Dispelling Self-Doubt


The simplest, most brilliant method for dealing with self-doubt is a tool that Rudi created, that we call “The Wish to Grow.” Now, in all the Indian spiritual traditions, whether it’s Buddhism, or Shaivism, or Vaishnavism, devotion is essential. Devotion is essential because devotion continually brings us back to our heart. Devotion is the tool by which we can break down all of the accumulated tensions of our lack of self-esteem, all of the accumulated weight of our own self-doubt, and lift ourselves and our spirits to a place where our energy is activated and flowing. What we are devoted to is growing spiritually, which means growing ever closer to the truth of our own existence. We are growing ever more aware of and rooted in the awareness that we are nothing but energy, and that this total environment is curtains of light, permeated at its most refined dimension literally by only one awareness, one mind. That mind has one thought: I wish to grow. I wish to grow is the only thing on the mind of Shiva.

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The brilliance of this simple tool is, on the one hand, that it is a recognition of our limitations. It’s an acknowledgement of the tensions that we carry. It is an admission of our faults and our mistakes. The Wish to Grow acknowledges the reality of our physical existence,  and our mental, emotional and physical tensions, and the struggles that we have in our daily life, even as it is also recognizing the possibility of transcending all of that and arriving at an understanding of our ultimate reality.  That possibility is extraordinary—a recognition of the beauty that is forever present inside us, and the Unimaginable Possibility that is present as this life.

So in those moments when we encounter any self-doubt, rather than collapse into a puddle or a ball of tensions, if we could release that tension and turn our awareness to the Wish to Grow, and begin to feel within ourselves, in our energy centers, and, take it deeper and deeper and deeper in connection to our energy centers, then we have a natural, innate experience of the devotion that resides within us as beauty, as joy. Slowly, but surely, we are transformed. This doesn’t have to take a long time, although we do need to practice for a while to develop the skill. If you sit and practice every day until you have an experience of the flow, eventually you have the awareness that you can lift yourself within the flow any time you choose. Then, moving through your day, in your ordinary day, that becomes the context of your practice. You are aligning yourself, connecting, flowing, from within yourself in all the activities and with all the people that you share your life with, and that becomes a context for your practice.

Finally, you settle, every day, within yourself, in the place where you are aware, even as you move about in your day, that the reality of you has nothing to do with this physical body or all of the movement that it’s going through. The reality of us is a profoundly refined, sweet and beautiful possibility that presents itself as health and well-being and understanding, that heals and transforms our environment. You become established in a place within yourself, in which it doesn’t matter what you do anymore.  Nothing matters, because your heart radiates joy and gratitude.

So use this brilliant tool that you can sit with and, asking in your heart, connected to your breath, more and more deeply, say to yourself, again and again, “I really, deeply wish to grow.” Relaxing your body, and feeling it again and again, cultivate an intense feeling within yourself that that’s really what your life’s about. Because it is. Every living thing that exists on this planet exists for one reason, and that is to grow. All the diversity and all the environments exist for one reason and that is to support growth.

Remember that the wish to grow doesn’t deny your tensions and isn’t a suppression of anybody’s shortcomings.  It’s in fact an admission of it all. At the same time, it is a recognition that there is an Unimaginable Possibility and profound abundance within us that is available to us, if we can connect to it and hold the space long enough for it to begin to express itself. To hold the space long enough, we have to be able to dispel our self-doubt. The only reason I’m still practicing is because I have experienced again and again, that when we do that, miracles happen. And I wish miracles for all of you.


By Swami Chetanananda

Most of our attitudes and opinions become formed in a family system, which for, many of us, was dysfunctional. We can also say our attitudes and our opinions have been formed in the past, as they are part of the disappointments of our ancestors from long ago. That deep past goes back long before this body even existed. Our attitudes and opinions were formed ages ago, and they were just sitting there waiting for a body to emerge around them so that they could fully flower. If we are living in our attitudes and opinions, where are we constantly going to go with them? That’s easy -- around and around and around again in our past.

So it becomes important for us to understand that nothing that we see today and will see tomorrow is anything at all like yesterday. While we understand the concept that every day is a new day, most people every new day bring the same attitudes and opinions they had yesterday. You know what that’s called, don’t you? I call it Ground Hog Day. To make the effort to reach inside ourselves, beneath those tensions, and find some fundamental goodness that is ever present in ourselves that we so strangely, rarely access, and begin to engage that part of ourselves and bring it to the forefront and open ourselves and allow ourselves to be open and reeducated every day, is to begin to completely transform ourselves.

The one ingredient in our chemistry that allows for all the lessons that we experience to be absorbed into the deepest place inside us, instead of endlessly reinforcing our attitudes and our opinions, is gratitude. When you find that fundamental goodness in yourself and you start to be able to access it in your daily life, instead of being totally controlled by your past, you will find many reasons to be grateful. Feeling that gratitude, absorbing it into yourself, and becoming that gratitude does not take a lot of effort.

Having desires is almost always a problem. That’s because desires take us out of ourselves. We start reaching for things that we think we need instead of reaching inside to connect to that fundamental goodness inside us to grow the love and the joy and the gratitude in us to the degree that that love and joy and gratitude attracts into our life everything that we need.

The only desire we should cultivate is the desire to grow. In desiring to grow, all of our desires will be transformed into the experience of an abundance that is already inside us just waiting for the chance to spring out and show itself. We get so caught up in our opinions and attitudes and our habitual ways of doing things that we’re constantly allowing our creative energy to be consumed by an inner struggle that gives no benefit whatsoever. The struggle just eats you alive, and it does nothing.

The yogis, saints, the accomplished masters of all spiritual traditions, came to a place within themselves where they were able to enjoy every moment and every breath, fully. Pain or sorrow or struggle or whatever, these are the moments of our life. What other moments have you got? You’ve got a different moment? These are the moments of our life, and instead of getting all tangled up in what we want and we don’t want, and where we’re going or we’re not going, or whatever, the great spiritual people understood, these are the moments of our life. We don’t have different moments. Be ambivalent about pain or joy. Be above it all. Don’t be attached to what comes and what goes, because there‘s always coming and going.

