Teachings of Shri Mahayogi:
Testimonies from Actual Practitioners:
* * * * * * *
Teachings of Shri Mahayogi:
Translation of Satsangha
The Ashrama, Kyoto
Guidance for Beginners: Diet, Yama and Niyama, and Kriya Yoga
Taku (who was later given the name Chetaka) and Aki (Kinkara) met Shri Mahayogi in January 1996. Since then they have come to Satsangha at the Ashrama and have asked many practical questions about practice and discipline.
One evening, Taku felt an urge, and suddenly he came to the realization that it is impossible to practice Yoga as an afterthought; he then made up his mind to move to Kyoto, as if he was brushing away the last remnants of his hesitation. He confided his thoughts to Aki, who had just randomly shown up at his apartment. “Continuing to live in the way I have been living doesn’t allow me to make any progress. I need to immerse myself in the practice of these disciplines. I have decided to put myself in the conditions under which I can fully commit myself to Yoga in every respect. I want to be close to Shri Mahayogi, so I am moving there.” Aki also confessed, “I have also started to feel that way.” Their relocation plans were decided swiftly, without further ado.
They visited Shri Mahayogi and asked for guidance on how to spend their daily lives in such a way as to make Yoga the utmost priority at the center of everything, in other words, how to concretely live their daily lives as practitioners of Yoga in the present day. It was about three months after they had first met Shri Mahayogi.
Taku and Aki are sitting very formally in front of Shri Mahayogi. They are eagerly leaning forward.
MASTER: First of all, you must work [in the outside world] in order to maintain your minimum standard of living. Obviously, you still need to pay for your rent and food. But that income can be the bare minimum, just enough to pay for these necessities. Your occupation can be anything, and it is better for it to be something simpler, rather than something that carries a greater responsibility (smiling).
As for the specifics, you must propel yourself, throw yourself entirely into Yoga. Concretely speaking, practice asana without missing a day. If you can practice asana for two hours it would be good, but at least do so for one and a half hours. You must practice asana daily for about that long. You must also control your diet. It is fine to have two or three meals a day. But you must not have any snacks. No alcohol. Although I know you two can’t drink anyways. (Both Taku and Aki have a low tolerance for alcohol.) The portions of your meals should be smaller. If it is rice, it should be a bowl of rice and a little bit more. You can think of two bowls as being too much, so a bowl and a half is the maximum. Vegetables should be the primary side-dish, and ideally they should be seasonal ones. In winter, you should take more root vegetables and in the summertime more leafy vegetables, for example. It does not need to be a strict vegetarian meal. For example, those who are strict vegetarians avoid bonito soup stock [one of the very common traditional Japanese soup stocks]—but it would be fine for you to have it. And also tiny fish, dried young sardines and such, will not be a problem. But large fish, for example, sashimi, and chickens, animals with four legs, are not necessary, although it will be fine if you eat them occasionally; however, that will eventually all come to be controlled appropriately [by the practice of asana].
“Whole foods” are more preferable. This means that, with respect to fish, it should be a fish that you can eat from head to tail—sashimi is only part of a whole fish; when it comes to meat, you rarely eat it from head to tail and you usually extract and eat only the good part of the meat. So if possible, the ideal is to choose foods that you can eat whole. When you think about it, it is only a limited range of foods, and limited to very small things. So remember this standard.
The important thing is to eat less. Eat moderately, so to speak. And also to eat on a regular schedule.1
Another thing is meditation. Before practicing meditation, it is important to study first. By studying, I mean that you should try to feel the words of the sacred scriptures or the Saints, and you must try to feel them every day. It’s not about simply understanding them, rather it is sensing what they say—these words have power indeed. By doing this, you will develop the strength to make contact with the Pure Consciousness, your Self, the Atman, directly. By seeing these words externally, and by the Atman within resonating in response to them—and in between exists the mind—you should heighten and sharpen your sensitivity.
Doing this will cause your thoughts about the various matters such as the world, your life, your own human existence—to emerge. Then these things will gradually be cleared away, or discriminated upon.
Various things and matters are established by relative conditions. Notions of good or bad keep changing too, as they shift according to the effects of various times and value systems; therefore, they are only temporal, bound only to that moment in time. So you should try to find and feel only that which is more certain or infallible—the absolute answer. Make contact with it and think upon it, quietly repeat it within and ponder it—this will naturally lead to meditation.
You need to take into consideration all kinds of subject matters for this. This means that these should not only be logical things. In order to grasp all these different matters perfectly, you must think of diverse ways and find the answer. If this is practiced repeatedly and continuously, it will lead to the point when there is no longer any seed left to think about; you are no longer bothered by anything at all.
What I mean by various subject matters, are things like, for example, new technologies or industries that come to be developed. Let’s say a new invention like a computer comes out. Then the various conditions of the world change. But it is not necessary to know these minute details. Even if you do not understand these things, it does not matter. So you just dispose of them with the answer, “It does not matter.” That is to say, “all kinds of things” means that you must know whatever it is in its essence, but not the trivial matters.
Taku: If we pick up each trivial matter, we become rather negative.
MASTER: Indeed. It is endless. And you get confused after a while. Since things that are not interesting to you will no longer cross your mind, you should begin by what interests you, for the moment, then take it further from there.
