Saturday, 4 November 2017


A decade or so back, when you bought some expensive piece of electronic equipment it would usually be accompanied by a thick instruction manual in a dozen languages. Times have changed and ... If you buy a computer or TV .... The instructions are accessible on line WITHIN the machine itself under a "help" tab.

My Guru Sri Sri Sri Shivabalayogi primarily taught in silence in his life on earth, and only towards the end of his life (the conventional history goes) did he actually speak much, and this came because he began to tour the West and westerners asked him numerous questions relating to sadhana etc. so he answered the questions.

But generally, what he had to teach was only accessible once you began to meditate and follow his line of teaching. So it was bit like a modern day turn it on and then find the instructions within. The aim of the Guru's teaching was to unfold to the sadhaka all the necessary instructions, while the sadhaka made every effort to tame the mind and curb the vasanas and thereby open a conduit for clear apprehension of the teachings. So the instructions and guidance are there at every step, as long as the path of practice is followed with focus, determination, and a dash of devotion.

But here we now have a most intriguing book, the LAGHU GURU UPANISHAD, which is freely available on Amazon, and over 300 pages long. It is a condensation of an even larger work which has not yet been published.

This book contains pages of teachings from Shivabalayogi, given in "trance" - a very poor translation of the phrase "Bhava Samadhi" - to a long-term disciple of the Guru called Gurprasad. It is written in English and transmitted to Gurprasad during the Guru's lifetime and after. You could file this unexpected wonder under "everything you wanted to say to Shivabalayogi but were afraid to ask". Pretty much the whole of creation, the role of sadhana, the Guru, the Guru's pain-filled tapasya, different approaches to God... It is all discussed in this book. Even the confusion following Shavabalayogi's mahasamadhi in 1994 and the claimants to his role come under discussion.

For a little disciple like me, far from the action of ashrams, centres and such like, this book is sort of like sacred scripture. It is a fantastic aid to sadhana. And for the gossip in me, it contains some very colourful revelations as well about the subtle difficulties the Guru faced as he went about his tapasya as a young Yogi. Like the Guru itself, it is fairly uncompromising  and realistic about the troubles all those on sadhana face... The battle to conquer samskaras awoken in each life by prarabdha karma. It paints a bleak picture of the spiritual state of this world in Kali ayuga. But it offers hope and support, too.

This is such an unexpected boon... Like dialling a phone number and getting the Guru at the end of it saying "can I help you?" I hope that the uncondensed version eventually makes it to press, too.

If you are a devotee of Shivabalayogi get hold of this book and study a little every day. It is not to be rushed through, and something that is the ground for study, contemplation and action. What a gift!

Tuesday, 25 July 2017


The coolest sport in the world, in my mind, is something that's barely more than 100 years old, the art and skill of surfing. Don't get me wrong: For me it's just a spectator sport. I can barely walk these days, and even when young and active I had the grace and balance of a two-legged elephant, so balancing on a surf board was never an option. That doesn't stop the wonder of watching expert surfers glide through the waves.

Surfing seems to me an entirely human invention rather than Divine gift of the Gods, and its development and growth in popularity one of the untold gentle achievements of the 20th century. That seems a tall claim, but bear me out. Surfing involves sunshine, sea, waves, clear water. It is a light-filled sport — redolent of the warm sun and blue sky. Above all, it is peaceful. It thrives in beautiful surroundings. It harms no one and is non-violent. it cuts across countries, borders, affiliations. 

It also creates adventure,  creates camaraderie, and has rapidly produced a now global culture around it which is completely different from the tensions and violence of urban culture. It is a free-spirited sport with its own relaxed vibe and a legitimate way for the ecstatic in society - that living liquid joy of life always under threat from governments, religions and social pressures. The world needs that joy. 

Surfing above all other sports is about being fully present in the moment. Waves are such impermanent creations, always falling to their destruction, and the surfer aims to ride the fall of the waves. The rides last at best only a minute or more, but for that time — even for the spectator — time slows down.

The skill of a master surfer borders on Zen mastery. A good surfer does not just stand on the board waving their arms and bending. No: the surfer will walk gracefully up and down the board, move, stretch, dance in response to the feel and movement of the waves. The image of the surfer might be some muscled young man, hair bleached in the sun, but check out women surfers, some of whom achieve a sort of balletic grace as they ride the waves. And surfers have become wildly adventurous in searching out locations all over the world for good waves, places often untouched by humans such as the coastline of the Atacama desert in Chile.

That is surfing. Unfortunately where I live the shoreline does not produce huge waves, only fierce tidal currents. And the sunshine is not guaranteed. You need a hot climate and the right set of conditions — although there is also surfing in Greenland, the west coast of Ireland and so forth. for armchair surfers like me there are now plenty of travel documentaries about the out of the way places surfers get to. An excellent film to watch is called "Given" (it's on Netflix) and relates the story of a surfing family that travels round the world catching waves.

Just like Life

Surfing has many parallels with life and how to live it properly. Like any simile or metaphor the comparison can be stretched only so far. But, light itself moves in waves and so does our life. This blog has always stressed the importance of staying alert and paying attention - and not being foolish in worldly matters. 

Life is difficult, involves a lot of suffering and often just brief moments of joy. The earth plane is  not a holiday camp. It is always a school for learning, and sometimes a sort of college of punishment as life's conditions in each incarnation bring up prarabdha karma from previous lives that can manifest as tremendous difficulty, sorrow and challenge. This is the nature of life and you would be a fool to ignore it and pretend that life is bliss for you because the Gurus and scriptures tell us it is. But somewhere, buried in you, you should have that nagging intuition that you did indeed sign on for a human incarnation once again, knowing full well the obstacles you will meet. You designed your own life circumstances.