The ascended masters understood whatever it is that presents itself is presented by the goddess, the breath of life itself. The way we see what is presented is due to our own karma. Karma is the accumulated tensions of our family system, our attitudes, our opinions, everything. If we stay connected to our body, aware of our breath, quietly enjoying the moments of our life, pretty soon we will start to feel our breath dissolve our body and dissolve this worldly experiential context, and we’ll be some place completely different. That place is completely quiet, completely peaceful, completely beautiful.

My advice is: rather than wasting your time on desires, enjoy each and every moment of your life. Don’t waste your time fighting with your friends. Don’t waste your time wanting something different from your kids. Don’t waste your time with any of that struggle. The more you cultivate the experience of enjoyment in these moments the more healthy and fit you will be physically, the happier you will be, the more love you will experience in your life, and the more all the things you think you want will naturally appear in your life as an effect of the abundance which is overflowing in you. Don’t struggle with desire. Let it go; let it all go.

The only thing that endures is the breath of life. That breath of life, of which you are an expression, of which you are an effect of, that breath of life endures. Enjoying the moments of your life, all of your struggles are dissolved into the breath of life. In that process of dissolution, we come to understand that we’re nothing but the breath of God. The beauty of that experience is absolutely intense and indescribable. It shatters every tiny small attitude and opinion and desire that we could possibly have.


STEP OUT OF THE WORLD into your own sweetness

By Swami Chetanananda

If you ask me what the fundamental problem with humanity is, I would say it is the disease of the ego. The disease of the ego is that sense of separateness that also implies a competition for resources and a struggle for acceptance and then dominance and so forth. Another way of putting it is that it leads to a struggle for control.

If that’s the fundamental problem, then the solution is very unbelievably simple. It’s unbelievably simple. Opening your heart is the solution. In opening our hearts, first of all we’re releasing tensions and allowing our creative energy to flow, which makes us healthier physically and mentally and emotionally and intellectually. Secondly, we’re discovering a place within ourselves that is pure sweetness and beauty and love. In that place we also discover that we are completely interconnected with every other human being on the planet and the total environment. We discover that we have emerged from the biosphere, that we will dissolve into the biosphere, and that any and all of it is within us and we are within it. There is nothing else.

We’re completely connected. Discovering that connection creates an ever-increasing flow. This discovery generates health on a physical level; on a mental and emotional level, it produces clarity, generosity, gratitude. On a spiritual level it is total well-being, abundance (not of a material kind), and unconditional love.

So, the essence of the practice is opening your heart every day. Why waste your energy on the struggle? It is absolutely something you cannot win. There is one rule to the game of life, and only one rule to the game of life. That rule is: you play, you lose. That’s the rule. That’s why there are such things as hermits and monks and wandering ascetics—people who forget about the world. Instead, they go about every day exploring the inner world that begins with opening their hearts. Exploring what it is to lose the world and be found in unconditional love. Think of it.

As we see in the Sufi tradition, the dervishes left the world behind. The same with the yogis, the sadhus, and the chöd practitioners. When you step out of the world completely, you’ve just moved outside of time. The uprising, upwelling, of love and joy and beauty dissolves the ego, dissolves every sense of separateness, pacifies every dimension of our body, mind and emotions, satisfies us and allows us to leave the world.

This is amazing, dazzling, wondrous work that just keeps on blessing us. The first moment you can each day, open your heart, feel that movement within you, breathe into that sweetness, merge your breath in that sweetness, and get up and get about your day. At the point that your breath and that sweetness have merged, you have completely left the world, because there is nothing at all the world is going to give you that you don’t already have in yourself. The truth is there is nothing in the world that is going to give anybody, ever, anything close to what we already have in ourselves. I just have endless compassion for anybody  who thinks they’re going to find something out there that is going to make them happy because well, good luck, sailor. Whatever comes up between you and that sweetness, just let it go. Let it go.

While we all still deal with the world every day, we can leave every worldly aspiration, every need for worldly approval on any level that we might have, and every expectation of the world. We can instead live in the incredibly rich and beautiful experience of the presence of our own sweetness.

Practicing with Heart

By Swami Chetanananda

There is one simple thing we need to understand, and it’s this: we’re in this world to grow. Every living thing in this world is here for that one reason. We’re here to grow.

Growing, however, has nothing at all to do with getting what we think we want. Growing has to do with taking in energy from every circumstance and circulating it to release our boundaries. This allows for the expansion of the respiratory process that is the essence of what we are. Take away this respiratory process and you are…dust.

All the desires, fears and worries that we have are only expressions of our limitations, our limited ability to see and do. It’s when we begin to make contact with that respiratory process that is the essence of what we are, which is most simply experienced as our breath, that we can experience a new alignment take place from within.

This alignment connects us ever more completely to The Earth, as well as to Heaven. We can discover that realignment just by tuning into ourself and feeling, not thinking. Thinking is useless. Instead we have to feel our breath, deeply. A new alignment will automatically emerge from within us if we just hold that contact.  As this alignment emerges, it will express itself in a reorganization of the flow pattern in our energy and all the patterns of our energy. Our mind, our emotions, our desires, our tensions will all be changed, released and refined.

This isn’t rocket science; it’s not complicated.  But here’s the trick: we have to want it, because inside us there are millennia of strain and trauma that we are packaged in, that we inherit from our ancestors. It has nothing to do with us at all. It’s only the wrapping that we come in. If we don’t want it, if we can’t stay focused on the feeling and hold that feeling through the unwrapping of all of those layers of trauma that we have inherited from our ancestors, then we end up stuck.

Wanting to grow, generating a feeling in ourself of longing to connect to the deepest and finest place within ourselves, is not unique to my teaching. This is the methodology of the Sufis, this is the methodology of all of the Bhakta tradition, this is the methodology of the Christian mystics. We generate a feeling within ourselves and hold and deepen that feeling, sustaining us as we are taking in energy and expanding its circulation in the form of respiratory process. The ultimate result of that is to discover a quiet and a sweetness and a joy inside ourself that is packed with a million miracles.

There is beauty in every human heart. There is beauty in each of our hearts that has the potential to change our world and the world we connect to profoundly. That process begins with understanding we are in this world to grow and making the commitment that is appropriate to accomplishing our purpose here.