Aki: I suppose that when we practice this, since we are using our minds, our answers may vary depending on our level of growth—based on our ability to understand the correct and definitive answer—but is it fine to practice this way at each level we go through as we progress?
MASTER: That is fine. It would be great if you could succeed all at once (laughing). But this is the way it goes, and you cannot help it. That will be fine.
Aki: Yes. And this is about the application of the disciplines of yama and niyama. I imagine that if I practice them all, it is so far removed from how I have lived up until now, so I have no clue (he cannot hold back his laughter), not at all…how to begin to practice these disciplines. My urgent issue is that I have loved travelling since my youth. So…let me confess… I want to go to America to go fishing so badly! It is hard for me to suppress my craving for it.
MASTER: Fishing (laughing)?
Aki: Yes…yes… The year before last year, I also went fishing for six months in Gujo Hachiman. I know this is related to killing, but Shri Mahayogi, do you know about fly fishing…?
MASTER: I don’t know about it.
(Aki enthusiastically explains fly fishing to Shri Mahayogi, using jargon. Shri Mahayogi obliges by nodding from time to time.)
Aki: Regarding ahimsa (non-killing), I heard that Gandhi said that even the thought of violence is opposed to ahimsa. You mentioned earlier about eating tiny fish, and I wonder, in the ultimate sense, if it could be opposed to ahimsa. So I am wondering how fishing or hunting, for example, relates to ahimsa?
MASTER: Of course, eating tiny fish too, and fishing too, they are hurtful. Both of them are killing in the end. So strictly speaking, it is better not to do these things. Nowadays, people make excuses by saying that it is a sport, so after catching them we release them. But these are excuses.
Aki (wincing and laughing at being hit in a sore spot): Yes, I think so, too.
MASTER: Desires, such as this feeling of catching, are present.
Aki: Yes, indeed. That is exactly right.
MASTER: It would be good if these desires dissipate naturally in the future.
Aki: There is another issue that has been a pet peeve of mine. Let’s say there are things that I really desire to do, the fishing I just confessed is a part of it. And let’s say I begin to practice the discipline of “not doing anything in opposition to yama and niyama.” Then conflicts arise within me, and my desires say, “I want to, but I can’t.” So the best way, or the shortcut, which is a strange way of putting it, but…is it to kill all these thoughts?
MASTER: Well, it is certainly one of the ways if you can apply the practice of these disciplines immediately. But in general, it is probably very difficult to shift gears all at once.
The important point is that these yama and niyama exist not simply as rules, or for moral reasons—they come from the Essence (Truth). For example, what is ahimsa? It is all about this: “No one can hurt or kill anybody.” So, when you think from the opposite point of view [in the case of fishing]…for example, you enjoy fishing and try to justify fishing by saying that you will release the fish after catching them. Well, let me tell you this: to give an example, let’s say a huge fish came and went “human-ing” and said that it was his hobby (smiling). Well, a huge fish like that is not realistic, so then let’s think of the [case of] tigers. Tigers or cobras in India can inevitably say, “Humans are prowling around for our consumption, for our sport.” And the same goes for humans, if we justify violence or injury against another, you also have to accept it the other way around; if not, it is too egotistical. If you think in this way, you will become unable to commit violence. The most certain truth is that—not only humans, but every living being—is “equal” in its life or the value of its existence. The destiny that is given to each individual may differ; however, intentionally injuring someone is a behavior that is too unfair and cowardly, it is too egotistical. The Truth is, “Everyone is equally precious and has dignity; no one may hurt anyone else.” That is why if you commit violence, it will become your karma.
Taku: If we do harmful things, it will inevitably come back to us.
MASTER: Yes, it is so. And once the essence of this Truth is recognized, the act of violence itself vanishes from your mind.
Taku: I guess what Aki is saying is, since we are clearly aware of our strong desires, should we suppress them by physically, abruptly cutting them off; would that heighten our spiritual state, if we can possibly begin by doing that, or is this a practical thing for us to begin with…
MASTER: Even though you may cut them off superficially, if the desires remain like embers, they will re-emerge later on.
Aki: How does it come out later on? For example, if one craves fishing, then how does it come out? Does it come out in different forms?
MASTER: It will come out in fishing related matters. So if you cannot utterly burn out the seeds of karma, completely and entirely, and uproot [the desires] from the mind through meditation, then you are better off fulfilling them.
Aki (laughing): Umm…
MASTER: You must fulfill them and be done with them.
Aki: I thought about that too, but doing this will create more karma in the end as long as I act on these desires.
MASTER: But you cannot foresee when and in what forms it will manifest and come back to you—that is the law of karma. If you understand the law of karma, you must accept it; there is no other way since it results from your own actions. That is to say, you must reap what you have sown. So you must fulfill your desires while accepting the responsibility to reap what you sow.
Aki: Today I came to visit you to ask for elucidation of yama and niyama.
MASTER: They are very important matters.
Aki: Yes. Let me go further on ahimsa, if I may. Everything is One. If everything is One, it means that injuring others is injuring our own selves in the end. That means that the thoughts in the mind (animosity, resentment, malice, spite, etc.) are included in that, doesn’t it?
Aki: Non-violence is a very simple one, in a way, so I do not have any questions about it.2
Next is satya—does being truthful mean to live honestly in accordance with what you feel…?