So in life we face wave after wave after wave of conditions likely to cause suffering and upset... waves that knock us off balance again and again until we are gasping for breath and don't even know which way is up and which way is down.

This is where the skill in living comes into it.

Now... to stay out of the turmoil and ride the waves takes a lot of practice. It also takes a lot of waiting. A surfer has to learn to wait patiently a long time for the right wave to manifest before suddenly swinging into action. Then, when the wave comes, the surfer's concentration must be unwavering. The surfer must be able to ride the waves.  

This blog, loyal readers will know, has stressed again and again the need to stay focused, to pay attention to current times and conditions, not to be foolish.  The world is full of the foolish. And where does that lead? Just wasted lives full of bewailing and self-pity that the waves keep coming. So do not waste breath on moaning about yourself. 

When we are overcome by difficulty we mostly forget that we are dealing with a temporary phenomenom. Waves rise... then fall. Nothing lasts, even tough conditions. the same for good conditions... they do not last. The one constant truth about life as normal people live it is that it constantly changes. 

Some incarnations indeed can contain extraordinary shifts in fortune and status as life proceeds. Think of Gandhi and Mandela, both of whom spend considerable time in prison - or the famous teacher Sri Aurobindo, same thing. Think how even the great Ramakrishna spent the majority of his life as a humble temple priest being bossed around by his unscrupulous nephew. 

Riding the waves of life is ultimately about balance, learned only through repeated practice, mistakes and failures. One of the great problems about Indian Vedic spirituality is the mindset that "The Guru will do everything for me... Divine Mother will minutely guide my life" but you will find this model breaks down again and again and that somehow in each and every incarnation we come to a point where we face difficult decisions that only we alone can face. God is going to stand clear and see what you choose. Do not forget that. The moment will come to you, and you may be reading this aware that you face a very difficult choice without any apparent Divine guidance.

Balance in life is crucial, but so too is the understanding that everything will tend towards failure. Waves crash and dissipate. Life in the end comes to our moment of death. Understanding the inevitable movement towards dissolution in life is vital and will save you lots of tears. We have a shelf life. Everything in your life has a shelf life. And that's how it is. In surfing.. you can crash and burn in a spectacular flurry of foam and breaking wave — a wipeout — and if you are extremely careless have a serious accident surfing into hidden rocks.

Ah, but for brief shining moments... we can find ourselves in the right position on the right wave at the right time.. and the sun is shining and the waves are sparkling... and suddenly it makes sense all this talk we hear of "living in the moment". Because each moment riding the waves of life is irradiated with eternity, and beauty, and ..just... "isness". It is what it is, nothing more complicated than that. 

Lets go surfing!

Advice from the Guachos

And here is a great piece of advice from one of the movies/documentaries made by Argentina's Azulay brothers, who are called the Guachos Del Mar. The Azulays are one of a small number of people who travel to desolate places in search of surfing the perfect unknown wave... such as the barely populated area of Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia at the southern tip of  South America. their father was also a famous surfer, and you can hear his voice in one of the beautiful pieces of music accompanying their documentary Patagonia. Here it is (and you have to imagine the gentle sound of Latin acoustic guitars):

When I was young I was taught
And later, by myself, I could confirm
That it's not by wandering around
That you get somewhere.

That is why it is so important,
Without delays - and being careful -
To make your own compass
To be your guide.

It must show you the way during the day
And during the night,
Especially if the light is scarce.

Please allow me to remind you,
If you are someone who might forget,
A well-known truth I know:
That a waterdrop can perforate the hardest rock.

This may be an obvious saying
But it will rescue he who is in search for guidance.
This saying tells us that there is always a good destiny
For he who conducts himself
Without ever losing his integrity.

Having thus refreshed
This indispensable rule for any journey,
I wish to complete the equipment of any explorer
With a few words of advice:

Keep a low profile.
Don't be devious.
And don't ever assume that any battle is lost.
And always pay homage to life,
and to the beauty of everything ever created.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017


Go on, admit it. Your life is absurd and you are absurd. You might think you are different from everyone else, but are any of your thoughts or deeds original in even the smallest way? Look around you. This is a mad world, and sometimes the only thing you can do is shake your head, grin, and...carry on. Welcome to our crazy world!

Manifest daily absurdities..a list

1. You pay taxes for essential services. Governments use this money on weapons and then raise taxes.
2. Adverts routinely lie and misrepresent.
3. Companies exist to make money for banks which loan money to them and skim off profits.
4. Gurus religions and cult leaders charge money to "get closer to God". If God exists why do you need to pay money to talk to the Divine?
5. If God is everywhere then why go for a"special powerful mantra"?
6. Angry people enforce rules for the gentle.
7. Humans are economically disadvantagedthrough gender, skin colour, and culture even though every country proclaims "freedom of opportunity."
8. Insane rules exist to limit the ways of ecstacy for humans.
9. We never think we will die. Then we do.

There's a famous cult US film from the late 1990s called The Big Lebowski, by the Coen Brothers, which is a wonderfully crafted comedy of errors, based on mistaken identity. The central figure, the little Lebowski, is an amiable and incurably lazy stoner with one sole hobby — bowling. The film includes a mysterious character, who actually narrates the movie, and can be interpreted as God walking here and there on earth (as a grizzled cowboy with a big moustache, acted by the wonderful Sam Elliott) and at one point "God" sits next to the hero at a bar in the bowling alley and says something to the tune of "I like your style." The hero's response to the utter absurdity of events unravelling around him is almost Zen -like. "F... it," he says to his friends "Lets go bowling."