Understanding that we’re in this world to grow puts an end to being lost and wandering. Understanding that we’re in this world to grow puts an end to every kind of negativity, because we can at that point begin to understand that every experience - positive, negative, pleasant, unpleasant, painful, whatever – is energy to grow from. Instead of spinning in our patterns of tension, we can breathe and open and circulate every experience inside us and become profoundly strong and profoundly clear. In that clarity, we experience the emergence of a beauty and the power that we call love. This transforms us and everything the breath of our life touches.

Put your heart into your practice and you will discover a treasure in your chest that is richer than all the bankers in New York. But you have to put your heart into it. For the most part what we do, especially here in America where we live in constant fear, is go through our life building walls around our heart thinking we’re protecting ourselves from pain and thinking that’s a good thing. In fact, there’s no protecting ourselves from pain. It’s only when we understand to take everything in as energy and digest it that we become strong enough to hold a space of true love. To discover that space and live in it is the purpose of our life. 

Commitment is Crucial

By Swami Chetanananda

I talk a lot about unimaginable possibility, but I don't talk enough about the fact that realizing  an unimaginable possibility within our own individual lives is work and that it requires commitment.

Commitment is the center of gravity around which your own energy field can begin to reorganize itself as it sheds pathology and builds or takes on new structure.  Without that center of gravity, we are constantly shedding old pathology and taking on new pathology, and basically swirling around in the same intellectual, psychological, and emotional toilet bowl that we’ve been swimming in since we were kids. That’s a long-winded explanation of my term, disappointments of our ancestors.

Commitment is really, really powerful. And if you have any value for the quality of your own life, there has to be commitment. When I started out in practice, I could  look around both in myself and around me and understand what the quality of my own life wasn’t.  Understanding what your life is not is a really good place to start. Beginning to reach inside yourself beyond your tensions and your pain to a deeper place inside you that you can experience as beautiful, and developing and cultivating within yourself the capacity to hold that space, is a beginning of a transformation of your whole mind and your whole experience of your life.

The work itself is actually not that complicated. The way I would describe it is: every day we have to become present with our own pain and our own disappointment. We have to separate that sensation from the story, because the story is always bullshit; not just sometimes, but all the time. The story is bullshit. 

The work is coming into the present with your pain and your disappointments and confusion, and simply holding that sensation until it dissolves. Using the simple tidal motion of your breath to dissolve it brings about a release of all of that accumulated and suppressed pathology and transforms it and releases it into what it essentially is anyway, which is creative energy—which then becomes available for you, for your system, to create new structure from.

Holding that space over and over and over again makes us very much more capable of holding the experience of the sensation and releasing the trauma, and in developing that capacity, slowly we shift into the experience of the movement of the breath inside of us. That sensation—how good it feels to actually breathe—becomes available to us, and from that experience of the breath within us, the awakening of our creative energy begins to be expressed in a whole different dimension, and it goes on from there.

Fundamentally, all growth requires commitment. When I lived in New York with Rudi, I used to sleep by the door of the meditation room on an air mattress. I used the only pair of pants I owned as a pillow, so that when Rudi peeked his head in the door early in the morning, I just whipped my pants on and got dressed, and we’d go for a walk.  We used to walk down in the West Village.  This was at a time when SoHo had potholes in it that were 8 feet across and 4 feet deep and bricks were falling off the sides of buildings as you walked by.  It really looked like Berlin in 1945.  We’re walking along one day, and I wasn’t long out of Indiana, so this was my first urban experience.  We used to walk, and Rudi wouldn’t say much during these walks, we just walked.  One day we’re walking along and Rudi looks over and says to me, “You can’t want it one day and not want it the next and ever get anywhere.”  That’s all he said to me the whole walk. Maybe that’s all he said to me the whole week.  But I understood very well what he meant.

There is an unimaginable possibility available within every single living person. No matter what your disagreements or differences with anybody, that’s a very good reason to respect them. The realization of that unimaginable possibility that it’s available to you—it’s available, it’s not free.  It doesn’t cost you anything; it requires a commitment and a consistent, simple effort. That commitment and consistent simple effort will awaken and release in you a creative energy that is more powerful than 100 atom bombs. It has the capacity to completely transform you and in the process, not kill you but make you even more alive. And reveal to you the simple and profound intelligence that underlies all of creation.

Forty-five years ago I committed myself to the realization of an unimaginable possibility. I’m still totally, totally committed. Whatever else I’ve done, popular or not, for the last 45 years, every single day I have made contact, aligned myself in and generated a flow from that unimaginable possibility, which has transformed not only my life, but a lot of other lives as well. So it’s good to think about the finest thing you could possibly hope for from your life and commit yourself to its realization in some way. 


By Swami Chetanananda

Within and around us, Life is. Life is self-organizing, self-motivating, self-knowing, self-expressing. It is not that I am anything; this body is only a reflection of the creative capacity that is present in Life Itself. To begin to live from this understanding gives rise within us to a state of total well-being that is beyond the stresses and strains of ordinary living. Our whole understanding of time and space is completely rearranged, because no longer are we limited by the superficial boundaries that arise and subside through the action of the creative power implicit in Life.

            To give you an analogy, the ocean has lots of different currents and pressures functioning in it, but is itself a consistent medium. It’s all water, all the way through, but because of the various pressures functioning within and around that event, all kinds of different wave patterns and current patterns and tide patterns are articulated. Those boundaries--current boundaries, tidal boundaries, wave patterns--are all superficial. We can notice them and think they’re interesting, but we understand that fundamentally it is all water, it is all one.

            Life is also One. That understanding changes our concern for our own material and physical well-being; we don’t have the same paranoia about it. We can allow for the natural creative power of Life Itself to flow within us and around us. In this we discover an extended benefit which totally transcends our human idea of desires and wants and needs. We understand even in the beginning of this experience that Life Itself has no problem.

            It’s only because of our limited understanding and our attachment to the forms of experience that we have no access to the substance of experience--the vast creative vitality that is implicit in all experience and the universal power from which experience itself arises. Consequently we worry, we suffer, we strain, we anguish, and we die. We must, in earnest and with great dedication, pursue our understanding of and our direct connection to authentic living, and do this through the process of growing. We must make the effort to take down the walls, to dissolve the tensions, break the patterns, extend our awareness throughout the whole field of our creative awareness. Only then do we begin to live and die for a real reason.