MASTER: Strictly speaking, it is Truth, that is, to live based on the Truth. The secondary meaning is to become honest with yourself. Additionally, it is considered to mean that you do not engage in idle talk, that you speak only Truth. We engage in conversation about unnecessary matters and events to excess. Speech arises because the cause was first created in the mind. You think, then the thought forms words. And further, it then becomes action. You should commit this to memory as “body (action), mouth (word) and thought (mind).” The body is a tool for action; the mouth indicates the [external] word; the thought indicates the mind. First, the cause, or thought—whatever it may be—is created in the mind, and this will become word, and then, in the end, action.
(It was the first time that Taku and Aki heard of this phrase. Since then, Shri Mahayogi has said for each and every thing that crops up that we should, “Be consistent in body, mouth and thought.” “Follow the Truth in body, mouth and thought.” They eventually came to recognize and understand that yama and niyama too would be complete only after being practiced through body, mouth and thought.)
Aki: The next one is about non-stealing (asteya). Besides the simple understanding of stealing, does non-stealing extend to, for example, some actions that cause others to incur some kind of loss, such as taking away someone’s time…?
MASTER: Well, yes. Starting with simple stealing as a criminal act as the main act, and next, even if an act is not a crime, it can include all sorts of levels of other kinds or means of stealing.
Aki: I had always defined a bad action as being one that causes others trouble by the act of stealing something. For example, let’s say there is a large orange orchard. When I am thirsty, severely thirsty, I take one orange from the farm, feeling deeply grateful for it, and I have taken the approach that as long as I have gratitude for it, it is fine to do so (losing confidence…) Is that OK…?
MASTER: No. If the orchard is owned and operated by someone, it is considered a crime, isn’t it (smiling)?
You mean…in a yogic sense?
MASTER: From the societal perspective too. If it is a completely natural field (smiling), like paradise, then it should be fine, of course. But such places are rare.
Taku: A while back, I read something like this in a book: because that tomato was so appealing and I could not resist taking it from the garden, I ate it, and afterwards, tied money and a note to the branch saying, “Thank you very much for the tomato.” (Shri Mahayogi laughs.)
Another thing [about non-stealing] is—I’ve heard this from Shri Mahayogi before—to plagiarize the words from someone or a book as if they are your own words is also…
MASTER: Yes. In subtle practice, that can be included as well. But at your level, you do not need to worry about that yet.
Taku: I have already recognized this in myself and it pains me. I became aware of how I had unintentionally been using words that I have read in books and other places as if they were my own words…
MASTER: You see, that is why practitioners or saints become extremely reticent. Becoming reserved in speech is inevitable.
Aki: I heard that there is a discipline of not speaking.
MASTER: Silence—mauna, it is called.
Aki: Is it derived from the same source?
MASTER: Yes. It is practiced as one of the disciplines to thoroughly acquire these habits. You have read the part about Gandhi practicing it as well in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, for instance.
Taku: The day of silence, right?
MASTER: Right. He observed a day of silence just like a day of fasting.
Aki: Does it mean that observing a day of silence can be training for not speaking frivolously at all times?
MASTER: Yes, it does.
Aki: The part Shri Mahayogi mentioned earlier…
MASTER: Well, the spoken word is an ability that humans have obtained. Since childhood, we have been continuously trying to use words to be active and express ourselves through them externally.
Aki: I especially have this tendency. (Shri Mahayogi laughs.)
Taku: I feel that I am almost validating myself while speaking to others. Especially about Yoga… It is almost all about Yoga…whatever I say lately. When I speak to others, in fact, I am probably telling or trying to persuade myself, “You (meaning my mind) have already straightened your thinking out or cleared your head up.” But I may be annoying to others now that I think about it.
MASTER: If the listeners are not expressing discomfort, or anything like that, it can also be the case that they are having a good time listening to it.
Aki: Sometimes we understand more as we speak, don’t you agree, Taku?
Taku: I know. Sometimes, while I am speaking I say to myself, “Did I really understand this much?”
MASTER: That is not a bad thing.
(Questions continuously pop up, while Shri Mahayogi, speaking slowly and calmly, at every important point, looks into their eyes firmly and checks their understanding. Taku and Aki just fix their eyes upon Shri Mahayogi, and their seriousness is clearly manifested and conveyed in their eager manner.)
Aki: …do you consider short periods of fasting to be very effective for us?
MASTER: Fasting takes at least a month if you count from the preparation time to the acclimation period afterwards.
Aki: I see. Concretely speaking, how is fasting practiced from the beginning to the end for those of us who have been eating a conventional diet including meat? Does it mean, for example, gradually reducing the amount?
Aki: How long should the period of reducing the amount last? Around ten days?
MASTER: Well, approximately ten days. After that, a period of complete fasting for ten days to two weeks follows.
Aki: Does that mean that fasting is not effective unless we do at least from ten days to two weeks?
MASTER: [A shorter period would be] ineffective. Then you condition yourself back to normal over a period of a week to ten days. It is said that if you get back to a normal diet too quickly, then it is not good for the body. But I do not really recommend fasting. Rather, I recommend eating a smaller amount, a controlled diet.
Aki: I see. Since many religions in many countries practice fasting, I had always thought it was quite effective.
