When Swami Radha and her young disciples arrived in Kootenay Bay to start Canada’s first ashram, Yasodhara Ashram, in 1963, they also launched a one-page newsletter to stay in touch with their extended community. In 1969 the newsletter evolved into “Ascent,” a stapled, printed-at-the-ashram quarterly journal. Each issue carried news of the ashram, as well as an article by Swami Radha, where she presented the teachings of yoga and how to live them. She also invited guest writers from various fields and traditions to contribute their voices.
Her inclusive approach reflected her passionate conviction that spiritual traditions should bring people together rather than separate them. Throughout her life, she had had a vision of a round temple of Light, which symbolized the unity of different religions. In 1992, Swami Radha was finally able to see her vision of the temple manifest.
The eight doors of the circular space symbolize the eight major religions, and the light flooding through the skylight symbolizes the essence at the centre, where all paths meet in the Light. At the opening ceremony, Swami Radha added that there would be no point in building a Temple of Light if we did not also seek this Light within our own hearts.
After Swami Radha’s passing in 1995, the journal went on to evolve into a full-scale magazine, while maintaining its original essence. Always there was an article from Swami Radha’s archives, and always writers from many different traditions were invited to express themselves in the pages. ascent magazine became like a temple—a sacred space to honour diversity and reveal the essence where the paths unite.
I know Swami Radha would have been proud of ascent magazine’s efforts over the past ten years and grateful to those who support her vision. Until our interconnectedness and essential unity is apparent in the world, the work goes on, and everyone is invited to participate.
Presented here are excerpts from Swami Radha’s teachings in the various incarnations of ascent.
Ascent (volume 1, issue 1, September 1969)
from “Being At One with the Teacher”
I recall that at the time of leaving India, I felt worried and anxious that I may not be able to live up to the expectations my guru, Swami Sivananda, seemed to have of me. I felt very inadequate in so many ways. He indicated many times that there was much, much more to be known that I would not be capable of assimilating at the time. However, before my departure he assured me, “Always remember that I am walking behind you. When you turn your head to the left I will be on your left, when you turn to the right I will be on your right, but better still when you go straight ahead, I will be right in front of you.”
I felt maybe these were just nice words of encouragement which might not actually mean very much in the future life he had mapped out for me. But then a curious event took place which quite possibly was more than mere coincidence. I received a publication from the Indian ashram containing photos of myself and Sri Swami Sivananda—one with my guru to the right, one with him to the left, and one with him before me.
Normally I might have regarded this as insignificant. But because these thoughts of his promise to me had been weighing heavily on my mind and also because part of the yogi’s training is to become perceptive of such subtle symbolic happenings in life, I felt this was an encouragement and took it as such.
From that time on, I often felt my guru’s presence in situations that I did not know quite how to face. At times an audience was unusually small, perhaps with people of greater intellectual or scientific training than I had. At other times, when the audience was large, I was very nervous. But every time in such situations, by an act of conscious surrender to the divine forces, things seemed to work out.
As time passes, my understanding of Swami Sivananda’s instruction has become deeper. With the maturing of this comprehension, there has also grown a sense of gratitude, which has become more profound over the years. In particular, his advice for dealing with other people has been of the very greatest value.
This has helped me to build unusually warm relations with other leaders in the spiritual field. I view all such leaders, all spiritual groups, denominations and religions as units in an overall divine plan. A plan which will ultimately lead us to spiritual emancipation and realization of our oneness with That which is “Sat Chit Ananda”—Consciousness, Bliss Absolute—of which all sentient beings are a divine spark.
Ascent (volume 25, issue 2, Spring 1994)
Swami Radha on the Temple of Divine Light
The temple will be open as a Temple of Light for those who want to find the Light in their own religion. We have to use whatever material we have to reach this inner Light. And if we remember the meaning of the gesture, namaste—the Divine in me salutes the Divine in you, then how can we fight with each other? We have to make the effort to see the Divine in each other, whatever our name, colour, race or religion. It is our greatest reward. Without focusing on the Divine, we only struggle for power. But here, in the temple, we want to be together in the Light.
You see, it is your individual, personal relationship with the Divine that matters. I have always called that relationship a love affair. You must love the Light. But that love is intimate and deep and intense, much more than your very first and perhaps only really true love affair in life—much more than that. So open your heart for the love affair with the Divine and you will be on the Path of Light. And let us hope that someday there will be many Temples of Light. Then we have done our duty. Then we have given back a little bit—only pennies, really, in relation to the millions that we have received from the Divine. Take care of the gift and be generous. Namaste.
