Baba Lokenath Meditation

baba lokenath cropped

A biography of the realized sage, Sri Baba Lokenath (1730-1890), has just been published in English.  This book, the first of its kind, is written by Baba’s disciple, Shuddhaanandaa Brahmachari, who established a Baba Lokenath temple at his personal ashram in the Himalayas and spent many years meditating on Baba and collecting historical research.  Baba Lokenath is known for severe austerities, for his travels with Trailinga Swami, and for his many miracles.  For beginning seekers, the stories of extreme asceticism can be intimidating, but Shudhaanandaa does a good job of including meditations that anyone can practice at the end of each chapter.  Here is one meditation from the book:

Sitting comfortably erect for meditation, offer all that you are into the rising and falling of the light within the breath.  When you are deeply relaxed, see yourself before you were born, as a spark of diamond-white light in the Divine Heart.  Feel the pure, sweet, nurturing energies of the Divine all around you, like a womb.  Feel the pure essence of the Divine as your own essence.  This is home, where you come from, who you are beyond form.  Allow the golden-white, Divine Light to flow through you now, informing and forming your life today in ways that are beyond your understanding.  Wrapped in the Light that is your true home, know that you are safe, that you can always return to this Light, because it is who you are.  Everything else will one day disappear.  Only this Light will be left.  Whenever you are beset with difficulty, remember this simple, brilliant spark of Light that you are.  Offer your troubles into it.  Let the Light burn them away until they disappear into the Light (from the end of chapter two). 

I was struck by the feminine image of the womb in this meditation and also by the practical aspect of releasing problems into the Light.  If any distractions or worries remain after the opening part of the meditation, one has an opportunity to deal with these at the end.  This could be a good accompaniment to pranayama, for those who wonder what to do mentally when completing the breath work.  Through this exercise, we can all get a small taste of the life of this amazing ascetic.

A brief review and excerpt of The Incredible Life of a Himalayan Yogi: The Times, Teaching, and Life of Living Shiva, Baba Lokenath Brahmachari, by Shuddhaanandaa Brahmachari, edited by Ann Shannon.  Kolkata: Lokenath Divine Life Mission, 2014.  The Amazon Kindle edition was used for this post.

Gita Wisdom: Chapter Thirteen Commentary

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita


prakṛtiṁ puruṣaṁ caiva viddhy anādī ubhāv api

vikārāṁśca gunāṁś caiva viddhi prakṛtisaṁbhavān

kārya karana kartṛtve hetuḥ prkṛtir ucyate

puruṣaḥ sukhaduḥkhānāṁ bhoktṛtve hetur ucyate

Know that both the material Nature and the Spiritual Being are beginningless.  All manifestations and three dispositions of mind and matter, called modes or Gunas, are born of material Nature.  Material Nature is said to be the cause of production of the physical body and organs of perception and action.  Spirit (or Consciousness) in the individual soul is said to be the cause of experiencing pleasure and pain.  Trans. Prasad (13.19-20)

The soul does not do anything at all in any traditional sense of the word.  It comes into contact with the body, but not in any causal way.  For this reason, it remains unaffected by anything that occurs in the field of interactions with the world (prakriti).  Matter, the soul, and Brahman remain and continue despite the many alterations that may occur.  On the surface things may seem to change, but beneath the surface, the beginning-less condition remains in place.  Identification with any passing modification stems from ignorance of this underlying reality and causes suffering, while knowledge of the basic condition leads to liberation.

Engaging in what we might call, from a human point of view, good or bad actions, righteous or sinful actions, does not actually touch the soul or pollute the soul, which is eternal.  Nothing any person can do can ever affect this basic reality: the soul has always been and always will be. We can change what happens in the material field, but it will affect only the material field, which is impermanent from moment to moment and yet also without beginning.  In a real sense, there is nothing to be done in order to achieve liberation.  No austerity or renunciation changes the soul’s basic nature, or what is called the Atman-Brahman relationship.  We may debate about the various philosophies of this relationship, but it is clear that tapping into this ultimate reality, understanding ultimate reality, is what leads to release.

