Photo by Zac Durant via Unsplash.

To learn from a spiritual teacher, more than anything else, you need faith in God: “God, I really want to experience the Truth. Put me in good hands. Present a good teacher to me.“ Then, when you meet them, feel—not through the head, but through the heart. And if you feel very comfortable, and if their approach is good for you, then say, “I’m here as an empty cup; you fill it.” You don’t go as a half-filled cup and ask them to fill the other half.

There is a story where a teacher refused to teach the student so the student said, “All right. You refused. But I’m going to learn from you. I took you as my teacher.“ So the student made a crude image of the teacher, sat in front of it with the thought, “Sir, you are going to teach me everything,“ and started meditating. And he learned. That means it’s not even the Guru who is important, it’s the disciple. How much sincerity do you have? How much confidence you have?

In the ancient way of teaching—not only Yoga, but all the ancient arts—no teacher taught in the sense of classrooms and lectures and things like that. In the ancient way, you just live with the teacher. For example, if you want to learn music, you approach a music teacher to whom you are drawn and you live with them, serve them, wash their clothes, carry their instrument, help in the kitchen. Maybe after a couple of years the teacher will begin to teach you “do, re, me, fa.“ That is the way real lessons are imparted—through living, observing, and listening. Sri Ramakrishna used to tell a story about somebody who came and said, “How can I see God? I want to experience God quickly.” The teacher replied, “All right, I’ll teach you something after we have a bath. He took the seeker to the Ganges, and as the student was bathing, the teacher put his hand on the student’s head and held him under the water. He struggled to get out but the teacher kept him under for a few minutes. He knew the moment he had to take his hands off.
The gasping student came up demanding, “Why did you do that?“
“Before I answer your question tell me, what were you thinking of under the water? What was it you were looking for? God realization? The Bhagavad Gita? Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras?
“None of that sir; I wanted air. Nothing but air!” If your interest is that keen, if you want nothing but God, then you are a good seeker and you can attain faster.

Spiritual longing is not something that we build up. We are prepared by nature itself. How? By going out in the world, doing things, getting burnt, and then leaving the world, forgetting how it burnt us, going back and getting burnt again. Then we understand the world. Then we say, “Whatever I start to do, it seems to affect me. It’s not the world that is the cause—it’s my wrong approach to the world, my wrong interest. I don’t want that kind of selfish approach to the world. What else can I do? There’s nothing more to try, so let me try sadhana (spiritual practice).”

There’s a saying, “I’m sick and tired of the world.” When we know the world well, we get sick and tired of running after things to make us happy, and then we begin to seek. When we become “sicker,” we become a “seeker.” It’s Mother Nature, the world itself, that prepares us. Mother Nature says, “Don’t come to me for your permanent happiness. I’m not the one to give it to you. That’s how we learn from the world. We get tired of the world—money, name, fame, this, that. And we think, “Everything is a problem, nothing but a problem. I just want to be free from all this.” Only then we really look for God. At that point we are ready.

We all must come to the realization: “Out there I cannot get anything. It’s all inside.” The teacher is like a mirror. If you are trying to find out whether you have a face or not, you will look everywhere and but don’t see your face. But when you stand in front of a mirror, you will say, “Ah yes, I have a face!” It’s not that the mirror brought it to you; you already had it. The teacher only reflects what you have. If you don’t have a keen interest, you don’t see it. I tell students that if they depend on the Guru, they’ll be in trouble. A Guru is only a temporary helper. If you want to eat a lollipop, you have to hold the stick. Eat the pop, and when you finish it, throw the stick away. A Guru is like the stick. Stick with them until you experience the sweetness of the lollipop. Then you don’t need a Guru. But until that keen interest arises, it’s very hard to teach proper Yoga. You can give students something that can make them comfortable, happy, healthy. But these are not really reasons for Yoga. The real reason is ultimate peace, ultimate happiness, without depending on anything.

Yoga is not one-sided. Nobody can practice only Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, or only Jnana Yoga. You need a combination of everything. When you want to understand something, use Jnana Yoga. When you express your feelings, use Bhakti Yoga. When you want to do something, practice Karma Yoga. You are a mixture—you have a head, you have a heart, you have a hand. I can’t teach only through your head or only through the heart. It should be a combination. That’s what we call it Integral Yoga, complete Yoga, Pūrna Yoga. I see the student’s attitude and capacity and guide them to what will be most beneficial for that seeker. I present what you need. What do you want to achieve? Optimal health? Even there, it’s not just about the body—it’s how comfortable you are in the body you have. If you are physically challenged and you are living with that disability comfortably, you are not disabled. Keep the body as healthy as possible and the mind as peaceful as possible. What is your natural condition, disease or ease? You had ease. You did something to disturb it, so you say you are “dis-eased.” Disease is nothing but disturbed ease.

