Every two weeks or so, Swamiji gives an hour of discourse, guided meditation and answers questions online. These Zoom transmissions used to be found as individual posts on this blog, but they are now to be found on a new system that the ashram is beginning to use. This post is a link to that system. All Swamiji’s previous satsangs plus the latest ones can be found here.
In 2002 I had the great fortune to meet Swami Nishchalananda on my first visit to Mandala Yoga Ashram. From this moment on, his teachings and what he embodies began to have a profound impact on me. By 20051 I was living in the Ashram. This was the beginning of an extraordinary period in my life, a time of profound insight and transformation2 – nearly all of which was entirely unexpected. Even though this was far from easy at times I look back on these times with great reverence and gratitude – it was everything that I could have ever asked for and more. Swamiji has now invited me to become Ashram Director, a role which I have taken on. This is not a decision I took lightly yet I’m inspired and excited to play my part in keeping Mandala Yoga Ashram as a place where the process of Awakening is both supported and nurtured. A place where that which can barely be imagined can be realised in our own being as the ground of our very existence.
As it has for so many, the last year and a half has forced the Ashram to look at what it does and how we do it. This has been an invaluable process since it has encouraged us to reassess what is important and what is not.
As part of this process, we have been looking at our mission statement. This may sound rather corporate, but it defines our ‘why’ – why we are here and why we do what we do.
Since I have been back at the Ashram one thing has felt crucial. And that is that we remain true to the quality and authenticity of what we teach. There are many places that people can go for a spa/yoga holiday experience. That is not Mandala Yoga Ashram. First and foremost, we will remain a place for those that are truly seeking deeper understanding about themselves and about the world in which they live. This has led to the formulation of the first line of our ‘mission’ statement:
“Mandala Yoga Ashram exists to inspire and nourish those on the journey to remembering their own sacredness and the sacredness of all that exists.”
There is always the risk of words such as ‘sacredness’ being construed as ‘woolly’ or fanciful. Far from it. An integral part of Swamiji Nishchalananda’s vision in establishing the Ashram is that the place would serve as a place where those who seek may have insight or realisation of the hidden depths of their Being – and in turn, the Being of all. We will continue to be a place where the aspiration for such insight is considered normal, part of our birth right.
The path, however, to deeper understanding is not always easy.
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The later procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”
Jung is referring to an aspect of the spiritual path that, whilst not always easy, is essential. The facing and releasing of blockages and unmet emotions within the subconscious is indispensable if we are to go deeper in our understanding. The Ashram will remain a place of compassion and understanding where people can explore this aspect of their lives and their spiritual path. This means that time spent here is not always easy in fact, it can be downright challenging. However, it has extraordinary value.
So much spiritual practice is offered these days as a chill out and way to feel good. As such, there is nothing wrong with this and there is no doubt that this is a by-product of our practice. However, the essence of Yoga is to bring the realisation of that which brings a lasting joy during the ups and downs of daily life, not a quick fix.
There’s a fabulous book by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse called ‘Not for Happiness’ where the foreword states “Do you practice meditation because you want to feel good? Or to help you relax and be “happy”? Then frankly, according to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, you are far better off having a full-body massage than trying to practice the Dharma.”
In the Ashram, we will also remain wary of dogma and any sense of spiritual superiority. If we’re truly honest, we will admit that we may have been caught up in polarised viewpoints and positions over the last few years where those who have a different opinion or viewpoint are somehow consider less than us because of that difference.
As the old Chinese proverb states “He who blames others has a long way to go on his journey. He who blames himself is halfway there. He who blames no one has arrived.” Contained within these words is a profound truth that opens the door to compassion for all, not just those that we agree with.
Yet the Ashram, and what it offers, can be an invaluable respite for all of us living in this fraught and troubled world. This is an integral part of the Ashram’s role – relaxation and letting go are such important aspects of the spiritual path. However, letting go often involves being confronted with that which needs to be released. From this can come true change and healing – we realise what we are fundamentally and that our current sense of identity is limited at best if not downright illusory.
The times we live in also call for tried and tested tools and techniques which can keep us centred, resilient and vital. Yoga gives us these tools, and this is another facet of ‘why’ the Ashram exists – which is to be able to share these simple yet profound techniques that equip us all to be able to meet the challenges of life head on and with an open heart.
This our ‘why’. Now we explore the ‘how’. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns forced the Ashram to begin offering online courses. This possibility had been something we’d been discussing for years. In 2020, we were forced to make it happen.
Offering the teachings online is going to become an integral part of how Mandala Yoga Ashram reaches seekers and students around the world. We aim to have regular live teachings offered throughout the year and a library of pre-recorded online content that you can practise at home wherever you are. Like us, many of you who have practised or taught online will have been surprised at the power of connection possible through the practices even at a distance.
Residential courses will remain a mainstay of what the Ashram offers – ranging from our 2-night Ashram Life Taster to 10-day immersions into subjects such as Facing Death and PranaVidya. As always, we will also offer even longer programs that allow the exploration of subjects such as Kriya Yoga, the Chakras, and other profound subjects.