            That reason is the experience of authenticity and an understanding of the vastness of Life Itself, which removes us immediately from the realm of suffering. If we understand that Life is infinite, that what is alive is alive and that things that are alive don’t die--by definition--then fear, insecurity, and suffering no longer have any hold on us. We are able to completely relax and, with virtue and generosity and patience and sustained effort, cultivate within ourselves the capacity for contemplative attention and discriminative awareness. These allow us to recognize, extend, and dissolve the superficial boundaries that are limitations to our awareness; further, they allow us to participate completely in the experience of authentic living.

Whatever we’re doing in this world is only fulfilling, ultimately, within the context of our effort to grow and to connect to the infinite creative capacity implicit in authentic living. Any work we do, any form of life we have, is meaningful and enriching. Don’t think you need any other kind of life than the life you have, and don’t think there’s any possibility someplace else that does not exist where you are at this moment. Though the process of growing may take you through many different types of scenery, though you may play many different roles and have many different jobs, the place to be is within yourself. Participate in the total flow of creative energy available to you in each moment; watch, with discrimination and careful attention, the process by which this creative energy structures itself as a pattern and is expressed in the field of your everyday experience. In this way you are structuring, layer-by-layer and stage-by-stage, the endless possibility for renewal and recreativity that is possible in life, sharing that recreativity with all the different people you interact with.

Engaging the Creative Process

By Swami Chetanananda

The creative process comes from the need within ourselves to find a better way in our life.  For me, the creative process began after I'd suffered a fair amount, even though I was young.  I said to myself, "There's got to be a better way!"  In searching for that better way, an enormous creative process unfolded. 

The first step in that process is thinking there has to be a better way, and thinking about what that better way might look like, and the second step is thinking about how you might get there.  You have to think about who you are, what you want to do, what you can do, and who you want to do it for or to.  Then it's a process of taking in information and giving, and adjusting your action, and then taking in information again, and adjusting your action, and making whatever it is you're trying to do a learning experience for you. In the process of learning about whatever it is—people, food, books, art, music, iPhone apps, whatever—you're continuously learning about you and learning about whatever other thing you choose to focus on.  There is a flow that happens that is a creative flow, as long as you are continuing to take in the feedback and change yourself from it, and the limits of that creative process are distant. 


The only issue really in it is how much you're willing to change, or conversely, how much resistance you have to it.  Along the way there are some painful moments and some difficult times, but all of that pain and difficulty has a great deal more to do with changes that are trying to happen in us than it does with any external circumstances that we might be called on to endure.  If you hold onto that creative flow, it finds a way to attract to itself its own audience and its own requirement for self-sufficiency.  This is my experience.  In the creative process money is never the issue, the issue is commitment and your willingness to change.  Those are the issues.

In spiritual texts, there is a lot of discussion about liberation.  What is it that we should be liberated from?  Our past!  Being liberated from the past also liberates us from the future, but we have to be liberated from our past, and it is that liberation that we experience in the creative process.  But you have to be willing to let go of your past when you enter into the creative process. Otherwise, what are you doing except bringing the wet blanket of your past and throwing it on the fire of whatever creative process is trying to take off, trying to happen for you?  Our past is always the wet blanket on the fire of life and love burning within us!

In entering into a creative process it doesn't matter who you were and it doesn't matter who you weren't. Nothing matters except that you're here now and what are you going to do about it?  What do you want to do about it really?  If you have a feeling to do something, opportunities come, doors open, you walk in, there is something to be done.  It's either a noble endeavor or it isn't.  You can engage in it or you don't.  Whatever you choose. As long as we have a body life goes on.  If you choose to do something, you can do it lovingly but dispassionately at the same time.  Being a parent is a good example of that.  You have to be loving but very dispassionate, detached.

Ultimately in any creative process what gets burned up is us.  What we sacrifice is who we were.  That's a good thing.


Taking Sannyas

Swamiji in Bloomington in 1978 after his return from India and taking sannyas.

Swamiji in Bloomington in 1978 after his return from India and taking sannyas.

by Swami Chetanananda

Swami is a title that means “master of one’s self.” The title comes out of a tradition based in India that first emerged in the eighth century under the influence of a very important non-dualistic teacher named Adi Shankara, who traveled over India reinvigorating the teachings of the Vedas and particularly the Upanishads, the sacred scriptures of South Asia. A swami is not exactly a religious figure. In my opinion, the sacred literature of South Asia, the Vedas and the Upanishads, the Aranyakas and the Tantras, are not religious literature. Instead, they are the basis for a long running conversation about what it means to be a complete human being. This body of literature suggests something to us about the reason why we’re here, which is to grow. 

A swami is somebody who has pursued this goal, this quest to grow, and has come to a place within themselves where they no longer have any personal needs to fulfill or any personal agendas to pursue. They no longer have any of the conditioning accumulated in their family system that limits their perspective in persistent ways. Coming to that place, the person accepts an initiation as a swami. 

So, I went through such an initiation, called sannyas, in Maharastra, India, in May 1978, with Swami Muktananda presiding. I took sannyas in the Saraswati order, the same tradition in which Rudi had become a swami. 

The group that took sannyas with Swamiji. Swamiji is in the back row, fifth from the left.

The group that took sannyas with Swamiji. Swamiji is in the back row, fifth from the left.

The experience wasn’t exactly easy. It was about 118 degrees outside. For [five] days we didn’t sleep but did shraddha rituals for the dead. Thought that series of rituals, I was paying respect to my ancestors for generations, up to and including my parents, even though they were living at the time. The thinking is that after the sannyas ritual was over, I wasn’t going to be around to do those rituals for them after they died. I also did the death rituals for myself because, before becoming a swami, you have to complete all your worldly obligations. In India, the shraddha ritual is the last obligation. Once all your obligations are fulfilled, you throw away your clothes, have all your hair cut off, and get an entirely new name. The person that you were is considered to be dead. You tear up your astrology chart, which is like the story of your life, and throw it away. 

