Ten minutes of meditation

Photo courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, California

What happens after we die? Swami Ishwarananda of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) will provide insight and solace in his talk “Unraveling the Mystery of Life and Death,” in a livestream from India on Tuesday, August 1 at 7:00 p.m. PST. SRF is an international non-profit spiritual organization founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda.

India Currents spoke to Brother Keshavananda who has been a SRF monk for 50 years and a Minister at the Hollywood Temple in Los Angeles, about the upcoming annual convocation (July 30 through August 5th), merits of meditation and the universality of messages in scriptures.

The picture shows a smiling man in robes
Brother Keshavananda on the benefits of Yoga (photo courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, California)

Shalini Kathuria Narang: Please tell me more about the upcoming SRF convocation.

Brother Keshavananda: Annual convocation is a really remarkable event. It reminds me of the Kumbh Mela in India, but on a much smaller scale, and probably not quite as chaotic and it’s very meditative. There are a lot of classes, satsangs, interactive opportunities and chats. People can participate on different levels of engagement.

Convocation is also available online, which we started a few years ago. From an audience of about 4000 when it was only an in-person event in LA, now it has grown to 25-30 thousand around the world and keeps growing every year. 

Being online has really allowed our guru’s message to reach so many more people. It’s like taking a week’s retreat on your own terms. Because if you can isolate yourself and just listen to the classes and attend the meditations, that’s one kind of experience. But if you can jump in and out during a busy week, and get a little spiritual encouragement and nourishment, you can do that too.  It’s something people can custom-tailor to their circumstances. 

SKN: Do the spiritual practices and principles of the Fellowship appeal to the youth?

BK: The youth of today are very independent-minded, as I think my parents would say, my generation was when we were young. They want to find out for themselves and they want to have an experience. 

They don’t want to have a theory or believe and do this because it’s a good-for-you kind of approach and that really fits in with Paramahansa Yogananda’s concept. When he was teaching starting in the 1920s, he told people don’t believe a word I’m telling you just practice it and see for yourself. And that’s been our way. 

We put out our teachings and we encourage people to try them. The easiest way to start is with the lessons containing the entirety of Swamiji’s teachings, including all the meditation techniques, affirmations and visualizations.

SKN: What are some of the main teachings?

BK: How to live concepts that Swami Paramahansa Yogananda brought forth based on the ancient wisdom of India, brought into modern terms and the current day. 

How to live a balanced life, how to live a happy life, how to increase joy and satisfaction as you go along in life. 

SKN: Can you speak about your various programs?

BK: We have three grades of outreach. One is for young children- a Sunday school that is available both online and in person at our temples and centers. 

There is a teen group program also as a part of the Sunday school for the youth starting to face the challenges of life on a small scale and how to integrate.

And finally a young adult program for 18 to 39 for those ready to get settled in life, maybe choosing life partners, careers, and all these things-to give you a kind of a compass to navigate through sometimes very unclear and uncertain times.

SKN: Can you tell us more about the universality of the messages of the various religions?

BK: Yogananda believes there is one light of God and only one God, but then it’s like a lamp that has multicolored lenses on it and each color shines for a particular group to light their way. But it’s the same light of God drawing them back to God. He was very universal in his outlook. 

It’s a self realization fellowship. We don’t ask for anybody’s background. We just ask for sincerity and to try it.

I don’t think of us as a religion but as a path. Our students come from Muslim or traditional Hindu or Jewish Catholic and other Christian denominations backgrounds. They can stay with their denomination but incorporate meditation into it and use the techniques that Yogananda has given and incorporate that into their practices. 

Yogananda took two of the great scriptures of the world, the New Testament and the Bhagavad Gita, and he wrote extensive commentaries on each of them. 

I grew up Christian in a Christian faith. I wish I knew what I know now. I could have been a much better Christian growing up and stayed out of a lot of trouble. But, I am grateful to have that now. 

SKN: Can you speak about your personal initiation into the Fellowship?

When I was growing up, God was talked about a lot. I went to religious classes in school, and it was very remote. Who was God and what did he have to do with me? I never could answer those questions. Some teachers told me that only those in our particular faith, not even all Christians, but our particular group of Christianity, were the only ones who would go to heaven. 

I had a hard time with that and questioned that concept a lot. I didn’t win my teacher’s favor, but it just didn’t sit right with me. And I said, Well, wouldn’t it be about someone’s behavior? If they followed Christ’s teachings? Why wouldn’t they go to heaven, even if they never became a Christian or even knew anything about Christianity? Isn’t that what Jesus said? 