Lets go bowling... this acceptance of the absurd, and carrying on despite the acknowledged absurdity, is pretty much all we have left in life. Of course many of us have plans, have a wish-list, or a burning desire to prosper and get ahead and show our relatives how great we are, or want to marry the perfect person, live in the perfect house, live the trouble-free life. This,  too, is deeply absurd and crazy. it always turns out differently from how we expect it.

The failed experiment

One generation in the world tried the concept of "perfect material life" out, Americans who lived in the Eisenhower era in America in the 1950s. This "perfect" world still haunts western popular culture, with its shiny cars, drive-in movies, high school proms, and orderly little houses everywhere. Husbands wore hats and went off to work. Wives cooked and raised children, who watched that new mass addiction TV.  People consumed products, urged to buy, use and discard by adverts. Everything was simple to understand: this culture had an ideological enemy, had an unacceptable "other" or externalised shadow  — communist Russia and China. The much later movie The Truman Show encapsulates this bright primary colour world.

Behind the perfect facade, lurked the reality - hidden from sight - that in fact America was assembling an arsenal of nuclear weapons so numerous they could have destroyed human civilisation many times over. Another was that American military spending began to grow out of control. In one of his final public addresses the elderly president Eisenhower issued a warning against the spreading power of  what he called the "military industrial complex" — and spawned a thousand conspiracy theories ever after.

Also behind the facade was the bizarre fact that this was a perfect white world. If you look at Hollywood films of the era it's astonishing how white and protestant Christian America always looks, when in fact 1950s America was made up of a huge mix of  races, especially African Americans who had no civil liberties or equal standing with the whites. All this was airbrushed away.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the absurdities of this perfect society became icily clear in the 1960s. And it all unravelled pretty quickly, the catalyst being the assassination of president Kennedy in 1963. What really killed it off was an inside job: the generation who grew up watching TV in the 1950s. These clean scrubbed young people with excellent educations, took a step back and realised how crazy society actually was. Drugs, especially LSD, and the killing machine that was the Vietnam War, opened the eyes of this young and naive generation. 

Spiritual institutionalised absurdity

Out of this breakdown grew the spiritual movements of the West based on the teachings of the East, which grew in numbers as the above mentioned naive generation got to grips with what drugs had unveiled in them. Absurdity subsequently piled up as westerners bowed and scraped before imagined godlike beings, mostly from India, and enthusiastically planned for enlightenment in a few short years. All very exciting, but all to often these organisations quickly became abusive, heirarchical and disfunctional, a sort of shadow form of the very concept of a communist structure based on a strong leader that their parents feared so much in the 1950s.

Having gone through this particular experience, I still laugh at the craziness of some of these movements. In one such, a bizarre habit developed of "coaching" the speaker at weekly satsangs - esssentially exerting corporate control of what should be said and whether it was on message. This produced cringe-making stiff and awkward speeches time and time again in an organisation supposedly dedicated to freedom. In another, the meditation teachers all had to wear suits all the time, which made them look like minor corporate executives rather than teachers of the spirit. All these customs and behaviours went unquestioned because of course the charismatic leader was "enlightened". Another equally strange thing - the creation of "sannyasins" in the Osho organisation that merrily indulged in sex. 

At the time, I went through this spiritual mill with eyes closed, emerging battered and bruised and scratching my head. What had all that been about? Still, surely it was better than going to an orthodox religion like Christianity that basically told everyone "thou shalt not kill" but encouraged wars and mass murders against "infidels" including slavery of entire populations - and of course the mass slaughter of animals who were judged not to have souls.

Absurd, absurd, absurd.

Personal sanity

It seems to me now that the only truly sane approach is simply to wonder at everything, and be on the alert for the latest development in this theatre of the absurd. There are numerous examples every day - for example the craziness in London of trying to ease traffic by applying congestion charges for driving into the city centre, only to encourage Uber taxi drivers. It is estimated 100,000 extra vehicles, all Uber taxis, have flooded London. And most Uber drivers have no idea of where to go or how to drive, indeed drive so slowly and badly they cause massive traffic pile ups. Utter madness!

The absurdity of it all, coupled with simple wide-eyed wonder, both combined give you a grandstand view of some fantastic synchronicities and serendipitous happenings. I enjoy the stupidity of we humans, but love too the workings and patterns of birds, animals, insects. God? Surely God must be smiling too. If you believe in a God, he created some awesomely funny things like puppies, blowfish, praying mantises, squirrels. Humans in turn have assembled truly bizarre cultural ways of living alongside each other. 

Embrace the absurdity of it all!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017


One of my favourite Guru/Disciple stories is the one of the disciple who has committed some offence and is banished from the Guru's presence. He is found that night shivering with cold sheltering from the rain under an archway outside the ashram. "What are you doing here?"the Guru asks sternly. "Where else could I go?", the poor disciple replies. I hope I haven't made that up...but it has certainly been embellished! Anyway, the point is a sweet one... Where else can a devotee of God or goodness or a divine teacher go even in the face of disaster and despair?

This is the problem of all those resolving to give a noble and spiritual life only to find that the world does not suddenly turn into a rainbow heaven, and that on the contrary troubles increase along with sensitivity. There is a "bent-ness" to the world at present, a piling up and growth of dark energies and forces, acting sometimes in pretty scary ways... A loudmouthed bullying demagogue as US president...continuing terrorist activities...corrupt governments...insanely greedy corporations...and just a tide of ignorance rising everywhere — or in fact always there. Not all is lost, not all is totally bent, but only a fool would ignore the strain of disharmony, violence, and cultural madness that is all around us. It impacts us in numerous ways, such as unfair taxes, rip-off bills for essential services, a pervasive feeling of not being safe and constant infringement on individual liberties. It can manifest in so many ways... urine stains by Indian temples; graffitti scrawled over signs; fights and brawls and idiotic mass hysteria. 