During the sannyas rituals, you also renounce everything you can possibly renounce. Then, at the last moment, you renounce all your promises. To be truly liberated, to be really free, you have to be free from all renunciation. The point is that purity and impurity are not really issues to be concerned about. 

Then, at the very end of the sannyas ceremony, you turn and walk away to go leave the world and head for the mountains to live in a cave someplace far away from humanity. The Shankaracharya, [the head of the Saraswati order who was there,] called us back and said, “Come back. Don’t go away. Humanity needs you to stay and help people.” So, swamis are people who have renounced themselves, renounced their own life, renounced the world, and renounced renunciation itself, but are called to remain in the world to serve. 

After taking sannyas, a swami wears orange clothes. The orange cloth is the color of fire and the symbol of transformation. It means that the person has become wrapped in a funeral fire and no longer thinks of themselves as a “thing,” a body and person, but rather as a continually self-transforming process. In the Saraswati order, a swami also takes a new name ending in “ananda,” or  bliss, because they are a wave of potentiality moving in infinite space. My name, Chetanananda, means “the bliss of consciousness.” 

I took sannyas as an expression of my devotion to my guru, Rudi, and my commitment to the teachings and the practice of the lineage that had, in the very short time I had been connected with it, totally transformed my life. For that I felt enormously grateful. I also took sannyas to express my commitment to continuing to serve the lineage and the teachings and the practices and the people who participated in that experience.

Connecting to Higher Forces

During a trip to India in 1972, Rudi met with an astrologer he knew named Professor Thomas. Professor Thomas told him that if he came back to India in the fall, he could possibly meet a very old man, someone 750 to 1000 years old. Rudi believed him. So, he went back to India in September 1972. During that trip, he had an experience of a very ancient spiritual being who came into his environment and for three days came in and out of his body. It was very intense. At the end of the experience, when that spiritual being had settled in Rudi’s own energy field, it remained there for the duration of his life. In photos taken during this time, you can see a face on his forehead. I have a picture of it in my meditation room. This face used to come out of his forehead when he taught and hang in the air. 

Swami Chetanananda's guru, Rudi

Swami Chetanananda's guru, Rudi

So, that was obviously an important experience for Rudi. Over time, in thinking about that experience over and over again, and doing a lot of work, I began to understand it in the context of all of my work in the tantric tradition. It is articulated in the scriptures of the Kubjika tradition, which is one of the important Shakta/Shaiva traditions that I studied in Nepal. In this tradition, there is an explicit understanding that also permeates Shaivism. It is that when we die and we have collected enough energy, when our dynamic system has taken in enough energy that it has expanded and refined itself to this extent, it can no longer support a material existence. When it is so refined that it’s not going to become embodied on the earth anymore, it still endures in the atmosphere in the form of a vortex. 

Rudi went on to explain in the last part of his book that there were vortexes everywhere in the atmosphere that represented and contained tremendous knowledge, infinite forms of knowledge that are available to us. If we could reach within ourselves and keep working and keep growing, we would come to a point we were so refined we could connect to these ascended masters, who are liberated souls. Since there’s no higher and lower, and there is only the here and now and the life of the earth, all of the information, all of the richness of the experience of all of the liberated souls is still alive in the world. All of the power of Nityananda’s presence and Rudi’s presence was an expression of the degree to which they had refined and surrendered themselves and were connected in those extraordinary fields of creative energy in the forms of vortexes. 

Rudi went on to point out that from the palate to the top of the head and beyond, the energetic mechanism becomes very much more elaborate and sophisticated. We talk about the crown chakra as a thousand petal lotus. It has a thousand centers in it. Actually, it’s a thousand little vortexes. All the little nerve ganglia in our whole body are vortexes. They process information like a traffic circle in Boston, if you know what I mean. The energy comes in, it swirls around, it picks an appropriate channel as it swirls around and it goes out. There are millions of connecting points in our body--billions of connecting points between us and other bits of information that have similar resonance. But it’s only in this complex energetic mechanism in the head that we have the capacity to actually plug into all of the higher and finer spiritual forms of energy that exist around us. 

So, the final practice that Rudi was going to teach, and the work he was giving, was a completely different breathing exercise, and a different verbalization, and a different understanding. It was that our work is to take our attention to each of the points in this energetic mechanism, of which there are very many, and to awaken those chakras and channels in the head, for the sake of awakening that finest part, the most vibrant and vital part of that vortex of creative energy that we are, and establishing ourselves and connecting to truly spiritual, very very much higher and finer forces. 


Forgiveness and Flow

By Swami Chetanananda

Forgiveness is the beginning of transformation. Anger is the nails that hold our story firmly in place. We’ve each got a story about who did us wrong. There’s only one thing to do about it, and that’s to forgive—really forgive. Forget about it. Forgive and forget so that we can let our story go, because our story is what anchors us in the past and the past is something we absolutely, definitely cannot change. Thinking about it for even a minute is useless.

Instead, we need to bring the energy of our awareness into the moment, remembering that there is blood in our veins and our arteries and breath in our lungs and a heart in our chest and at least the possibility of love in our hearts and in our life. Let’s turn our attention to that. It’s not about rewriting the story, but throwing it out completely. All the work that we need to do is the work of shoveling the story out into the garden so that something else can grow besides our warts.

In doing spiritual work, we have to make an effort to turn our attention inside.  People whose energy is completely externalized, who are walking around in the world captured by the external appearances and the need for some kind of feedback, people who are focused outside, looking for food and energy, are lost. Any transformation begins with reclaiming our energy and our attention and bringing it inside and holding it there.  It really is work.

Here’s the interesting thing: I say, “Do the work” and most all of us think of cause and effect; work and change. So we say, “I am working on something, and I expect it to be different.” Well, in doing spiritual work, the work that we do is not the effect that we expect. The work that we do is clearing the pipes so that the clear energy that is the abundance of Ultimate Love of the Ultimate Reality can flow in our own channels and express itself through us into the field of our life. So, when I say, “I’m not writing another story”, I mean that I threw out the old story to create some space for the life of my life that is beyond the limitations of my mind and emotions and this physical world. That way, the life of my life can begin to be awakened and discover its own voice and express itself as my life in ways that are richer and more beautiful than I could have ever possibly imagined.