The same case with people who ask, “How can I find peace?” You don’t have to find it. You have it. Do not disturb it. The question is, “What did I do to disturb my ease and peace?“ Simply stay away from doing that—that’s Yoga. So, it’s up to you. When peace and happiness are your aim, you will begin to think, “Will I be always happy by doing this?“ Put that question to everything. Take a cigarette, for example: “Will I be healthy in smoking it?“ If the answer is no, then throw it out. Negate things that will make you sick, that will make you uneasy. That is what we call spiritual practice.

You are not going to get anything from outside. If you get happiness or peace from outside, you’re depending on outside things. When they go away, you lose your peace. When there’s a coming, there’s always a going. But what is within is always within. So find your peace and happiness, without depending on things to make you happy. Temporarily, you can make use of those outside things, but remember that permanent peace and joy only come from inside.

Photo: Sand painting of the Integral Yoga All Faiths Yantra

All spiritual paths have this common theme: Whatever you do should make you healthy and happy. If you don’t want to fall sick, if you want to remain peaceful and happy, you should follow certain guidelines in life—like we see in the ten Commandments, or the Buddhism’s ten Dasa Sila, or Yoga’s ten Yamas and Niyamas, for example. There are certain precepts that are common to all faiths. In the same way, you have to follow certain guidelines if you are not to disturb your mind. There are hundreds and thousands of restaurants. Because I start an Indian restaurant, should I say, “All the people should come here and eat this food, otherwise they’ll go to hell?” No. My taste buds are different from yours. You may like less spicy food, I may like spicier food. That’s natural. We have various restaurants, but they all have one purpose—satisfying your hunger.

So there is one goal, but many ways of approaching it. What is important is total freedom in religion. If you don’t find freedom in religion or spirituality, you can’t enjoy anything. But we gain freedom by following certain disciplines. For example, our center in Virginia is called “Yogaville.” Thousands of people come and go in Yogaville. Those who live here full-time accept certain conditions—no smoking, no alcohol, no drugs—certain conditions like that. If you can’t follow these conditions, stay outside, do whatever you want, and come for a visit if you wish. But, this is the place especially kept for the people who want to follow rules that will make them healthy and happy.

It’s almost like airplane seating—there is a no smoking section and a smoking section. If you want to smoke, we don’t have an objection but go to the smoking section. This isn’t your section. People come to Yogaville to stay, and then say, “Oh, I find it hard to follow these things.“ All right, go and do whatever you want. When you feel that a yogic lifestyle is the best thing for you then come back again. The doors are always open. Many come and go—it’s their freedom. If you can’t find freedom in religious practices, spiritual practices, where else will you find it? No teacher can command the student to come. You come on your own accord. If you find it difficult, maybe you are not yet ready for it. Go back, get burned out, and come again. Then my work will be easy for you. It will be easy for me too. Otherwise, you’ll sit here and think of outside things and grumble.

We expect residents to be Yogavillians not Yogavillains! They should understand that everything here is designed to be a support for their spiritual path. But, naturally conflicts will arise. Why do they usually arise, even in a Yoga community? There will always be some conflict as long as there is the thought, “I, me, mine.” Getting into this conflict will make you realize that nothing was ever “mine.” When it really begins to burn you, you think, “Oh boy! Did I bring all these things with me? Can I take them with me when I say goodbye? That kind of understanding will come only when you get burned enough by the world. You will get into conflicts and begin to think, “Why am I in this situation? Because I am making it my own. I’m trying to possess, control, or cling to people and possessions.“

The world is not interested in binding you—not at all. The world is neutral. The way you approach the relationship you have with the world—the way you make use of it—makes you happy or unhappy. This is true of anything in life. A small pen knife, is it good or bad? If you use it to cut a fruit, it’s good; if you use it to cut a throat, it’s bad. Who makes it good or bad? Me. When you realize this, you are free. If I know how to have proper relationship with everything, everything is fine. It’s my improper relationship to people and things that brings me problems, brings me likes and dislikes, along with their ups and downs. But if I am neutral, no problem. And that lesson you learn only by living in the world, by getting tossed, fried, roasted, then you get cooked well. You have to become properly matured, ripened. Unripe fruit is not so enjoyable.

Maturity comes only in the field. There you face challenges. Facing challenges brings strength. Life is a challenge. Take a seed, put it on your altar, worship it daily, and pray, “Seed, please grow.” Will it grow? No. Dig a hole, put it in there, and it gets a challenge. Then it begins to sprout.

from a Yoga International Magazine interview in Yogaville with Swami Satchidananda, August 1992