MASTER: You are practicing asana, right? Through practicing asana, your body changes rapidly. It means, so to speak, that your bodily functions are really heightened. And this effect is not used for natural purposes such as taking in and digesting food, but for transforming the body into a yogi’s body. Of course, the mental aspect is also included in this transformation: energy that has been stored through the practice of asana and meditation is supposed to be put to use in this way. Now, if you take fasting too lightly it may instead throw your body out of balance because the body generates excessive fire or heat energy. So you should engage in thorough preparation, and [that means you should] keep to a controlled diet of lesser amounts over a long period of time. If you feel like trying fasting once your body has reached the best condition to handle it, it won’t be too late to begin at that point.
Aki: In any case, it takes ten days to two weeks at least…
MASTER: Yes. That is the bare minimum duration of fasting.
Aki: Is the foremost benefit the purification of the body?
MASTER: Yes. If you are more or less healthy, you need not be concerned with fasting.
Aki: Since childhood we have been implanted with the idea that ‘we must eat.’
MASTER: Well, as I just said, you must train yourself to control the amount—you must eat less.
Should moderation be 50% rather than 80% full [stomach]?3
MASTER: Yes. In actuality, that would be quite sufficient. Also, the stomach is wonderfully adaptable, so if you are accustomed to eating a large or excessive amount, then the stomach expands, and if you eat less, the stomach shrinks. It means that the stomach can be tamed by habituating it.
And as for the tongue, it is quite important to control the tongue. This relates to the choice of foods, and it relates to the amounts taken in too. Once the tongue develops a taste for something, you are compelled by a subconscious power, it gets activated like an instinct, and you struggle to taste it again—that is how the tongue works. That is why if you can control your tongue, you can control your appetite. If you can control the appetite, you can control the sexual energy.
Aki: Regarding sexual energy, is that about brahmacharya—continence?
Aki: Should I consider continence to be about [suppressing] lust?
Aki: That is what they refer to as “women and money.”4
MASTER: Yes. In short, it is about sexual acts.
Taku: Ramakrishna also says that lust and the desire for money are the greatest enemies of Satori.
Aki: What was the reason why “women and money” were the first things mentioned? Sexual appetite is an instinct for the continuation and thriving of the species. Please explain to me in an easy way why this is the foremost obstacle to Satori.
MASTER: Well. The sexual appetite is one of the strongest powers in a human being’s life. That is why many go mad for sex and money. There are many forms of desire, such as, “I want to have this kind of career,” or, “I want to demonstrate this kind of talent,” yet, this is just a façade, a daytime face. Behind that façade, you just want to have more sex with women, or you want to have more money.
Aki: Ah…indeed, it is a very motivating factor.
MASTER: You may want to say it is a motive, but you could say that this power lies so firmly entrenched at the bottom, at the root. This means that they can be understood as things that will drag you into karma.
Aki: Does that mean that since they are huge desires, they are huge obstacles?
MASTER: That’s right. It is because they have occupied the mind so much.
Aki: Oh, I see. The next one is non-greed (aparigraha). Is that about the desire for money?
MASTER: Well, money is included in that. It is about having the mind of greed. I want this, I want that, I want to do this and that… There are so many stimulations coming at us from the external world. So you crave for them; you desire to get them. Also, this world has become such that you actually can get what you want rather easily, so you are easily inclined to go ahead and get it. But, in fact, there is no actual connection between these things and your Self, this Eternal Existence…you see? It has been said from long ago that no matter how old you may be, you die when you die. When the time comes, you will go naked.
Taku: So it simply means that we should live with the utmost bare minimum necessities.
MASTER: Yes, exactly.
(Pointing to the recorder) For instance, there is a sound device here. But it would not matter if there wasn’t. There is a table. But it would not matter if there wasn’t. It does not matter if there is no electricity. The bare minimum needs are—for maintaining the body for the purpose of Satori—minimum food, clothing and shelter with a roof—and nothing more. All other things are the objects of greed. In niyama [observance], there is contentment [santosha], right? Contentment. Non-greed and contentment are closely related. Contentment is to know the meaning of there “being enough.” Be content with what you have right now. That is the view of detachment, such that there is no need for greed—it is sufficient as is.
Aki: Um…many of my friends have said that I have so much stuff in my place. I think I have a strong tendency, much more than other people, to buy whatever it is I want, even if I have to work extra for it. Taku told me, “Throw away everything that is not necessary!” and it felt like a daunting task (laughing). But it really is true.
(Shri Mahayogi is listening gleefully. He starts to speak gently.)
MASTER: Well, how should I put this…the present day in which we are living is not an environment in which you can live with just a loin cloth, like in the Himalayas. In modern day Japan, the degree of necessity may not be equal to that. However, you must remember that these things I just mentioned are the foundation. All other things are essentially, unnecessary. They are things that you don’t need to have. Having understood this, then what is important is that whether you have or do not have, get rid of the attachment towards them, and the sense of possessiveness.
Aki: But I feel that at my current level I might be tempted to use that as my excuse. If I have more than what is necessary after my renunciation is complete, like Shri Mahayogi has these things, I agree that it does not matter, but in our case, I feel that it directly relates to desire…
MASTER (smiling): Well, it must be difficult to clear everything out at once, right? So do it gradually.
Taku (immediately to Aki): But in your case it is really way overboard!
