much needed break!

I love the practice of nidra–it’s simple and it’s deep.  Try it out and let me know what you think.

This is just one of the practices from my workshop:  A Sigh of Relief; Yoga for Stress Management.  Stay tuned for the next session.

Be well,


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The Sacred Celebration of Christmas

Beyond gift giving and receiving, beyond a plentiful feast there is a deeper purpose to the Christmas celebration.  Discover the plenitude of love, gratitude and joy that is within you.


Each human being has a wellspring of these pure attributes that can be tapped into at a moment’s notice.  Some have a a slight trickle others have a uncontrollable gusher, nonetheless it’s there to be discovered.  The inherent need to share, to give graciously to love unconditionally is the Christmas spirit expressing these Divine qualities.  Practiced consciously these gifts bring happiness and light to our World.

Christ’s life showed us the way to live our lives, the real purpose to our lives and our destiny to reunite or become one with the Father, verily.   The sacred union of the soul was often referred to as marriage, this term is significant as it has roots in sacred yoga.  Once there is Divine union, it is said that no one can take it from you, the same is said of samadhi (meditative absorption).

A joy expressed, a heart filled with love or a soul filled with light, all are eternal.  The sacrifice made in Christ’s life was to live purely in atonement with the natural way.  It is our nature to give love to another, yet in modern times we express this love through the medium of material gifts while often forgetting the source of gift giving. However these are merely outer reflections of the gift of the inner spirit.

Christ warned us about temptation, this can be explained as selfish tendencies,  personal discord and innate desires that drive us to act.  If we can learn to curb them, redirect that trapped energy upwards to the to the spiritual eye it will be filled with light.  This is the promise of the scriptures and is rooted in reality according to the great yogis. Through dedicated meditation this can be realized in each and every one of us.

My own Guru wrote “take Christmas seriously” , there is a rare opportunity here to uplift yourself, what better way than to give the gift of unconditional love to another.

May you have a blessed and joyful Christmas.


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Diwali – The festival of Light – A deeper understanding

Diwali “The Festival of Light” – A Deeper Understanding

Diwali or the “Festival of Light” is joyously celebrated by millions around the word.  In the modern times it becomes even more and more important to retain the ancient tradition and philosophy for the present and future generations.  Vedantic Philosophy offers the purest lifestyle that is time tested from thousands of years and remains applicable to everyday life in the modern times.

In the Home:

By tradition we light “ghee lamps” or the “Dia” in every room of the house to invite auspicious light, health and wealth into the home.  For many the home is Laxmi Devi Herself, therefore cleaning the home, chanting mantra, cooking healthy food, singing devotional songs, and keeping auspicious energy in the home brings the Divine Attributes into the home and blesses the family.  The Ghee Lamps should stay lit throughout the night to symbolize our triumph over darkness and Healing Divine Light over evil.

The Light and the Light of ALL Lights:

Ghee Lamps are used in many different traditions.  When Ghee is burned through the combustion process 100s of pounds of purified oxygen is pumped into the immediate atmosphere.  Therefore the lighting of a Ghee Lamp while meditating or practicing pranayama is highly regarded because of the vast intake of purified oxygen.  During the auspicious Vedic Fire Ceremony, “Homa” or “Yajna,” Ghee is offered to the Sacred Fire thus cleansing the atmosphere and creating a “High Pranic” energy field all around.  We well know that sound can travel a great distance.  When Mantra is chanted along with the purifying fire the Mantra is lifted with the purified oxygen into the atmosphere creating an “unseen” Divine Energy that grants blessings for all beings.  Coming full circle to the Dia!  The Sacred Light of the Ghee Lamp represents the “Light of the Eternal Soul,” the light of the Divine Source that cannot be quantified or explained.  We honor the Dia the Light of ALL Lights, which also exists as our individual soul.  Diwali is a Sacred Tradition of unifying our individual light (the soul) to the source of ALL SOULS, the singular light to which all beings merge, the Paramatma (the eternal soul).  Aham Brahmhasmi (I am that Eternal-Divine Soul). This is the greatest blessing of taking birth in the human body.  We have the ability through meditation and pranayama to connect with the Ultimate Divine Source!  Therefore Diwali is an auspicious time to reconnect with the light within and set affirmations on the path of meditation, pranayama, saadhana (spiritual practices), and Seva (service to the greater good).  (Note:  Ghee is best if home made or from a completely organic source of non-homogenized milk).

