Monthly Archives: July 2020

Connecting the Dots

By Carolyn (Karuna) Beaver

Intellect and heart — how can these possibly go together?  Gurudevi poses this question in Enlightenment & Devotion.

It’s a simple equation.  The more yoga I do, the better I feel.  My body doesn’t hurt as much, and I’m nicer to those I live with.  I have more energy, and I want to spend more of that energy helping others.  Yoga poses, meditation and studying with Gurudevi Nirmalananda has impacted my body, mind and heart.  That leads to my devotion, both to the practices and the teacher who gave them to me.

Gurudevi writes, “Devotion is an important part of the process.  You need to put your heart into it.”  The problem, she says, is that in order to feel devotion, “you must be separate from the object of your devotion.”

I am, of course, devoted to my Guru.  I am in awe of Her and how much She has taught and given to me.  Her most important gift was the Shaktipat initiation that awakened me to my own potential.  It lit a fire within that gave me the experience of my deeper essence.  I have put her on a pedestal.  That means that I am devoted to a Self-Realized Being who is separate from me.  Herein lies the problem.  Gurudevi asks in her article, “Are you going to worship the Divine Human or become Divine yourself?” Devotion, she says, is essential in either case.

My answer to that question is both!  I am devoted to my honored Guru, a person separate from me.  And I am devoted to the inward path of discovering my own Divinity.  I am devoted to recognizing myself as a Divine Human.  In the process, my mind is often my worst enemy.  It tears me down and makes me feel small, not Divine at all.  That’s when I know I need to do more yoga. My yoga practices open my mind to the deeper reality within me.  And then I understand that my heart is not separate from my intellect.  In actuality, my heart is the source of my intellect.  There is no disconnect.  They can, and do, go together.  I can be devoted to the Divine Human that is Gurudevi Nirmalananda.  I can be devoted to the Divine Human that is Karuna.  I can use my intellect in the pursuit of knowing and being my own Self.  I can connect all the dots that are me, whether they seem elevated or base.  They all connect to the same thing — my own Divine Essence.

Our Ashram’s Can-Do Attitude

By Shanti (Ellan) Catacchio, interviewed by Priya Kenney

“I am so delighted that the Ashram has the ability to travel virtually,” says Shanti.  “At the March Shaktipat retreat online, Swami Shrutananda told us, ‘Grace beams up to a satellite from Gurudevi and beams right back down into your device.’  I have found that to be true.  It was a blessing to have the Ashram in my home.” 

Our Ashram has a can-do attitude and the ability to make things happen. For four months, physically visiting our Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram has not been an option because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Within days of March 2020 stay-at-home orders, the Ashram responded by coming to us through the Internet.  

“Early in the pandemic, I had an online yoga class with Yogaratna Atmananda.”  Shanti realized, ‘Oh my, we can do this.’  When Gurudevi did a satsang online, I was sure of these capacities.  The Ashram was so quick to respond!  I clearly see the Ashram is more than the buildings in Downingtown.  Gurudevi, Ashram residents and staff are all so willing to do what needs to be done.  And all are capable of stepping into previously unfamiliar technology.  The Ashram is embodied Grace.  Grace is the heart and soul of the Ashram and the services it provides to us seekers.”

Shanti appreciates the many wonderful online programs:  asana (pose) classes, Meditation Club, Japa Club, Enlightenment Studies, Gurudevi’s Year Long Programme and Swami Sunday.  She describes, “These practices have helped me through the pandemic and life in general.  I’m grateful so much is available.  I’m hearing the teachings in a different way.  Even with everything happening in my personal life and the world, I’ve found myself being calm.  I’ve thought, shouldn’t I be more upset?  I wondered whether my calm was delusion. Was I negating reality?  I don’t think so.” 

The Ashram’s steady presence shapes Shanti’s response to civil unrest.  “A Black Lives Matter and Back The Blue/Trump rally was organized in my town,” says Shanti.  “Days before, a lot of anger and fear went back and forth on the town’s Facebook page.  I wondered, could I go?  I went and wasn’t afraid.  It turned out to be very calm.  Recently, Gurudevi talked about the power of the ‘butterfly effect’ in her online Swami Sunday discourse.  I realized, if I maintain my state settled in Self, that’s going to help.” 

