Tuesday, 28 April 2015


We need great teachers and yogis on our side. And sure enough, in every age, yogis of every type, faith and persuasion tumble out of the pages of history and remind us that when it comes to sages, each is a true original.

Swami Ramdas, known throughout most of his teaching life as Papa, was a man infused by divine love and divine presence. He was a devotee of Sri Rama, and this devotion caught fire when he was a young married householder, pushed him out of the door of his well-defined existence as a spinner in a cotton mill and, after many trials and journeys, led to a founding of an ashram in Kangahad, Kerala State, a famous school attached to it, and a saintly disciple Mother Krishnabai. 

Both ashram and school are alive and well, but Papa attained Mahasamadhi back in 1963, around the time his friend Swami Sivananda also left the body. So this put both Yogis just slightly ahead of the curve of young westerners who began to flock to Indian Gurus from the mid 1960s onwards. They managed to avoid the crowds!

Papa Ramdas left many writings which are not so easy to get hold of in English, but his autobiography of his early journeys through India make entertaining reading. He was wrapped up in Rama wherever he looked, whatever he did. 

He was a great proponent of japa and one of those saints who achieved perfection by this simple but royal road. "People do not know what the name of God can do," is one of his more famous sayings. "Those who repeat it constantly alone know its power. It can purify our mind completely. The name can take us to the summit of spiritual experience."  Now if anybody had been so rude as to say "Well, prove it!" all he need have to do was to beam that wonderful toothless smile of his and few could argue with that. 

The message may seem simple, but Papa Ramdas achieved the heights of spiritual illumination by taking refuge in the name - in this case Sri Rama. Nothing deterred him from this, although his life as a wandering recluse was a harsh one. 

Papa's autobiographical writing show his disarming, total faith in events, and his narrative meanders pleasantly like a lazy winding river through a now vanished Indian heartland of wandering sadhus, devotees and temples.

Ramdas is saved time and time again from trouble and inconvenience due to this extraordinary link with the Divine. One of the more charming episodes is the interlude involving a young man seized with a zeal for renunciation, determined to follow Papa Ramdas, despite the Guru warning him that the way would be too hard. Sure enough, a few days of walking barefoot over thistle strewn paths, burning rock, with no food in the belly and no shelter from the storm caused the eager young man to collapse in a puddle of tears, crying "I miss my wife and little baby!" and so they parted company and the chastened disciple went back to his life as a householder.

Many teachers these days seem to be scam artists, ready to rip off their trusting devotees. But Swami Ramdas was nothing like that. He embodied virtue. Content under all conditions, radiating happiness, he was a magnetic personality and in his later years became a star of the Indian spiritual firmament. Destiny brought him and a young woman together as Guru and disciple, and Mother Krishnabai became an integral and calm point of focus in his Ananda ashram.

There is a great little snapshot of what life was like in the ashram written by the Canadian teacher Swami Sivananda Radha, Swami Sivanada's foremost western disciple. As a woman, she often had a rough time travelling India in the 1950s, but Sivananda Radha found a warm welcome at Papa's ashram... although she got badly bitten by flies and bugs. She, like so many others, was disarmed by Papa's simplicity, good humour, patience and love. Harsh to his own bodily needs, Papa was as warm and welcoming as a human could be, to others. He was definitely not the kind of Yogi to chase visitors away with a stick, but welcome them with open arms!

The great moment of illumination for Papa was time he spent with the great Advaitin Ramana Maharishi and a deeply spiritual experience he had at Mt Arunachala. But there are many wonderful accounts of his inner life that he described. 

Papa was a man whose heart still touches you, if you are attentive enough. Did he need money? No. Did he need crowds of disciples or a fancy car? No. Ramdas renounced all, but that act of natural renunciation came because of his love for Sri Rama. Somehow he remained friends with the wife he left. But his destiny called him to a special role as an ambassador of God's love. And how could Ram ever resist that smile of his humble, beautiful devotee?