The English writer CS Lewis, creator of the famous Narnia stories, also wrote a trilogy of what I guess you could call spiritual science fiction, in which our universe is a glorious place, planets ruled by mighty and wise beings. But something has gone wrong with Earth. It is called "Thulacandra" or the Silent Planet because it has come under the influence of a "Bent Oyarsa"... A spirit that has diverged from the path of goodness and sacrifice. 

This trilogy was written in the 1940s as World War 2 raged (about the same time his friend JRR Tolkien was finishing off the Lord of the Rings) and from a Christian perspective. Christian faith revolves around our being "fallen" because of the figure of the Dark One, the nameless one. The book also strongly echoes what is called the Manichean view of dualism...Manichee was an ancient non-Christian prophet and this religion flourished two thousand years ago, with a belief that this world was bent and twisted by a spirit powerful enough to cause prolonged suffering to human beings.

The Vedic view has different approaches. From the stand point of Brahman consciousness the entire universe is an illusion, or the play of Divine Mother who has her fierce as well as benign side. It is Maya, or Lila, a drama or play created by the Divine who sees and experiences all of it. Our souls, our Jiva, are like sparks from a flame, made of god-stuff but appearing for unknown reasons to be entirely and absurdly separate from the source.

We cannot pretend, however, that saying "ah the world is just an illusion" stops insects from biting, nasty people hurting us, poverty, suffering afflicting us all. 80pc of the worlds wealth is concentrated in the hands of 1pc of the global population... And of that tiny percentage a lot is in the hands of dynastic families, criminals, and successfully greedy and aggressive individuals. Bent stuff! A world with so much evident injustice is hard to take. Even worse for the highly sensitive is the very realisation that life exists everywhere by something feeding on something else. Even plants show an urge to crowd out competitors.

Signal Noise

So...evil. The existence of a force apparently always out to ruin the beautiful and good, or more precisely our beautiful and good. So lets take a look at it from a distance if we picking up a scorpion and putting it safely in a container. 

Now one answer to all this is that the pain and suffering we inevitably meet in life is our karma coming back at us from some unspecified point in the past, maybe from many lifetimes. we have parachuted in to a reality that pushes us to work out things. There is an element of the deeply absurd about it, as we don't precisely know what these "things" actually are in our lives. 

Another view is that God takes a malicious interest in hurting humans and terrorising individuals for no seemingly logical reason....which point of view has certainly made atheists out of many. Or...the Manichean view....God only has limited jurisdiction in this manifested universe: its a reality in which God is somehow losing grip. 

Then the view of evil can be that it is the inevitable  result of limited intelligence and the greed and lusts of most human beings, who are after all basically apes and monkeys filled with very basic biological urges to fight and kill for food, territory and a mate.

Whatever view on "bentness" you have, all of this is individual and unprovable speculation and theory, but when your faith in goodness gets so battered and bruised by pain, there is a sort of natural howl of sorrow and complaint.

The existence of evil, from one viewpoint is a manifestation of signal noise. I am no engineer but every system that transmits something from A to B runs into "noise", an inevitable manifestation of chaos that surrounds order, that indeed coalesces to make up order. Think of this like the ripples and waves on still water whenever anything touches it. We experience this noise throughout our life.

My own life has seen plenty of moments when I have basically said...if I remember to say it all.. "This is too much, I cannot bear so much." Deaths, various relationship disasters, unemployment, poverty, loneliness, great chronic physical pain....all this has unfolded through my life. 

It has not been the simple joyful world that I hoped it would be when I was a very young and idealistic meditation teacher 40 years ago. But....and there is always a but....with age has come too a genuine admiration at the way the Divine plays all around, in me, outside me, and the indescribable sensation that God really  does know exactly what He is doing, down to the last millisecond. Now you can intellectually decide this is so, repeat "I am not the Doer" a thousand times, but actually living this is like surrendering to what really is. and what really is, is that we have almost zero free will, we are not the free beings we believe ourselves to be, and... out come 1000 spiritual cliches.. we need to look within. 

Then, too, the simple logic that in the manifested world everything casts a shadow (beyond self luminous yogis) and that is how it is. 

Light playing on objects casts a shadow. But the shadows cannot exist without the light. And that light to me seems absolutely inseparable from the quality which we call Love. Love is so strong, so ominipresent that we can never hide from it. Our incarnation gives us the chance to play , to try and hide...but Love always triumphs. Evil never lasts. So...I believe in Love and I follow Love. The road may be thorny and long..and wearisome and tough. But others are there too... Those who nourish Love.

In the end it comes down to which side you decide to stand on. George Harrison put it brilliantly when discussing the Hare Krishnas, who have their own fairly absurd chaotic history, and saying "At the end of the day, you know, if I have to choose where to stand... I stand with them." 

This is an individual choice. This might sound like some awful exhortation from a religious system, but why not choose to get over yourself, admit that evil is there, that life is absurd, but nevertheless commit to flying the flag of Dharma. No, it won't lead to instant joy, no one might even notice. But fly the flag of the borderless nation of Dharma. Jesus sums up dharma for this age: "Love God and Love your neighbours". Fly it even though you know the world does not agree with you. Fly it but don't make a point of it. You are bound to mess this up.. fly the flag upside down, drop it in the mud. So what. We need your courage!

