The body, humanity’s fortress

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Part I — The three bodies: physical, subtle and causal

Question: For what purpose do we have a physical body?

Sri Chinmoy: The soul, which is a conscious, divine portion of God, has to live inside the physical body in order to make progress. Inside the church is the altar. Similarly, the body is a temple, and inside the temple is the shrine, the soul. The body is our outer protection and, at the same time, our instrument for physical manifestation. Without the body the soul is helpless. Until manifestation takes place in the physical world, we cannot offer the real Truth to the world at large. The purpose of the body is to manifest the Reality of the soul. The soul needs the body to manifest the inner Truth, the divine Truth; the body needs the soul to realise the highest Truth.

When the soul inspires us to do something, it also gives us the necessary capacity. Unfortunately, the unaspiring body, vital and mind do not obey the dictates of the soul. The body, vital and mind give us messages, but these messages are not the inner dictates of the soul. The desires of the body often directly contradict the divine necessities of the soul, because this material body is unconsciousness itself.

When a person begins to aspire consciously, his entire being gradually starts to aspire. His soul aspires, his heart aspires, his mind aspires, his vital aspires and finally his body aspires. When the physical in the aspirant starts to become one with the soul's inspiration and aspiration, then God's Light can find a fit receptacle in him.

Question: What is the difference in physical appearance between the physical body and the subtle physical?

Sri Chinmoy: The body is a solid, tangible form. But inside the body, with the same form as the physical body but without physical substance, is the subtle body.

Question: Do you mean that the subtle body is a less dense form of matter? Does it interpenetrate or live within the physical body?

Sri Chinmoy: The subtle body is undoubtedly less dense than the physical body is. We really have three bodies. As we go deep within, these bodies become more subtle. Each person has what is called in Sanskrit sthula sharira, the physical body. Inside the physical there is another body, called sukshma sharira, the subtle body. Inside the subtle body is a third body, called karana sharira, the causal body.

Before the creation started — the creation that we see all around — Hiranyagarbha existed. Hiranyagarbha is a Sanskrit word that means golden womb (hiranya means gold and garbha means womb). Our physical eyes will never be able to see or feel this Hiranyagarbha, but it is there that the seed of creation originally germinated. From there the causal body came into existence.

In the causal body we have all qualities in seed form. In the subtle body we begin to get the manifestation of some things that are in the causal body. Finally, we get truth, reality, experiences and realisation in the gross physical body. The physical body is like a huge banyan tree which grows from a tiny seed. When we compare the physical body with the causal body, it is simply unbelievable. This is how the manifestation takes place: from the causal to the subtle, and from the subtle to the gross physical.

The causal body has the capacity to fulfil us, but it fulfils in the process of time, through the evolving wheel which we call evolution. With the causal body the journey begins, but it is with the physical body that we fulfil ourselves, and the universe fulfils itself, through the outer form.

By physical, we mean the outer consciousness of the universe. In its seed form this is karana sharira, but eventually this seed grows into the boundless universe. When it expands, it automatically reaches the highest. You may say that expansion and reaching the highest are two different things. But in God's case, in the soul's case, it is not like that. What touches the farthest corner of the universe is meaningless if it has not also reached the highest. God will never remain unfulfilled, and He will never allow us to remain unfulfilled either, so we are bound to reach the highest, farthest and deepest.

Question: Which of these three bodies gets psychic experiences?

Sri Chinmoy: All of them. Once one gets a real spiritual experience, one sees that experience in all three bodies. When it is a matter of realisation, one sees, feels and becomes the Truth in all three bodies. This is not the case for minor experiences. If it is just an ordinary earthly happening, which is not so important, only the physical or the subtle body will get it. But if it is something serious, important and significant, then the experience will be recorded in all three bodies.

Question: Is it possible for the physical form to live in two worlds at once?

Sri Chinmoy: You need not have two physical bodies to live simultaneously in two worlds. One physical body is enough. If you have greatly developed your spiritual faculties, you can function not only in two worlds, but in many worlds or in many places at the same time. The physical body will be in one place, but you can get the knowledge of some other place, some distant place either in this world or in some other world, from your intuitive faculty, your inner vision or your inner beings.

Question: Can the subtle body appear in other places?

Sri Chinmoy: The subtle body, which looks and acts exactly like the physical body and can be perceived by others, can appear at one place while the physical body is at another. We leave the physical behind, and with the soul's light we give form to the subtle physical at any place we want. The things that the soul can accomplish in a fraction of a second will take twenty years if we have to do them in an ordinary earthly way.

But while the soul and the subtle physical are outside the gross physical, the body must not be touched or disturbed in any way. If it is, it loses its purity and divinity, and decay begins immediately. Then the soul finds it very difficult to return. Even under excellent conditions, the soul must return to the body before 11 or 13 hours, or it will find the door closed.

Question: Is it possible to see the causal or subtle body?

Sri Chinmoy: The causal body can be seen only by realised souls and great spiritual aspirants. Ordinary persons cannot see the causal body. And most ordinary persons do not see the subtle body either. The subtle body is often seen and felt when our kundalini is awakened, because the kundalini is in the subtle body. It is also seen and felt when a new light descends into our physical body. When a new light descends, in that light all of a sudden we can see the subtle body. There are also other ways to see the subtle body.

When we see the subtle body, we get true confidence in our existence. Right now we contradict ourselves at each moment. This moment we say that we are something and we have something; the next moment we say that we are nothing and we have nothing. But if we frequently see our subtle body, then we get the true confidence that we possess something that is worth having and worth showing.

Question: Do the causal and subtle bodies last longer than the physical, or are they all impermanent?

Sri Chinmoy: The causal body, the subtle body and the physical body are all, to some extent, impermanent. They lose their existence when the soul leaves the body. As soon as the soul leaves, the physical dissolves into the five elements. But sometimes the causal body stays for a longer time with the soul than the physical and subtle, because the soul's potentiality is within it in seed form.

Then, when the soul reincarnates, it takes a new causal, a new subtle and a new physical body. First it takes a causal body. Then from the causal comes the subtle body. The subtle body is like the outer body, but we do not see it until we have the inner vision. Then comes the outer body.

Question: How do you develop consciousness in your subtle body?

Sri Chinmoy: Consciousness is already in the subtle body. Consciousness is functioning most powerfully, vehemently and soulfully in the subtle body, but it is not functioning here on the physical plane. So you should try to develop consciousness in the physical body, the ignorant, lethargic physical body.

Consciousness descends into the subtle body from the causal body. Consciousness means God in His infinite forms with infinite capacity. In the subtle body everyone has enormous capacity. It is in the physical that we do not have capacity. These three bodies are like three rungs of a ladder. The third rung, the physical, is not receiving what the second rung has to offer. The infinite potentiality from the causal body descends into the subtle. But because the physical is not aspiring, the subtle is not strong enough to give this capacity to the physical. The subtle is more than ready, but if the physical is not aspiring and trying to ascend, if the physical is not making some conscious effort, then there is no meeting place.

How can you feed and develop the physical consciousness? You can develop the consciousness in the physical only through proper self-discipline. Two things comprise your daily life: doing something or not doing something. If something wrong presents itself, don't do it. If you see something right, do it. In that way your consciousness automatically expands. When you do something wrong, you bind your consciousness. If you are caught by temptation which you cannot overcome right now, try to delay your action for a little while. Delay it until tomorrow. Then, when tomorrow comes, delay it until the day after tomorrow. In this way keep on putting off the wrong action. In the meantime you will be doing many good things, and on the strength of these deeds you will be increasing the number of soldiers in your divine army. Then it will be easy for you to overcome temptation. In this way, the consciousness in the physical can be developed.

Question: Is it true that all diseases begin in the subtle body and then manifest in the physical body?

Sri Chinmoy: It is not necessarily so. This is one theory, and it has a kind of truth. But many times the imperfection starts in the physical body itself with no prior connecting link in the subtle body. The gross physical body is not aspiring, and there is some imperfection in it; so it gets diseases.

When a disease attacks the subtle body before coming to the physical, and the person is aware of it, then he has time to fight and prevent it from entering the physical body. But if it attacks the physical directly, then the victim has almost no time to prevent its entrance.

Part II — Hatha Yoga (postures) and physical fitness

Question: Is Hatha Yoga necessary in concentration, meditation and contemplation? Is it indispensable for realising God?

Sri Chinmoy: If your body is not strong enough, then today you will suffer from a stomach-ache, tomorrow you will have a headache and the next day you will have some other disorder. Naturally, you will not be able to concentrate and meditate. For that reason it is important to keep the body fit. And Hatha Yoga asanas are far better for the body than the vigorous exercises that are done in the West. Asanas will soothe your body as long as you do not do them too much. If asanas are done too dynamically, they may arouse aggressive feelings. But when you do them correctly, you get a kind, mild, soft vibration.