SKN: Can you elaborate more about the meditation and yoga practices?

BK: Self realization fellowship offers the basic principles of all religions, practices, and predicates on meditation. And there’s so much information now on meditation in psychology, medical, science etc. Even in corporate culture, they’re incorporating meditation. 

Yogananda said, meditate, meditate, meditate. Learn how to do it. For many, it could be a little challenging in the beginning, because we’re so accustomed to controlling the mind. 

We go for distractions and we want the mind to be busy with something and now we have our little handheld devices and people are never stopping. All these distractions are because we’re not at peace with ourselves. We don’t like ourselves on a deep level. 

We want to get out of our minds and out of ourselves into something else. And those things can distract us for a while. Kind of like taking an aspirin when you have a headache, but you gotta keep taking the aspirin or the headache comes back. Meditation goes to the core of the issue and takes away the root cause of that discomfort. We realize that we are a divine being within and that divinity is love. That’s who we are. And we get in tune with that love. Love is how we are created because that spark of divinity in us is God and God is love. And all the scriptures talk to this. So it’s an opportunity to reconnect with who we really are.

SKN: What would you suggest to people who are unable to keep up with their meditation practices or find it too hard?

BK: Life is hard, and nothing is easy on this planet. We’ve spent incarnations, digging ourselves into our restlessness and worldliness and looking for things external to us to make us feel good. These things have only limited effects; they don’t have lasting effects. 

For someone struggling, I would say, first, be regular, and take 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the evening. Commit to that.  Not too much. And for those 10 minutes, don’t just sit there with the mind wandering, use the techniques to focus the mind and get past the restless mind. Because what we are looking for outside of ourselves is always within us. What we want to fix in the world around us and change other people does not work. 

I think regularity is the start and it’s like if people want to lose weight. They have to stop eating foods that are harmful. If people want to get in better physical condition, they have to commit to going for walks or jogs or bike rides or whatever exercise program that will help them physically.  It’s the same with meditation. It takes some amount of self discipline. 

SKN: What are some of the top three techniques that you would help?

BK: One of the most important things to connect the dots of our periods of meditation practice is where we keep the mind during the rest of the time. 

The world is a very complex planet, and it has good and evil and it’s constantly in flux. The key besides meditation is to keep the mind on God, whenever the mind is free. 

When you’re driving in the car, you can flip on the radio and listen to talk radio or listen to music, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, you can also just chant. In India, Just chanting a phrase brings God into our daily life and that helps to bridge the time between meditations, so we just don’t go off a cliff and sink into whatever the world loop is bubbling on the cauldron. Yogananda ji said that perhaps the most important practice outside of meditation is to keep the awareness here at the point between the eyebrows at the Chaitanya Center-the center of Krishna consciousness or Christ consciousness. This is where our spiritual being rests and the more we identify here, the less we identify elsewhere in the world. 

It’s these practices. The other one is to base our lives on a set of spiritual values. Most people are good people trying the best they can. Maybe they have had a lot of bad experiences. Maybe they have difficulties in life that just prevents them from behaving in a way that’s happy and harmonious. We don’t have to be around them. You’re gonna understand, there are some people- it’s better to love them from a distance. It’s just not easy or possible to be around them much, but we can still send them love. 

SKN: What about the yoga practices?

BK: Yoga is also a path of introspection, and trying to find out what makes us tick and what makes us react to certain things in life. 

I would encourage people to have a meditation practice, whether it’s from self-realization fellowship or some other path. Learn to meditate and practice it twice a day. Even for just a few minutes. We don’t have to give up all our bad habits at once. Don’t take it on faith. Just try it and practice it and see the difference that makes in your life. 

For young people, I would really like to encourage them. Look at meditation and look at spiritual values to base the choices you’re making in your life because this is a very important time. The choices of life partner, career, etc will perhaps carry for many, many years, decades, maybe the rest of your life. So make good choices. 

The overriding message is that we can have the experience of God’s presence in our lives. Yoganandaji said,  learn to stand unshaken in the crash of breaking worlds. And that’s exactly the strength we get from meditation. And the world right now is more than a little unsettled. It’s okay, that the world does what it does. It’s been doing it for five billion years. It’s on this evolutionary process and through all the civilizations of humankind, there have been tremendous ups and downs. Learning to stand unshaken by basing our life on our connection with spirit is the only safety and the only assurance that nothing can take away. 

Shalini Kathuria Narang is a Silicon Valley based software professional and freelance journalist. She has written and published extensively for several national and international newspapers, magazines...