Maha Laxmi Devi:


Diwali is considered a festival for Maha Laxmi Devi, the Goddess of Divine Wealth, Health and Prosperity.  Laxmi Devi is also considered Kamala Vasinyai Devi (the Divine Mother Birthed from the Lotus Bud).  The symbolism is that the Divine Spirit of Wealth and Prosperity emerging from a flower that grows out of murky mud water, is the very essence of growth and prosperity.  Laxmi Devi is often depicted showering golden coins from Her palms to symbolize the source of the highest wealth, the granter of auspicious boons.  Furthermore, the golden color of the coins represent the attraction of Solar and Cosmic Energy.  The Divine Radiance of the rising sun purifying the heart of the seeker!  Laxmi Devi also offers the Pink Lotus Flower as a symbol of pure thoughts, enlightenment, and a transformation of the seeker from the murky water of tamas (negative attributes) to sattwa (auspicious attributes).  Like the seed of a Lotus Flower Laxmi Devi’s large black eyes show compassion, love and the infinite bliss granted by the energetic presence of such Divine Radiance.  Chanting Sri Suktam is a special way of connecting with the prana-shakti  of Maha Laxmi Devi.  Each verse of Sri Suktam not only connects the seeker to the Divine Sound Vibration of this wealth-giving energy, it also has deeply coded language of taking in deeply the energy of the Sun and the Moon.  Therefore Laxmi Devi is seen as a Divine Energy that radiates from the Sun and the Moon.  As with all Deities in Vedantic Traditions there is a deeper symbolism to the physical or material form.  Studying such topics and imbibing the spirit of the teachings brings peace through higher wisdom.

By Tyagaraja Welch
Teacher of Raja yoga class – Tuesdays 6.30pm
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Interview with Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya

This weekend ( Oct 18th/19th) Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya will visit ESY and offer a program on Bhakti Yoga – The Ocean of Bliss.   For those yearning to go deeper into Yoga teachings or curious about this event this insightful interview with Sri Acharyaji gives a hint to the depths of his teaching.

acharyajiCan you address comments you’ve made regarding Bhakti Yoga and how it is the Yoga for our time?  

To address the significance of Bhakti Yoga, we need to understand what is the goal of Yoga itself.  The goal of Yoga itself is not merely to have a good body physically. But more than this, the actual goal of Yoga is to know the Divine.  In fact, the goal of Yoga is twofold:  it’s to know ourselves in a pure and unadulterated way, and then secondly, to know the Divine.

With that understanding, we need to then ask, “If that is the goal, then what is the best means to achieve that goal?”  All of the Vedic scriptures, including Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras, are in agreement on this: Bhakti Yoga is the most efficient, fastest, and most joyous means of knowing our true Self and of knowing the Divine.

The next logical question is: Why is it that we don’t know ourselves and why is it that we don’t know the Divine?  The reason why is because of false ego- ahamkara.  False ego creates an artificial sense of self.  It covers up who we are and it covers up our relationship with the Divine. With this being the case, what we want to do is overcome this false ego.  The best way of doing this is in the way that is most radical.  And the way that is most radical in order to transcend ego is to surrender ego, to surrender everything that we are, at the feet of the Divine.  There is no more radical path.  There is no path that is more direct than this.  So this is the reason why Bhakti Yoga is the most important Yoga of today.  Given the fact that, in this current age especially, undertaking time-consuming, serious practices is very difficult.  What is wonderful about Bhakti Yoga is the fact that it is not that difficult.  What it requires, essentially, is developing devotional consciousness toward the Divine.  This is something that a person can do anywhere, regardless of who they are, regardless of where they find themselves, if they are single and celibate or if they are married and within the world.  It doesn’t matter what their lifestyle is.  As long as they have sincerity, they can cultivate this devotional consciousness.  Being that practicing long, long periods of meditation and yoga is very difficult, if a person develops Bhakti, devotional consciousness, this is something that’s much easier to do.

Could you elaborate on the ideas you presented during one of your recent talks here in Austin that, contrary to the notion that modern-day Western Yogis are avoiding the world and its problems, in fact true Yogis (perhaps even especially Bhakti Yogis?) are heroic people and very much in the world?

Very practically speaking, I would challenge anyone to even find a modern Yogi who is living in America who is avoiding the world, who is living stereotypically in a cave somewhere or just living in an ashram.  Very few people are doing that.  99.9% of Yogis are indeed very much engaged in the world: they have jobs, they have families, they go to school, they have a social life, et cetera. You’d be very hard-pressed to find a Yogi who indeed has renounced the world to such a degree that they fit that stereotype.

Yoga, properly understood, does not encourage us to artificially renounce the world.  In our current age specifically (known as the Kali Yoga in Vedic philosophy) we are actually called upon as Yogis to very much engage in the world.  This is the central teaching, for example, of the Bhagavad Gita.  When Arjuna wanted to renounce the world due to his own illusion, when he truly did just want to hide away from his actual duties, what does Krishna say to him?  He doesn’t pat him on the back and say, “Okay, wonderful, Arjuna, come off to my ashram with me and let’s disappear from everything.” No, on the contrary, he chastises him, and he says “ You are meant to practice Yoga, but also to be in the world.  You are meant to complete your duty.”  And Arjuna, having fallen into a depression, Krishna actually says to him, “Arise Arjuna, Arise!”  And he again encourages him to do his duty.  This is the message for Yogis today.  Like Arjuna, we are meant to not artificially renounce the world and pretend we’re something we’re not.  Rather we are meant to be wherever we find ourselves, in whatever city, in whatever nation. We are meant to have family, we are meant to have jobs, we are meant to be active in the world: that means socially, that means politically, that means in every way that everyone else is.

