This article was originally posted in 2015. In these increasingly trying times, I felt it bears repeating.
From the very beginning of my study of Yoga-meditation with Swami Veda Bharati, he advised me to calm my emotions. Time and time again, over dozens of years, he gave me this guidance, over and over, seeming to miss no opportunity to do so. He was relentless. One time, at his ashram in India, I came down with a digestive problem, and he told me, “this condition is due to your emotions.” At the time I wasn’t sure he was right. He probably was.
Trusting that Swami Veda gave me this advice out of love and wisdom, I’ve struggled to unravel the secret of calming my emotions over many years. It’s been a quite a challenge.
One of the greatest adepts, teachers, writers, and humanitarians of the 20th century, Swami Rama (1925-1996) is the founder of the Himalayan Institute. Born in Northern India, he was raised from early childhood by the Himalayan sage, Bengali Baba. Under the guidance of his master, he traveled from monastery to monastery and studied with a variety of Himalayan saints and sages, including his grandmaster who was living in a remote region of Tibet. In addition to this intense spiritual training, Swami Rama received higher education in both India and Europe. From 1949 to 1952, he held the prestigious position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham in South India. Thereafter, he returned to his master to receive further training at his cave monastery, and finally in 1969, came to the United States where he founded the Himalayan Institute. His best known work, Living With the Himalayan Masters, reveals the many facets of this singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living tradition of the East.
Once when I was teaching about life and death, a swami quietly came in and sat with my students. I thought he was a beginner, so I treated him as I treated the others. I was annoyed because he only smiled, while the others were conscientiously taking notes. I finally asked, “Are you listening to me?”
He said, “You are only talking, but I can demonstrate mastery over life and death. Bring me an ant.”
A large ant was brought. He cut it into three pieces and separated them. Then he closed his eyes and sat motionless. After a moment the three parts moved toward each other. They joined together, and the revived ant scurried away. I knew it was not hypnosis, or anything like that.
I felt very small before that swami. And I was embarrassed before my students because I only knew the scriptures without a firsthand understanding and mastery of life and death. I asked, “Where did you learn that?”
He said, “Your master taught me.”
At that I became angry with my master and immediately went to him. Seeing me he asked, “What happened? Why are you once again allowing anger to control you? You are a slave to your violent emotions.”
I said, “You teach others things that you don’t teach me. Why?”
He looked at me and said, “I have taught you many things—but you don’t practice. That is not my fault! All these achievements depend on practice, not just on verbal knowledge of them. If you know all about piano but don’t practice, you will never create music. Knowing is useless without practice. Knowing is mere information. Practice gives direct experience, which alone is valid knowledge.”
- Swami Rama in Fearless Living: Yoga and Faith, Chapter 1