This is the 1st of 5 talks given at a retreat where we look quite deeply at the most essential and foundational practices for a spiritual life.
These are longer than usual talks, and include some Q&A segments where we address some wide-ranging topics in some detail.
So before speaking I offer my respects to my spiritual teachers, to our lineage, and to the Supreme Soul.
aum ajnana timirandhasya jnananjana salakaya
caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri gurave namah
bhaja sri krishna caitanya prabhu nityananda
sri advaita gadadhara srivasadi gaura bhakta vrnda
he krishna karuna sindho dina bandho jagat pate
gopesa gopika kanta radha kanta namo ‘stu te
aum namo bhagavate vasudevaya
So the talks are going to be about A Spiritual Life 101. Before starting I just want to say that anything that I say is not my opinion. That one you have to figure out really fast in your spiritual journey.
One of my spiritual teachers used to say, “If you begin a sentence with ‘I think,’ he said you should go and sit in the closet and close the door,” because the journey, the spiritual journey, requires a good deal of humility, and we need to embrace the reality that we actually may not be self-realized or spiritually enlightened. And if I am not spiritually enlightened or self-realized the only other option is, to some degree, I’m in ignorance. Therefore what I espouse, I think, may be coming from a place of ignorance—ignorance meaning not of knowledge.
And of course, that’s really difficult now in this time. Everybody is so encouraged to speak their mind and have their own truth, and it’s just like, you can’t imagine how that thinking is so counterproductive to self-realization. It’s like incredibly counterproductive. And the main reason it’s so counterproductive is we don’t understand and appreciate our own thoughts and our own conditioning. We are seeing the world, and we are seeing things through a certain lens, and we probably cannot even ascertain what it is, what that is—we can’t ascertain.
We live in a time where, over the last hundred years, beginning from my old mate Eddie Bernays, who was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, and his utilization of psychology to change people’s thinking and value systems for the purpose of selling them products and services, and how that whole system has become so incredibly fine-tuned and perfected to the point we are not even aware how we are being affected and to what degree. I think that the thoughts in my head are mine. I don’t even have any idea who put them there, where they come from, where are their roots. I hear an idea that I like, that appeals to me—and when I say “me” I’m actually referring to, not the true spiritual being within, but the mind and what was called the ahankara, the false ego, which is massively clouding the picture for us.
So spiritual life, it means the need for humility, but it also means the seeking out of an actual source of true knowledge, and then incrementally and thoughtfully considering that—whether I like it or not! And when I say, “I like it,” or, “I don’t like it,” I’m not talking about the spiritual being, I’m talking about the conditioned mind, with all these conditioned ideas and concepts that have been placed there by other people.
So, it’s always incredibly challenging to share spiritual truth, because you can be trying to speak to ten people, and each person will hear what you’re saying slightly differently or even completely differently, and there may be different types of emotional or mental responses to what’s being said, which then further filters and distorts, and so people can’t really hear with intense clarity. And part of that yoga process was to try and clear away the fog and the garbage and come to this point of clarity, so you can actually hear what’s being said, and you can critically take it on board and begin to contemplate and consider, and then begin to make the adjustments to your life and engage in the things that will actually bring about this massive clarity, the experience of self-realization.
So this is—normally we don’t start this way (or do we? I don’t feel like we start this way) but I am, because so many familiar faces, people I’ve been seeing for so long. And of course, I always feel deeply touched and so happy to see familiar faces, because it means people are still on the pathway, and they’re still looking, and they’re engaging, and so that’s, for me, that’s inspiring. And so the subject of, “What is a spiritual life?” we can deal with it on so many different levels, like on the real simple, inviting level that’s sort of like everybody can embrace. But I’m kind of gonna hit it on a little bit deeper level out of respect for you guys, because I think most people actually want to hear something a little bit more direct and a bit deeper. Have I assessed that correctly or am I wrong? Anybody got any objections, or you were good with that? Okay. Thank you very much.