Shanti is finishing up Gurudevi’s course on the Pratyabhij~nah.rdayam.  It has shown her how the Ashram carries the enlivened, ancient teachings into our modern world.  “When I first looked at that course, I had doubts,” recounts Shanti. “How was Gurudevi going to maintain our interest for two years and how could I afford the cost?  An Ashram ‘sister’ encouraged me to do it, reassuring me that the money would work out.  It did.  I think about who I was then and who I’ve come to be through the class.  I’m so different. Gurudevi brought the teachings alive.  With each verse of this sacred text, Gurudevi gave us practices that allowed me to integrate these deep teachings. She’s working on me. 

“Twenty years ago, I walked into a yoga class with a sore shoulder.  So I’ve known Gurudevi since she was Rama and I was Ellan.  In 2003, I started Svaroopa® Yoga Teacher Training in La Jolla where Gurudevi (then Rama) first established Master Yoga, her original organization.  When it moved to PA and morphed into the Ashram, I didn’t understand nor could I imagine what I know now.  Everything is about the Ashram.  Then, as now, Gurudevi’s vision is to provide the structure and services to enable seekers know the Self within.” The Ashram’s commitment to supporting Self-Realization led Gurudevi to establish a Vowed Order.  That is an important heart and soul connection for Shanti.  “The Vowed Order is my tribe,” she shares.  “Participating as a Vowed Member enhances and grounds me to my commitment.  I can’t imagine being on this path and not having other people that I can talk to who are doing the same thing.  Grace brought me to what I needed and didn’t even know I wanted.”

It’s Like Learning to Swim

By Satguru Swami Nirmalananda

Trying to understand enlightenment is like trying to learn to swim by reading a book.  To swim, you have to actually get into a body of water.  To get enlightened, you have to place yourself in something bigger than you — except the bigger thing is you.  When you’re enlightened, you’re the water as well as the person paddling around in it.  Unfortunately, you cannot understand enlightenment by thinking about it.  Yet you must think about it, or your mind will lead you in the wrong direction.

I remember learning how to swim.  I was ten years old.  My parents installed a swimming pool in our back yard, specifically so my home would be the popular hangout when I was a teenager.  It worked, though it was the pool that was popular, not me.  Concerned about safety, my parents taught me to swim as well as many of the other teens who came around.

What surprised me was that I floated.  Even if I didn’t move, I floated.  All I had to do was lift my head to breathe.  Then I learned to move my arms and legs in order to move around.  But moving around was less interesting to me than being underwater.  I spent my teenage years underwater as much as possible.  It was quiet in there.  I sensed a deep stillness that went beyond the edges of the pool.  It was an inner stillness. I was submerging myself in a big cocoon of water to get inside — it was a meditation, though I didn’t know it.

For thousands of years, the sages of India have been using water metaphors to explain that you must dive inside.  My Guru said to plunge deeper and deeper within, to discover the Self that you already are.  Then he made it easy for us by giving us Shaktipat, the initiation that awakens the Self to arise within.  Deepening and arising — down and up metaphors. 

There is also the inner expansion, a metaphor using inward and outward, withdrawing and expanding simultaneously.  This experience, the expanding within, is also a dissolving into ecstasy, the bliss of Consciousness.  Expanding into the bliss of Consciousness sounds pretty good, right?

Except that what you think it is — is not what it is.  Every metaphor is limited by the mind’s capacity.  The mind cannot know the self, just like an ant cannot imagine what it is to fly like an eagle.  I quote the yogic sages, including my own Guru, plus I make up my own metaphors, but I’m not trying to help you understand enlightenment.  I’m trying to get you past your mind.  Because, when your mind stops, you experience your own Self.  Patanjali made that promise, one that is easy to fulfill.  That’s the purpose of yoga.