Sunday, 18 June 2017


One thing the controversial spiritual teacher Osho once said has always struck me as deeply true, and that is that life is actually there to be a celebration. And celebration, the authentic coming together of people, time and circumstance, is a way to spread joy, the dharma of joy. When people lose the ability to celebrate, then comes entertainment, which is a kind of grey noisy substitute for authentic celebration.

With the rise of the internet, a huge wave has arisen to crush the spirit of celebration, as a whole young generation becomes isolated from themselves and each other, and expects to watch..not to participate but to be entertained.

Same principle at work in spirituality. The rise of spirituality as a kind of spectator sport for the soul, something to look at from a distance - like you are reading these words right now. Spirituality as a hobby, Guru chasing as a form of narcissistic reinforcement, meditation as an "experience" or means to get high in some way or other, or spirituality as a form of play acting. We are all guilty of this over and over again. My generation in the west were really the first to "play" as Indians...which gave rise to the Hare Krishnas and the whole pretend reenactment of ecstatic states experienced hundreds of years earlier by the great Chaitanya - even down to the arm movements and a few "Haribols" added to the mix. Nowadays the equivalent is pretending to be peaceful on the yoga mat.

Playing is good, playing is what we are about as humans, but it has to really be grounded in ourselves, in our authentic selves. And also is playing to give, not take. Getting drunk and terrorising others is not authentic joy. Hurting others, ruining the environment, that is not it either. Anger is never playful. Malice and sadism are the shadow sides of play. 

 So We start from where we are and usually the first thing we have to fix is stuff like anger at unfulfilled desires or life circumstances, self-pity, and a low-level chronic dissatisfaction with the life we are given to live. We expect to live in heaven and to be constantly entertained and sort of spoilt... And the harshness of life can be in horrid contrast to this expectation.

So ... What to do? Well, I wanted to tell you a story of a young man, born in Serbia over 30 years ago, still alive today. He is most unusual, because he has chosen to live without possessions or attachments, following his Guru (who is still alive and relatively well known) with pretty much nothing but a t shirt and pair of shorts! He is not naive. He has engaged with life in different ways, had lovers, girlfriends, peychedelics, jobs, but this is what he has grown into. As a result he has a force of authentic joy which is very healing for others. And the world supports him in a number of magical, miraculous ways. 

His jyotish chart is unusual, very spiritual and God-centred. In another life and culture he would be a wandering sadhu, unencumbered by any formal affiliation to a teaching or monastry or ashram. That is how it used to be in India for millenia... Free beings, some of whom were crazy, some of whom were wierd, but many just simply authentic seekers of truth. And here he is at the start of what could 
be the crisis century for mankind!

Such human souls are rare, but what is striking about this young man is that he truly walks his talk. How long this can be sustained in such a difficult world I do not know. But I do know that his simplicity is accompanied by the force of authentic joy. Entertainment can be complicated. Celebration never is. How lovely the light from living dharma! Dont overcomplicate life.

Saturday, 22 April 2017


Watching fish swim slowly and gracefully in the clear water of a large pond which also has lilies and other plants is truly a peaceful occupation. But it takes a lot of work to set up the scene.

The pond I inherited came with the house, and over the winter there it was.... With about 15 carp and goldfish... Enduring the relentless rain we get in this part of wild England.

Then one morning in early March, I went down to check the pond and saw with astonishment that it was full of frogs! Big frogs, little frogs, about 27 of them, seemingly appearing out of nowhere.

Now being a naive individual, always wanting to let nature take its course,  I thought a pond was pretty self-sustaining, fed by rain water, oxygenated by the plants and there you go! But soon it became clear that all was not exactly as it should be. The water began to grow dark brown bit by bit. Green algae spread across the surface and long strands of weed began to grow on the sides of the pond. The fish disappeared. Even the frogs dispersed one by one, and the water ended up smelling ...well, like malodorous dirty pond water can smell. The final straw was the corpse of a dead frog circulating slowly round the pond. It was to all intents and purposes a dying ecosystem and by this time I truly thought all the fish had been eaten by something. Not a single one could be seen.

Time for action. I worked out firstly that the pond was gifted with a pump and water filter...just needed to find where it was plugged in. Next, water clearer, and then of course...the water pump pipes were so brittle that they immediately split apart and leaked. Drama! Solved by buying different pipes, connecting them up, and finally...the water started circulating again.

At this point I thought the pond was beyond repair, and that I would have to buy a new stock of fish and start all over again in reincarnated pond 2.0. 

Then...amazingly...the fish reappeared out of nowhere! Every single one! As the water alkiline balance reasserted itself back to normal, they even started swimming speedily. No frogs... Plenty of tadpoles. But life miraculously resurfaced.

So many lessons come from this simple restoration of conditions. A soul and its conditions are very much like such a pond. We all yearn for clear water, for simple and joyful life and hope that without doing anything about it, life will gift us such an incarnation. But we usually miss the central point that Earth is a school for learning, and that conditions continually arise which cause suffering and sorrow... But we are also far from helpless.

The pond came back to life with filtration and water cleansing. Our lives too can regain vibrancy if we actually do something about it. Very easy to moan about our horrid lives and their relentless challenges. Harder to do something about cleaning the water. Spiritual effort is just that.... Effort and work. A bit like cleaning a house. If you want the clarity of clean water, you will have to make difficult choices somewhere along the way. You will have to get up from your couch and actually do something. Grace is always freely available, but our capacity to receive grace is  the nub of the problem. Increasing our capacity, removing the dirt.... It takes courage and skill. Welcome to your incarnation! I believe we all willingly signed up to be born, willingly accepted what life was going to bring to us. 