So it might be a good thing to think about all those anger nails that you’ve driven into your feet and your hands, because they hold you to a state that is an expression of the limitation of your mind and emotions and not of the potential that is present in the love in your heart.

There’s another point about this that is important to understand. That is: forgiveness has nothing to do with anybody else but us. It’s not like the person you’re forgiving deserves or doesn’t deserve forgiving. That’s completely irrelevant. They might. But it’s not about expecting that somebody else deserves or is going to change because of your forgiving them. It may happen…it may not. It’s not really relevant. The issue is that the tensions that we carry within ourselves completely obstruct our ability to deeply internalize our own experiences as nourishment and grow as human beings. It’s that simple.

The reason that we are concerned about forgiveness is because, quite simply, healing happens in the context of flow. It is circulation coming to the tissue that facilitates the healing process on a physical level, and the same is true more deeply within us in our hearts and souls. It is flow that facilitates healing. Forgiveness is the beginning of flow. Releasing tension allows for flow to take place, and it will do so on its own. The degree to which we cultivate our awareness of this experience is the degree to which we become ever more deeply informed about this completely crazy circumstance that we’re in and able to come to a place of complete, or almost complete, peace within it. 

Images from India

Swami Chetanananda is currently on pilgrimage to India and has shared some images from the powerful sacred places he is visiting.

The Teacher and Unconditional Love

The reason I teach you about the breath is to train you to hold your mind in a singular space while you are excavating some depth of contact within yourself. I talk about chakras and channels because while you are trying to make a deeper contact with yourself, what you will discover is that there are particular places in you where your experience is stronger. Then, in time, you might discover that there is a very complex and sophisticated set of energetic systems that have become you. Paying attention to that energetic system, what you will come to understand is that the only constant in life is change. That change is expressed as flow, and the flow in you is a part of a bigger flow around you. That flow is part of an even bigger flow that exists on a cosmic scale.

Swami Chetanananda at darshan

Swami Chetanananda at darshan

The universe is in us, we are in the universe, and the essence of it all is love. I don’t mean the kind of love that they’re singing about on the rock and roll radio--although that’s not excluded. The love I’m talking about is bigger than that, much bigger than that.

Here is where the teacher comes in. Where else are you going to find someone who has dedicated their life to excavatinmg themself from the mountain of tension that their parents imparted to them, to become a deeply loving person on a scale that is difficult for our mind to imagine? It’s not very common.

If you find such a person, you have the possibility of connecting in a dynamic system that will begin to bring out the best in you. I think about that wonderful song by Joni Mitchell that goes something like, “All I really, really want our love to do….is to bring out the best in me and in you too.”  It might sound ordinary, but in fact when you have genuinely loving people in your life who are trying to be the best that they can, that also creates the context, the environment, the understanding that allows you to bring out the best in yourself. In America, where everything that’s happening increasingly becomes all about money and not about caring, it’s a rare thing. So, what do you do with a teacher?

I think the simplest thing is to hold in your awareness that the teacher is really not a thing but a process. People aren’t things: people are processes. Your body will not be tomorrow what it was yesterday. It is a process. Hold the awareness of the process of the teacher in your heart and mind, and allow that connection to remind you and to energize you at times to bring out the best in you, too.

I’m not much for giving do’s and don’ts to people. There are a couple of reasons. The first is that nobody’s ever paid attention to me when I tried. So I thought it was a reasonable thing to give up, because the truth is I struggled with the do’s and don’ts myself, and I have come to understand that do’s and don’ts are really only suggestions. Most of us have a deep need to put ourselves in shit up to our eyebrows from time to time, and that’s okay. You either will survive it or you won’t, and in either case it’s fine.

The second reason I don’t pay attention to do’s and don’ts is that because in this experience of growing, we’re going to awaken places in ourselves that we’ve never experienced, we’re going to have experiences that there is no model for, and we’re going to go places we never even imagined existed. In that process, we will definitely make mistakes, and mistakes are fine. Mistakes are easily overcome if we can return to that best place in ourselves and open our hearts again, and if somebody was offended we say, “I’m sorry.” It’s that easy.

The extraordinary love that is available from within us is amazingly resilient. It is at times and at its boundaries delicate and fragile, and requires some care, but it is astonishingly resilient. It is completely alive. So, if you have a teacher, hold that teacher in your heart and mind and feel that presence and that process and flow in it.

That’s a complicated way of saying love me and I’ll love you back. But I said it in a complicated way because if I just say it simply people will think this is something that isn’t profound. It’s difficult to appreciate the profundity of the opportunity to hold a real connection in unconditional love. Having a teacher is about love, it’s not about anything else. If you can find that love in yourself and grow it, what you will discover is that it is an energy, it is a force, it is a power that is truly extraordinary and will bless you with numerous unimaginable possibilities. 

Growing a Life

A life of growing ever closer to Unconditional Love has two really simple basic forms of expression. Within ourselves, it is continuous learning. In the world, it’s continuous service. It’s that simple.

Learning and service go together. Service creates flow and flow reveals structure, which is also limitation. Learning dissolves limitation, reorganizes structure, and creates more flow, which, expressed as service, creates more flow.


The whole idea of gaining in the world and benefiting from our engagement in it just doesn’t work. The notion that we’re here in this world to get something, whether it’s a job or a relationship or a family, is bogus. When we understand that we’re here to do some service and to continuously learn, then the flow that we’ve established eventually brings us everything we need.

Having the understanding that we want to be of service and contribute something to the world becomes the basis for a real life and endless opportunities for learning. That learning enhances our ability to serve, which creates deeper opportunities for learning, and so on and so forth.

When you’re just focused on gaining something, once you’ve got that, what do you do next? Have a bigger appetite? Try to gain more? And what happens when you don’t get it? Because most people don’t. What happens if you do? That’s when it gets really ugly.

If you’re doing service, you have a job. As you do that service and your talents become clarified for you and your interests become clarified, you can do more service in a more focused way in a more specific area…you can learn.

In this process of serving and learning, you have to cultivate the experience of sweetness in yourself. Your contact with the sweetness in you has to be strong enough so that you can start to look at the people around you and feel the sweetness in them too. Then you can hold that experience of sweetness, of quiet, of contact, through all of the screwiness of human beings and all of their swirling and whirling and up and down.  You start to see God in them. You start to see, in all of the tumult of the world, the Divine Process in motion.