Hatha Yoga may help us a little bit spiritually, but we have to know where we stand in our spiritual journey. If we are very restless, we can do Hatha Yoga in the beginning to learn to sit calmly and quietly. But if we are not constant victims of restlessness, even if we are absolute beginners, Hatha Yoga is not needed, for when we enter into meditation we automatically enter into a calm, quiet state. By doing Hatha Yoga exercises, we feel that we are regulating and disciplining our life. But when we meditate properly and life-energy enters into us from our meditation, automatically our life is disciplined. The divine Peace and Light which we need, we can never, never get from Hatha Yoga.

Just as Yoga exercises will bring calm and quiet, breathing exercises will bring poise. This is not real inner peace, though. It is only a temporary poise. Concentration, meditation and contemplation are the only things that bring real peace.

If your aim is just to keep the body relaxed and fit, then Hatha Yoga will certainly help you. But if you want to complete your course in the inner life, you have to enter into the school of concentration, meditation and contemplation. Hatha Yoga is like kindergarten, whereas your aim is to get a Master's degree. There are many excellent students who have not gone to kindergarten. They have skipped it and gone directly to primary school, and from there they have gone on to high school and university studies.

In India there are hundreds and thousands of real aspirants who have never done any exercises. I happened to be in an ashram where I did physical exercises for the sake of the body, but even in that ashram the spiritual Master never recommended that the aspirants practise asanas in order to make spiritual progress. In many spiritual communities in India asanas are never done. The seekers start directly with aspiration and meditation.

If one feels that by becoming an expert in Hatha Yoga he can realise God, or make fast progress on the road to realisation, then I wish to say that he is mistaken. There are many people on earth who do physical exercise and keep their bodies extremely fit. There are wrestlers and acrobats and athletes who are very strong and healthy, but God-realisation is not meant for them in this incarnation. They are strong physically, but they do not care for spiritual strength. Fortunately or unfortunately, there is no direct relationship between physical strength and spiritual strength or capacity. Any Indian village has hundreds of little boys who will give a far better performance of Hatha Yoga than the swamis here can do. Nature has taught them; Mother India has taught them. But God-realisation for those village boys will long remain a far cry.

We have to know what we actually want. Hatha Yoga has something to offer which is very limited, and meditation has something to offer which is absolutely unlimited. If you say, "Let me achieve the limited thing first and then grow into the unlimited," that is all right. Again, if you have the capacity and willingness to enter directly into the vast ocean, God will not ask you to swim in a swimming pool. But if you do not have the capacity to jump directly into the ocean, then God says, "Go to the swimming pool and enjoy yourself for a while."

My Yoga will not say anything against Hatha Yoga but, at the same time, my Yoga feels that inner strength will also supply the outer strength. That is to say, if I really love God, my eternal Father will take care of the needs of my body. He will give me a sufficiently strong body to enable me to carry on my inner work. If I am ready to sacrifice myself or offer something to my Beloved, my Father, then He will naturally think of my body's needs; for He knows that if I do not have the physical capacity, I will not be able to fulfil Him as a divine instrument and work for Him on earth.

So if you want to do asanas for five or ten minutes daily to keep your body fit, you can do so. But if you want to do Hatha Yoga for two hours before you meditate, it will be a sheer waste of time.

Question: What is the importance of physical fitness?

Sri Chinmoy: With our soul's aspiration and our inner dedication and surrender, we will be able to reach the Supreme Truth. After we realise the Supreme, we have to fulfil the Supreme by manifesting Him on earth. But in order to manifest the Supreme, the Highest, on earth, physical fitness is absolutely necessary. If we want to reveal and manifest Him, the body must be our divine instrument. If the physical is not fit, manifestation cannot take place at all, or it can take place only to a very limited extent. For that reason we have to pay some attention to sports and exercise. Otherwise, we shall be weak and sick all the time. That does not mean that we must be the world's fastest runners or best athletes. But we must keep the body fit, according to the necessity of our inner development.

The body needs proper training so that it will be fit to receive the message of the soul. If the body is strong and healthy, it can receive the message of the soul unreservedly, and we can become a perfect receptacle, a perfect instrument. At that time the soul's aspiration and the body's aspiration go together.

So please exercise regularly. Your strong body will someday be necessary for the manifestation of the Supreme. The higher, the deeper you go, the more it will be necessary for you to reveal and manifest your inner divinity; and for that manifestation, physical fitness is of paramount importance.

Question: Would you say that the asanas are needed more in the West to help people relax, because people from India and the Orient already have more peace of mind than we do?

Sri Chinmoy: To some extent it is true that in the West there is great tension, and that Westerners need peace of mind. But in the East, especially in India, there is tremendous poverty, and this poverty also creates anxiety, worries, tension and turmoil.

Asanas do help the body to relax. They are a very good way to keep the body limber and in good condition. But if you expect to get peace of mind by relaxing the body, you will be disappointed. The relaxation that you get from asanas is not real peace. If you want to get infinite Peace, eternal Peace, or a change in your inner consciousness, asanas cannot help you significantly.

Question: If you want to meditate as well as do Hatha Yoga, should you meditate before doing the exercises?

Sri Chinmoy: If you do Hatha Yoga exercises, it is better to do them before your meditation. After the Hatha Yoga exercises please rest for about fifteen minutes, lying down, and then meditate. But if you do Hatha Yoga exercises, please do not do more than five or six each day. Those who are meditating daily should not spend more than half an hour or so in Hatha Yoga. Every day you can do some basic exercises and some different ones, but do not go on for more than half an hour. If you do Hatha Yoga exercises for an hour and a half and then want to meditate, it will be extremely difficult for you to enter into meditation.

Question: I have difficulty sitting in the lotus position.

Sri Chinmoy: It is not necessary at all. The only thing you should do is to keep the back straight. Some people recline on a chair or slump over, but that is not good. The lotus position is good because it keeps the body quiet. But many people remain in the lotus position for three or four hours and their mind is still roaming, while somebody else may sit on a chair with his mind calm and quiet. The main thing is to keep the back erect and the mind thoughtless.

Question: When we are meditating, is it necessary to place our hands in any special position?

Sri Chinmoy: It is not at all necessary to have the hands in any special position. Meditation should be done inwardly and devotedly. If you have inner calm and poise, you do not have to worry about your outer position. Let the hands remain wherever they are. The main thing is meditation. When you are meditating, your whole physical, vital and mental existence should be entering into your meditation.

As far as the inner experience is concerned, you can place your hands anywhere. The important thing is to keep them relaxed. You can let them rest on your knees, with the fingers facing downwards, half-closed. Or there are various mudras, with the fingers held in different positions, but these are helpful only for beginners, if they inspire the physical mind to enter into a deeper consciousness. If you want to know more, there is a whole subject called hasta mudra. Hasta means hand; mudra means posture. It deals with the positioning of the fingers and hands.

Question: What is the spiritual purpose of competitive sports?

Sri Chinmoy: Our aim is not to become the world's best athlete. Our aim is to keep the body fit, to develop dynamism and to give the vital innocent joy. In competitive sports, our primary aim should be not to surpass others but constantly to surpass ourselves. In the outer life, when we run with our friends, we are seeing who is actually the best. And we cannot properly evaluate our own capacity unless we have some standard of comparison. But we compete not for the sake of defeating others, but in order to bring forward our own capacity. Our best capacity comes forward only when there are other people around us. They inspire us to bring forward our utmost capacity, and we inspire them to bring forward their utmost capacity. This is why we have competitive sports.

If we can learn to participate in competitive sports devotedly, then we will get real joy and make real spiritual progress. But if we compete egotistically, then we are bound to suffer both inwardly and outwardly. In that case, even if we stand first, we will not obtain blessings from the Supreme, and if we do not stand first we will curse ourselves.

Question: Can Pratyahara be practised independently of other sadhanas?

Sri Chinmoy: There are eight steps in the spiritual sadhana or discipline: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Yama is self-control and moral abstinence; Niyama is strict observance of conduct and character; Asana is body posture meant to help calm the body and make it a receptive instrument; Pranayama is systematic breathing to calm and help control the mind; Pratyahara is withdrawal from the sense-life; Dharana is fixation of the consciousness on God; Dhyana is meditation; and Samadhi is trance, the absolute union of the individual consciousness with the universal Consciousness.

We do not have to go through all the preliminary stages once we begin to aspire consciously. We do not have to go through the Hatha Yoga asanas and Pranayama in order to enter into meditation. Self-control, withdrawal from the sense life and fixation of the consciousness on God are necessary to some extent before true aspiration can begin. But once aspiration enters into our unillumined human life, our journey has begun. If we have aspiration, we can start with concentration, meditation and contemplation.

If you want to practise Pratyahara, withdrawing your outgoing energy and focusing on one particular aspect of your own true being and consciousness, then aspiration is of paramount importance. You do not have to go deliberately through Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama. If you really enter into the field of aspiration, immediately you will try to give up wrong things. You will automatically lead a moral and controlled life. You will stop doing things that are detrimental to your spiritual life. Your inner cry, your aspiration, will compel you to practise the first two steps. And you will find that the third and fourth stages are not necessary.