Another form of support that we will begin to offer will be the opportunity for already qualified yoga teachers to further their understanding and experience of the science of Yoga. In this way they will not only come to greater understanding of their own Being, but will also be able to offer a greater depth in their teaching.
Through these different avenues we aim to continue to support seekers, teachers and those looking for meaning in their lives and a deepening of their understanding. The Ashram will continue to make the timeless essence of the teachings of yoga, meditation, Advaita and tantra accessible to the modern world by fostering an environment, both physically and online, that truly encourages genuine spiritual growth.
1 I lived here until 2010 and then returned in 2015
2 Of course, the process of change and transformation continues to unfold throughout our lifetime
3 Carl Jung, The Philosophical Tree (1945)
4 I know I’ve quoted this before in an article however I need to be reminded of this from time to time so I thought I’d share it with you.
With the return of people to the Ashram, we are also able to restart residential sessions of the Yoga Teacher Training Course. We have had two courses in September, now Teacher Training has finally returned live. For the last year or more, the course has continued through online teaching via Zoom. We’ve been scattered around the planet and just logging in once a month.
People arrived as the Autumn sun shone on the turning leaves… Old friendships renewed in person. There’s a closeness develops between people going through two years (almost three) of Yoga Teacher Training. We grow together, share, watch each other making the same mistakes.
Also watch each other turning into quality Yoga teachers. This course rests on the foundation of the experience of Swami Nishchalananda, who was himself a student of Swami Satyananda Saraswati of Bihar for fourteen years. Swamiji founded this ashram, established the training course and now has passed on the running of it to the hands of Swami Krishnapremananda, Swami SatyaDaya, and Tulsi, with this year guest lectures from Debbie Farrer and Rambha. The course evolves continuously as new approaches are sometimes incorporated into the the traditional Teaching.
We finished the course with a gentle, almost intuitive, asana class from Tulsi, then chanting which included a translated reading of each verse of ‘Nirvana Shatkam’. The translation (by Swamiji) is an astonishing exploration of the true nature of existence; an Advaitic text which could also be said to express the principle of ‘neti neti’ (negation of anything you may think that you are, which is ultimately transient).
Please enjoy that recording here (quality best we could get with Zoom transmission audio)……….
We re-started residential courses a couple of weeks back, after being closed to visitors for 18 months …. Actual people walking through the gate, unpacking their bags, settling in, walking the hills, breathing mountain air. Welcome back.
We’ve been so geared up for online courses we all had to refresh our minds to what we had to do to be ready to welcome actual humans rather than virtual humans
No no no…. …..that’s not the kind of ‘virtual’ human I meant….. I meant real humans but on the other end of a Zoom transmission. Although …….. this guy does have a certain …. familiarity….
Lisa in the front office actually set off the fire alarms, working so hard, fingers flying across the keyboard, until the computer started to go on fire….. schedules, timetables, bookings, cancellations, queries, questions, quibbles…..
Sally, our new cook from Australia, prepares a delicious vegetarian lunch, from…er… plants.
No! sorry, Sally looks after all the rooms and the housekeeping, and the cleaning, and sweeping, and mopping, sweetly singing the whilst.
James, our new cook, gathers vegetation for some delicious vegetarian meals for our guests during their stay……
Nope… sorry… wrong again, He is of course the gardener making the place look super good, soaking up the hot hot sunshine of our lush semi-tropical climate.
Here they are at last! The cooks! Sangita, and Sahara cooking a delicious vegetarian meal from vegetables.
finely crafted recipes from the cuisine of ashrams worldwide, with spices from the orient and delicate…. (contd. page 94)
Our friend here was entrusted with the job of duplicating the tutors’ course notes for the entire ten days. Here he is tearing the ashram apart in a desperate, and ultimately futile, attempt to find out where he might have lost them….
‘Well can’t you just….’?
‘No! just making stuff up is NOT an option!’
Here’s Swami Satyadaya and Tulsi, ashram manager, responding to my request for …….a …… meaningful role for myself in the proceedings
I retreat to the creative hub of the ashram, my studio, to write this blog post, and plan my immediate return to Africa.
Welcome back everyone. Let’s hope this is a return to some kind of normality. The last two years have allowed us to develop our skills into online teaching, both real-time courses on Zoom, and also recorded course material for self study in your own time. But above all we try to be a centre of excellence in Yoga, Tantra and Advaita, with also the possibility of residential courses. Please be welcome to enjoy what we have to offer.
Swami Nishchalananda gave this satsang online, to coincide with the festival which celebrates the Guru principle in the Yogic tradition. There are of course other spiritual traditions that also extol the virtues of the Teacher-Student relationship.
After the statement that we do not need a Guru, this is further explained. The Guru Disciple principle is fundamental, actually in almost any subject and not just spirituality. But, in the spiritual journey we have to include the ‘inner’ Guru as central. So the Guru may be a person, something in nature, or simply, that inner Guru which is none other than Conscious Presence as the source of wisdom and inspiration. It is that which resonates with any external Guru, which is why Swamiji says….