The main thing is to keep your heart open every day and keep that sweetness moving in you so that it’s accessible. If you continue to access it, then what happens is magic.  It’s not that your karma is immediately dissolved or your suffering goes away.  You don’t become infinitely perfectly capable in one second, you’re still a human being and you’re still the same human being you always were.  In spite of that, being the same person with the same karmas and same challenges, things get better over time as we really start to cultivate a life of service and learning. All of our struggles get easier, and we become more skillful in every way and better informed. We’re no longer blind-sided by or confused by the things that happen to us and the experiences that we have.

The amazing thing about it all is that when your heart is really open, when you’re not struggling with your mind, and you are not struggling with your expectations and desires for the people around you, then your Energy is actually at work creating miracles…creating a more wonderful life. It’s released from the struggle to express itself in evermore refined and elegant ways. When you’re not struggling with “you” and struggling with your desires, your energy can really start to express what it has come into this world to express in the first place. You grow. 

Excavating Our Treasures

I have said many times that we’re in this world to grow, and sometimes people ask me what growth is. If I were to define it for you, then it’s highly likely that you will completely miss the point. So, I leave it to you to define it for yourself. But I will say a few things about it.

True growth is manifest from a pure feeling. That pure feeling is very beautiful, and it’s available in everybody and always exists at the core of your being. It’s ever-present. It doesn’t matter how completely dysfunctional your family dynamic or your mental health history is. There is no inherent limitation to the availability of that experience of pure feeling, from which growth in every dimension of your life can be expressed.

There is only one issue in growing, and that is your willingness to engage it.  That is work. The problem is that most of us, rather than being proactive about the work that presents itself in our life, are usually doing our best to avoid dealing with it. We’re trying to make the minimum amount of effort that we possibly can to get the maximum benefit in our whole lives. So we don’t really make the effort that we could make because we’re always trying to skate. Our cultural environment supports that.

In my life, I’ve had experiences that support all of my laziest instincts, particularly in school, and I’m sure you have had similar ones.  These situations create a pattern of not exerting yourself and not dealing with the discomfort in yourself that arises from that exertion. It also shows up as not dealing with the discomfort that is present in your life in the form of circumstances that you need to discover how you feel about and then speak honestly to. We don’t work. It’s that simple.

If you want to have an authentic life and a life of growth, if you want to fulfill your purpose in this world and experience in that fulfillment a satisfaction and a peace and an abundance that is available to every human being, then you have to just get it in your head and in your heart that it’s work. You have to start to train yourself to love the work. Because, in fact, it’s beautiful.

Not too long ago, a student gave me a beautiful piece of pyrite. When I look at it, I think about growing and work. The student mined it himself,  you see, and growing is a lot like mining. It is a lot of just drudge work, crawling around in the dirt in very uncomfortable spaces that are potentially dangerous for the sake of coming up with treasures. We work in this case to excavate from ourselves treasures that accumulate over time and turn out to be pieces of a puzzle--a puzzle that is a picture of the Ultimate Reality and the Ultimate Abundance that is present inside each of us.

Aligning with the Essence of Life

At the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita the hero, Arjuna, is struggling a lot, and he feels really badly about himself.  This is a circumstance that lots of people experience in their lives, and that some people experience throughout their lives--they get stuck in the experience of their inadequacy.

Krishna, who is Arjuna’s chariot driver (and also his guru) explains to Arjuna that there is nothing to feel bad about and nothing to struggle with. Krishna tells Arjuna that through yoga and meditation and other appropriate practices, he can see through to his own divine essence.  He can see through to the infinite resource at the core of our being

It’s not that Arjuna can escape his karma.  Nobody escapes their karma.  Nobody escapes work and difficulty; that’s what life is.  But we can make contact and come into alignment with our essence, the unimaginable resource at our core, and experience its overflowing. Our suffering is not the end of our life but the beginning.  What flows from our constant effort to sustain this alignment is a whole sequence of miracles that have the potential to be unbelievably beautiful.

One of the amazing things about the simple effort to ask within ourselves to grow is that, in this wish to grow, there is the possibility that we will stop rejecting ourselves and and stop constantly dwelling on what we imagine to be our inadequacies. Instead, we begin to establish a paradigm within ourselves where we make contact with and experience a very much deeper place than any tension, struggle, or disappointment can define. Staying in alignment with that place, we begin to take every difficulty, every struggle, and every sense of inadequacy and turn it into an opportunity to refine ourselves more deeply.  We learn to release tensions and allow our creative energy to flow.

Living in this way, instead of being an example of the favorite word that you use to denounce yourself, you are a growing person.  You are connected to your resource and fulfilling the purpose that every living being has come in to this place to fulfill.  We are here to grow, and through our conscious efforts we begin to grow.  Everything that grows takes in energy and is transformed.  

The transformation is not painless.  Look at any large old tree.  What you will see is a living organism that has grown from within itself and as it has grown, it has shattered its boundary, it has shattered its bark, a hundred thousand million times. On a young tree, the bark is completely smooth. On an old tree, it is wrinkled.  It’s wrinkled with the experience of life that is surging from within itself and expanding its structure from within itself over and over again as it grows.  

So the difficulties, the challenges, the inadequacies, and the awkwardness of being a human being do not have to be the defining part of our life experience.  We simply have to understand that we are in this world to grow and make the effort to hold that awareness in spite of the endless amounts of negative feedback that everybody in our culture gets as we move through this world.  In a completely positive way, we remain aligned with the essence of our life and work to express that essence lovingly in everything that we do.  As time passes and we do grow, love is what happens and miracles manifest from that.

Nothing good ever happens from being negative, ever… and nothing changes.  Lovingly acknowledge and do your work and you will grow in every dimension of yourself.

--Swami Chetanananda

ASKING FOR the Right Information

One of the most important practices that I share is really unbelievably simple. It’s also profoundly powerful. I learned it from my guru, Rudi.

Rudi had a favorite quote from the Bible: “Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.” That’s a way of saying you have to really tell your mind and soul in what form you want the information if you are going to get anywhere. To hold a steady view, you have to constantly tell yourself this.

