An Interview with Brother Chidananda

Manifesting Divine Consciousness in Daily Life is a new book by Sri Mrinalini Mata, president of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). In this interview, Brother Chidananda, a long time SRF monk who works alongside Mataji, discusses how her new book captures the essence of what it means to be successful on one’s spiritual path.

Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): How would you define success?

Brother Chidananda (BC): I think the title of Sri Mrinalini Mata’s new book, Manifesting Divine Consciousness in Daily Life, is an excellent definition. Success in life, and certainly in the spiritual field, means to bring out into expression the inherent qualities of our own divine essence—the soul, or atman.

IYM: What are those qualities?

BC: All the wonderful things we wish we could abide in 24/7: bliss, love, even-mindedness, peace, the ability to always stay in the calm center of our being. And from that calm center we would be able to respond to the challenges that come up in our daily lives. Whatever events occur, we can learn to meet them with an undercurrent of divine consciousness, divine happiness, and spirit of seva or divine selflessness. As Paramahansa Yogananda expressed it: “To be able to stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds.”

IYM: How can we stand unshaken?

BC: To start, we first need to be very realistic about the obstacles—the things in ourselves and in the world around us—that make that kind of living a real challenge. It’s not something that’s effortless. The very beginning of real progress in spiritual life is the acceptance of the fact that it’s a fight. Success in life isn’t meant to be handed to us on a silver platter. Spiritual consciousness isn’t meant to be effortless or taken for granted.

In one sense, that’s the message of the whole Bhagavad Gita, which I consider the greatest of Yoga texts and therefore the greatest scripture of true success in life. The message of the Gita is couched as the story of two warring clans. Paramahansa Yogananda explained its deeper symbolic meaning, interpreting the Gita from the point of view of Yoga, showing that it is about the war between different aspects of our own being. One part of us is usually driven by ego, selfishness,  ungoverned and unlovely emotions—the dark side of our mortal nature. The other side is our divine potential and abilities that are resident within each one of us, calling us to live in the consciousness of our divine nature. It is a daily battle that can only be won by starting and ending each day with introspection, with self-analysis, as we review our actions, attitudes, and reactions to all that occurred that day.

So, one aspect is to recognize that life is a battle. Where to go from there? We start by trying to inculcate, in our daily activities and attitudes, those divine qualities we’re trying to have our lives revolve around. That is the subject of Mrinalini Mata’s book.

IYM: How can we cultivate those qualities?

BC: She talks about how Paramahansa Yogananda stressed the absolute necessity of having a daily practice of meditation. Meditation is a word that—just like Yoga itself—is used in a lot of different ways. Meditation, when you understand its true, transformative power, is so much more than a period of sitting quietly, feeling calm and harmonious. Meditation is a very disciplined application of the mind and soul’s concentration power to contact and bring out into expression that innate divinity that which is latent within each one of us.

As long as the mind, heart, feelings, and surface emotions of our human nature are in a state of constant reactivity, upheaval, likes and dislikes, this incessant chatter masks and obscures the calm depths of the divine consciousness we’re trying to contact. Meditation is a disciplined practice to take our awareness beneath the level of restless and conflicting emotions—to a deeper level of consciousness where there’s light, divinity, calmness, and the awareness of a higher reality where is perfect.

When our minds and faculties are operating only through the physical instruments of perception, the senses, we are tricked and deluded into thinking that this material world is what is real. Maya or delusion sucks us into the most serious and fear-generating emotions. Meditation—by withdrawing the prana, the life energy, and consciousness from the outer instruments that are focused on the outer drama—allows us to gradually discover what we have in ourselves, which is much more real and substantial than the ephemeral show of ups and downs. Our inner lives then become much more real to us than the passing show. The ability to dwell in that consciousness is exactly what Paramahansa Yogananda meant when he talked about learning to stand unshaken.

IYM: Did Paramahansa Yogananda primarily prescribe a path of bhakti, of devotion to God?. . .

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2014 of Integral Yoga Magazine.