As they say, slow and steady wins the race, and you can go step by step, slowly and steadily. But, at the same time, there is also a path called the sunlit path. All roads lead to the same Goal, but there is one particular road which will lead you there sooner than the other roads. That road is the path of concentration, deep meditation and one-pointed contemplation. One can certainly practise Pratyahara without first practising the other disciplines. And if one also wants to skip Pratyhara and start with Dharana or Dhyana, one can also do that. Many spiritual seekers have done it, and they have been successful in their spiritual journey. But it is up to the individual whether or not he feels the need for any of the particular steps. I have told my disciples that it is not at all necessary to begin before Dhyana. They meditate with me, and they have high, sublime experiences without all the preceding disciplines. But there are other spiritual Masters who ask their students to go through other stages. I have nothing to say against that. Each one has his own way of realising the Truth and offering the Truth to others. If you are sincere enough to follow a spiritual path to the end, and if you have a spiritual Master or if you have friends who are far advanced in the spiritual life, then you can take their help and suggestions on how to make the fastest progress.

Part III — Pranayama and yogic breathing

Question: What is prana?

Sri Chinmoy: Prana is a Sanskrit word which means breath, life-breath or life-energy. This life-energy is not something material or physical which can be seen by the scientists or doctors, but it is indispensable to life. The source of prana is the Supreme. prana is as important in our life as Atman, which is the soul or Self. Life is breath embodied and breath manifested.

There are five kinds of prana. The first is prana proper, the life energy inside us. Wherever there is life there is prana. The second is apana. This is the energy used specifically in excretion and generation. The third is samana. Samana is located around the navel and is used for digestion and assimilation. The fourth is called vyana. This is located in the lotus of our spiritual heart. There are one hundred and one subtle spiritual nerves around this lotus, and from each of these nerves there branch out one hundred and one other nerves. Each of these, in turn, has seventy-two thousand branches, and through all these nerves vyana moves. These numbers may sound fantastic, but many Seers and Yogis have actually counted them. At the age of twenty-two or twenty-three, I wanted to count these nerves, and I tried. I counted quite a few thousand, and then a luminous being stood in front of me and said, "Don't waste your time. The Seers are right."

The last form of prana is udana. Udana is located in the middle of the spine. This prana is most important. If this udana from the middle of the spine goes upward at the time of death, one will go to one of the higher worlds. If it goes downward, one will go to one of the lower worlds. Each place on the body represents a loka, a heavenly world. In India, at the time of death, the relatives and friends always try to observe the area from which the last life-breath of the deceased passes. If the last breath passes from anywhere below the navel, one has to go to lower worlds and suffer greatly. If it passes from somewhere above the navel, one will go to one of the higher worlds to enjoy the Delight of the Supreme.

Question: How can we get the most out of prana?

Sri Chinmoy: When prana becomes one with the Cosmic Will, immediately we see a great achievement in our inner life. That achievement may come to us in the form of Peace, in the form of Joy or in the form of Fulfilment. If we can become conscious of our breathing when we meditate, it will help us to become conscious of the great Divine Breath of which we are the instruments. When we start to meditate, if the flow of prana is spontaneous, steady and unobstructed, then the inner being is in a position to bring forward the inner wealth and make the outer personality feel, realise and fulfil the Highest. In order to get the most out of prana, we have to be fully, unreservedly and totally pure in our outer and inner life. Then, when prana, the life-force, is used in the service of the Supreme, we become the greatest pride of the Supreme.

Question: Could you speak a little about the secret of yogic breathing or Pranayama?

Sri Chinmoy: We have three major Yogas according to our Hindu spiritual philosophy: Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga; the path of knowledge, the path of action and the path of devotion. In Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge, there is a branch which is called Raja Yoga. Raja means 'king'. This branch is called the royal Yoga. In Raja Yoga there are eight steps or stages in the seeker's Godward journey, and the fourth is called pranayama. It is the Yoga of systematic breathing, of controlled breath. We all breathe, but most of us do not know how to breathe properly. Yet if we can breathe correctly, we can free ourselves from disease and ultimately we can even defy death.

There are two kinds of breath: one is prana and the other is apana. When we breathe in cosmic energy to purify and energise our life, we call it prana. When we breathe out our impurities, it is called apana. When we breathe in prana, we conquer disease, and when we breathe out apana, we put in perfect condition the physical organs that are not functioning well; that is to say, we put the entire body in perfect order. Here is a simple exercise which you can do at any time. While you are walking, for five steps breathe in and for five steps breathe out very regularly. If you do this for only two blocks, you will feel refreshed.

There are three steps in proper, systematic breathing. The first is puraka, or inhalation; the second is kumbhaka, or retention; the third is rechaka, or exhalation. When you breathe in, you have to feel that you are breathing in the Breath of God, the Supreme, the divine Beloved. When you hold the breath, you must feel that you are holding the all-fulfilling Breath of the Supreme. And when you breathe out, you have to feel that you are offering God's immortal Life-breath or energy to His entire creation.

To practise systematic breathing, when you are breathing in, just utter the word puraka mentally or silently. Then, while you are holding the breath, silently utter kumbhaka. And when you breathe out, silently utter the word rechaka. Or you can repeat the name of God as you breathe in, while you retain the breath, and again as you breathe out. Use the name you use when you pray to God — Supreme, God, Aum, whatever name pleases you most. When you are in trouble or in danger, immediately you utter somebody's name, because you feel that he is the one who is going to save you. While you are breathing, you also have to feel that the one who comes first and foremost in your life should be invoked.

The rhythm of your breathing is most important. If you breathe in for one second or for one repetition of the name of the Supreme, then you should hold the breath for four seconds or four repetitions. Then, when you breathe out, it should be for two seconds or the time it takes you to repeat the name of the Supreme twice. The breathing should be done softly and silently. When you breathe in and out, you should do it so gently that, even if there were a thread right in front of your nose, your breathing would not move it.

In normal breathing both of our nostrils are usually functioning. But when we breathe properly through alternate nostrils, we get immediate relief from mental anxiety, worries, depression and many other things that cause disturbances in our nature. Alternate nostril breathing is a most important breathing exercise. We start by using our right thumb to close our right nostril. Next we breathe in with the left nostril, silently repeating the name of God, Supreme or puraka, just once. Then we close the left nostril with the fourth finger of the right hand, and with both nostrils closed, silently repeat the name of God, Supreme or kumbhaka four times while holding the breath. Finally we lift the thumb from the right nostril, still keeping the left nostril closed, and exhale, repeating God, Supreme or rechaka twice.

After some time, we can gradually increase the number. Instead of this short one-four-two breath, we can practise a four-sixteen-eight count breath. Some of the Indian Yogis do this exercise for hours, but it should be done comfortably and without force or strain.

But if we overdo this exercise, we will get heart disease. That is why Pranayama has to be taught by one who has practised under a great spiritual figure. If you do it by yourself, instead of reaping the benefits, you may ruin your health. So the best thing is to start with the one-four-two technique. Three times a day you may do it — early in the morning, at noon and at evening — and you will feel how much you will be able to increase it with time.

While we are breathing this way, our thoughts should be very, very pure. If an impure thought enters into us while we are breathing in, it is like bringing in poison. If limitation, ego, or any thought which will eventually bind us enters into the breath, then it is poison which is entering. If we can practise this exercise soulfully three or four times daily, the benefits will be unimaginable.

This Pranayama defies time and space. If we are really successful in doing this, we can easily conquer disease and obtain spiritual power. Right now I am here, but if I think of my mother, father or friends who are far away, and if I am successful in this breathing technique, I can enter into anyone's consciousness and obtain full information about what he is thinking. If you have a violent headache or some other ailment, this alternate breathing will help in many ways to improve your condition. If you are afraid of doing something which is good, if you are afraid of speaking to someone, do two or three minutes of Pranayama and you will be able to do it. If you are angry with someone and want to conquer your anger, then at that moment, right where you are sitting or standing, practise alternate breathing and your anger will disappear.

You may feel that it is impossible to live without breathing for more than a few minutes. But if you practise this exercise you will be able to remain even for a few hours without breathing. It is not only possible: it is inevitable. This is my own personal experience. I started learning this technique twenty years ago and, whether you want to believe me or not, I wish to tell you that for two and a half hours at a time I have been able to stop my own breathing. I used to go in the evening to a park near my home to meditate, and I did this. So if I can do it, you can also do it if you wish to.

Most of you have heard about Kundalini. This is the most sacred Yoga. Inside our spine in our subtle physical body, we have three currents. They are called Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. Pingala has a connection with the sun, Ida with the moon, and Sushumna with the Highest. We have six spiritual centres in the spine, connected by these three currents. If we can open these centres we can become the possessors of infinite Peace, Light and Power. One other centre, which we call Sahasrara, the thousand-petaled lotus, is located in the cerebrum and is not counted with the other six. The other centres are Muladhara at the base of the spine, Svadisthana at the spleen, Manipura at the navel, Anahata at the heart, Vishuddha at the throat and Ajna in the forehead. We can open these centres with the power of our concentration, or with spiritual alternate breathing.