The other day a Serious Sadhana student dropped away from the course after two months, saying he did not trust that God either cared for or listened to him, and that any spiritual discipline was too hard because his life was so busy and troubled. Fair choice for a soul to make. But it reminds me that all too often we wait for a sort of fantasy of a Divine appearance saying "I will do your sadhana child" and we can then sit back and watch TV. In this consumer-led world, we want to consume, to feed, to take in. Sadhana is not consumption. It is the exercise of the will in a sustained and meticulous manner to achieve closer communion with the Indweller. This does not happen overnight with flashing lights and heavenly choirs. It is not easy, of course it's not. What achievement in life really is ever easy? 

The other common lesson.... We think our ponds are just too dirty and that cleaning is a hopeless endeavour. Or we make a quick effort, a sort of frenetic nervous attempt and collapse. It is amazing how even the basic filtration of slowing mental activity to a stop, even that is simply too much for most of us. Meditation is the key to spiritual success, to cleansing the water of our little ponds. So I fight for its role in life. Let it not be forgotten by us humans! 

Friday, 3 March 2017


With the Serious Sadhana coming towards half a million hits, we catch up with the blogger Baba T and his thoughts on just why people read it! Edited highlights follow:

So .... Congratulations first off! Did you expect this level of interest in the blog when it began?
Not at all. It was meant...still is... Primarily to be a resource for western students of what you could loosely call "Yoga philosophy" who might be interested in what it's like to try live a life of sadhana through thick and thin while tackling a life of work and responsibilities. So it was never meant to be despatches from a cave or a comfortable ashram, but more from the trenches.

Then what happened was unexpected. Indian readers appeared, especially around the spring and autumn Navaratri periods, and they have remained ever since. Unexpectedly they had very different needs from people in the West and it took a little time to understand what their needs are.

What are the spiritual needs of Indian readers?
Well, I am in the odd position of engaging them, as a westerner and Englishman, with their own cultural heritage. So there are a few observations I hope my Indian readers will allow me to make. 

The first is amazement at the profound disconnect many who get in touch seem to feel with their spiritual heritage, and healthy suspicion of the giant money making ashrams and high profile teachers. We have the same in the west, after a naive and uncritical approach to Gurus in the seventies and eighties. The suspicion is good, as many teachers are like greedy wolves addicted to power and often in India tied in with politicians. Sex scandals tend to follow...

The second is among some a high level of superstitous fear, of worry of saying and doing the wrong thing, of not being allowed to recite this or that mantra, of punitive deities who will strike you down for mispronouncing a syllable! It is the "angry god" syndrome that we also battle in the west. God as the "smiter". This is a Tamasic view of religion which reflects the general decay in ethics within society.

Finally, the beauty of a number of pure and sweet souls, many of whom have taken the serious sadhana correspondence course and are just wonderful beings.

So the needs... Really to be free of fear and willing to make an effort to approach God innocently. One curious fact: Indian students tend to find visualisation exercises very difficult. I have no idea why there is such a difference between West and East in this regard....but it is pretty noticeable. Some Indian readers also seem reluctant to even grant 5 minutes to sadhana every day.

And western readers?
Here we are dealing with people who are less rigid and very syncretic in their practice..grabbing bits and pieces of teaching and practice from many different sources, mixing them all together in a body of teachings which suit them. This has a downside, too. Western readers tend to move on rapidly and the danger is not engaging at all in spirituality, just in the new sensation.

Some western readers have particular fascinating histories and experiences, so it is great to hear how the Divine Light has refracted in their lives.

What is the basic message of this blog?
It boils down to "Don't talk about it. Do it!" Practise spiritual discipline and stick to it. Do Japa and stick to it. Meditate and stick to it. 

Life is very very short. My 63 years of age has passed by in a flash. Stick to it, step by step, bit by bit. Sadhana you will find answers its own questions. Don't burble on about needing a Guru ... God is the only Guru. Shiva is not just the primordial Guru, but his presence shines through the teachings of dharma in whatever form. 

Sadhana is not about disputing which way is best or which teacher is the greatest. This is just child stuff. We all have different needs, temperaments and circumstances and cultural inheritence. We all fail many many times. Sadhana is bruising sometimes, always uphill, dealing with strong human compulsions. If bewildered, then go back to the Sri Bhagavad Gita in particular as a wise synthesis of different major approaches. But avoid dodgy translations, like the hare krishna one, which try to angle the message one way only.

How is the blog related to the teachings of your Guru Shivabalayogi Maharaj?
There is absolutely no connection to his official ashrams at all, nor should there be. This is just from the experience of this silly soul, who has done with all the hoopla of ashrams and organisations etc etc. But his teaching was not really with words. He wrote no books and gave no long lectures. He Emphasised practice and experience and at a very early stage of his public life as a Yogi pointed to the Yoga Vashistha which in his view said everything that needed to be said. And it is a big big work on non-dualism. But many people were influenced by him. For me, I feel the blogs words are given, not from conscious thought, all at once in an orderly flow with never any pause. So I think this great Yogi just has a bit of fun playing through the intellect of this idiot! 

The main relation is that I practise his medition and consider him my Guru.

Any failures or regrets? 
Not really. In relation to the Serious Sadhana correspondence course, there was one course at the end of 2016 that melted away after one lesson, and I thought "no more Indian students"! Also in the beginning of the blog I got kind of  taken in by troubled people who wanted jobs, love, money, or help cursing the neighbours and were not approaching God but a resource! Then there were one or two who swore enthusiastically - without me having any say in the matter - "you are my Guru" and then never bothered keeping in touch. I am an English gentleman, and whatever you might say about the English in history, we English gentlemen believe in good manners. These days any rude, abrupt, dumb or arrogant comments simply don't get published. the ones which particularly are annoying are from people selling dodgy "magic spell astrology" services.

