Swami Bodhananda and Rev O'Brien Yoga Evening

Thursday, November 14 - 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Excerpts from the discussion between CSE's Yogacharya Ellen O'Brian and Swami Bodhananada of Sambodh Society - by Ashwini Surpur

Today's CSE discourse and discussion between Swamiji and Rev.O'Brian was simply hair rising event. Many folks from YB and Sambodh were also present. Rev. Sundari gave an introduction of Swamiji and set the stage for Swamiji and Rev. O'Brian to come over to the dias. The program began with lighting of the lamp for the Guru lineage of Paramahansa Yogananada and a brief meditation session conducted by Yogacharya Ellen O'brian also called Uma. Yogacharya Umaji  gave a welcome to Swamiji and said - I met Swamiji at Yoga Bharati's Yoga Sangam meeting. Hence my wish to have Swamiji and introduce our work and have his blessings.

Yogacharya Umaji: What is the goal of life and what brings fulfillment?

Swamiji: He appreciated the wonderful work - yoga, message of unity and helping the community to live the life of spirituality with the spirit of inclusiveness. Spirit means to include everything -  all dimensions of human faculty. Purpose of life. What is life ? End in itself or means ? Each of you may have to find out yourself. Otherwise I will be restraining you. You have to interact to find out - your ugliness, your potential, etc. I can quote from scriptures and life of great masters. But mission is still yours and it is endless journey. Joy of living is moving into the unknown and the courage is in that.

Yogacharya Umaji: Few people realize that the kingdom of heaven extends up to here. Commitment and courage to ask why am I here and what the real purpose of life is right?

Swamiji: God realization, self actualization, including more and more in your circle etc. when we put these ideas into practice, how does it work ? For example - Love - what is it? What do you give?  What if the other person does not need your love? Wouldn't it be deterministic embrace if the other person does not need the love? So Love is essentially - allowing other person to live the way they want to live. I love you is great responsibility, not a manipulative exercise.  Signing in blood that I love you and then 3 years later, getting ready to kill each other - is not love :-) It is about experiencing fullness isn't it? Love is feeling comfortable with yourself so that others are comfortable with you. So experiencing this love and experiencing your potential could be the mission of life. It is a challenge to discover the goal of life. It is about continuously live together to experience love,  not just two people - which is itself a challenge, but with people of different cultures and types. Experience of explosion of energy is what you want to seek - then you are burning at all ends!

Yogacharya Umaji: The only way to love another person is to experience fullness. The other kind of love is about not having enough so I can be whole by getting something from the other person. How can we experience this fullness ?

 Swamiji:   True love is possible between two whole people. When we say whole, it is not about 'I am okay'. This feeling of fullness (I am okay) should not lead to isolation. To know one is to know none. To know all is to know the whole. It is an ongoing process. This is not an event. No one can claim they are enlightened. This alone makes us simple. We don't need any approval from anyone. We always seek approval. Knowing that it is a journey and not a state makes us humble, relaxed and then there is an opportunity to interact. Then alone, the interaction is not a manipulative strategy to control or impose on others. Completion does not have to be an accomplished task but reflective and contemplative activity. In that case, insecurity is needed  (not a complete secure feeling of "I am okay"). In the space of insecurity, you are going to reflect and work on your goals. It is a dynamic balancing process. I am okay - makes you complacent. 

Yogacharya Umaji: We need the inner experience and meditation. But be in the world. Bring your yogic practices into the world. So how does one do that? What is it to be non violent for example?

Swamiji: It is a challenge to operationalize the idea of non violence. When I have a gun to my head - what should I do? It is not easy to answer that question. It is not easy to be non-violent when I am under threat. We perceive threat from each other - physical emotional, etc where did it start ? Maybe when lion pounced on a deer and I saw it when I was in a cave? What are the roots of violence? We espouse a value, but we may not be able to follow that under crisis - we still have jungle psychology in our limbic system. Christ - when violence was done to him, he absorbed the violence and forgave. Buddha absorbed violence and disarmed the opponent. Patanjali says when non violence is practiced a lion and deer can live together. So we need some people in the society to absorb the collective violence so the society can live in harmony.

Yogacharya Umaji: When we meditate, we learn the reactive nature of the mind. So with the practice of spirituality we can have some hope - takes long time but non-violence can be learned?