It need not take years to get liberation; it can be a matter of months. One can get Self-realisation within six months, eight months, or a year if he has the capacity to control his breath and focus all his attention on each of the six spiritual centres. This is not a theoretical idea of mine. There have been a great many Indian spiritual aspirants who have attained this elevation by practising Pranayama for seven or eight months. But it has to be done with utmost faith and utmost dedication. The aspirant must have perfect mastery over all the senses and over the mind. If one can practise this Pranayama sincerely and devotedly, then Self-realisation is within the reach of everybody in this meditation room in this very lifetime.

Question: Is the breathing process you described absolutely essential in the opening of the third eye?

Sri Chinmoy: It is a most effective path for opening the third eye, but it is not absolutely essential. If you can bring the inner being forward, or if the Supreme's Grace descends, or if your concentration and will-power are most intense, then you can open your third eye without the breathing exercise. Breathing is one of the most effective methods, but you cannot say it is absolutely essential.

Question: Could the power of Kundalini be restored to a person who was about to attain it at one time?

Sri Chinmoy: Certainly it can be restored. Many times it has happened in India that some aspirant in his spiritual search began the awakening of the Kundalini. Then, because his aspiration was not firm enough to continue the process, the Kundalini began sleeping again.

Kundalini is the secret of secrets in all Yogas. Kundalini is in everybody, asleep in the base of the spine. With our aspiration and concentration, this Kundalini can be awakened. There are various ways to awaken the Kundalini. Earlier I mentioned Pranayama. Also, if the spiritually realised Guru wishes to, and if it is the Will of the Supreme, just by a mere touch or a look, the Guru can awaken it. During a dream, the Divine or the Guru can awaken the Kundalini.

A singer or a musician can awaken the Kundalini and open his chakras when he is deeply absorbed in his singing or playing. Beethoven had this experience many, many times. Although he was not a spiritual figure, in his music he experienced the awakening of the Kundalini many times. In India there are many singers and dancers who get the experience of Kundalini in their highest and deepest concentration on their performance. There are various ways one can have this experience. If it started once and then stopped, one can rest assured it will come back again with the proper methods.

Question: Is this breathing technique widely known in India, and do people breathe better there than we do here?

Sri Chinmoy: It is widely known, but people are foolish. They know the secret, but they do not practise it. There are even teachers who simply teach this skill but do not themselves practise it.

Question: What is the role of Pranayama in the spiritual life?

Sri Chinmoy: In the spiritual life the role of Pranayama depends on the individual. There are many who do not go through breathing exercises before meditation. Instead they invoke God's Light and Presence. They feel that by invoking divine Grace, Protection, Peace and Light they can change their nature and purify their life as effectively as they could by doing Pranayama.

If one wants to follow the Yoga of dedicated service, the Yoga of love, devotion and surrender, the Yoga of inner wisdom, or if one wants to bring the psychic being to the fore and let the psychic in him, the divine child in him, guide him and take him to God, then that particular aspirant need not give much importance to prana. He has to give all importance to the highest Peace, Bliss and Power that he wants to bring down from Above. When the Peace, Bliss and Power enter into him, they automatically bring in the infinite life-breath which transforms the finite, limited life-breath that he already holds. So he need not practise systematic inhalation, retention and exhalation. The Light that he brings into his system will regulate his breath, his life-energy, according to the divine necessity in that particular aspirant.

The only breathing exercise a spiritual aspirant really needs is to try to breathe in purity. While breathing in, if he consciously imagines and feels that he is breathing in Perfection from Above, then the limitations inside his system are automatically transformed. The moment we breathe in consciously, the prana inside us has more value. But to go through many vigorous exercises is not at all necessary for God-realisation. If we can breathe in slowly and deeply, and have a devoted feeling towards the Supreme and towards humanity while breathing, we will be able to enter into the world with our divinised breath. When we breathe in with a feeling of spontaneous devotion, we can serve the Supreme as well as humanity spiritually and materially.

Question: I have been given to understand that in normal breathing we breathe in through both nostrils and then the energy goes down one side of the spine for two hours and then it goes down the other side for two hours; but that when we do alternate breathing, this changes. Is it true?

Sri Chinmoy: No, it is not true. The only thing that happens during normal breathing, when both nostrils are functioning, is that life energy goes up and down the spine. Spiritual figures are conscious of this; ordinary people are not. Prana goes upward to give realisation and downward for transformation. When prana goes up and passes through the Sahasrara chakra, it touches the Highest, like a link between Heaven and earth. When it goes down, it helps us keep a firm hold on matter, on the physical world. What actually happens during alternate breathing is that you put concentrated energy into your breathing in order to purify and divinely activate your system.

Twelve to fifteen breaths per minute is normal for most human beings, but there are people who breathe only three or four times a minute as a result of their practice of alternate breathing. The turtle is the symbol of Immortality. It breathes about three times per minute. That is why a turtle lives for hundreds of years while we live for only fifty, sixty or seventy years.

This technique of breathing gives success in all walks of life. It immediately takes us to the inner world and identifies us with the essence of our existence. From the soul we are reaching the Source, and when we are in the Source all is success and fulfilment.

For anything that you want to do, you will do better if you can hold your breath comfortably for a longer period. I happened to be a good sportsman in the hundred metre race. It is said that if you want to run a distance of a hundred metres, you should breathe in once and then cover the entire distance without breathing again. If you breathe in three or four times while you are running, you will be lost. Sometimes I could not do it in one breath and I had to take a second breath. Although I held the first prize for twelve years, I know I would have done far better if I could have done it always in one breath. Anything that you want to do, you will do better if you breathe in properly and hold your breath. But this should be done comfortably, without straining the lungs. While we are breathing ordinarily during the day, not even three or four times do we utilise our lungs so that they work to their full capacity. But proper breathing is very important. You know we are living in a world of economy. We always try to economise. If we can learn alternate breathing, then we are economising. And we get immediate success if we can do alternate breathing.

Question: Could you speak about the different aspects of the Divine that can be invoked when one breathes through the left and right nostrils?

Sri Chinmoy: All of you are breathing in and out. Please try to observe whether you are breathing primarily through your left nostril or through your right nostril. Those of you who are breathing in through the left nostril, please repeat the word moon, and those who are breathing through the right, please repeat the word sun.

If you want to change your fate, there is a most significant and most effective method of doing this. During the day or night, when you observe that your left nostril is functioning and not your right, then try to concentrate or meditate on the moon for a few minutes. You will get the moon's qualities: peace, serenity and subtle bliss. When you observe that the right nostril is functioning, then concentrate on the sun. You are bound to get the qualities of the sun: dynamism and divine power. But if you misuse this power, if you do not aspire for dynamic and energising power, then it becomes aggression; and if you misuse this peace or subtle bliss, then immediately inertia, lethargy and idleness will attack you and try to take full control of your life. When you feel inert, when you do not feel like doing anything, if you observe, you will see that it is the left nostril that is functioning. But when you are energetic, when you want to do something, at that time it is the right one.

When you do heavy exercise, you will see that both nostrils are functioning equally, At that time, it is Sushumna, the main cord, that is functioning. When both the nostrils are functioning, at that time divine Peace and divine Power are functioning simultaneously in you. But you have to be conscious of them and invoke them more and more. Every day you are breathing. Try to observe your breath in your day-to-day activities. Even if you can spend five minutes out of each hour being conscious of your breathing, that will be wonderful. Daily if you use the breath properly, you can bring in more power and peace to illumine your ignorance.

During your deepest meditation, you need not think of breath at all. You should not think about whether you are breathing in with your left or right nostril, or if both nostrils are functioning. It is not at all necessary. The soul at that time is consciously taking care of you and is in full charge of your breathing.

Question: How do the outgoing breath and the incoming breath meet together?

Sri Chinmoy: First of all, it is not necessary for them to meet together. The main thing is to follow the incoming breath. With this breath you can energise your body, vital, mind, heart and soul. And with the outgoing breath you can purify your body, vital, mind and heart.

But if you want to unite the incoming breath and outgoing breath, you have to take your aspiration beyond the body, above the body. If you can take the last breath to the Sahasrara centre, at the top of the head, then the outgoing breath will flow through it, and the incoming breath which comes from God, from the Supreme, can meet it at this point.

Question: When I am trying to go deep within, my breath cuts my concentration. How can I control my breath?

Sri Chinmoy: At that time what you should do is to breathe in as slowly and quietly as possible and feel that around you and before you there is flowing a river of energy. If you see and feel this river of energy, try to bring it into your system. When the river of energy enters into you, your breath will flow continuously and spontaneously, without disturbing your meditation.

Part IV — Sleep and the body-consciousness

Question: I feel that I am losing a battle with my vital in the morning when I want to get up and meditate and I can't get up.

Sri Chinmoy: It is not your vital that does not allow you to get up, it is your gross physical, although the vital also helps the physical to enjoy more sleep. What happens is that the combined lethargy of the physical and the undivine vital is stronger than your heart's aspiration. With tremendous heart's aspiration you can conquer the vital and the body which create this extreme physical inertia. Then you will be able to get up.