The good practices, sadhana and seva, are necessary insofar as they lead to this ultimate knowledge.  We must learn to detach from the thoughts that arise in the mind, seeing these fluctuations as part of what occurs in the material field.  “Mind” and “soul” are not to be equated.  We must seek that hidden refuge which remains unaffected by sadness, craving, pain, etc., and learn to dwell ever more in that quiet center.  It is only then that the turbulence will begin to subside.  The world will no longer annoy the yogi who remains unperturbed by it, who remains in the citadel of the Atman or the soul.  We imitate the enjoyer (purusha) and gradually identify with that divine enjoyer.  We observe until we become one with the Observer.

Only by stepping out of that citadel and into the reactive portion of the mind does suffering or afflictive emotion resume.  All of the practices are designed to facilitate the process of dis-identification with the reactive part of the mind and increase the contact with the silent center.  The mantras are divine weapons designed to kill the demons, that is, to purify the mind of its obsession with its lesser nature and get it to turn towards the divine.  This process can be very difficult, but many saints and sages have trodden the path ahead of us, and they leave clues as to how to get there.  Swamiji says that we must insert a pause between the event that might be bothersome and the response that we give to it.  By inserting this pause, we take time to remember who we really are and the journey in which we are engaged.  That way, we can respond in the most efficient way possible, creating as little disturbance in the field as possible.

If you are trying to see through the water in a pond, it would not be productive to stir up the mud on the bottom with a stick.  But if the mud has already been disturbed, you must quietly wait for it to settle.  Then you can see clearly what lies at the bottom of the pond.  The skillful yogi, the efficient or proficient one, creates little disturbance and so begins to see clearly.  This might not happen as fast as we might wish, but then impatience is just another disturbance to be released.  If we really want to get the job done quickly, we have to use the skillful means taught by Shri Krishna and by our gurus.  We must pause to remember who we are and where we are going.  Of course, we aren’t really going anywhere or changing into anything, but the path metaphor can be helpful.

To use another metaphor, suppose you are trying to make your way through a dark house.  You keep bumping into things and can hurt yourself if you are not careful.  If you panic, you only make the situation worse.  But if you pause and wait for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, you begin to see the faintest outlines of things as your pupils dilate to let in more light.  In the same way, the reactive mind stumbles as it encounters the world.  It thinks that it sees things clearly, but it does not.  Every decision, every thought is always tainted by a skewed, selfish view of the world.  If the reactive mind can be slowed, if some space can be inserted into its frantic activity, the whole tenor of its operations becomes more sattvic.  That is what we hope to do with meditation, japa, seva, and all of the dharmic practices.

I once heard someone say, “I have been meditating for twenty years, for an hour a day, and nothing is happening.  I am tempted to give up the practice.”  It is difficult to say with certainty what, if anything, was going wrong in this case.  It may be that the guru-disciple relationship needed to be strengthened.  It may be that the particular form of meditation was not suited to this person’s disposition.  It may be that this person had a lot of karma to be overcome.  What should be noticed above all is that we don’t know what this person would have been like without meditation.  The person that I mention was a college professor, a classical musician on the side, and a very sensitive and caring person.  I dare say that the meditation was working!  Of course, we can’t see the meditation working, but it’s not really up to us to judge the efficacy.

Gita Wisdom: Chapter Twelve Commentary

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

śreyo hī jñānam abhyāsāj jñānād dhyānaṁ viśiṣyate

dhyānāt karmaphala tyāgas tyāgāc chantir anantaram

The transcendental knowledge of scriptures is better than mere ritualistic practice; meditation is better than scriptural knowledge; renunciation of selfish attachment to the fruits of work (Karma Yoga) is better than meditation because peace immediately follows renunciation of selfish motives. 12.12 Trans. Prasad

This chapter outlines four different paths to approaching God (in ascending order): ritualistic practice, knowledge of scriptures, meditation, and renunciation of the fruits of action.  First of all, we should notice that none of these practices are at all condemned by Shri Krishna, as all of them are effective paths to liberation.  Each person should take the path that suits his or her past karma and present disposition.  It should also be noticed that these paths are not mutually exclusive.  One may meditate while performing ritualistic actions: indeed, the original purpose of puja and homa is to guide the worshipper into meditation.    Also, one may undertake such activities for unselfish purposes, as when one conducts sadhana for world peace.