So I’m going to tell you—and as I said, I’m just the instrument. It’s my mouth moving, and I’m saying things, but this is not my stuff. I’m acting as a conduit for incredibly ancient truth. I mean I’m actually really a little bit irritated how the yoga scene has become so flaky, but I usually don’t say that, and please don’t quote me on that one, because we’re always trying to sort of encourage people to explore a little bit more and go a little bit deeper, and so we sometimes just start off in real simple ways. But with that comes a lot of actually what would be categorized as ignorant ideas. Ignorant means they are not connected to real knowledge, real spiritual knowledge.
And so for instance you’ll hear a lot of people talking about yoga (and sometimes we talk this way a little bit, but it’s not kind of like the goal or the focus), that yoga is the harmonizing of body, mind and spirit, or body, mind and soul. And actually, on the hardcore level, no, it’s not! Your body and mind and the associated consciousness (this is called cita), the associated material consciousness, is actually considered the enemy of the soul, in that it keeps you in perpetual bondage and unhappiness. And one needs to seek to step beyond that, and that what really constitutes spiritual life—
Does anybody have a severely allergic reaction to what I’ve been saying, or we’re okay? We’ll give it a few minutes, and okay, we’ll listen for a bit, and see if—(laughs)
One of the difficulties is that we’re actually asked to be sceptical. We are asked—not in a challenging way. One needs to be very, you need to be very protective of your heart. When you surrender your heart to someone who is not able to take care of it, you get hurt, like really bad. You get betrayed. And it happens in relationships, it happens in the spiritual journey, in so many places. It happens all over the place. And so the need to be protective of what is very precious is important.
And to learn how to question is also really important. Mostly we’re not even trained how to question. If something sort of offends my ego, or it offends my mind or a value system I may have adopted, then I feel like I’m being attacked. It’s not like—I don’t separate it and go, “Oh, those ideas are not acceptable to this person. They’ve got something else going on. Let me analyze that.” When somebody says something that hurts my ego, and immediately it’s like you’re ready to fight.
I spent many years in the Philippines, and one of the favourite pastimes of, particularly men there, is what they call cock fighting, roosters, fighting roosters. And it’s just like these guys are like (I’m talking about the roosters) they are like, my Gods, you want to see massive egos on display! All you got to do is bring one into the proximity of the other, and immediately the neck feathers go up, and they’re all [mimes aggressiveness], and they want to fight. It’s not like people are forcing them to fight, they want to fight, and they want to fight to the death.
And it’s kind of like, whoa! Just because you saw something that you didn’t like, it’s kind of like—So that mentality also exists. It’s not unique to roosters. It exists within all living beings to different degrees.
So there’s something—you’ll find after you listen enough, that “Oh my God, this guy’s like a broken record. He keeps saying the same things over and over.” And it’s fundamentally true. We approach things from different angles, we approach them from different places, but if you analyze it, it all comes down to a fundamental reality that is being promoted.
And this first is, that the body that you have on and the mind that you are using is not you. It’s actually not you. You are the occupant. You are an eternal spiritual being, and you have lost the plot, like we all have, and become overly invested in this illusion and completely wrong idea that the body is who I am. And so I become absorbed in this material identity and this is considered the foundation of all, not some or most, all suffering. All suffering is founded on this ignorance.
But you can’t just go like, “Okay, yeah, let me think about it,” or, “Let me try some of the little meditation techniques we do” like Silent Witness meditation and everything. You can go through on this little journey, and go, “Wow! I really sort of began to feel how I was the person deep inside,” but as soon as you come out of it this other consciousness that has pervaded your life for lifetimes (it’s not just this one time, this is lifetimes of conditioning), you’re immediately pulled into an influence, and you’re going like, “Yeah, I understand that I’m an eternal spiritual being,” but in my everyday life I am constantly pulled back into that erroneous idea.