Aki: Since Taku declared to me that from now on he will commit himself to Yoga entirely, and I was drawn to that in him, I was inspired and felt that I would commit myself in the same way. But then he continued by telling me that he would cut off everything at once, so I have started to hesitate and wonder…whether I can do that.
Please let me go back to continence again. In order to practice continence, which I feel is an item that most lacks concrete understanding in my head, for instance, when I see a beautiful woman walking down the street, my eyes go to that woman instinctively—and this might be considered to be a habit which has been cultivated over a long period. This habit, which comes from the instinct that I was born with, keeps circling in my head 24/7…even now. I also do agree that it is certainly very simple, yet it is the strongest attachment, the strongest desire in me. How should I practice confronting it in a concrete way? (bursts out in embarrassed laughter)
MASTER: Buddha taught that the way to control lust is the following way: “If you see a woman older than you, then think of her as if she were your mother. If you see a woman around your age, think of her as if she were your sister. If you see a woman younger than you, think of her as if she were your younger sister.” But I think you must proactively penetrate more toward [the motivation of] sex itself. Why is it that you crave sex? Is it really for the continuation and thriving of the species like you just mentioned? Or is it that you just like to enjoy pleasure? Or is it that you want to possess a beautiful woman, or women? Or is it because of a vision you have in your mind of your ideal life—a life with a woman, including marriage perhaps—that made you do so? To say that it is simply because of instinct is too abstract.
I see. In other words, I need to inquire into the cause, further and further.
Aki: I see… I see.
MASTER: By doing so, you will come to recognize how you perceive sex or how you deal with the idea of sex.
Aki: In a way…after all, this is the same as what Shri Mahayogi mentioned at the beginning.
Aki: I see. Inquire, investigate, deeper and deeper. Try to inquire into it.
Taku: This inquiry…this is exactly the point at which I get stuck. Every time I try this inquiry, in the process I have been falling into a dead end where I cannot dig any further. Is it just training that will enable me to pass through it?
MASTER: Training is surely needed. And the essential point is how these actions themselves relate to your own existence? You may say it is all love. But is it really love, or that you simply love your own desires?
Aki: For instance, when I think of people who are very important to me, there are big differences in my views toward them depending on their gender. So I must inquire into these things… It is true that I have never really thought of inquiring into all these things, so it means that I have been putting these things to the side. So if I start to train myself like you say, I may be able to arrive at a clear answer [about what to do].
MASTER: In fact, Yoga does not teach in such a way as, “You shall absolutely never do that.” However, that means that instead you should understand these things correctly and act based on Truth.
Aki: Shri Mahayogi said earlier that through controlling the appetite or the tongue, the sexual appetite is controlled. How and why are they related?
MASTER: In short, every action, thought or whatever is within the mind’s world, becomes manifest due to karma. The causes of the creation of this karma are the memories of past experiences that have been accumulated over many reincarnations. These impressions have been stored in the bottom of the mind, like negative film, so to speak. This negative film is burned into positive film in this [life] time. These impressions form habits, you might say, through experiencing them over a long period of time. Each individual has different experiences, right? Each one has a different and particular coloring to his or her mind. That is why their particular inclinations, the atmosphere they create, the tendencies they have toward likes and dislikes, are formed naturally. That is called vasana, or sanskara in Sanskrit, [the ancient] Indian language. In short, they are the causal body out of which karma is created. Like I just said, they are the memories, or the impressions already accumulated from past experiences. That is why both appetite and sexual appetite are formed in this way, by strong tendencies that are very similar to instinct. In contrast, in order to eliminate them, you must counteract them with new impressions by having new experiences.
Aki: It means that whether it be appetite or sexual desire, this applies to any desire, mutually.
MASTER: Yes it does. Life—the human body, the breath, the mind—as well as the energy itself that is acting throughout the universe, they are all born and activated out of that primordial power. In short, you may say that they arise from appetite and sexual desire. But that is just letting karma take its natural course. Instead, in Yoga we try to understand these correctly and train ourselves not to let desires flow unconsciously as [a matter of] instinct. You confront your appetite and sexual desire with this issue by asking “Is this the right way, how things really are?” By doing so, the subconscious impressions in the mind gradually change. The [activity of the] tongue in particular is very much habitual. The tongue is extremely habitual even to cycles of time, just like how we think we should eat three times a day. It means that on the contrary, if we can control it, we can control most things.
Taku: We cannot help but eat when we are hungry.
MASTER: Even if you are not hungry, if you see food in front of you…
Taku: Right, right.
MASTER: Won’t you eat it? (laughing). But, in fact, if you can become firm and unwavering, so much so that you do not feel a desire to eat even if there is food in front of you, then that would be good.
Taku: That is absolutely not possible for me. If I see it, I always cannot help but eat it, really all the time, so I do not buy it. If there is some chocolate, for example, even if I am not hungry, I eat it all at once until the last piece is gone.
MASTER: These are habits to some extent, so it would be good if you could form an opposite or better habit, a habit of Yoga practitioners.
Aki: Purity [shaucha], does that mean a pure mind?
MASTER: Yes. In short, it is purification. It means purification of the body and the mind. Especially purifying the mind.
Aki: The reason why there is austerity—tapas—in niyama (observance) is that we must practice austerity?
Aki: What would that mean concretely?
