An Interview with Sahajananda for Retreat Guru, September 2015
What is your position and how long have you been doing this?
Essentially “my position” is where I am, in the Heart – this intimate, unchangeable essence of our being, pure awareness. I hope that this affirmation becomes clearer when the Hridaya Yoga vision is explained. In the Kashmir Shaivist tradition, the art of remaining in such a “position” was called “settling into your inner asana.” This, of course, is not a physical asana, but the centeredness in the pure “I am.”
From a relative point of view, I am a meditation and hatha yoga teacher, a founder of Hridaya Yoga, the Yoga of the Spiritual Heart. Its methods and philosophy aim to create the proper conditions for the revelation of atman, our infinite core of awareness, freedom, and love.
I started practicing yoga in 1982, the year when yoga became illegal in Romania. This meant that meditation and yoga practices were officially banned, books on yoga, oriental metaphysics, and spirituality were banished from libraries, etc. This dogmatic and hostile communist attitude was actually very helpful because it brought depth and dedication into my spiritual practice. Also, all of our group learned to tremendously value and honor any bit of authentic information we received regarding yoga.
I have been teaching hatha yoga since 1985. At that time I was still in university studying electronics engineering. At the beginning, I was teaching yoga illegally. It was only in 1989, after the fall of the Communist regime, that yoga was no longer prohibited in Romania. Then, a sort of counter-reaction happened — thousands of people, mostly university students, came to yoga classes, lectures, and workshops.
However, I did not start guiding silent meditation retreats (as a way of teaching and practicing Self-Inquiry) until 2002. This happened after an insight regarding nonduality, advaita, which came during a solitary meditation retreat. From that time on, my passion and dedication has gone towards these teachings.
Do you have a spiritual path and how does that path intersect with your work?
Yes, I do have a spiritual path. It is mostly based on the Self-Inquiry method of Ramana Maharshi. Before this, there were many years of practicing hatha yoga, different forms of meditation, exploring the astral worlds and paranormal phenomena, even teaching Parapsychology at the Ecological University of Bucharest. However, during one of the solitary retreats, done in a cave in the Carpathian Mountains, there was a direct understanding of the simplicity and beauty of this method of Self-Inquiry. Many days and nights passed in bliss, in this pure, unlimited, Self-awareness. Ramana named this path “the most sacred of sacred.” Indeed, it can be considered a revolutionary perspective, since, as he said:
“What is essential in any sadhana [practice] is to try to bring back the running mind and fix it on one thing only. Why then should it not be brought back and fixed in Self-attention? That alone is Self-Inquiry (atma-vichara). That is all that is to be done!” -Sri Sadhu Om, The Path of Sri Ramana, Vol. 1
Thus, after meditating on many external or internal objects (the breath, yantras, mantras, sensations, subtle sounds, chakras, images of angels and spiritual masters, doing meditation on music, etc.), I realized that I was ignoring exactly this reference point of all these experiences. So I started exploring, asking who is this “me,” that Witness Consciousness, in which all the meditation objects and experiences appear and disappear.
When my attention started being directed towards this knowing subject, to what I really am, any other object, sensation, thought, etc. was contemplated from this all-embracing love-awareness.
After that intimate understanding, it became almost a need, a very natural one, to make the Spiritual Heart (the pure “I” feeling) the only “object” of my meditations.
Self-Inquiry is a method and also a spiritual path in itself. It is a vision, too, that inspires me in the work I do (teaching, writing, leading solitary retreats, learning, traveling, etc.). Because of its multiple valences and echoes, it becomes natural to look for coherence between this vision of oneness and the different aspects of one’s life. For example, in the Hridaya Hatha Yoga practice, (in asanas, pranayama, etc.) we emphasize both the importance of energies, chakras, and this Self-awareness. Because of this, even in a hatha yoga session the contemplative attitude is necessary and indispensable.
Therefore, the spiritual path I follow, my work and life in general, tend to converge naturally in this vision of Oneness, advaita. And I am very grateful for this coherence, in which Self-Inquiry is, at the same time, the path and the destination. But it is a kind of unlimited destination. “Who am I?” is not a mystery to be solved, but a mystery to live with.
What are people seeking?