Can you spot him below? This photo brings together Anandamayi Ma and Papa, and was taken in 1952... now THAT would have been some meeting!

Here are some more quotes from this inspired soul, taken from his book In the Vision Of God:

"For Ramdas, God is not a mere matter of faith and speculation. He is a certainty. God is, and He is all kindness and love. We are not to judge His existence by the material comforts we obtain in life or the absence of such comforts. The trials and sufferings we undergo are necessary for our spiritual growth. Truly, God is not for him who frets and fumes."

"The supreme Lord is seated in the hearts of all beings and creatures. You can realise Him through one-pointed devotion and complete self-surrender. The initial step on the path to this goal is purity and control of mind which is acquired through concentration. An easy method of concentration is constant repetition of the Divine name and performance of all actions as a sacrifice to the Lord."

"Continuous practice and utterance of the Name and meditation stops the restlessness of the mind and merges it into the blissful, eternal and universal Self. God-rememberance is not possible unless you have intense longing to realise Him. This intense desire is called bhakti. This longing must so seize your mind that you feel a sensation of acute pain when you forget God on account of your selfish desires."

Papa with Mother Krishnabai. She became his worthy successor:

Thursday, 9 April 2015


"Know that Desire", says Lord Krishna, "Is the enemy here on earth". For desire, that seed of wanting, of trying to get and obtain, gives rise to anger. Why? Because we can never satisfy it! Truly, once we open the floodgates of desire, we find ourselves eventually spiralling out of control. When is enough going to be enough? Actually, never. This is because life always moves in the direction of more and more. Life always branches out, then the branches further divide, and before you know it from some simple, innocuous seeming desire you have a whole tree growing. Then a forest. 

Recognising this basic truth takes some living. When we are young, with fire in our veins, we might think a good job, a sexy partner, loving children, great food, good holidays, respect and honour are all very simple and natural aims. When we are older and have made plenty of mistakes, we can see a little more wisely. The sexy partner turns out to love someone else. The kids grow into sulky and self-willed teenagers. The great job involves pushing everyone else out of the way. The holidays are never exactly what you expect. The respect and honour - never enough unless the whole world bows before you. And even if this happened, how long would it last? Even in the moment the greatest desire is met, if you are quick enough to spot it, there is an emptiness, a feeling of dissatisfaction. 

This reminds me of a comment a young man made to the Irish singer Bob Geldorf in July 1985, at the end of a very famous charity concert called Band Aid which brought together the best rock acts of the day. "Is that all there is?" said the young man, after famous act after act entertained millions of viewers. Geldorf was so struck by this remark he named his autobiography after it!

Rampant desire is one of the great evils of Kali Yuga. Vicious and cruel rulers, greedy Gurus, damaged family members, sexual predators, relentlessly shocking performers, unfit parents, addicts... what do they all have in common besides a human incarnation? All are led by the nose by desire grown out of control. Think of some monster like Stalin, Hitler, or an utterly self-righteous and rigid terrorist, all desiring this that and the other, usually that their view of what the world is (which is of course centred around others obeying or loving them) should be the only view and required living for everyone else. The miseries, genocide, murder, pillage and rape that has resulted from untrammelled desire has scarred our age time and time again.

So, what if you cut down on your desires? And how do you go about it?

The first basic principle about turning your life from the feeding of your glorious Ego to helping and supporting others is that you will be running up against your basic nature which wants you to do anything but! You will be tripped up by yourself at every single turn. Something in you wants you to be bound by the wheel of Samsara come what may. Another part of you wants release. 

The second principle is that your desire for release - in Sanskrit it is called mumukshutva, the desire for liberation or self-realisation - must outweigh your desire for pleasure. You cannot pretend or posture your way into this state. And very few of us are born with this desire for liberation being so strong that nothing else gets in the way. But lets say that within us there is at least a little flame, which can in time grow into a mighty bonfire that consumes everything.