What you should do before you go to bed is try for five minutes to concentrate on the particular hour at which you wish to rise. If you want to get up at a quarter to six, with your mental eye try to visualise the hands of the clock fixed at a quarter to six right in front of your face. You will see that the following morning it will be easier to get up. It may take two or three days, or it may take a week, but I assure you that you will be able to get up, because you are applying the soul's conscious will before going to bed at night. This conscious will becomes one with the earthly time, which the clock represents. It will enter into earthly time and command it. Then, early in the morning, the soul will again enter into earthly time and compel the earthly time to stand in front of you. Then it will easily be possible for you to get up and meditate at that particular hour.

Those who are meditating at six o'clock or six-thirty in the morning must not go back to bed. There are some who meditate at three-thirty on rare occasions, or at four-thirty, or a quarter to five. Those who meditate before five can go to bed again for a few minutes or half an hour if they feel it is necessary. But those who meditate at around six o'clock should not go to sleep again. It is harmful, because the day has already dawned and the capacity of the day has already entered into them. The capacity of the night must be separated from the capacity of the day. Night has already played its role in their aspiration by giving them rest. Now day has to play its role with dynamic activity, which is a form of aspiration in the physical and material world.

Question: If we don't drink coffee or tea, what can we do if we start feeling drowsy while driving late at night, or if we get little sleep and find it difficult to get up in the morning?

Sri Chinmoy: You say that sometimes you feel drowsy while driving. Now, why should coffee or tea have to come to your rescue? There are spiritual methods, which have infinitely more power than coffee or tea, that can help you at that time. If you are tired while driving, stop your car and breathe in deeply a few times. Do the alternate nostril breathing (described in the section of this book on Pranayama). This will give you immediate energy. Then, with the power of your concentration, try consciously to breathe in divine energy. When you breathe in, try to feel that you are breathing in not only through your nose, but also through your eyes, ears, forehead, head, shoulders. Feel that energy is coming from all quarters and entering into you from various doors. If you are conscious of this stream of energy entering into you, naturally you will not be sleepy. When you begin meditating well, you are drawing in energy consciously or unconsciously. Naturally, the more energy you can draw into you, the higher your meditation will be. And where does this energy come from? It comes from the Universal Consciousness.

Another thing you can do when you are tired is repeat the name of the Supreme or your Guru very rapidly. If you do so, immediately their names will enter into your own inner consciousness, and you will get boundless energy.

The number of hours that you sleep is not the important thing, but rather how well you sleep. If you find that it is difficult to get up in the morning, you have to know that during eight hours of sleep perhaps you have not had even one hour of good sleep. There is a kind of sleep called yogic sleep. In one second of yogic sleep we can get the equivalent of fifteen minutes or a half hour of ordinary rest. Now, how can you get that kind of rest? Early in the morning when you find it difficult to get up, try to feel that your entire body, from head to foot, represents a sea of peace. Feel that you have become peace itself, that you embody peace within and without. Try to feel your physical frame consciously, but at the same time feel that you are an infinite expanse of peace. When you can consciously feel this expanse of peace, you will see that your physical body, flesh, blood and bones, has totally merged and disappeared into that sea of peace.

Peace can act like dynamic strength. You feel that when the body is active and moving to and fro, you have strength; but real strength exists in inner peace, not in outer action. When you possess peace in infinite measure, you possess the source of ordinary dynamic energy. If you call upon dynamic energy, which is inside you in the form of peace, then you can get up easily.

Also, when you go to bed, just try to feel that you are going to sleep for twenty-four hours. Then, even though the clock will say that you have slept only three or four hours, your very first thought as soon as you wake up should be that you have slept for twenty-four hours. The mind can convince the outer consciousness, and immediately you will believe it. This is not self-deception; it is proper use of the conscious mind. The figure twenty-four has enormous strength. It immediately gives us a sense of comfort, relief, pleasure, fulfilment.

Question: How can we stay conscious when we're sleeping?

Sri Chinmoy: In your case, since you only meditate a half hour or an hour a day, it is not possible. If one wants to be fully alert during sleep and not disturbed by vital, emotional forces or wrong movements, then one has to meditate at least six and a half hours daily. And in that meditation one cannot all the time be looking at the clock to see how many hours have gone by. One may not watch the time, but he must know that he is meditating at least six hours daily. If one can meditate consciously for six or seven hours — and not only for a day or two, but for a few months, perhaps even a few years — then only can one be fully conscious during sleep. At that time he will be able to know which plane his soul is moving in during sleep. Like a bird, the soul flies from this plane to that plane during sleep, and one can be fully conscious of this movement if he meditates.

But I do not advise one who has plenty of work to do in his office or at school to meditate six or seven hours a day. First of all, if the vital is not pure, it will immediately create problems greater than the achievement in meditation. The person will lose his mental balance and will have to go to a mental asylum. Gradually one can work up to six hours a day. It is like exercising the body; every day you take exercise and gradually you develop your muscles. Then you feel strong and others feel you are strong. Similarly, you have to start with fifteen minutes or half an hour of meditation and gradually increase it. In the spiritual world, you cannot push or pull or do things by force. Slowly and steadily you run towards the Goal. At each step you have to be confident of what you are doing. If you have been meditating for half an hour, you can try to meditate for forty-five minutes or an hour, but from half an hour please do not jump to six and a half hours.

If you cannot meditate for six hours, which you cannot and must not try right now, before you go to bed I wish you to breathe purity into your system consciously for five minutes. During the day, many wrong things have taken place. Impurity, ugliness and many other undivine forces have entered into your physical body. But if you establish purity in your system at night, you will get a little conscious sleep, although not the kind that you will have when you have meditated for six or eight hours a day. Without some purity, what most of us call sleep is not sleep at all. It is death. During sleep we live in the world of the dead, the world of inertia and inconscience.

Question: Could you speak a little more about how the soul flies to different planes during sleep?

Sri Chinmoy: There are three states of consciousness. Susupti, which you can call the dreamless state, is the purest, deepest, highest sleep. Then there is Swapan, the dream state, and finally Jagriti, wakefulness. In deep sleep, the soul gets the opportunity to fly from one plane of consciousness to another. We have many layers of consciousness inside our being, but when we are working, talking and mixing with others in the hustle and bustle of the world, the inner being is crushed and the soul does not get the opportunity to fly. We are in the outer world, and all kinds of silly things come into our outer mind; all is restlessness. But in deep sleep, the entire being is silenced and the soul can fly like a bird from one plane of consciousness to another. When the soul makes this flight without any obstruction, all the doors and windows in our inner being are automatically opened up. When the inner doors are all open and the soul is flying, at that time the outer being becomes one with the Divine and experiences the consciousness of Delight.

Now, how can an aspirant consciously have that feeling of oneness during sleep? It is through constant meditation. There is no other way. Otherwise when you become one with your Highest in your sound sleep, you will not be aware of it. You may be aware for a few seconds, or when you come back from that state of consciousness in the morning, but this does not necessarily happen. You are usually not aware of being totally united with the Highest when you are having the experience, so how can you expect to feel it hours later? The only way to be aware of that feeling, or to have the experience of oneness, is through constant aspiration, constant meditation.

Question: Is there some way that we can use the time when we are sleeping to further our progress, so that we can carry our day's consciousness through the night with us?

Sri Chinmoy: When you sleep, you sometimes get all kinds of vital dreams from the vital world, just rubbish. Why do you get these? Because your sleep is not sound, because you have not entered into the sleep world fully. When you go to bed, you actually sleep perhaps only three hours a night. The rest of the time you remain asleep just because it is not time for you to get up. What makes you sleep that long? It is your inertia, your body-consciousness. Your body-consciousness may say that if you sleep for ten hours, then the next day you will be able to work very hard and solve all your problems. But sleep cannot overcome your problems and difficulties. It is only conscious aspiration that will clear your life of problems. If you sleep for eight, nine, ten hours, you may only forget your problems. But then the following morning you will see that they are coming back much more vehemently.

If we take night as something for comfort, for peaceful rest, then night will give us lethargic comfort and not fulfilling rest. Fulfilling rest comes as a result of the day's labour, from spiritual effort, spiritual awakening. During the day we have meditated, we have worked very hard. Now, the result of this effort can be used during the night. If we try to feel the result of day during the night, then we shall see that day has actually entered into night. Otherwise, day and night will be like two separate beings. Day has played its role by seven o'clock, and night starts. We have played with one being, and now we have to play with the other.

For spiritual people there is no night. Night, for us, means ignorance, unconsciousness, inconscience. For spiritual people all is consciousness, all is conscience. If we take to the spiritual life, we have to remain awake and alert at every moment. How? Only by lengthening the conscious part of our life, which is day. When we meditate during the day, we are energised. So let us continue this dynamic feeling even into the night. Let us take night as something energising and fulfilling, as the lengthening of day.

After we have slept for an hour or two, if we wake up and feel that just for a few seconds we are conscious but not meditating, the best thing is immediately to get up and meditate for five, ten or fifteen minutes. At that time, we have to try to feel that the day has entered into our consciousness, that our day has already begun. Now what does this mean? It means our consciousness is fully alert; it is awakened and vigilant and doesn't want to sleep. The body may sleep, but the consciousness is already fully awakened and meditating on our behalf. If we feel that we are lethargic and heavy, that our mind is not functioning, we should pay no attention to this thought. If we feel that if we get up, then the next day we won't be able to work, this is wrong. No, we will be able to work. We must always try to feel that night can be transformed into day through our awakened consciousness.