What makes you write about certain topics?
Sometimes just curiousity, such as my lovely Bishnois of Rajastan or Frances Schlatter or Peter Deunov. 

But mostly, it feels like an inner order "write about this". And then the thing gets written just like that, like copying a clear scroll of words that appear in the mind. 

After a while, it became sadly clear to me that even the basics of spirituality were getting lost in this fog we live in, the fog of Kali Yuga. It is so sad to see how sick the world is and I firmly believe that people have got so used to grabbing and getting that they have forgotten how to give. Even that is lost! So I get emails from people kind of ordering me to give them this or that "and be quick about it". The level of impoliteness and arrogance from a few is pretty striking. But that is the way of the world, no point in pretending otherwise. It is important to remind people of the importance of giving and sacrifice.

What I always look for is people who can step outside religious orthodoxy and not just blindly repeat the thoughts or views of others. The blog gets many comments along the lines of "god x is the most powerful" or "we should recite y twice a day" and I think "says who? Have you really actually lived what you repeat or are you blindly and robotically spouting useless dogma?" Words....postures...attitudes....and of course humility is in short supply. We live in a service-orientated world, service to our egos. This changes bit by bit by regular sadhana, not by spouting a few borrowed thoughts.

What pleasant surprises from the blog?
Funny comments and great souls. Lovely hearts... Beautiful people who are really awe inspiring! Some truly wonderful people have connected with the blog, many who keep in the background and many from across the world. If just one word is of use to others then that is perfection for me. 

What are the most popular blog posts?
Pretty much the ones on the great texts, like the Devi Mahatyam, the Sri Lalita Sahasranam, the Sri Rudram etc. Most of these were written some time ago now and the period of intense tapasya chanting these holy texts is over for me at present. But I would recommend anyone to commit to a period of chanting some text or other every day. Chanting is a great, great purifier. But you have to have the right attitude. My approach was always "I love you, Mother, so I want to chant.. it's going to sound awful, but, hey, I'm your child!" I never wanted to chant for anything apart from helping others, otherwise the whole thing becomes like a bank transaction. 

And the posts you love above all others?
Two, which are very little read... but extremely personal, called "a bhakta's love of krishna", which kind of told the early story of this westerner's love for Lord Krishna. It was full of very secret stuff from the heart of the soul. But for some reason the Lord directs most people away from reading this! 

On to the thorny question of enlightenment and spiritual progress.
This is something absolutely riddled with misunderstandings. My hippie generation in the west in the 1960s and 1970s had this very naive, linear thinking about enlightenment and self-realisation, compounded by a wide reading of Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, which of course related amazing experiences by a great and blessed soul, and in addition many of us had taken LSD and seen briefly what the world was really about.

 But for all of us, it was a little bit like driving on a flat road in a clear sky, seeing a range of beautiful mountains in the distance and thinking "oh, they are really near".. and not realising all the foothills in between! Sadhana is how you walk the foothills. Enlightenment is not how we originally conceive it to be, and there's a lot of effort involved in the foothill bit. Anandamayi Ma once described sadhana as a "bitter pill" that you have to take to get better, and that me seems about right. The classic picture of sadhana is contained in the famous paintings of Lord Krishna as Arjuna's charioteer - the horses representing all the unbridled wild forces with in that have to be carefully controlled. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017


Life in the country involves opening yourself to all sorts of interactions involving the senses in an entirely natural and harmonious way, especially if you add deep meditation where everything becomes very open and sensitively attuned. If you are quiet enough you can even hear the very subtle vibrational essence of the earth behind and beneath all the manifestation of creation. Then there is the sound of the earth breathing, and in this place the wonderful sounds of  nature, especially the rich bird life.

I have this view which is as goid as any movie epic of a big bird table just outside the back of the living room. Its a spacious table with a roof, and it sees the most amusing and wonderful visitors, led by two warring Robins and a lot of Tits and other species. Best sight so far was one Robin actually chasing away a little mouse that had come to try its luck and nab some bird seed. The Robin was fearless and the mouse scampered away. It is a tangeable way of seeing "the peacable kingdom", a phrase from Isaiah in the Bible, a great way of summing up the wonders of nature when left largely to itself. Feeding birds in winter is a non intrusive way of linking to the outside world .... And provides hours of fun! 

The other sound which is constant here is the sound of the River just opposite, a ceaseless ever-changing song of its own.  Rivers, or swift mountain streams, have so much to teach those who aspire  in spirituality. 

The third sound is the log fire, and this too is a great teacher. If you have ever had the luck of regularly tending a fire and keeping it going, you can learn.. For free.... Much about sadhana. The classic mistake in building a fire is overload, putting too many logs on in the beginning and thereby stopping the circulation of air. For fire needs wind and space to really take off. Same with sadhana. The classic mistake is to take on some task (i will chant x and y for 7 lifetimes) without having the strength to carry such tasks through. Then the whole thing collapses and you go back to playing games on your mobile phone.