There also seems to be an ascending degree of difficulty here.  A street vendor may reach complete liberation simply by selling newspapers or snacks, provided that the street vendor makes each sale as an act of devotion to Shri Krishna.  The same could be said of any profession or any way of life.  Sanatana Dharma insists that the state of mind, the disposition of the heart really matters, as opposed to what may be happening outwardly.  Any action can become a kind of worship when it is offered with a loving, reverential spirit.  We might be tempted to wonder why we need rituals and meditation at all, if the path of renunciation is enough.

Well, precisely because the mind is so difficult to tame do we need these other practices.  I can easily become heedless, performing actions without the intention of Self-realization.  I can get caught up in the veil of Maya, in which I forget to regard everything as a manifestation of the ultimate reality.  So I need gods in order to take me to God.  I need personal devotion.  I need to offer fruit, flowers, incense, flame, and water before my ishta devātā.  I need meditation, so that I realize that this murthi really is my point of contact with that manifestation of divinity.  It is not an inert object: it is the living presence of the divine in my life.  I then need scriptures to make sure that my head stays “screwed on straight,” as my dad would say, so that I see my activities within the context of the whole.

Then when I arrive at work, wherever that might be, I come to the job with this frame of mind that everything is worship.  I can look at the phone, the computer, the broom, the vacuum, the street, the clients, the students, the customers, as the context in which divinity unfolds.  I can tear down the dividing wall between the sacred and the mundane and behave as I would in the temple.  I can keep silent within and renounce the fruits of action.  Shri Ramakrishna was fond of using the image of water sliding off of a duck’s back.  He would also talk about walking in the rain without getting wet.  In other words, we should complete worldly actions with divine intent.  This is the most difficult yoga, but it is also the most rewarding and the culmination of the other types of discipline.

Perhaps we can begin to stay in this state for just a few minutes each day, and then a few hours each day, and then a whole day, and then whole weeks, and so forth.  This requires an odd combination of toughness and gentleness, self-discipline and self-forgiveness.  It requires a willingness to keep trying when the negative emotions overpower the wisdom within.  The work is certainly worthwhile, because things can be so beautiful when seeing the world from a point of view where no payback is desired or required.  Suddenly the world pops into brilliant color and life, once we stop the game of passion and anger.  Today let’s begin again to begin again, to strive to put our charioteer’s advice into practice.


Shirdi Sai Baba Miracles

Sai Baba statue in Hanuman temple in delhi, india

What dreams and desires in your life have remained buried for years, always seeking expression but never rising to the surface?  How long have you delayed living the life of your dreams?  Have you even given up hope that the cherished desire of your heart would ever be realized?  Does life seem like an endless stream of thankless tasks that bear no relation to the vision you hold in mind?  Do you lack good health, a solid income, or a happy marriage?  If you have been held back in some way or deprived of happiness, Shirdi Sai Baba is the saint for you.  Commit to following this challenge for thirty days and see if you haven’t experienced a definite improvement in your situation.  Place an image of Shirdi Sai in your home or simply look at his image on your computer from time to time.  Each day, repeat his name mentally with great fervor and enthusiasm.  You can say, “Shree Shirdi Sai Baba,” or simply, “Sai, Sai, Sai” (which means “lord”).  You may also read a holy book, such as Sai Satcharitra or some other life of the saint.  Each day, mentally picture his form and state your request in straightforward language in the tongue of your birth.  Be assured that Shirdi Sai hears and understands your request.  If you desire that other devotees, including Janyananda, should join you in this sankalpa (vow), email your request to writepage [at] gmail [dot] com, with the subject line “Shirdi Sai Miracle.”

sai baba temple puttaparthi

I stumbled across Shirdi Sai while on vacation at the beach in North Carolina several years ago.  I had a week to read Sai Satcharitra and repeat Baba’s name, which gave me blissful feelings as I sat by the waves.  Sai devotion blended well with Shri Lakshmi mantra practice, and I found a lovely conch shell on that sits next to my home mandir to this day.  After taking initiation, I set aside Sai Baba prayers, as I feared that my guru would not approve.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Sai Baba is one of the gurus of my tradition!  I was very happy to be able to resume studying his life and saying prayers to him.  When I chant his name, mantra practice no longer seems dry and ineffective.  I can reach the devotional attitude much more easily, and I feel very close to Shirdi Sai.