MASTER: Concretely speaking, some kinds of disciplines that utilize the physical body.
Aki: In other words, asana…
MASTER: Yes. In Yoga, asana and pranayama, which is a method of breath control, are categorized as austerities.
Aki: Is labor in karma yoga included in this?
MASTER: Hmm, if you try to understand it in a broader view.
In short, it is about cultivating the ability to endure and persevere under various conditions. It is not about passively enduring, rather, it is proactively conquering them. When it is cold, go beyond the cold. If it is hot, go beyond the heat. When you are displeased by some condition or situation—it could be a relationship at work, or some demanding, highly-skilled task—endure it and persevere. This is also austerity.
Aki: What you meant by “going beyond cold,” is to not feel cold at all mentally?
MASTER: Yes. It is about training.
Aki: You mean, so much so that you can cut off the feeling of coldness?
MASTER: Right. Well, in order to do that, you must have trained your body well before hand. Practicing asana is quite helpful for that.
(After a long silence)
MASTER: You probably read the words kriya yoga in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.
(When they heard Shri Mahayogi say “kriya yoga,” they immediately became ravenous, as they so earnestly yearned to learn about it.)
Taku: Whoa…yes. Kriya…
Aki: For sure… We are sooo interested in it…from the very beginning…!
MASTER: I guess so (laughing). Do you remember the guidance I gave you today, the things that you must do? Practice asana, control your meals, study sacred scriptures and meditate. These are the components of kriya yoga.
Taku and Aki: ???… (The two remain stunned, not being able to grasp it. Shri Mahayogi continues.)
MASTER: Kriya yoga is composed of three pillars. As mentioned in niyama, it consists of the study of sacred scriptures, austerity, and faith in Ishvara or God.
Aki: From reading that book, I got the sense that it is, for example, something you do in the sitting position of asana, but it is different?
MASTER: It is not like that. These three things are practiced individually. Although in meditation, they are merged into one; you must excel greatly at each one of them individually until then.
Taku: In Autobiography of a Yogi, it simply said that he “was initiated in the techniques of kriya yoga.” It was written simply, but I sensed that it is not something that we become enlightened very quickly by doing. Because if that were so, everybody would be relieved, instantly.
Aki: I thought the most interesting thing about that was, if you do kriya yoga5 for 8 hours a day, and if you continue every day for a year, you’d get something like 365,000 years worth of benefit in terms of spiritual growth, and it is very effective!! (bursts into laughter out of excitement) I was so drawn to that part. But it is somewhat different from that…
(Needless to say, Taku and Aki had been yearning to know this fantastic technique. In the book there are some scenes in which the master bestows upon seekers the initiation of kriya yoga. They heard that this secret initiation takes only 30 minutes, so first they thought it might not be such a difficult technique. They talked to each other wondering if Shri Mahayogi would teach them that one day. But they could not push themselves to ask Shri Mahayogi to bestow it on them.)
MASTER: That is a pranayama. The numbers of rounds of pranayama. It is a breathing technique. In the steps of Yoga, there can be cases that you begin from practicing pranayama without having practiced asana. Of course, there are even cases that you begin by meditation. It all depends on the individual. But what I can say is that people in the present day, their bodies are very weak, that is why I suggest beginning from asana practice. Without going through this process, pranayama practice is…it is not at all like something that you can simply do by learning the technique, or practicing certain numbers of rounds. In fact, within this material physical body there is another body, the subtle body, which is a body that is created by prana; and it is invisible. It is said that there are 72,000 paths through which prana flows within us, just like how capillary vessels pervade the entire body. The chakra and sushumna, the most important path, are there, and you need to manipulate pranayama there. Therefore, you are currently working to have a foundation for that by the practice of asana. It is the same thing as a building. No matter how big a pillar you place it on, unless you have a firm foundation first, or if the foundation is not good, then the big pillar collapses. You see, it is the same. So you are surely doing kriya yoga now.
Taku: Wow, I was initiated into kriya yoga… (Shri Mahayogi, Taku and Aki laugh loudly.)
The above content is from a private Satsagha attended by Taku and Aki in 1996, three months after they started practicing Yoga. Below is a statement consisting of Aki’s reflections on the content of that Satsangha two and a half years later.
I feel that this recording of Satsangha contains so much that it makes me say to myself, “Just practice and discipline yourself for the next 10 years without asking questions anymore.” I see that Shri Mahayogi’s responses to students’ questions, which arise from their seriousness and vigor, and especially from a real willingness for actualizing the practice and discipline, are all the more soul-shaking and inspiring. As I read it, I myself was amazed how curious I was about kriya yoga back then.
These days, it seems that there are not many questions that relate to sadhana that we ask Shri Mahayogi, but it is rather more about serving, or karma yoga. As a reflection of that, our Asana and Meditation classes have expanded into four groups. And I feel that the time is getting ripe for us to act more on karma yoga. Just like how it was challenging to begin the class activity, a new beginning is always challenging, but if we can prepare the groundwork, then others may find it easier to join us.
I feel that I have been receiving much support from my gurubhai, and I again recognize the significance of the sangha.
Thank you very much for everything, and please support me from now on as well.