The other lesson from fire is watching how logs burn. Fire brings heat..but in the beginning with the flames leaping up, there is no heat. You have to get the fire so the logs are simply glowing and this is where the heat comes. It takes time to get the logs just so... Same with sadhana. To achieve the "heat" in sadhana takes time and regularity and seriousness of purpose. No, it is not easy and never make the  mistake of thinking a spasmodic partial effort will make you glow. There are forces within you that resent the effort and will trip you up time and time again. Why bother? Most humans do not: sadhana consists of starting from a moment of dissatisfaction, or guilt, or whatever it is and wanting to change. But being lazy creatures we want to get to this changed condition with the minimum of effort. So we tral the internet to find "most powerful mantra" or "most powerful chant" and enact the time worn drama of hoping a chant will do it all for us. Then when it doesnt then back we go to entertaining ourselves.

Then of course.., you need to keep the fire going, and this involves a gentle vigilance. Neglect the fire and it will go out. Make the fire too strong and it will consume all yr fuel very quickly. There is a famous teaching from the Bhagavad Gita about yoga not being for those who do "too much...or too little" and mentions eating and sleeping. The deeper meaning of this passage is not just moderation, but the fact that you are in the world and have to interact with it in a sensible way. You have to be adult about it and not tend to excess. 

Simple stuff, but that steady fire is what gives heat and light. In sadhana it is steady practice.. Not overload...that brings progress.

Now... Back to the bird table!

Monday, 23 January 2017


Many well-wishers of the blog have asked how things are doing for this beaten-up old Englishman since the move away from London at the end of last year. So I wanted to update you on what's going on and report back once in a while.

Beautiful picture, isn't it? This is of the mountain river not far from my little house, which is perched on the side of a steep hill and is a small.. we call them in England bungalows, so small one storey house a bit like a Hobbit house, with a puja room, two bedrooms, and the usual amenities including solar panels, LPG for cooking, gasoil for heating... and a wood fire in the living room. 

Not far away is the ocean...and all around is this fresh forest, full of prana and bird life... owls at night.. and the birds are vivid, unusual... and in England we don't have to worry about snakes, scorpions or other nasties, just the cold weather.

Now this house was truly a miracle and gift of God, an astonishing example for me of the power of manifestation of the spirit after years of sadhana. It belongs to me, there is no mortgage to pay, and it is full of an enlivened silence --- and just needs some redecorating. 

In this house I will likely pass my final days, and hopefully before then pass times embedded in silence and able to pray and chant for others and turn this gift to use for all. I still have to work part of the week in London, which is a bone-crunching five hours drive away, but life is beginning to settle down a bit after a turbulent 2016. 

The idea is to listen to God, worship God, learn a bit of humility, practice Metta Bhavana and prayer, but above all meditate in silence and let the holiness of the surroundings swallow this idiot up hook line and sinker. It is entirely undeserved, but as always in life, if you are thrown a ball, then catch it and run with it! Or in this case, sit with it.

There is much to discard slowly but surely - all the hard skins we grow from working for a living and living in a toxic city, family concerns, illness and all that. It takes a while to shed those skins, to regain the original purity. 

I've taken the time to really question every practice and try and forge a real routine that works and will not become top-heavy. No robes, no elaborate pujas or  chants, just a cut back to the radical, the essence of what it is to be human, with a faith in the Divine, with human traits, entirely alone, and with a legacy of many great projects unfulfilled. How blessed is this opportunity!

Now there is always a chance i grow ever so slightly crazy, but I think not. Having been in the world for so long, it teaches you a few tricks about what impulses to trust and what to reject. I have a legacy, too, of things I have no desire to give up... such as coffee and music! Without a sense of fun, too, the whole project will get very over-serious, pompous and self-important. I reckon the learning of humility is one of the first great lessons. We tend to view our little spiritual concerns as all important, and time and time again forget how simple such a life really is. Just be open to receive from the Divine, protect from your own subconscious urges, bow to God, make no claims, check every revelation or shaft of understanding with Viveka, discrimination, and set up a whole some pand flexible practice. 

So, here goes, and on with life by the mountain river...

It reminds me a little bit of Rishikesh, the same steep hillsides.. of course no caves or yogis or ashrams. My companions are principally the birds outside and the neighbours are friendly and do not bite. The nearby town is Lynton, which is also on a steep hill and was built principally by the Victorians who called the area "Little Switzerland". Below Lynton, at the bottom of a cliff is a village called Lynmouth, very crowded in the summer. In 1952 there was a dreadful disaster when a torrential flood in August caused serious devastation and loss of life. Lynmouth still has a memorial hall dedicated to this tragedy — which at the time was widely reported around the world. The prime minister of Jamaica even sent a truckload of bananas as his country's contribution to the relief effort.

In every country, the most sacred places tend to be where rivers meet, and in this area there is a famous beauty landmark walled "Watersmeet" where two rivers indeed meet.

One of the first things I did here was pour as pot of honey as a thankyou offering into two of the rivers, and there is a whole back narrative attached to this. I first came to the area in 1999, running a half marathon in a race called the "Doone Race"  which went over the mountains. It was a near-death experience, back in the days I could run! But I finished the course...last.

The beauty of the place stayed with me, and the following year I came back with my then-girlfriend and remember chanting the Guru Gita early in the morning by the stream. Maybe this simple act is what ultimately produced the house all of 16 long years later.

There is a famous song by Jnaneshwar and the English words come to mind this morning. Wishes get granted in God's time, not your time - remember this! And God always knows whats best for you. These words may sound trite and cliched, but they are true, so deeply true and my life is a living testament to that. A truly worthless individual touched by grace, undeserving though it is:

My Guru's protection
Is always behind me
With this benediction
What more do I need?

The wife of a noble king
Should never go begging
When all of Her wishes
Are completely fulfilled

To one who is sitting beneath
The wish-fulfilling tree
What more is still needed
When all is granted

I have crossed over
I have crossed over
Grace has protected me
my Guru has saved me