And so the growth from being completely oblivious to your eternal spiritual identity, to actually now having a full, not just an understanding, but to experience the reality of who you are as an eternal spiritual being, this is just like the most amazing journey, the most incredible thing. There is nothing that will be more rewarding in your life than this journey.
So when we speak of A Spiritual Life 101, this is like really, really foundational. And even as I’m talking about it, even—and you hear it, and different people will accept it and appreciate it or not, in different ways, but how you’re appreciating it now, and how you’re appreciating it in a year, or 10 years, might be vastly different. It might become more profound, more intense, more wonderful. And that’s because we need to go through a process where we gradually dissipate the fog and the illusion that we are actually totally locked into.
The second thing, and I’m only going to talk about these two things—
Can I just say that this first thing, that I’m an eternal spiritual being, it has three components to it: discovering my actual essence, discovering where I fit in relation to this world and all other beings, and if there is any higher spiritual being or reality or truth where I fit in relation to that. We call this position. So, essence, position, and then the third one is function. What is—if the material body is removed, and the gross and subtle mind, and the ego, and all this kind of stuff, in the pure state of the living being, the atma (this Sanskrit word atma is wonderful because it actually means the self), in its pure state, what is the natural expression or activity of the soul itself? This is called our function. And so the journey of self-realization is a journey to really understand, and to not just understand like mentally, but actually to have realization and to experience the reality of my essence, position and function.
The other thing that we share (and our sharing of things, and when I say our I’m talking about this organization that I support of some really lovely people, Meditation New Zealand) the other thing that is presented, and quite often only in very small doses, is this reality: You have a source. You have a source; and you are meant to be connected and to feel connection with this source. Your desire for love arises from the soul itself, and this desire to be reconnected with the actual Lord of my heart, this is the highest spiritual relationship and experience of ecstatic love.
And as it begins to awaken it automatically overflows to all of your spiritual brothers and sisters, to all living beings. It doesn’t work the other way around. You can try to love individuals, but that doesn’t grant you this awakening of this relationship with your spiritual source, this connection with the Supreme Soul.
And so this is the totality of our message, our public-facing message, and people can take it on board in different ways.
But the idea of, “Yoga is the harmony of the body, mind and soul, or the oneness of the body, mind, soul”, that’s about as wrong as you can be. Sorry! I know! And if you feel, if you’re having this, like “Who’s that guy think he is?” then do understand that that thought and idea comes from somewhere, and it’s an indication of a certain idea that you’ve adopted and accepted uncritically, uncritically. And what we’re trying to do is stimulate people to critically consider the ideas that we may have taken on board.
You are not asked to believe. This is not a belief system. You are asked to actually—you need to turn your body and mind into a laboratory. This is a place of experimentation, of testing, of endeavouring to try to see with clarity whether something is actually true or not. And when you have the experience that, “Yeah! I had no idea. Wow, this is amazing!” as that experience happens, it leads me to go, “Well maybe I need to be a little bit more committed to digging deeper, to really taking this journey.”
Was that too savage or what? Huh? It’s pretty much beat up time, but it’s done in a respectful way. Respect doesn’t—I respect you as individuals, but I may not respect every conclusion that you’ve come to, or idea, particularly when it’s counter to an amazing spiritual truth that has been shown to me and shared with me. And so don’t take offense if we run into those sort of issues.
So I was going to read a few verses from the Yoga Sutra. Have you heard of the Yoga Sutra? There was a great authority on the Astanga Yoga system—and can I just say that he is not the sole authority, the original authority, or the greatest authority; that different Vedic literature texts present amazing insights and knowledge about the practice of the system, but Patanjali is fundamentally accepted as kind of like the father of the yoga system, meaning the Astanga Yoga system.
The performance of asana has never been considered yoga. Sorry! But it’s okay, don’t worry you, don’t have to change anything. I’m just letting you know that there was yoga was practiced—there was an eight-fold—asta means eight, anga means limbs, so astanga. Astanga means the eight limbs of yoga.