1 At other times, when we asked about crustaceans and shellfish, Shri Mahayogi said they were “unnecessary,” i.e. considered as meat products. In sum, all animal proteins are unnecessary. However, milk, dairy products, eggs, non-vegetarian soup stocks and small fish were taught as being allowable, not out of necessity, but in consideration of the constitution of the modern human body and Japanese customs. He advised that the important thing is to eat moderately and to not be too concerned about what you eat.
back to paragraph
2 Ahimsa is the first precept of yama in that it provides the core ethical principle upon which the other precepts of yama are based, and therefore, it is the most important one.
back to paragraph
3 In Japan, it is said that “80% full” means to eat in moderation.
back to paragraph
4 Sri Ramakrishna was known to warn his disciples to beware of “women and gold,” as in the following passage: “And grant me the favour, O Mother, that I may not be deluded by Thy world-bewitching maya, that I may never be attached to the world, to “woman and gold”, conjured up by Thy inscrutable maya!” (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, p. 731)
back to paragraph
5 Chapter 26
back to paragraph
* * *
Testimonies from Actual Practitioners:
What is Yoga? Part 71: Practice Bhakti Every Day
Translation of the article by Norio Shimada2
Kyoto, Japan November 2015
Last spring, I followed my Master to New York and stayed there for ten days. During my stay, my gurubhai (brother and sister disciples) asked me this:
“How did your conceptualization of God shift from the way it was before you started practicing Yoga? What caused that shift?”
To begin with, what do you consider God to be?
The most important person living in the celestial realms? The omnipotent being? Someone who metes out judgment if we commit evil deeds? The creator who created all things that exist? Or perhaps, God does not exist because it’s a concept that has been imagined by humans?
When I first began practicing Yoga, my conceptualizations were like the things mentioned above. I felt that asking, “What is God?” to begin with, was too vague, contrived, and meaningless.
I thought, “There is no way that anyone can prove it, is there?”
The holy and awakened beings that appeared in the various scriptures recommended by my senior disciples were like the characters in fables, far removed from everyday reality. I also felt a bit suspicious of these characters. I’m sure they were very stoic people, but these stories are from so long ago, and there is no record of concrete evidence proving them to be true. I felt that since these are stories from India, where anything can be accepted and things can be chaotic, perhaps I should only listen to them as if not even half of it were true. On the other hand, all the saints and awakened beings in these stories had very charming personalities, and their stories were full of dramatic episodes that filled me with wonder. So it is true that many of the stories would dwell in my memory, and they kept me engaged and curious. Ever since I was a child, I loved TV shows about UFOs, ancient cultures, super-natural phenomena, spiritual stories, astronomy, and the natural sciences. However, when the topic was about God or religion, I had an allergic-like reaction to them. Why was that?
“If there is a God, then why do evil deeds go unpunished, and conversely, why do innocents suffer and become victims, while God forsakes them? How do you explain the conflicts between the various religions? Whose God is correct? Answer me!”—my attitude back then went something like that. I also thought, “God was a concept that was created to be this presence who conceived the moral standards we ought to live by so that individuals would not go astray in society, and he keeps watch over whether or not we observe them from up above in the sky. Heaven and hell were mere concepts that were created for that purpose too.” Because of those ideas, at that time, I often made fun of and turned up my nose at the type of so-called “adherents” who worshipped a particular religion and tried to proselytize, or attend strange ceremonies and gatherings, pouring enormous amounts of money into them.
On the other hand, when I began learning Yoga, I began to feel a comfortable, tranquil feeling after practicing asana and meditation. I had no idea what it was, but I wanted to remain in that clear, refreshing state of mind, and I recognized it as my own actual experience, that when I saw the world with such a mind, everything was peaceful and beautiful, and I was able to be kinder.
Yes, I recognized that the old me was not scientific. I was allergic to the word “God” because I was only basing my judgment on feelings and sensations, as well as long-ingrained preconceived notions about God; therefore I could not strictly distinguish each of the characteristics that the concept of God entailed.
If being scientific means “whatever cannot be proven, does not exist,” then scientists are trying hard to prove the absence of God, even to this day. On the cutting-edge of quantum physics, the reason scientists are trying to solve the mystery of what is considered to be the realm of God is that, in a way, they are seriously trying to prove the absence of God. It is a very fair proposition. In light of that fact, I should have initially taken the attitude that, “I do not know whether God exists. I can neither prove its existence, nor can I prove its absence.” I have heard that such a stance is called “agnosticism” rather than atheism. Yoga teaches that the law of the world, the Truth, the true Self beyond the physical body, the Consciousness that is omnipresent in the universe, and so on, are synonymous with the word “God.” That helped to open my eyes wide and to alleviate my allergy to God. The phrase that has been etched into my mind ever since I first heard it is, “Brahman and the Self are One.” It is a teaching that indicates that the power, or absolute consciousness that created this universe and sustains it, and the true Self, which is beyond the body and mind, are the same. How amazing is that! Is there anything else that is a more perfect state than that? My true Self is a part of God, and at the same time, the whole of God. I finally found out that God is neither high up in the heavens nor anywhere else—God is really inside!!! If Yoga is the work of getting closer to this state, then how practical and scientific Yoga is! There is no escaping or cheating; it means experimenting in the most impartial and unmistakable experiment, that which utilizes yourself.
