November 18, 2013

Knowing vs. Believing.

Waking up Through Careful Investigation and Personal Experience.

We have to clarify to ourselves what we believe versus what we really know.

When we say, “I believe,” we indicate that we don’t know by personal experience. “I believe that I will go to heaven if I don’t smoke, if I don’t eat meat, if I don’t drink, if I’m loyal to my spouse, if I don’t lie.” What we’re really saying is, “I don’t know, but I hope so.”

Beliefs are usually based on the words of a person, a scripture or a school of thought that we consider an authority. We apply these words to ourselves, because they appeal to us, and then we begin to believe they are true. We have no means of assuring ourselves of this truth, because, for example, the moment we go to heaven, we don’t come back to share what we’ve seen. Even if we find ourselves in heaven, how would we know whether or not it’s a heaven that we’ve dreamed up in our imagination? What do we know of heaven?

Every guru that I’ve met has asked me to try, to test and to do. I was asked to suspend judgment only temporarily until I had my own experience, but I was never asked to simply believe. If I met somebody who wanted me to blindly accept their words as truth, I would be very careful.

We have a right to doubt, but doubt with discrimination, doubt with intelligence. Doubt must not become a back door for laziness—an excuse for not working on ourselves. If we don’t doubt, we may think that we already know everything, erecting a wall of limitation that we cannot go beyond. We should always doubt that we’ve reached the ultimate goal, or the maximum development of our perceptions.

We have to push out further and further beyond the current limits of our mental and perceptual powers.

Both my Tibetan teacher and my guru, Swami Sivananda, made it very clear to me to distinguish between beliefs and knowledge, from personal experience. They showed me that sometimes, I presented assumptions as facts. I have useful information, but it has to be tested in order to be turned into knowledge.

Having a theoretical understanding and an ability to intellectualize very cleverly can deceive us into thinking that we have accomplished something.

Self-deception has to be carefully investigated. We must ask ourselves, have we changed? Have we been able to get control of our minds? What have we accomplished in our attempt towards self-mastery?

We may think that we are already advanced on the spiritual path, if we have a moment of bliss in chanting or do a good deed. But, that step may be small and difficult to maintain. The spiritual path is like walking the razor’s edge. Whatever our achievements, we can’t make them bigger than they are through wishful thinking, or even through the sincere desire to advance. The work that needs to be done is tremendous.

It is very difficult to drop grudges and to keep negative thoughts out of the mind.

Wherever we are, we have to battle our own selfishness, our many personality aspects and our illusions. The spiritual path demands every bit of strength, energy and willpower we can muster, in order to wake up from sleepwalking.

Discrimination and careful investigation are necessary. A believer is gullible. Something sounds good and the mind eats it up. The mind is like a ravenous beast constantly seeking new and exciting food.

We are very careful about what we feed the body, checking to see if the food is good or bad. It is of utmost importance to look at what we feed our minds as well. We should give the mind the best food and feed it the truth about ourselves.

If we grow in understanding and look at the past, we may be able to see how we have made ourselves ill, how we have created our own pain, how we have created our own traps and disappointments, and how we have been lured into illusions and false beliefs by uncontrolled imagination. From the insights of the past, we can understand the present better. Then it is no miracle to anticipate the future, over which we gain some control.

Greater knowledge can best be achieved by increased concentration. The ability to keep the mental merry-go-round noises out and to become single-pointed of mind is the key to all powers. When this is understood within oneself rather than on an intellectual level, peace of mind will come.

Personal experience provides the needed evidence and encouragement to pursue knowledge of a higher nature. Insights come kindled by sincerity and devotion, humility and honesty. The Higher Self, which is a particular kind of intelligence and consciousness, will indeed try to give inspiration. If that same level of awareness with its accompanying characteristics can be maintained, the future will be a world of harmony and therefore happiness. Applying what has been learned in all situations is like a charm itself. Then awareness is not considered difficult, but rather takes on the soft, gentle glow of the first glimpse of illumination. But don’t listen to me, find out for yourself. ॐ


Swami Sivananda Radha (1911-1995) was a pioneering force in bringing the ancient wisdom of yoga to the West. Initiated in 1956 by her guru, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, India, she went on to establish Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada, and author classic books on yoga including Kundalini Yoga for the West and Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language.

Swami Radha was among the first Westerners and first women to bring yoga to the West. In 1955 after having a powerful visionary experience of her guru, she left everything and traveled to India to meet Swami Sivananda. In February 1956, she was initiated into sanyas, a commitment to a life of selfless service and renunciation, and was asked to return to Canada to start an ashram and many centers of Light.

Swami Radha was 44 when she went to India, and spent the remaining forty years of her life passionately committed to the teachings. During this time she founded Yasodhara Ashram and the Radha Yoga Centers, as well as Timeless, which has published her ten books on yoga. In 1969 she founded ascent magazine, which blossomed into an international yoga magazine. The Ashram and the Radha Yoga Centers continue to present her work in the spirit in which it was given, maintaining the quality and integrity that were the essence of Swami Radha’s life.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

{Photos: Yasodhara Ashram}

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