And they began with the embracing of a certain lifestyle and a value system that was embraced, and used to direct my decisions and life, how I was going to live, how I was going to interact with others in the world. I took on this guidance because it sets you up for the highest degree of possible success. If you are constantly behaving in a way that produces a deeper entanglement in the idea of the body as the self, you’re not heading in the right direction. You’re engaging in something that perpetuates your unhappiness and suffering. And so the embrace, yama and niyama.
And then there was asana, for the purpose of building a—actually, it means to be able to sit comfortably, that is literal meaning of the word. So they were going to engage deeply in meditation, and the capacity to have a healthy body and not be distracted by illness, and to be able to sit for long periods of time in meditation was considered really critical to the system. I’ll just say, and we’ll talk more about it later, we don’t need to worry about that one very much. We got something else going on that that makes life a lot easier.
It’s called kirtan. And what’s amazing is the cultivation actually of the process of bhakti. It describes, it actually dissolves the subtle covering of the soul (the mind, the intelligence, the false ego), dissolves it so that one comes to the state of full self-realization without any other endeavour. Without any separate endeavour, this can produce this result.
So anyway they prepared with asana.
Pranayama was principally for the stilling of the mind, because the mind, in all the different systems of yoga, was considered to be potentially one’s greatest friend or one’s greatest enemy. And the idea that my mind, in truth, can be my greatest enemy is kind of mind-boggling. And I’m not just talking about somebody suffering from severe depression or schizophrenia or going through those kinds of experiences. Our mind can totally lead us into the darkness of ignorance, where you just guarantee endless and repeated journey on the cycle of birth and death, through all kinds of different species and all kinds of—actually when you look at it objectively, it’s hellish.
Sometimes people look at birds, and go, “Oh, they’re so free. They’re so cool. I wish I was a bird. Bbbrrrrrrrrrrrr” [Miming flying. Laughter] Those little guys are nervous wrecks. They’re in constant [Mimes looking rapidly from side to side in great anxiety] And it’s just like, well, you’d probably be like that if, when you sat down for lunch or dinner, somebody rushed into your house and grabbed you, or a family member and dragged them out and ate them in front of you. And if that happened a few times you’d be in that same state too. Just was like, [mimes looking all around] “Oh no, who’s after me?” They live a very fearful existence. They’re not mellowed out and all just peaceful, just doing that bird thing. No, that’s a false concept that we place on them, just because we think if we were floating high in the sky that somehow we’d be so free. Not true.
Not getting into what I was gonna[Laughs]—I’m sorry. The problem is, the big challenge is that there is so many things to share, and there is actually so many things to consider.
So, beginning from this work of Patanjali with the Yoga Sutra—and can I just say I am mortified by the number of not very good translations of his work, where people are promoting all types of even materialistic ideas as being what he stated. And I know, not just from my ability to read Sanskrit, but because of the journey I’ve been on for over 55 years or 60 years that— and because, primarily, of my very intimate connection with actual saints, self-realized transcendentalists, it gives you insights into what is being described.
So his verses in Sanskrit—the form of what is called sutra, it means everything has been pared back. It’s not even like complete sentences. It’s like little statements. It’s a particular form of Sanskrit verse that’s incredibly pithy and incredibly concise. And, so because it’s written that way it is open for people to misunderstand and misinterpret, not being trained in how to actually read sutra.
So I mean, his second verse only has four words in it. And I’ll read the translation, and you see there’s a hell of a lot more than four words.
“When the endless mental fluctuations…”
I mean, okay, what are they talking about, endless mental fluctuations? And of course, they’re speaking to this idea that—we actually don’t have a relationship with our mind. We think whatever’s going on in the mind is us. We embrace it as if it is us. Whereas in the yoga system you were really encouraged to step back from the mind, and not just respond and act out on everything that goes on there. This is a bad, bad, bad idea. This leads to enormous unhappiness.