People are looking for love, freedom, harmony, happiness, mental peace — but essentially all such qualities blossom naturally when we reconnect with our real Essence, the Spiritual Heart. I feel that without completely knowing it, this reconnection is what people are actually seeking.
So, I believe that learning to come into intimacy with the ultimate truth of our being is the key to our freedom.
There is a feeling of reintegration that we have when, for example, we come back to Nature after a busy week in a crowded city. The reconnection with the Spiritual Heart brings the same joy, the same sense of flowing and intimacy with everything. When the Heart becomes the center of our existence and the governor of the essential rhythms of our life, there is a natural reorchestration of our energies, which brings peace, joy, and love. The mind is not denied — its functionality continues to be appreciated — but we realize that we don’t need to identify with our thoughts and mental activity. And the rhythm of thinking changes. It somehow tunes with the vibration of happiness and love radiating from the Heart. The mind becomes a kind of heart in which the awareness is “pulsing”, nurturing our being with the consciousness of eternity.
But, of course, this understanding cannot be stabilized in just one meditation or yoga session. That’s why meditation should not be seen just as a quick cure for stress and agitation, even though it can have such immediate and surprising effects. Meditation, and specifically Self-Inquiry, is a lifelong journey that requires wholehearted commitment.
I am not encouraging people to just look for “amazing experiences” or “getting high.” This is because even though the insight may be instantaneous, deconditioning is a process. Even after a “life-changing experience,” most often people habitually return to their old mental patterns, subconscious tendencies, etc.
Hafiz has a beautiful poem that expresses this:
“It is always a danger
To aspirants on the Path
When they begin
To believe and
As if the ten thousand idiots
Who so long ruled
Have all packed their bags
And skipped town
Ramana Maharshi offers a method for this profound subconscious purification: the method of bringing the “I am” feeling back to its source, the Heart.
In Nisargadatta Maharaj’s account of his journey, we find a very similar approach: “I used to sit for hours together, with nothing but the ‘I am’ in my mind and soon peace and joy and a deep, all-embracing love became my normal state.”
And we find the same attitude in Classical Yoga, in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In Chapter 3, Sutras 8-9, Patanjali speaks of nirodha parinama, the transformation of dissolution (of subconscious tendencies), in which a constant tendency towards complete stillness gradually purifies all of the other subconscious tendencies.
What is needed in the world today?
First of all there is a need for Self-awareness. As a natural process of deconditioning, meditation brings the precious gift of intimacy with ourselves and with the world.
At the same time, along with the reconnection with our Essence, there is a need for a reconsideration and a shift of the paradigms we live with, most often unconsciously.
In Hridaya Yoga, we don’t speak about the integration of spirituality into our daily life. On the contrary — we seek the integration of daily life into spirituality. This means that spirituality should not just be seen as a nice adjuvant for a better life (less stress, etc.) while the same selfish strategies are maintained, or as a kind of plug-in meant to improve our old way of functioning in the world.
Integrating daily life into spirituality means that we should learn how to express the silent teachings of the Heart in our entire life.
Therefore, there is a need in the world today for coherence between the spiritual aspirations and intuitions (that many people already have) and their entire lives. Because only in this way can more people “be the change that they want to see in the world,” as Gandhi says.
A meditation retreat can definitely support this change of perspective. By stopping our ordinary activities for a while (while emphasizing Self-Inquiry), objectification of the root causes of all our actions or habits becomes much easier and naturally occurs with detachment and clarity. When the mind starts being purified, we can see what is unnatural or alienating in our life more clearly. And the touch of the Heart brings us closer to the real meaning of existence.
So, looking for consistency means that even after a beautiful moment of pure, infinite Love or eternal freedom, we still need to contemplate how this sense of Oneness can be reflected in our job, in our relationships with our parents and children, in our romantic life, etc.
What is your offering to the world?
From the personal level, I might speak about an aspiration to offer this message of Self-Awareness, to point towards that unbounded freedom, towards the fire of Love, to inspire people to look for the marvelous intimacy with their Heart, or to help them see meditation as a commitment to Reality. But then, when Self-Inquiry resonates in my being, the echo of the question “Who am I?” is just Stillness, an unconditional availability to Love…