Ascent (volume 5, issue 3, Winter 1974/5)
from “The 2 Selves”
From the yogic point of view, we have many levels of consciousness. Each level of consciousness has its own reality and individuality. They are also aspects of the one unified consciousness, which we might call the Kundalini energy or the soul or the higher self. The apparent division between the levels of consciousness and the unitary consciousness is comparable to a grain of salt, which when thrown into the ocean loses its individuality, while as long as it exists as a grain it has its own individuality.
The artificial dichotomies that we make between the different levels of consciousness can be seen clearly in the way we differentiate between sleeping and waking. When we sleep, consciousness changes but it is not totally absent. The energy which we use to think simply shifts to another part of our consciousness. It is similar to the way we split day and night into an absolute dichotomy. Night is really only the absence of light because of the rotation of the earth in respect to the sun, but the sun does not disappear.
Our essential unity with the cosmos has been lost and will continue to be lost unless we rebuild the bridge between the body, which is the level of reality we function on, and the mind, which creates its own world and can be at home in both worlds. The separation between the two levels is unnecessary. We have the ability to recognize the physical body and all that goes with it in daily life as experienced by the senses. If we accept the creativity of the mind, which creates another world, we will not split ourselves into disunity.
We can compare ourselves to the earth, which rotates on its own axis and is sometimes exposed more to the light of the sun and sometimes more to the reflection of the moon. The sun would be comparable to the rational and the moon to the intuitive level of awareness. Most of us function more frequently on the rational level, but when our intuition works and is well developed, that world becomes equally real, reliable and trustworthy. In fact, it can be more reliable than the everyday world of the physical senses. When the cosmic unity between these two worlds is re-established in one’s own life, there is no longer the sense of pain of separation between the person and the cosmos, or on a deeper level between the person and the Divine.
In order to grow toward this unification and away from individuality, we must realize the creative force of the mind so that we can go beyond it. While dreaming, we can experience pain, hunger or enjoyment, and yet none of these bodily functions actually takes place on the physical level. They are all experienced in the mind. Now let us think for a moment that each day of our life is but another dream. It will help us to understand that going beyond the mind means to stop creating and to let the creative force rest. The power of strong desire, which is linked to the creative power, is the main source of returning to another life on earth. When selfish desire is burned away, we realize the divine vibration, which is the highest degree possible without form.
As human beings, we have the power of choice. We do not need to interpret the dualities within ourselves—the rational and irrational, the male and female, the ego and higher self—as an absolute fact of human existence. There are tools and guidelines that can help us attain that cosmic unity, for which every human being is ultimately in search. Taking responsibility for the world we have created is the first step toward union with the higher self.
ascent magazine (issue 34, Summer 2007)
from “Without Shape or Form”
Enlightenment is the process of detachment. We have to detach ourselves as much as possible from our ideas and images in order to proceed with our own development. It is not required that we live in pain or suffering. Neither must we renounce fulfilling our daily needs, including companionship. It is only our possessiveness and our attachments that must be relinquished. By being detached, we can truly appreciate what freedom and joy there is in life. Then life and death can be equally accepted. We do not want to develop an uncaring indifference, but a nonattachment that comes from knowing that only the physical body dies. Not even the mind dies because consciousness is energy, and energy does not die.
With what do you want to identify? That choice has to be made very carefully. Perhaps we cannot think of God without the creation of an image for the mind to hold onto. It is obvious that during different stages of development, different images are but a substitution for each other. However, in the process of substitution of images, they become refined and serve as a focal point for the untrained and restless mind. Eventually the mind is trained and becomes capable of directing itself to movement of breath and images of Light.
The symbol of light has the most subtle shape and form. The mind can use it as a transition in moving toward the formless, while expressing symbolically the most beautiful, the most perfect, the most high. We can all meet in the Light, which will bring us together and hold us together.
Each of us has the chance to develop in the course of a lifetime, but not until the mind’s selfish desires are burned away will we realize the Divine. At that point, the Divine is realized not as a supreme being with shape and form, but as vibration, as energy, as power. When you rise above selfishness and attachment to any of life’s experiences, then mystical union can take place.