In MYM there are several practitioners who are considered to be bhakta (lovers of God). They see God, as if they were seeing a cat in front of them—indubitably and as a matter of fact. It seems that they instantly jump across that gap as if it were nothing, whereas I have been struggling to get across that gap because of my doubt and the tribulations I create.
From their perspective, they intensely yearn for God as a very real existence, one that is visible, tangible and audible. Just as the saints and awakened beings in the scriptures saw It, the indubitable, real existence appears before them, close enough for them to touch, with real tangibility. I almost felt jealous of that, and developed an intense aspiration to become like them and experience that. “What do I need to do so that I can think of God?” “What do I need to do so that I can fall in love with God?” Every time, the Master answered, “If you continue to learn Yoga, a God for which you have an affinity will naturally appear.” “In bhakti, there are no disciplines that are difficult in the practice. It is to simply and purely love God more and more and to simply think of God.” And when I lamented that I was not able to feel anything for God at all, he prophesized this, “Right now, you may not be…but next year, you never know!”
After that, I summoned all of my energy and determined that I would copy the bhakta of the MYM, and that I would try to push myself all the way to the point of the emotional edge. So I meditated by heightening my emotions through reading again and again the favorite passages that I had bookmarked in the scriptures. Of course, emotions are not so easily heightened. So I kept telling myself, “What is getting in the way? Seeking God is a faster shortcut than doubting the existence of God!” I calmed my mind down, discriminated, and then raised the feeling toward God again and continued repeating the name of God—I repeated these steps interchangeably. Through practicing this way, eventually the “faking it” began to shift naturally into “making it.” I finally was able to feel a response—possibly a tangible presence. Just like other types of yoga, bhakti also depended solely on actual practice. Although one’s innate abilities play a big part, if one can find that one catalyst to begin to fall in love with God, then anyone can do it.
The other day, the Master mentioned in satsangha, “When it comes to the three yoga—bhakti yoga, karma yoga, and jnana yoga—although it is not very often the case, there are people who can go right into these states because of their inborn tendencies. However, most people go through the process of controlling the breath and prana with asana, and in this way, the purity of mind required to progress in the three yoga, is cultivated.
In the process of bhakti, the object of bhakti is the existence of God. The mind’s activities, which are the obstacles to seeing God, are removed to bring about a clear state of mind by stopping them through the asana and pranayama (the methods of breath control) of raja yoga, and thus we are able to face the object itself: God.
First of all, it ought to be a prerequisite to discriminate…for example, observe and ask yourself, when does the mind move? Is it when we feel happiness, enjoyment, or sadness? Or, what is the reason for our minds not being able to be moved? Why should I feel disgraceful about that? Why should I feel so ashamed about being that way? Why can’t God let me see his appearance and form? Yearn like a baby, entreating God to show even the slightest revelation or sign. At first, I meditated upon the form of Ramakrishna or Shiva. In my case, when I imagined the time I have remaining in my life and what I can do in that remaining time, and once I was clear through discrimination about what I wanted to know, then most things became unimportant, and my concentration shifted towards God.
The gist of the answers to the question of the gurubhai in NY was the following, though the words might not have been exactly the same since they may have been simplified.
I suppose that the image of God that one has as being that which will bring benefit to them in this lifetime, will fade away in the fairly early stages of learning Yoga. I am amazed by the fact that the “It” that the scientists are frantically searching for externally, has always been sought internally by the yogi. I was shocked by the words, “Brahman and the Self are One.” Since I can no longer find reality in everything that is in my mind, my only wish now is to realize God and go beyond reincarnation. So, to me, it follows that God is no longer about existence or non-existence, but there is only That. Rather, it feels to me that in the world there is only God.
Nowadays, not only during meditation, but when I’m driving, or when I see a strange shaped cloud in the sky, or when I find a beautiful flower, my heart goes mad thinking about Shri Mahayogi. At that very moment I begin singing Hare Krishna in kirtan, or when I read a powerful passage by Vivekananda, or when, of course, receiving darshan (the divine gaze) from the Master, or looking at the Master’s smile from afar, I am immersed in an incomparable sea of bliss. Far away from logic and reason, waves of joy and gratitude wash over me again and again. I wish I could stay in this state, 24 hours a day, 375 days a year…
However, I also try to validate this to make sure that this is not just some self-made sense of joy born out of a mistaken ego. It cannot just be a personal fantasy. I admit that I still worry whether my meditation will get stuck and not go beyond this point because of that.
In the path of bhakti, as long as the object of bhakti is correct, it is fine to fully surrender and rely upon it. Not only that, but because in bhakti the mind’s activities are utilized to the fullest, bhakti is easier than other paths; therefore it is recommended for many people. For us, fortunately, we have the highest object, One that has realized the Truth. By thinking only of God, we can put anxiety, suffering, and fear farther to the side, because we can think, “Even if I don’t have anything, it makes no difference.” It is difficult to selflessly serve while “me and mine” remain, but it is said that all the actions of the person who sees only God are naturally performed in such a way. It is difficult to go beyond the mind just by practicing asana and discrimination. That is why we apply the practice of bhakti. So practice bhakti every day.
1 Previous articles:
What is Yoga? Part 1
2 Mr. Shimada is a devoted disciple of Shri Mahayogi in Japan who has practiced with MYM since 2010. He is a single father to a teenage son and works a full-time job.