The best preparation for finding the Guru is preparing yourself by practice, be that Meditation, Yoga or Reflection.
The extension of this idea of Conscious Presence as the inner Guru can lead to the astonishing conclusion that actually, there is only one Guru, because Conscious Presence, Awareness, transcends the boundaries of individuality.
There is no doubt that some of us need a physical person as Teacher, maybe because we are so out of touch with the inner Guru. But whatever aspect of the Guru principle to which we relate, Swamiji goes on to say that, ‘The function of the Guru is not to teach us anything, but to remove our concepts and our blockages’
A discussion of the Guru principle in terms of the paradigm of the Chakras, tells us that there is a chakra between the intuitive / mind knowledge of Agya chakra, and the crown chakra Sahasrara, (which represents transcendence beyond individuality). This is the Guru Chakra, whose function is to draw us into realising the essence (Tattwa) of the Guru principle.
Swamiji responds to questions after this discourse, and finishes with a guided meditation.
In this satsang Swamiji recommends the medicine of daily awe and wonder to counteract the negative effects of so much fear in the collective psyche at this time. 5 minutes of awe and wonder in the face of nature’s beauty – a flower, a moving vista, the starlit sky – can do wonders for the soul, he reminds us, lifting our spirits generally as well as creating an openness that we can take into our more formal practice. As always, satsang closes with a Q&A.
In this satsang Swamiji stresses the importance of practice, urging us to set aside at least one hour per day for connecting with or opening to our fundamental identity. He also speaks to the challenges brought to all of us by the pandemic, and gently suggests we might use these challenges to inspire our practice and to shake ourselves out of any sense of complacency that may be present. There follows a guided meditation centered on the relationship between the mind with its myriad objects of perception and the underlying Consciousness which perceives through the mind and senses. As always, satsang closes with a Q&A.
This poem was written over two years ago. I had always enjoyed working outside in the Ashram grounds but the spring of 2017 was when I first took the drum outdoors and played with the trees and the birds for company. I did have this sense that nature was encouraging me to let the music out. In 2019 I started writing songs and many of these tracks are celebrations of the natural world.
Prose, Prose, Prose
I cannot write that way to describe life here
in the wet green hills in northern climes of planet earth
The sun is our nearby star and her light touches us
as we work among brambles, ash and pine.
Our lungs gorge on oxygen, a precious gas
which the Italians call ossigeno
and that sounds like a bony genome.
Light is made of photons and photons are found inside our bodies*
science fact, but little reported and every photon tells a tale.
The sun shines white, the plants blaze green,
tree roots explore the soil and the mycelium spreads far and wide.
Here at the Ashram if you walk by the big pond when the sun is out,
our nearby star may call to you and she may say
“Darling little one, my love sweeps over the land
Do you have eyes to see?
Darling little one, come out and drum and sing,
sit on a rock and let the songbirds hear you play.
If you do I’ll tell you my stories:
I’ll speak of planets, moons and comets, of spiral galaxies and gassy filaments,
but I’ll also speak of the spinning earth
and all thereon that responds to my radiant presence.
In my rays your hair glistens, you work and sweat and enjoy being flesh and blood
and my love coaxes out that voice of yours
SING SING SING, get out and do it boy
By Mantra Shakti
*See the work of Fritz-Albert Popp (his discoveries are mentioned at some length in the book ‘The Field’ by Lynne McTaggart)
We said we’d build a Yoga hall in Zambia…… and we did.
I’m signing in from Eastern Zambia, as I had to stay here for a further three months because of the UK being in ‘lockdown’ etc. Here life is much easier as we have complete freedom of movement and the whole Covid business may as well be on another planet. Would be nice to stay but my ashram duties call me back, then reality will hit and I have to quarantine for 10 days at vast expense. Ironic as I feel much safer here and we probably developed ‘herd immunity’ in Eastern Province months ago.
I don’t have a lot more to say, as the movie that I made says it all. I have tried to do as complete a job as I could with this movie… some of you have donated money, trousers and yoga blocks and we couldn’t have done it without you, so this movie is a big thank-you to you all (the Northern Ireland contingent has to come in for special mention here… they continued to help us most generously through the project).
African Mandala is a project supported by Swami Nishchalananda, in that he gave me encouragement, inspiration, also the leeway to continue coming to my Africa projects even after I moved into the ashram (see Ulingana.com). His freedom of spirit infuses Yoga in Zambia; I hope you will see that from the movie.
The film is a documentary, not a ‘short’. It’s 20 minutes long, so give yourself some time, freedom from immediate tasks, and a reasonable sound system (!) to enjoy. I have tried to briefly paint a picture of Zambia… its wildlife and culture, to start. Then we focus a bit more on the build, also on life in Eastern Province where life can be astonishingly hard at times (making it even more surprising that people have adopted Yoga so readily). Finally we focus in on the two principal teachers and the opening class that marked the end of the project, and the beginning of a whole new chapter for the teachers and practitioners.