I was speaking with someone new I met last night about our prison program. And it kind of just, when we do mindfulness and meditation classes with killers, and murderers, and rapists, and sex offenders, child abusers, and just drug dealers, I mean all these heavy people who have come through, often a lifetime, they were born into a family that was so utterly dysfunctional that they just slipped into this way of living and dealing and doing stuff. So, to give them an example I—one of the main things that I try to get them to embrace: every time you feel any emotion, even that which is considered positive, a rise in emotions: don’t speak, don’t act, don’t make a decision. You need to step away and calm the (you know that f-word), down.
And when you’re on a really even keel and not emotionally responding, think, “How should I react to this? What’s actually in my best interest? What’s going to produce the best outcome? —the best outcome that can be produced from this situation, which may be far from perfect.” And after figuring that out: what’s in my best interest and this person’s best interest? and then you come back, and you re-engage, and you try to keep focused and be guided by this conclusion that you came to.
Any time that you instantly react to emotion, and particularly, you know the example I use with them a lot is anger—anger is the most unproductive crappy thing. It takes over, and it’s like instant. You can go from zero to one thousand in a millisecond. Somebody says something, does something, and immediately [mimes blowing up], and then we—almost everything that you will say in an angry mood will not only not make your life better, it will make it worse. It will contribute to more breakdown of relationship, more difficulty, more suffering. And yet we don’t learn from it. It’s kind of like we’re just habituated to going with it and just being pulled along and running our mouth off, as they say in America, and just behaving in a way that cannot produce any good for us, any peacefulness.
There are times that anger can be applied, but it is rare, and it needs to be very controlled; and let’s not focus on that, because it’s rare. Let’s look at the common thing.
And so in the yoga system they talk about how the mind is just like constantly on a rampage. All you’ve got to do is go to a Vipassana retreat, or yourself try to spend two days without saying anything. And don’t have your phone with you. Don’t watch TV. If you want to walk, go walk. But spend two days trying not to talk and not to engage with things that are just over stimulating of the mind, and watch what happens. It’s mind-blowing what you go through.
You realize—all you have to do, like even just sit peacefully and quietly and calm the mind, and as soon as you try to do it, like this japa meditation practice—my Gods, after you’ve chanted a couple of mantras on the beads, all of a sudden your mind is just like Wwwwooowh! It’s off in so many different directions. And you’re going like, “Oh my God,” and you try to bring it back. And the more you try to concentrate, initially, the experience is, the harder it gets, the more wild it gets. And in those moments we are having a little bit of insight into how turbulent the mind is, and how much control it exercises over our life and our decisions and things. And it’s uncontrolled. It’s not—
And so the practice of mindfulness is actually a practice of beginning to bring the mind under control, and to consciously act, to make decisions, with relationships, in relation to this world, the focus of my life, to do things that are actually really important and are going to be really good and helpful and beneficial for me.
Ohh! That was just like a brief commentary on two words, “mental fluctuations,” and we’re not even scratching the surface this. This is the challenge This is the challenge.
“When the endless—”
That’s already scary: “endless.”
“When the endless mental fluctuations and modifications [and in Sanskrit this is called vritti] which characterize material consciousness, when they are arrested [means they are completely subdued] that is yoga.”
This is his definition of yoga, and he is probably considered the greatest authority on this, but this is supported throughout the Vedas with even greater authorities.
When all of these mental modifications and fluctuations are stilled, when they are arrested, this is called yoga.
So what did we learn? I mean, oh my God, I didn’t get very far. I feel so crappy. It’s kind of like there’s so much to—I’ll read the next verse, at least the English.
“Upon achieving the condition of yoga, [further defined as] samadhi, the seer [meaning the individual person, the spiritual being within] the seer abides in their own spiritual form and nature.”
And that’s already just like pwoow! I mean these guys were into really—they were into serious exploration.