I have recently been reading Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Unique Saint, by M.V. Kamath and V.B. Kher, published by Jaico.  I was impressed with how Baba was able to cross the lines that divide Hinduism and Islam. He was both a fakir and a guru, which confounded traditionalists in both camps.  He ate meat and lived in a mosque, but he also was highly devoted to the Hindu gods, especially Shri Ram.  He is most known for answering his devotees’ prayers, no matter how practical.  He helped them get jobs, conceive children, and travel safely.  The miracles attributed to him are uncountable, both before and after his mahasamadhi.  I won’t retell them here: it would be better to pick up one of the books I have mentioned, as the reading will be highly inspirational.

shirdi sai

I placed in my office shrine pictures of of the gurus of my tradition, and, to my surprise, the image of Shirdi Sai aligned perfectly with the murthi of Ganesha.  It was as though God were telling me that Ganesha and Shirdi Sai are one and the same.  Those who come to this Satsanga with faith and devotion will have their prayers answered, just as it happened (and still happens) in Maharashtra in a little village called Shirdi.  If you are reading these lines, please take up the Shirdi Sai challenge.  Let me know the results that you get from this sankalpa, and share with others who may be interested. Many blessings, Janyananda

Gita Wisdom: Chapter Eleven Commentary

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

tvam ādidevaḥ puruaḥ purānas

tvam asya viśvasya para nidhānam

vettāsi vedya ca para ca dhāma

tvayā tata viśvam anantarūpa

You are the primal God, the most ancient Person. You are the ultimate resort of the entire universe. You are the knower, the object of knowledge, and the Supreme Abode.  O Lord of the infinite form, You pervade the entire universe. 11.38 Trans. Prasad

In the eleventh chapter, Shri Krishna reveals his true form to Arjuna, who is over-awed by the Lord’s presence.  Arjuna is one of the few who see God face-to-face in a moment of incredible clarity.  We may find ourselves wanting such a revelation of God’s true form, and, indeed, such a vision is never far from us.  We prevent ourselves from seeing this dazzling reality through our habitual ways of thinking, which surround the ego in a comfortable cocoon of mundane reality.  We don’t see God, because it is disturbing, challenging, uncomfortable to do so.  It is much easier to just fill our minds with trivia than to seek the beatific vision.

Americans often go on a sort of secular pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon, to look out across its vastness and the beautiful strata of ancient rock.  Such an experience makes one feel small and insignificant in comparison to the vastness of space and the depth of geological time.  In this way, one goes back to daily life with various problems and concerns put into perspective.  But suppose that, instead of looking out on the canyon, a tourist were to only look back at the highway and the gift shop.  Suppose that person did not even see the canyon at all.  Suppose that person mumbled, “Where is this canyon?  Where? I only see a road and a gift shop.”

This is the situation in our lives.  We become so enamored with the world that we forget God.  Of course, the world is in God and God in the world, but that knowledge can be difficult to understand and even more difficult to realize.  Even those who truly want illumination can have a hard time finding it, mostly due to the pressures of contemporary life.  Never before have people been so assaulted with information and advertisements; never before has so much work been required to earn a decent living; never before have traditional ways of living been so eroded.  This is why Hindus call this the Kali yuga, the dark age, or what we might call the age of confusion. We find ourselves in the odd position of having to learn how to see what is right in front of our faces.

Some thoughts on how to see this incredible divine brilliance in the world follow.  First, the best and most costly teacher is silence.  Silence comes in two forms, interior and exterior, each dependent on the other.  Without a quiet heart, it will do no good to have the exterior form.  Likewise, exterior silence can help to raise consciousness of the noise and conflict within.  Master one kind of silence, and you have a better shot at attaining the other.  It helps to find a distraction-free or at least distraction-minimized environment and to do things slowly and deliberately, with an attitude of patient listening.

Next, mantra, literally, “that which takes away the mind,” can help with restless thinking processes.  One can use a mantra related to a favorite divinity, or one can use a verse from scripture, like the one above.  Using a mala to count repetitions will lessen the need to count mentally.  Once the feeling and attitude of the mantra has been absorbed, it will be good to take a pause for silent contemplation.  One may also pause on the initial, or guru, bead, to petition the deity to take away any distractions for the next round of recitation.  If the mantra doesn’t seem to be working, try more repetitions, say even 10 or 20 malas a day.  This will be necessary to jump-start the practice if it feels sluggish in nature.