May I tell you a funny story? In some spiritual communities at three o'clock or three-thirty all the members have to get up to meditate together. When the Ramakrishna Math was first established, it was Vivekananda's order that everybody had to get up at three-thirty to meditate, no matter how high his rank. If any individuals didn't get up then, those who were awake were allowed to sprinkle unbearably cold water on them. Once the president of the Math, Rakhal (Brahmananda), was not feeling well, and he could not or did not want to get up. Somebody told Vivekananda that Rakhal didn't want to get up. Vivekananda said, "The same rule applies to him. You go and pull him out of the bed." Rakhal got very mad, and he wanted to leave the Math. He said, "I am president and this young boy, a disciple of mine, comes and insults me. You know I am sick; otherwise I wouldn't violate your rule. I am leaving. I don't want to stay here."

But Vivekananda was very clever. He said, "Whose place is this? Ramakrishna never called me his son; he always used to call you his son. Now, the father's property belongs to the son. This is your place, your Math. Here is your father's mission, your father's realisation. You have to stay; I shall go away." Brahmananda didn't want Vivekananda to go, so the matter was settled. This story shows how Vivekananda made it a hard and fast rule that everybody had to get up early in the morning, no matter how high the position. And it did help; it did help.

Question: As your disciples, how many hours of sleep do you feel we should have each night?

Sri Chinmoy: Seven hours' sleep is, I think, more than enough. Eight hours' sleep is not meant for you people any more, but some of you still sleep ten hours, I know. Perhaps you sleep on my behalf. But you should regard more than seven hours of sleep as detrimental to your spiritual progress, your spiritual consciousness, in the same way that you consider taking drugs, drinking and smoking detrimental. If you put oversleeping in that same category, you will be able to discipline yourselves. Always you have to be very cautious.

I have spoken about the danger of fear and doubt. Unfortunately, we don't take these things seriously. We just say, "Oh, I have the capacity to conquer them, for I am physically strong. And lethargy is something very feminine, very weak. If I want to, I can conquer it." This kind of idea comes into our minds. But lethargy, fear, doubt and all the other undivine forces have tremendous power.

Look at jealousy. All the time we are jealous, but we feel that if we want to conquer jealousy, we can do so in a moment. That is our human feeling. For forty or fifty years, for all our life, we have been jealous of someone or other, but we think that if we want to conquer our jealousy, it won't take even a day to do so. We have such confidence in ourselves! But let us try, and we shall see that it will take us another fifty years to conquer our jealousy.

Unless we have conquered something which stands in our way, we must not say that we can conquer it. First let us conquer it; then we shall see our strength. We feel that the undivine force is something very subtle and small, something that we can easily crush; but it is so powerful that it simply ruins us. Let us catch hold of the undivine force and destroy it. Then only can we say that we are strong.

Question: Some nights I find I am not tired and I just lie in bed full of joy. Should I meditate at that time?

Sri Chinmoy: If you can't fall asleep and undivine thoughts are not bothering you, it means God has given you an opportunity to meditate more. And if you can't meditate, then read some spiritual books. But don't torture yourself; if sleep knocks at your door, allow it to come. Again, if sleep is not torturing you, then you should feel fortunate that you can use these hours for your own purpose.

Question: What is the best position to sleep in?

Sri Chinmoy: Some people do not know how to sleep properly. They sleep flat on their chest, which is an absurd way of sleeping. At that time the Ida, Pingala and Sushumna cords cannot function at all. Always you have to face the light and allow the light to enter at the heart centre. When you are sleeping on your back or on your side, you are seeing some light, whereas when you sleep on your chest, light is immediately obstructed. So the best way to sleep is on your side or on your back. Never lie facing down, and do not cross your arms or hands on your chest when you sleep.

Part V — Diet and fasting

Question: Isn't it true that the body affects our ability to concentrate? Wouldn't some kind of diet and purification be helpful?

Sri Chinmoy: Certainly, it is true to some extent. But the main thing is one's consciousness. Merely becoming a vegetarian will not purify or elevate the consciousness in any way. One may bathe ten times a day and achieve the utmost in outer physical purity, but if he does not aspire, this bathing will not take him even one step forward towards God. Again, somebody else may not bathe more than once a day, but if his aspiration is very lofty, he will run towards his goal with utmost inner purity. Certainly, purification of the body does help, but if one wants to get utmost spiritual help, it is purification of the consciousness which is important, and not diet or cleanliness or exercise.

Question: I find that when I eat meat I cannot meditate very well; I feel restless. But if I don't eat meat, I feel very weak.

Sri Chinmoy: You know very well that animals are restless, aggressive, destructive and unevolved. We have transcended the animal consciousness to some extent, and we have come out of the animal kingdom. We are only one step ahead on the ladder of evolution, but the difference between an animal and a human being is very vast. Now, when you eat something, naturally you will absorb the qualities of that thing. What you have within you will unavoidably manifest itself outwardly in some way. When you eat meat, the immediate result is restlessness, aggressive and destructive impulses and thoughts, and lowering of the consciousness.

It is not true, however, that if you do not eat meat you will lose strength, power or energy. There are millions of people on earth who do not eat meat, but who are physically very strong and healthy. You may say that your constitution is different from theirs, but I wish to say that in God's creation there is something called inner food. What is this food? It is Peace, Light, Bliss and all other divine, fulfilling qualities. When you aspire properly, concentrate properly, meditate properly, you will be able to draw this inner food into your body. It may take quite a number of years for you to attain this degree of inner proficiency, but in the meantime try to go deep within and see what actually gives you most of your strength. I have known people to claim it is meat that gives them strength, but when they go deep within, they discover that it is their own feeling and idea about meat that is giving them strength. You can change that idea and feel that it is not meat but the spiritual energy pervading your body that gives you strength. That energy comes from meditation and aspiration as well as from proper nourishment. The strength you get from aspiration and meditation is infinitely more powerful than the strength you get from meat and fish, so these things can easily be omitted from your diet.

You are practising meditation most sincerely and most devotedly. What you have to do is get rid of the idea that meat gives you strength. That idea is so deeply rooted in your mind that now you cannot separate yourself from it. But the moment you are totally freed from that idea, you will see that it is not principally meat that gives you strength; it is wholesome food in general, as well as the proper mental attitude and spiritual aspiration.

Question: How do the animal qualities that we get from meat actually affect us? What is the process?

Sri Chinmoy: Inside us there are always some negative forces. When negative forces from the outer world — restlessness, wrong thoughts and emotional urges — enter into us, immediately the unlit emotion that we already have in the lower vital comes to the fore and responds to the wrong forces that have entered into us. Then the negative forces that are inside and the wrong forces that are coming from the outside join together and we become their victim.

Restlessness, negative forces, vital forces have their root in the navel. When we concentrate on the navel for five minutes, our will becomes powerful and direct like an arrow, and the wrong forces come under our control. They see the power of our concentration: they see that we are going to cut them asunder if they create any problems. If we can keep the wrong forces that are already inside us under control, then the forces that come from eating meat will not be able to cause restlessness.

But I wish all my disciples eventually to stop eating meat. If you do, your aspiration will be better. Otherwise, what happens is that you generally do not get subtle experiences, subtle visions, subtle realisations. Of course, there were some spiritual Masters like Vivekananda and others who did eat meat. But they could do it because they were like roaring lions in the spiritual world. They were not disturbed by the forces within the meat.

I do not want to impose a strict vegetarian diet on my disciples; it is a matter of individual choice. And if a doctor advises someone that it is absolutely necessary for him to eat meat and fish for a short period of time, he has to do it. But, in general, if you want the Absolute, the Highest, Self-realisation, you should stop eating meat and fish. If you can, do it today. If it takes one year or ten years or twenty years, do it gradually. Once you are realised, you can eat meat and fish if you want. But right now I must say that the animal consciousness in meat will not allow the sincere, dedicated aspirant to enter into the highest and deepest consciousness.

Question: So a vegetarian diet is not necessary in order to realise God?

Sri Chinmoy: Just by becoming a vegetarian one will not realise God. It is impossible! Many people have followed strict vegetarian diets, but there are not very many people on earth who have realised God. In India all widows of respectable families are supposed to be vegetarians. But if you count all Indian widows, you will not find many God-realised souls among them. Unless these women pray and meditate most sincerely and devotedly, they will make very little spiritual progress.

If you stop eating fish and meat you will not realise God overnight. Far from it! You must not expect such great results from so small an effort. But your aspiration will be increased. Your mild qualities, soft qualities, aspiring qualities will come to the fore sooner. Everything depends on how fast you want to make progress. If you feel that each second counts, if you feel that there is no end to your goal, then the best thing is to achieve the things that are ahead of you as soon as possible.

Question: When a person knows that he is on the path of God, won't meat automatically become repulsive to him from within?