What do we mean by the seer? They have this word drysa, or drsta. It means the seer. I mean, you ask somebody, “What is a seer?” “Well, isn’t that somebody with eyes?” Well actually, you don’t see with your eyes. The eyes are just like little doorways where visual image, which is just reflected light, enters these two gelatinous globs called eyeballs, and they hit these photoelectric cells at the back of the eyeball, and sets off an electrical impulse that travels down the optic nerve to the visual cortex of the brain. And then that just fires off all of these electrical impulses and signals. And when we think, “Okay,”—We know that this is true. Medical science tells us this is true. “Okay, so where the hell is the picture? And who’s looking at the picture?”
Is this far out or not? It’s—or is it kind of scary? It’s kind of scary, because we just walk around oblivious of this reality, and live in this world that all these pictures are the reality, and I’m seeing it. Yeah, but who exactly are you? How are you seeing it? “With my eyes.” No, you’re not. The eyes are not seeing it. They’re just doorways for light to enter. Who’s actually seeing the picture? And where is it?
The guys that were doing the yoga system, these guys were like far out. They all had the Einstein look. You know Albert Einstein? He was [mimes looking out an amazing universe]. It’s like, shiiit! And he’s just getting a bit of a grip on the universe and some of the laws governing it. These guys were way beyond that. So it was kind of like, whoa! And they lived in that consciousness.
So, okay, that’s as far as we’re going now. Is this okay or what?
Audience: You were saying earlier, I think, you were saying that yoga has nothing to do with harmony between body, mind and soul.
Audience: What did you mean by yoga? …(words missing) that concept of physical yoga?
Audience: Because what …(words missing) claimed to be exactly that…(words missing) body mind and soul.
Acd: So, just so you know, this is only the first little part of the talk. There’s going to be more. I can’t do everything at once.
There is going to be some harmony, but that harmony is not that these three things are equal in the paradigm. The harmony comes when I actually take charge of my physical body and my mental body, and I direct it spiritually, and my body and mind becomes now an extension of the soul, or the atma, and this is really what a spiritual life is. And in that sense, there is great harmony, but not the way almost everyone thinks of it, where these three things are kind of equal, and they all have their space to influence and be of influence. No, you need to be the one driving the bus. The bus shouldn’t be driving you.
That’s about as far as I’ll go on that one for now, if that’s okay. We’ll deal more with it tomorrow, and maybe—I can sort of see the wheels spinning here (which is actually really cool), and when we do the Q&A (at 4:30, I think it is) if you want to raise questions related to that, and maybe some of this will overflow into that. Or if you want to deal with other things then please do feel free. All good?
Thank you so much.
And, so I started speaking a little bit strongly, and I probably will continue to do that. And my intention of course, is not to offend anyone. I don’t see, in any way, myself as being in a higher position. I am simply trying to pass on great transcendental gems that have been shared with me, even if I may be very imperfect in doing that. So if you don’t like the way I said something, forgive me, and don’t let that get in the way of exploring what was said. Yeah? Sound like a good deal?
Thank you so much. Let’s chant a little.
So, we did a retreat up at (where was that?) Matakana, and somebody, one of the people that had come along had sort of gone like, “Well, are you guys Hare Krishnas?” You might notice, and me, I have a massive, massive attraction to utilizing that mantra above almost all other mantras that I chant. And the answer is fundamentally, no, we’re not what’s often categorized Hare Krishna’s. But the use of this mantra is—because it’s only recently been popularized in the West, recently meaning in the last 50 or something years, which on the eternal time scale is not very long, but this has been utilized by limitless numbers of transcendentalists since time immemorial. And so it’s very, it’s incredibly powerful. It’s promoted in one of the Upanisads as being the greatest and most powerful of mantras.
Later I will—somebody had a question for me, and I’ll begin hopefully, and asked him to remind me. He asked me about Hari bol, and I’ll just clarify, maybe you can let me know later. Are you speaking about the sound and the mantra? Are you talking about the group of people that are doing it? Just let me know so I can talk about both of those things.