When i was around 15 I  had a series of about 7 dreams, each in a vivid, familiar and unusual astral landscape, which had an extraordinary impact on me. In one of these dreams I was in a little hut on a hillock. But around me was burning the most ferocious fire on all sides, huge flames licking into the sky. I've often contemplated what that meant, but see it nowadays as a symbol of what actually happens in sadhana: everything gets burned away. Now, we can mourn our little hut, or paltry collection of possessions, family, job, whatever we have accumulated. We can even vainly try to protect them from this fire. But the fire gets us every time - and we die. Every time we ultimately die with nothing. 

The flame of desire is scorching. So is the flame of desirelessness. They are in fact the same fire - it's just that with a conscious turning to desirelessness, we invite the flames in, and aim to see what happens next.

Dasbodh on desirelessness

Now I want us to turn to the Dasbodh, which is one of the most marvellous books ever created and now available in the English Language. The Dasbodh collects a lifetime's worth of sayings from the great self-realised 17th century Marathi saint Shri Samartha Ramdas, who was the guru of Kabir. I read and study this mighty work most days, because it is so clear and authoritative. 

This is a selection from the section on desirelessness. Listen to this carefully and you may find that one or more of these sayings has a special relevance to you. If so, cherish and keep it in your heart!

  • First, one is cautioned not to take up the difficult task of becoming desireless as it is not for everyone, but if you do, it should not be given up. 
  • Do not keep your eyes constantly looking at members of the opposite sex developing a taste and liking for them in the mind. If your resolve in this does not remain firm, do not stay in those situations and show your face to those people.
  • Do not swerve from the path of good conduct. Do not take any money offered to you and try to ensure no words of blame fall on you.
  • Do not be obstinate or opinionated and behave appropriately according to the circumstances of the situation.
  • Do not let the mind pine for indulging in sensual pleasures. Do not be troubled with the body's pains and ailments. Do not hold great hopes for the future or the desire to live a long life.
  • Do not give up praising God with great feeling. Do not give up continuous internal meditation. Do not break the thread of love for the form of God with attributes.
  • Do not hold on to worries in your mind. Do not consider hard work to be sorrowful or distressing. Do not give up courage in difficult and trying times.
  • Do not feel disheartened when being disrespected or dishonoured. Do not feel injured when badly insulted. If someone constantly derides you with harsh criticism, do not take it to heart, whatever the case may be.
  • Do not be a slave of physical habits. Do not become reliant on anyone. Do not get stuck in fixed patterns of habit.
  • Do not consider yourself to be superior, and do not be adamant about your importance. Do not desire or expect to be honoured by anyone, at any place.
  • Do not speak arrogantly. Do not be constantly dwelling on the sense organs and their pleasures. Do not get involved in occult powers and take liberties in using them.
  • Always remain alert and take a comprehensive view of things. Do not take pleasure in laziness.
  • Do not become attached to anything and do not speak of doing something without actually doing it. Do not make a monastery anywhere . Even if it is done, do not cling to it. A desireless person does not become the head of a monastery and take up residence there.
  • Do not go about singing the praises of God and giving explanations, and then asking for money to make your living.
This section of  the Dasbodh then goes on with a number of brilliantly written points about neither doing too much or too little, about not living in the world yet also staying in the world and so forth, matters where viveka or discrimination is vital.

Now all this advice, as the Guru points out at the start, is for those who actually plan to live a life doing serious battle with desires. For most of us, it is too much to attempt and will only lead to failure, especially if we are householders, need to earn money, raise kids etc. So, the advice here is, just keep a careful watch on desire, like you would a forest fire that is some way from your house, but nevertheless could be a threat.