The first practice that Rudi ever taught me, which is something I still do regularly, is to turn my attention inside, into my heart, and ask over and over again to grow. I say to myself, “I really want to grow.” On each breath and on each asking I try to feel that reach deeper into me--beneath my defense mechanisms, beneath my defenses, beneath my tensions, deeper than my desires and my idealism. I ask in the center of my soul to grow. I sit and I ask until I am aware that that wish has worked its way into the core of me and is alive in me.

We live in an environment that is essentially information. Energy and information are exactly the same thing. They are two views of the same phenomenon. Divine creative energy is information. It can be information that we build a wall with, to shield ourselves from further input, or it can be information that we can use to build a fire to burn down every wall and allow the light that is our own inner divinity to shine out in the most powerful and profound ways.

All experience is really the expression of God’s intention to grow. The whole universe is an expression of God’s intention to grow. When we establish our own intention to grow in the core of ourselves, we have merged ourselves into the divine intention. That’s the way all of the information of life will organize itself, and in that organization our own personal pathway will become clear. In the clarity of that experience, we will find, in a not very complicated way, the fulfillment of our intention. 

Embrace Your Life As It Is

The most beneficial environment in which we can operate to really quickly transform ourselves is an environment of joy. We have to be in touch with that joy every day through all the circumstances of our life, and bring to our daily life a joy that we can communicate around us, irrespective of what challenges we have to face and what lumps we have to smooth out. That is the way to facilitate the expansion of our own creative energy and the field, the vibrancy, in which blessings can begin to really function.

Demons feed on anger, angels feed on joy. Who do you want to invite to your dinner table? Whose company will you cultivate in your sojourn in this world? Don’t think about problems. The truth of the matter is that if you’re over 18, play time is finished and everything is work. Everything. Pick your favorite thing to do. It’s work. There is no play anymore, there is work that we like doing and work we enjoy doing and work we don’t like doing, but there’s only work. We should focus not on the past or any of our issues, but on what we are trying to build for ourselves and share with the people whom we love in our life. Then with the attitude of joy and a focus on what we’re building, we will be able to move through all of the confusing issues of our daily lives full of the awareness of the experience of the breath of life and its vastness, and we’ll never lose our perspective.

There are no problems, there’s only work and ultimately the Self has no problem. So let’s happily, joyfully, let’s embrace our life as it is. You don’t need a better life, you need to fully engage the life you’ve got, because hidden in who you are, and hidden in the life you have, there is unbelievable potential.

There is so much magic in each of us. The whole thrust of the tantric tradition is about getting us to wake up every day and remember that there’s magic, and that the magic is inside us and in the energy and the capacity of our own creative energy. If we can engage that and cultivate it over time we’re going to appreciate that this astonishing magic has unlimited capability.

We can be as common as mud. But mud is the place where plants grow, where rice comes out of the ground, and where all the medicines come from. The trees and the forest and the whole life of the environment comes out of the mud. Even though in a way we may be ordinary and mudlike, that does not in any way deny the magic that is available to come forth from within us should we choose to cultivate ourselves. No matter how limited or conflicted or whatever our circumstances are today, there are super powers inside us waiting to wake up and express themselves in this world for the good of all living beings. We need only choose to engage it, and slowly, slowly, day by day, develop it.

Feel What You Can Feel

The spiritual work I teach is not hard, but it does require a persistent effort. It doesn’t take an enormous effort. Sometimes managing yourself might take some time, but this shouldn’t be exhausting. It’s simple.

The simple effort is to feel…and don’t try to be a superstar. What I encourage my students to do is simply feel what you can feel. Bring your attention to your body, bring your attention to your heart, bring your attention to your breath, feel what you can feel.  Here’s what happens if you feel what’s available to you to feel: in a little while, maybe not tomorrow or the next day, what’s going to happen is that you are going to feel what’s underneath what you’re feeling now.

We think we are doing.  We think “I am doing this thing, I am doing that thing, I’m doing so many things.” It’s possible that, in fact, there is only one awareness and many minds. It’s possible, in fact, that there is only one life on the Earth and that is the life of the total environment of the Earth. There’s only one life. Every living thing on the Earth might just be just an effect of that one life.  Maybe it’s true, and it’s up to you to decide.

So, as you feel what you can feel, with the understanding that you’re not doing it, you become aware that there’s something deeper at work.  As you feel just what’s available to you, slowly, the flow that arises within you, from the release of tension, informs you of that deeper happening.  Having experienced that, you go…wow!  It’s that experience that inspires you and carries you into a new layer of practice and a deeper commitment to your work, and a deeper appreciation of the benefit of the extraordinary abundance that is available to you.

Trying to be a superstar is just making more tension. You might think, “Oh, I’m going to hit a home run and be a Tantric master tomorrow.” Don’t.  If you just feel what you feel, what you discover within the experience that you’re having is discovering  dimensions of subtlety that are astonishingly beautiful. They are beautiful enough that a little contact with them will sustain you as you go through all of the uncomfortable structural reorganization that happens as you come from the state of tension that you’re in to a state of flow. So, just feel what you can feel and keep coming back to it and feeling--feeling your body and feeling your breath and feeling your heart.  Feeling, feeling, feeling, is the key.

This practice reveals within you dimensions of information, a range of awareness, a visionary capability that allows you to have a completely different perspective on the problems that we face. It also makes available to you simple solutions to those problems, naturally available in your environment, and has attached to it the abundance that will easily allow those solutions to assert themselves in the field of your experience.

Once you get the hang of it, you will find that inside you is experience, outside you is experience. It turns out that subject, object and means of knowing are a total unity. Your experience is totally integrated into the universal experience.  The abundance that created the Universe has created you, and aligning yourself in that total experience allows miracles to manifest as your life. It’s natural. It doesn’t require too much work. It just requires a persistent, conscious effort.

The Stages of Tantric Practice

In a talk given at the Movement Center on November 16, 2013, Swamiji discussed the historical context for the emergence of tantric sadhana as well as the stages of tantric practice. 

Here is an excerpt from that talk (clicking on the image will take you to the YouTube video):

SC Tantric Sadhana

The full version (a one hour, 45 minute talk) is available for purchase for $19.95.