Of course, we could name many other yogic practices, but that will have to wait for another time.  To just address another question, “What happens if you sincerely seek the divine, with all energy and devotion, and still nothing happens?”  The bhakti saints of Hinduism use that sense of absence, of duality, and make that, too, into a vehicle for seeking God.  Take that sorrow, that pain of separation from the Beloved, and refuse to fill your aching heart with anything else.  Do not drown the pain in worldly enjoyment, as that simply prolongs it.  Argue with God and make demands.  Become more fervent and more fervent still.  If you refuse to let go over a long enough time, the vision will dawn.  Just keep in mind that you will never be the same once that happens.

Bhagavad Gita Wisdom: Chapter Ten Commentary

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate

iti matvā bhajante māṁ budhā bhāvasamanvitāḥ

I am the origin of all.  Everything emanates from me.  The wise who understand this adore Me with love and devotion. X.8 Trans. Prasad

It has become fashionable in this age to spurn metaphysics as old-fashioned, a hopelessly futile pursuit with no tangible benefit.  This view of metaphysics assumes that merely by avoiding the problem one somehow solves it.  Every philosophy, whether practical and unstated or formal and articulated, has metaphysical assumptions.  For instance, modern science relies on an unstated commitment to materialist monism, where “matter” refers to all those entities that can be known through science. Sanatana dharma makes room for a variety of metaphysical perspectives, so one may practice the dharma within a dualistic, nondual, dual and nondual, or even atheistic perspective.  Chapter ten says that everything is somehow derived from the Lord without pigeon-holing the exact nature of this relationship.  Some schools of thought even maintain that even God does not know how the universe emanates from God.

Think about how you do not know exactly how your brain produces your mind, and you will have an inexact analogy for the relationship between the world and God.  You also do not need to know exactly how your brain works to be glad that you have one.  And yet the study of neurology can be a valuable way to increase your appreciation for that lump of gray matter between your ears.  In the same way, the study of metaphysics and the understanding of differing views on the relationship between ultimate reality and perceived reality can lead to a greater appreciation for our situation in the universe.  When used improperly, metaphysical speculation can be a substitute for encountering the divine through devotion.  When used properly, metaphysical thoughts cultivate that devotion and bring it to a higher level.

Oftentimes, the avoidance of metaphysical topics arises from a shallow anti-intellectualism rather than a concern for true liberation.  The jnana path, the path of knowledge, and the bhakti path, the path of devotion, converge at a point just beyond language.  They are both entrance ramps, if you will, to the state of silent contemplation, the highway that leads to direct knowledge of the truth.  Some teachers in this age think that the highest state can be reached without any training, without any struggle, and without any knowledge of a philosophical sort.  Spontaneous realization does occur, but it occurs in those who have been actively creating the circumstances favorable to such a happening.  Metaphysical speculation is one path for reaching true contemplation, and if saints and sages have cautioned against too much reasoning, they have done so in order to guard against pride.  But pride of learning is something different from knowledge in and of itself.

Knowing and doing are alternating currents that lead to realization.  The practice of recitation leads nowhere if it is not properly directed, and philosophy in itself leads nowhere if it does not manifest itself in practice.  So let us not disparage either path (jnana or bhakti), for they both lead to the same goal when correctly and diligently applied.  This chapter points to the great mystery that somehow this material world is filled with the divine presence, and that we can attune ourselves to that presence through the practices recommended by the saints and sages.  This should give us great excitement, great devotional feeling, to fill our lives with a sort of quiet intensity leading up to the struggle of realization.

Coming Soon!

Janyananda’s book on Lord Ganesha will be published by Mantra Books, a division of John Hunt Publishing.  The book will include an account of Janyananda’s spiritual journey, a comparison of Hinduism and Christianity, an account of Ganesha’s iconography, a description of Ganesha mantra practice, and a simple puja ritual.  Whether you have been worshipping Ganapati for years or are new to his devotion, you will enjoy Janyananda’s musings on the subject.