Why we do battle with desires is because there is a wonderful life on the other side. This reminds me of a great dream that Sri Kuladananda Brahmachari, Bijoy Krishna Goswamy's disciple, had in the early stages of his sadhana. He dreamed that he was following his Guru plus Baroda Brahmachari and a fellow disciple along a forest path, which grew increasingly beautiful. The others urged him on until they go to the edge of this pleasing forest. There they saw a huge hedge of thorns, and a very narrow gateway. Through this small gateway he could see this wonderful glowing city of unsurpassed grandeur and excellence. The others urged him to cross through the gate, and indeed Goswamy reached for him from the other side. But an angry red snake appeared, with a ferocious hiss. "Don't beat the snake or he will attack you!" urged the Guru. But the other disciple started to do just that, and with disastrous results. The dream then ended.

So, a hedge and a snake guarding a celestial city. That's where we find ourselves. The hedge is the hedge of desire, the barrier of ceaseless desire. The snake is what happens when we indulge in desire. So, we can all "do the Maths", as they say in the US! If you want to get through the gate, don't beat the snake...


This seems yet another way to beat ourselves over the head with a series of do's and don'ts and I'm honestly scratching my head at them. We need some desire or else how can we actually live?

The Self-Realised get fed, clothed, nourished and supported by God, not by any effort of theirs. Our great illusion is that we must make the efforts because no one else will do this for us. But as far as I'm aware, the sun rises and sets each day without your intervention. You should not be amazed to hear that in fact, our ingrained sense of Self is actually illusory. This is Truth. The Divine plays through us, the divine thinks and acts through us. We are part of an unending play or lila.

OK, but who pays the bills?

Well, put it this way. Who makes you breathe? Who ensures your heart is beating? Who gives you eyes to see, ears to hear? This resolute sense of doership is yet another cause for desire. We have a very strong inbuilt sense of ourselves as creatures dependent on desires, when in fact the opposite is the case.

To be desireless in this modern age is not really possible, is it?

Why not?

We live in a world where we get all sort of opportunities to grow, and desires are part of it. And anyway, the desire to be desireless is just another desire, surely?

Well, this is one of those wonderful paradoxes. The scriptures and Gurus tell us time and time again that the desire for self-Realisation is the one desire we really should encourage! But, look, we always have to be realistic and intensly practical. We dont go wandering off down the road with a placard round our necks saying "I am desireless". Spirituality is not for fools or the self-deluded. We work on it. Bit by bit, desire by desire. Then that hedge of thorns begins to wither.

Then what happens?

The hush of perfect joy in perfect stillness.

I love my partner, my kids, my parents. Is that then wrong?

You are equating love with desire. True love has nothing to do with wanting more and more. That is the basic form of desire, the "I've got this now i want more of it" or "I've got this now I  want to make sure that me only me enjoys it heh heh". True love involves a surrender into the now of simple appreciation, of contentment.

Well, I desire my boyfriend you know...

Ah. The "my" in that sentence. Now, that "my" is part of the basic problem. Certainly in personal relationships we tend to have a sense of ownership. Then desire sets in and we want more and more ownership. Thus, jealousy, possessiveness, which can lead to the most awful acts of violence. Now, remember too that the illusion, the Maya of the great shakti, is glued together with desire. It's perfectly fine for most of the world, it's a dream life that we can live for incarnation after incarnation. But tell me. what happens when this healthy boyfriend of yours grows old? Or loses a job? Or has an affair? Or has smelly feet? Your desire radar will soon find something unsatisfactory about the situation. Desire, the real momentum of desire is to more and more and more and this is actually the path too of Jnana Yoga, the lightening fast move towards a series of "yeses", towards the transcendent where the desire for the unlimited is finally met by the unlimited.

That sounds mysterious!

You'll experience this if you persist in sadhana.

A life without desire seems awfully boring, somehow

A life of slavery is not ideal, though, is it? We believe everything is as it is and that , well, we are here and we might as well enjoy it to the max. The "max" is Self-realisation and the effort is a thousand thousand times worth it. As the Shiva Sutras tell us "The path of Yoga is full of wonders". Along with desire you get anger (desire frustrated), depression, misery, suffering, and death. That might not be boring, but do you really want to go through all of this once again, another life on the merry go round? Your choice.