But this is the only difference: unlike everyone else, our consciousness should be different.  While we are in the world, we are not of the world.  That’s it.  This is one of the common teachings of actually many spiritual paths, even Christianity, interestingly.  We are meant to be within the world but not of it.  Again, we are meant to have our full life within the world, but unlike other people, we are meant to approach all things in this world with wisdom.  Understanding the ultimate context in which we are encountering everything that we are encountering. We are encountering other people and we’re encountering other situations in the world: what is their ultimate meaning, not simply the meaning before my eyes right here and right now?  I’m encountering conflict within the world, well that’s a terrible thing.  But I need to ask myself:  what is the ultimate cause of conflict? Ultimately it’s spiritual; it’s a spiritual problem. The reason why people steal from one another, take from one another, manipulate one another, the reason why they abuse one another is because of spiritual ignorance.  Because they have made the mistake (false understanding) of thinking they are something they are not.  They don’t know their true selves; they don’t understand that they, and every living being that they are encountering, are eternal beings.  That being the case, with that understanding: how can you try to harm, exploit, take from, someone who really is the same as you on the level of consciousness?  You can’t.  So, if anything, taking the spiritual approaches teaches us how to be within the world, but also approach the world with wisdom.  In such a way that, if anything, the Yogi has the ability to actually function in the world even better than the non-Yogi.  Because again, they have everything that the non-Yogi has, but the Yogi also has wisdom that the non-Yogi does not.

Can you explain more about who this event is for, who would be welcome, and perhaps even speak to concerns people may have about feeling either feeling that in some way that they aren’t Yogic enough (whether they think they haven’t done enough asana or meditation) or spiritual enough to attend  (they don’t identify with a path or faith or even feel themselves to be very spiritual at this time)?

As far as who this event is meant for:  it’s meant for any individual who sincerely wants to know the truth of themselves, the truth of everything they are encountering in this world, and the truth of the Divine.  And what’s more, it’s those who not only want to know this, but want to experience the Divine in a very loving, connected, close sort of way.

If a person is worried that they may not be spiritual advanced enough or advanced enough in Yoga to take this seminar, that probably is the person who should be taking this seminar, because they have humility.  That’s the first thing I would say.  The second thing I would say is this:  how do we truly know who is advanced in Yoga?  It’s not merely who is the person who can do the best, most pretzel-like asana.  It’s not merely who is that person who can sit for three hours in meditation.  You see, we don’t know what they’re meditating on.  Rather it is that person who has sincerity and who wants to know and embrace truth who is advanced in Yoga.

True story:  Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is one of the most famous sages in Sanatana Dharma.  He lived 500 years ago.  There is this famous story of when he was traveling throughout the length and breadth of India.  And at one point he was in South India and when he was there, he encountered this person who every day he would see the person come into the temple, put the Bhagavad Gita in front of him, look at it, as in reading it, and just start crying and crying and crying.

Chaitanya at some point wanted to speak to this person because it was obvious that this person was just crying out of devotion.  So he went up to the person and as he looked a little bit closer, he noticed that the Bhagavad Gita was upside down. This person wasn’t even really reading the Bhagavad Gita.  Chaitanya asked him, “Sir, everyday I see you here and … and you read the Bhagavad Gita and you start crying and crying.  And as I look, I see your Bhagavad Gita is not even right-side-up.  Can I ask how are you reading this and why is it making you cry?”  And the person said to him, “Actually sir, I’m illiterate and I can’t read.  But the reason why I do this every day is because my Guru told me, “Every day, sit here for two hours and read the Bhagavad Gita.  Well, I can’t read but still my Guru ordered me to do this.  So everyday I come here and I put the Bhagavad Gita in front of me and I try to read it.”

And Chaitanya understood and he said, “Well that’s interesting but why do you cry when you sit here?  You’re obviously crying in devotion.”

And the person said, “Well I see this image of Krishna and Arjuna.  And I see that Krishna, who is the Avatara- the incarnation of the Divine- decided to become the servant of his servant, as his charioteer.  That rather than Arjuna being the charioteer for God, and God simply sitting on the chariot, rather it’s the other way around.  That Krishna decides to be the charioteer of his devotee.  And when I think about that, I just have to cry and cry and cry out of devotion to Krishna.  And it was at that point that Chaitanya understood that this person, though he was illiterate, was a liberated being.

So in the same way, an individual who may think they are not advanced enough, either in Yoga or just in spirituality in general to take this seminar that we are going to do, just have them know this, that even an illiterate person can become liberated as long as they are sincere

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