Sri Chinmoy: You are judging others from your own point of view. Swami Vivekananda and other spiritual persons ate meat even to the last day of their lives. We cannot say that Swami Vivekananda was inferior to us spiritually or in any other way. There are some spiritual figures who do continue to eat meat and fish both before and after their realisation. You had the experience of finding meat repulsive when you went deep within and reached a certain stage, but this is not an inevitable experience.

Question: From the spiritual point of view, is eating fish as harmful as eating meat?

Sri Chinmoy: Fish is worse than meat. Animals, by nature, are aggressive, but at the same time animal life-blood is very powerful and strong. In the animal consciousness there is some dynamic push forward. It may be undirected and wild, but at least there is some dynamic push forward. An animal runs here and there; it does not want to remain satisfied. This dynamic quality can energise us to some extent. But when it enters into the human consciousness, it also creates problems. Its restlessness disturbs our purity, our peace of mind.

The least harmful kind of meat to eat is lamb. The lamb is quite mild, whereas other animals are more aggressive. Also, chicken will not be as harmful as red meat. It is not good to eat any kind of meat, but if one cannot stop, it is better to eat meat than fish.

Spiritually, the fish is less evolved than the animal. An animal runs here and there; it does not remain satisfied. But a fish is a creature of sloth, inertia, sluggishness, impurity and inconscience. Inertia is its satisfaction, meanness is its satisfaction, and next to meanness is death's world. When we are bound by meanness, immediately death comes to us and binds us more. The consciousness of a fish immediately enters into the mud of inconscience and lifelessness. Although you may feel that a fish is innocent, humble and mild, these qualities are only on the surface. Its inner qualities are meanness, inertia, sloth and darkness itself. There is no feeling in fish for progress.

If you want to eat fish or if you must eat fish, please try to eat small fish, rather than large fish. Small fish at times want to open consciously or unconsciously to the light. But large fish never want to open to the light either consciously or unconsciously; they shut out the light.

Question: What about eggs and milk and other dairy products?

Sri Chinmoy: Dairy products are fine. They do no harm because they do not have that kind of destructive vibration. But those who practise Kundalini Yoga and want to open the spiritual centres should not eat dairy products either. If one wants to open any of the six major centres, dairy products are harmful because they prevent the centres from opening. But if one wants the inner experience of Peace, Light and Bliss and does not care for the opening of the chakras, he can eat any dairy product.

Question: I read in a macrobiotic book that potatoes and tomatoes are bad to eat. I wonder if you could tell me if this is true.

Sri Chinmoy: From my own experience I know that one can safely eat any vegetable if one wants to. I assure you, there is nothing at all wrong with eating potatoes or tomatoes. The only important distinction is that between meat and vegetables.

Question: What kind of food should we eat to achieve purity?

Sri Chinmoy: Please try to avoid meat and fish; and, of course, liquor and tobacco are out of the question. All fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy products, are fine. Processed foods may also be eaten as long as they do not interfere with good health.

Also, coffee and tea are not good, except for herbal teas. To me, coffee and tea are slow poison. They just take a little longer time to kill you. Of course, each person has some power of resistance, so if it is a very slow poison, if we fight we can win the battle. But we must not squander our power by using it to fight against these slow poisons.

Question: What is the best way to become a vegetarian if one is accustomed to eating meat and fish?

Sri Chinmoy: The safest, surest way is to start gradually. A disciple of mine used to drink tea six times a day, so I asked him to drink it five times, then after a month I told him to reduce it to four times. Eventually he stopped completely. Serious things must be done gradually. If he had stopped all at once, he might have suffered from some serious disease. If the body is not strong, any sudden change in its habits can cause a serious attack upon one's health.

Question: Please tell me if we are in better contact with the Divine when we are fasting, drinking only juice and water. Does fasting help us to realise God?

Sri Chinmoy: When you drink juice you are not fasting. Many people say, "Early in the morning I drink a cup of coffee, and at noon I have a glass of juice, and in the evening only a glass of milk." This is their idea of fasting. But to me that is not fasting. In true fasting, you can have only pure water and nothing else.

If you decide to fast, you have to know why you are doing it. If you feel that by fasting you will realise God, it is foolishness. The real name of God is Delight and Joy. If your Father is all Joy, will He ask you to torture yourself in order to come to Him? God is the possessor of boundless Joy, and we know that He is also infinitely compassionate. He gave you the body — it is His body — and if you start torturing His body, will He be pleased? Never! If you start fasting for God-realisation, God will say that you are walking on the wrong path.

But fasting can help us reduce weight, cure some of our physical ailments and purify our nerves and mind. Very often we eat unwholesome food, and the poor body needs some rest and purification. Also, when we look at undivine people and things, their vibrations enter into us from the atmosphere and affect our physical body — the skin, the muscles, the nerves. If we want to fast one day a month to purify our system, it is advisable. We need purity to appreciate God's existence on earth. It is in purity — pure thoughts, pure deeds, pure consciousness — that God abides. Fasting can help us to a great extent in self-purification. And when purity enters into us, we go faster towards our God-realisation. But this is only the first step; fasting alone will not give us God-realisation.

So for purification you can try fasting — drinking only water — once a month. Now, I am only speaking from the spiritual point of view. I know nothing about your physical constitution. If you are strong and healthy you can fast; otherwise it is not advisable. But even if you don't fast, if you are a sincere seeker you can, once a week, reduce the amount of food you take. This can be done especially on Sundays, when you do not have to be very active. On Sunday most people get up late in the morning, so they can easily forget about breakfast. At lunch time they can say, "Every day I eat. If just today I eat a little less, it will not hurt me at all." Then in the evening, at dinner, they can say, "At lunch time I did not eat the usual amount, and it did me no harm. I am still quite energetic. Why not do the same now?" So once a week, on Sundays especially, if you can lighten your meals it will help you enormously. And you need not undergo a severe, torturing fast, which real spiritual figures do not recommend.

Question: If fasting really helps us to purify ourselves, then why shouldn't we fast more often than once or twice a month?

Sri Chinmoy: Fasting from time to time does help purify our body. It gives our body and our subtle nerves a kind of rest. This resting of the nerves gives us a sense of purification, for our subtle nerves play a considerable part in our Self-realisation. But if we fast too often it will just weaken our nerves and body, so instead of helping us in our God-realisation, it will hamper our inner progress.

Let me tell you a short story. Once a Guru's disciple went to the Lord Buddha. The Buddha asked him, "Could you please tell me what your Guru teaches with regard to God-realisation?"

The disciple said, "What my Guru has told me is very simple. My Guru says that when you walk somewhere you should close your eyes. Then you won't see any beautiful women, who will distract your mind and keep you from thinking about God. And you must cover your ears."

"Why?"

"So that you will not hear any distracting sounds. You will not hear people quarrelling or gossiping. Also, you must keep your mouth closed. If you stop speaking, then you will not tell lies."

The Lord Buddha said, "In that case, all those who are blind, deaf and dumb must already have realised God. Let us go and touch their feet, since they are all realised souls."

The Buddha taught us the middle path, the path of moderation. He tried the extreme path of fasting and extreme austerity, but found it was not satisfactory. If we starve our organs, our eyes, nose, ears and mouth, do you think we are going towards God? No! Everything should be moderate. We should use each thing for a divine purpose, for a divine cause.

Question: I can't meditate unless my body is satisfied. When I am hungry or upset, I really can't meditate.

Sri Chinmoy: If you are upset or even if you are hungry or thirsty, it is natural that you will not be able to meditate well. That is why we need perfection of the physical also. The body has to be calm and poised. Inside the body, the outer wall, is the soul. The outer temple has to be kept well. The physical has to be taken care of properly in order for good meditation to be possible. Kalidasa's great epic, Kumar Sambhaba, reads, "Shariramadyam khalu…." "The body is, indeed, the first instrument for spiritual discipline"; therefore, the body cannot be neglected. We must pay attention to the needs of the body, but we must not take all the body's demands as necessities. If we become the slaves of our bodies, we will never be able to meditate.

Question: How soon should one eat before and after meditating?.

Sri Chinmoy: If you want to meditate after eating a full meal such as lunch or dinner, you should wait at least two and a half hours. If you have had a very light breakfast, you can meditate after an hour and a half. Before that you will not have a deep, true meditation because your subtle nerves will be very heavy and sluggish. The major cords — Ida, Pingala and Sushumna — find it extremely difficult to allow the cosmic energy to pass through them if the body has just taken a full meal.

If you want to meditate most sincerely, it is always advisable to meditate on an empty stomach. Now, empty does not mean totally empty. If you are pinched with hunger, eat something very light: otherwise, your hunger will disturb your meditation. You can have a cup of juice or water. And after meditation, you should try to wait for at least half an hour before you eat, for it takes this amount of time to assimilate the spiritual forces that you have received.

Question: They say that Yogis in India eat soma and get some insight.