Swamiji:   We can reach some level of non violence when we build intentional communities where we share values and institutionalize the idea of non violence.  Gandhi tried a whole non violence to fight for freedom - Nelson Mandela. It is very difficult though. In my ashram, we practice strict non-violence, no drugs, no meat, no alcohol and no sex. So no one comes to the ashram :-) I live with a couple of turkeys :-) In reality, we may need to arm ourselves in crisis situations. How do we incarnate non violence in the presence of WMD? It is a challenge and we need to handle that. Yes, there are extreme cases of non-violence, but we cannot consider them for commons. My guru - tiger pounced on him and he said - Come and eat me!!! In his case, the tiger went away, but can we profess this? Extremes are not answers - Christ on the cross is possible not commons. 

Yogacharya Umaji: In today's Yoga hour  I heard about many values being discussed - non stealing at people and even at government level. The talk was on - Art of Yoga - Yoga given to the girls at risk - at the juvenile hall - giving them tools of yoga and even Yama and Niyama. This is helping them as they have lack of the sense of self. So when we practice yoga as a collective society, flares of light emerge from the practicing communities so it helps others.

Swamiji: For Non violence - non possession is a necessary condition. Violence perpetrated by the powerful against powerless is the worst kind. Territorial attitude is a problem. When I have a fence around a property, people know there is something inside that they have to break into. If it is all free and open, there is no violence. When God said - Don't eat apple, it became an issue. Expand the area of commons. In Vedic India - Food, medicine and education was free - nothing to hide, secure and hence no threat - no fight. Private property is needed though. As Adam smith says - when individuals Pursue wealth, societies prosper. Sure, but we need to balance this. Patanjali says reduce consumption, increase commons, and even brahmacharya. So what is brahmacharya for all of you? It is a passionate pursuit of truth. We need to discuss economics, politics, etc in spiritual light. Yoga is a global conversation. Even spiritual people cannot stay away from economics and politics of life. World is looking for a solution. The seeds we are protecting are useful in the larger context - not just for private consumption but for creating a better world. Purification is possible when we empty our vessel. We need to reach out to thinkers - great minds do not meditate of think spiritually. We need to work on promoting yoga to a much larger context - a powerful intervention of yoga in the intellectual space is needed.

Yogacharya Umaji: You are lighting a fire of spirituality. We have received so much grace. But responsibly comes to us with grace we have obtained. Evolution of consciousness is happening. What do you think of this?

Swamiji:   We do ocassionally experience - Dark night of the soul. Mother Theresa herself had a doubt whether god was on her side. Idea of Grace - makes us hopeful. Spirituality is a about working against odds. A small step can take us to huge leap forward. Minimal effort with grace will be successful some day - we don't know when. But we should continue our effort.

Yogacharya Umaji: Surrender - willingness to open to infinite possibilities. What do you think of this?

Swamiji:  Yes, we should. Our goals may not be right goals. We use words to conceive and describe our goal - it may have some meaning in a cultural context, but may not be what it really should be. Openness will help us recognize the goal when it comes to us. Example of Father Damin who helped leprosy patients all his life and ended up with leprosy himself. He was so depressed and doubted the grace that when help arrived, he refused to take it because he did not trust anyone and anything anymore. That is not good. 

Yogacharya Umaji: Cooperate with grace when it arrives. 

Swamiji: Grace may be always there and your windows may be closed! So just be open.

Yogacharya Umaji: Humility - willingness to be open to the plan that is greater than we imagine - sometimes we say no to other plans - taking risk - takes courage right?
Swamiji:  Grace may be at the hindsight. Yes that is what the word Sanyasi means moving on - nyasa - giving up known for the unknown. You all can be Sanyasis!

Yogacharya Umaji: Wow that is a profound statement - we all can be Sanyasis.

Question from the Audience - What is insecurity and how can one achieve wholeness through that?

Swamiji: Insecurity is about what you don't know. Move to unknown and face challenge - unfoldment happens naturally.

Vote of Thanks and Conclusion: Umaji thanked Swamiji and asked him to speak a few concluding words. Swamiji appreciated the great work taken up by CSE and also appreciated Umaji for her depth of knowledge in yoga philosophy and her openness in embracing other ideas and other people in the field which is rare. Swamiji invited all to visit his ashram and chanted Vedic mantras - Bhadram Karanebhi, Shanno mitrah etc and ended with Sarve Bhavantu, Asatoma sadgamaya and Purnamada.....

Ashwini Surpur is the Director of Yoga Therapy and Education at Yoga Bharati.