My favorite way of describing enlightenment is that you settle into yourself.  Just like you walk down the steps into a swimming pool, then lower down into the water, you settle inward.  Just like when you bring a big birthday cake into a room of (safely masked) people, then while they honor the birthday person, you sit contentedly on the sidelines.   Just like when you take a cup of tea into the garden or sunroom, and settle down for a few minutes of doing nothing.  You settle into your own Self.  You are already Shiva.  All you do is allow yourself to know.  Or get some help, like I did.  Shaktipat makes the difference!

Capital-S Selfcare

By Su (Vicharanee) Chafin,
interviewed by Lissa (Yogyananda) Fountain

“Beyond the practical sense of ‘self-care’ (looking after the needs of my body and small-s self), my Guru gives me daily capital-S Selfcare,” says Vicharanee. “Gurudevi Swami Nirmalananda recognizes my individuality as well as my Divinity.” Vicharanee adds that she has a Guru because she’s “in the process of ‘Selfing,’” coming to live in the knowing of her Divine Self.

Vicharanee met Gurudevi (then Rama Berch) in a 2003 yoga immersion in Rehoboth Beach DE.  Vicharanee describes her connection with Gurudevi as instant and visceral, and explains, “She is an amazing leader.  She guides people very firmly and lovingly because she is such a good teacher as well.  At the beginning, my small-s self personality was drawn to her individual form because of our shared interests.  I love music; she is a musician.  I am a therapist and teacher; she is a yoga therapist and teacher.  While she’s a Realized Being, her ‘personhood’ worked for me.  It made it easier for me to follow her.  It was later that I understood why I need a Teacher (with a capital T): to guide me to my innermost being.”

“I grew up Christian, and later, became interested in New Age spirituality.  Yet everything I had tried in my journey wasn’t enough.  I would end up dissatisfied, even though I knew I wanted a spiritual life.  I had many rich spiritual experiences trying out many systems.  I even spent a few summers at a holistic studies institute in the ‘90s.  But what I was finding in New Age spirituality was a lot of ego (like how many prana pumps could you master).  The places I was finding in my search didn’t have a Swami and Grace.  I kept seeking.  Then the Guru showed Herself to me when I didn’t know I needed one.  It’s said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

In 2009, Gurudevi took sannyas vows, becoming Swami Nirmalananda, recalls Vicharanee.  She says, “It was easy to see that She had been developing into her role all along.  When I did approach Gurudevi and asked her to be my Guru, she replied, ‘You don’t have to ask.’

“I laughed, and she said, ‘Isn’t it obvious?’  I suddenly understood the knowing that her Svaroopa® Sciences explore.  I had the experience, and then, in that moment, came the knowing about why I longed for and needed a Guru.  Had you had asked me years ago whether I would now have a Guru, I may have snickered.  It is a rich relationship.  

“I used to focus more on her.  Through her help, however, the focus has shifted to my own inner Self.  It feels deep and otherworldly.  It is like Gurudevi washes me by hand, and puts me out to dry.  Thus, I can return to my worldly responsibilities crisp and clean.  She gives me sevas that are just right for my growth.  Other teachers could not give me my Self.  Nor could they teach me how to find Me in the way my soul craved.  It is a pure and genuine relationship, which supersedes all others in my life.”

In this way, Vicharanee’s relationships have transformed.  “Other people don’t know how much they need me to have a Guru!  I am a better being for them as well as myself.  Practicing as a psychologist, I’ve always known the importance of service.  Now I serve others from the inner place of Self.  Guru’s Grace does the work, and I am a more effective therapist by light years.  I’ve learned it’s not about me.  I get out of the way, so Grace can take over.  And at the same time, I know there is more — more than just helping me live better in my body and in the world.  Through Her integrity I am transformed.” Vicharanee points to Gurudevi’s relationship with her own Guru, Swami Muktananda, as the root of her ability to serve others.  She clarifies, “Gurudevi is a good disciple, and she shows me how to be a good disciple.  And it’s working!  I know this because She isn’t interested in giving me Her, but in giving me my own Self.  This is why I have a Guru.  I am so fortunate!”