Sri Chinmoy: The soma the Yogis use is the juice of the soma plant. Only the Vedic Seers knew how to use this herb. Here in the West people are experimenting with plants, but these have nothing to do with the soma plants which the ancient Seers used. Also, they do not know how the Seers used them. The process the Westerners are using now is absolutely wrong. The experiences they are having are totally counterfeit. They are ruining some of their subtle nerves. I have students who once upon a time were victims of these drugs. Now that they are living the spiritual life most sincerely, they can easily distinguish between real spiritual experiences and what they were having before.

Part VI — Transformation and perfection of the body

Question: How can we use the senses properly?

Sri Chinmoy: The proper fulfilment of the senses will come only from God. The body has the senses, but the body is not the owner; the real owner is God. If we can consciously go to the owner, then the owner will tell us how to utilise His possessions properly.

The senses are instruments, God's instruments. God originally entrusted us with these instruments, but we consciously chose not to ask God how to utilise these senses. Instead of asking God how to use the senses that He had given us, we asked the wrong teacher, ignorance. Or rather, before we actually asked ignorance to teach us, he came running to us to offer his wisdom. Since we gladly listened to him, we are now paying the penalty.

We could use our eyes, for example, to see the divine beauty in humanity and in all of God's creation. We could see the divine Light everywhere. But instead, what do we do with our eyes? We use our eyes either to possess the world or to reject it. When we see something that pleases us, immediately we try to possess it. And when we see something that displeases us, we try to reject it. The universe is all Light, but we do not see it. If we had taken the lesson from God on how to use the eyes, nose, ears and other sense organs, He would have given us proper instruction.

There is always time to receive instruction from God: better late than never. Each aspirant can consciously and devotedly pray to God to instruct him from within on how to use the senses. God will be most happy and proud to teach us. But we do not have to ask God about each sense individually. We need only approach God with sincere aspiration, and inside our aspiration He will see what we are crying for.

Question: Could you say something about self-control in the body?

Sri Chinmoy: In the spiritual life self-control is most important, significant and fruitful. No self-control, no self-realisation! Self-control is the most difficult concept to practise. If one wants to have self-control, one has to surrender oneself to the Source. This Source is Light; this Source is God.

A child wants to have many things — many useless, harmful things. But the mother knows that if she gives the child these things, he will be ruined. And just because mother and child are one, the mother will also be ruined. So the mother does not fulfil the child's countless unlit, destructive desires. Similarly, the body is a child. If you fulfil all its desires and demands, in the long run your life will be ruined.

Why does the body not listen to us when we try to control it? The answer is very simple. Our body does not listen to us because we do not listen to our soul. If we will listen to our soul, the body also will listen to us.

Question: How can I conquer my physical desires?

Sri Chinmoy: First of all, we have to know whether desire really fulfils us or not. We think that when our desires are fulfilled we shall be happy. Before we actually desire, we have the fruit of the desire in our mind; that is to say, we feel that the desire will bring us satisfaction or fulfilment. But since we have launched into the spiritual life, we will feel with our inner being that desire can neither satisfy nor fulfil us. Once we feel this we can easily avoid desire or turn our life to other things.

When we are in the ordinary world, we see the fulfilment of desire as taking the form of satisfaction; that is why we get some hope of happiness in trying to fulfil our desires. But if we observe the life of desire from the spiritual point of view, we will see that in the first chapter there is no light, in the last chapter there is no light, and in the chapters in between there is no light. The light of desire is darkness from beginning to end. Darkness means absence of divine satisfaction. There is no satisfaction either in the birth of desire or in its fulfilment.

Desire and aspiration are two worlds. For a non-aspirant, desire is the all-important thing on earth. For a seeker, aspiration is the all-important thing on earth. An ordinary, unaspiring person does not consciously have the capacity to go beyond the boundaries of pleasure. But he who wallows in the mire of desire eventually feels that inside the mire is frustration, and inside frustration is destruction. He eventually realises that when he lives in the realm of the physical and material desire, he is caught in the jaws of a devouring tiger. But the sincere seeker begins his journey with aspiration; the middle of his journey is aspiration and the end of his journey is also aspiration. Inside aspiration, from the very beginning, there is divine satisfaction. The moment one aspires, one feels true satisfaction, because aspiration has the capacity to identify itself consciously and soulfully with the farthest corners of the globe, with the deepest and inmost Being and with the highest transcendental Self. If one feels the real necessity of aspiration, one will see that no desire — whether physical, vital or mental — can knock at his heart's door. Instead, Peace, Light, Delight and other divine qualities will freely abide there.

As you know, the sun rises in the East. If you face the sun early in the morning when you meditate, your concentration and meditation will be directed to the East. If you are running towards the sun, you will not be able to see other directions properly. But if you are running East while looking towards the West, you will lose speed and stumble. So if you see that the goal is in one direction, you have to focus your attention in that direction and run in that direction. Always, at every moment, you have to aim at your goal. If your goal is God-realisation, if your goal is liberation, then you should not look behind you or around you, but only run towards the Light.

How can you conquer your physical desires? Do not think of physical desires; think of your aspiration. Try to be a runner, and try all the time to surpass and go beyond all that is bothering you and standing in your way. Be a real runner so that ignorance, limitations, imperfection will all drop far behind you in the race.

Aspiration-cry is the only answer. I have written an aphorism which says:

When I think, I sink.
When I choose, I lose.
When I cry, I fly.

When I think of the entire world, of worldly problems, I sink. When I choose, when I make my own decisions, I really lose, because it is God who should make all decisions in and through me. But when I cry from the inmost recesses of my being, immediately I get inner strength, inner power, the inner urge and inner capacity in infinite measure to fly in the firmament of Light and Delight.

Question: What is the highest kind of purity I can aspire to?

Sri Chinmoy: The highest kind of purity is purity in the physical, that is to say, the lower physical, the emotional vital. The region below the navel has to be purified totally. Human beings have purity to some extent in the heart; in the mind there is very little. In the vital, purity is mixed up with impurity; there dynamism and aggression work together. So whenever you feel aggression, it is impurity, and when you feel divine dynamism, it is purity. Below the vital is the physical. There, due to inertia and sloth, darkness reigns supreme. Where there is darkness, impurity is bound to play its role.

You have to aspire for purity in the gross physical. How can you do it? It is through constant prayer and your constant inner cry for Light. Light and darkness cannot stay together. Impossible! Just as fear and courage cannot go together, similarly purity and impurity cannot stay together.

Question: Does your philosophy say that the body always has to be an obstacle in the communication with God and can never be a part of our self-offering to God?

Sri Chinmoy: No, the body need not always be an obstacle, a hindrance to God-realisation. The body is unconscious right now, true. But it need not always be so. An infant is unconscious, but that does not mean that he will not grow into childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Let us regard the body as an unconscious child. The child will grow through the inner nourishment it gets from the soul on the strength of our aspiration. When a child goes to school, he gets knowledge. He also gains inner wisdom day by day. Similarly, when we pray, concentrate and meditate, we are invoking Light inside us, and this Light tries to permeate our whole outer existence.

You are absolutely right when you say that the body is a hindrance. It is a hindrance for a long time, until the Light of the soul comes forward and takes charge of the body. But if you say that the body will constantly and eternally stand against the soul, then you are making a mistake. If the body were to stand permanently against the soul's possibilities, then nobody would be able to realise God. For God-realisation takes place only on this planet, only on earth.

In the beginning it is absolutely true that the body stands against the soul's progress. But there comes a time when the soul comes to the fore and compels the body to become its faithful, perfect instrument. This achievement represents the victory of both the body and the soul. When the soul consciously makes the body feel what it should do, and when the body is willing to listen to the dictates of the soul, then the body and the soul run together. At that time, realisation, revelation and manifestation become inevitable. When we are advanced, when we are nearing our Goal, we see that the physical consciousness is totally merged in the psychic consciousness, and we see the body in its transformed luminosity. The soul and the body become part and parcel of the one Truth, and that Truth is God the infinite.

There is a piano and there is a pianist. Both are equally needed to produce music. If there is no instrument, how can the player play? And again, if there is no player, the piano cannot function. Similarly, the soul needs the body in order to fulfil its highest mission. And the body needs the soul to give purpose to its existence, to realise the Highest.

Question: How can one divinise the human body?

Sri Chinmoy: There are two methods to divinise and transform the body. One is through constant aspiration, the physical aspiring along with the soul. The other is through evolution. After going back to the soul's region and returning to earth many times, the soul will gradually reach a stage at which it will be able to act here on earth the way the Supreme wants. At that time, it will be in a position to transform the body from within.

Editor's introduction to the first edition

The human body, temple of the soul, instrument for the outer expression of man's inner life: how much do we really know about this, our constant companion? Science is continually discovering more about the body's potentialities, its limitations, its weaknesses, its strengths. The slow march of evolution is altering it perceptibly. Yet, as much as we study it, as much as we learn about it, as much as we alter or improve it, what we know about the body is practically nothing.

This book answers questions about the body from the spiritual point of view. Sri Chinmoy is a God-realised soul in constant touch with the highest Reality. He sees and knows the human body as God Himself sees and knows it. Sri Chinmoy explains the body as no scientist, physiologist or psychologist can begin to do. His inspiring revelations can guide our lives and illumine our minds on this most significant subject from every point of view.

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