Yoga is a path of liberation, and liberation has to begin
in the here and now of our daily lives. We have to liberate ourselves
from our own self-made prisons. These are prisons of attachments,
concepts and habits, and the compelling forces of mechanical reactions
and untested beliefs.
Where are you imprisoned? You may feel there are areas, such as your work
situation, where you didn't create the prison – the eight-hour workday
five days a week, the tough boss, the lack of recognition, the low salary, or
whatever the situation is. But do you have to stay in that prison? No. Sometimes
it is your own lack of courage that keeps you prisoner. Many people feel comfortable
in the security they've created and yet are angry at themselves for needing
such security because it prevents them from trying something new. They also
may have spent whatever they've earned, leaving no money to pay for additional
training or education. Or they may have become lazy in their thinking and blame
life or destiny for circumstances that they themselves have created.
Always remember you are the doer, and you can undo. You have the power of
choice, which is often not recognized. Take responsibility for the choices you
have made in your life – for your job, your education, your marriage
partner, your desire for spiritual life. The power of choice is yours. You even
have the power to make changes if you discover that your original choices did
not meet your expectations.
How can new decisions be made? First, get all of the facts together about
what you want to do. Generate options. Pay attention to your emotional responses
to the various possibilities because where your joy is the greatest, there you
will succeed – even if you think you have little to offer or you
have little capital to enter into any new business or professional venture.
We learn by trial and error, and all great things in life have been achieved
by trial and error. So we have to try. Your past mistakes are also not important.
We have all made our mistakes. I have made my own, therefore I would never be
in a position to judge others. But what is it you want to do now? Where do you
want to go from here? If you step onto the royal highway towards a spiritual
goal – which you have to define and lay out for yourself because it is
your path and it is your life – then you have to take responsibility
for what you do. And you must try your very best not to repeat past mistakes,
even if you occasionally slip. If you do slip, forgive yourself but carry on.
It is important to make a clear decision of will. If you can turn your stubbornness
into properly directed willpower, you will be successful in reaching your spiritual
goal because perseverance is needed.
Spiritual liberation is not possible unless you lay a good, solid foundation
in your daily life – building character and taking responsibility for
yourself. Daydreaming will not lead to liberation. You can't just think about
it. You have to take action. You have to take your life very firmly into your
How can we become aware? Where shall we begin? Again, we want
to be practical. Look into your habits. Look into those mechanical
reactions, things that you do over and over again with little
change. Keep a daily diary in which you write your reflections
on your daily actions and become aware of how mechanical, almost
robot-like you can be. Observe how difficult it is to drop your
grudges and negative thinking. Not only do we have to undo the
selfishness from this life, but we also have an accumulation of
karma from many lives. Life is the battleground of the Gita. Wherever
you are, you battle your own selfishness, you battle your own
many personality aspects and you battle your illusions.
As you work on yourself ask, Have I changed? What have I accomplished in my
attempts towards self-mastery? When you begin to clearly see your self-made
prisons and limitations, then you will slowly start to understand what the word
"liberation" means. Usually we have a theoretical understanding. We
intellectualize very cleverly about all these things but havent necessarily
So we have to be clear. Tell yourself the truth about yourself – that
you are just starting out on the path. The liberation that you're aiming for
will come by degrees, and so will meditation. Without the ability to concentrate,
there is very little possibility of results. Making the mind a blank is not
meditation. Triggering yourself into a state of trance is not meditation. Meditation
comes when the mind is calm, and that calmness comes only when you stop scheming
to fulfill selfish desires.
There is no sudden miracle where all of your negative characteristics just
drop away. It is a Western misconception that if you meditate eight hours a
day like the yogis in India all your shortcomings will disappear. They won't.
We have to work on ourselves. God will not do it for us. No true teacher will
do it for you. You must take responsibility for yourself. You are the doer of
the wrong actions in the past, so you are also the one who can undo them.
It is my prayer that you all have the courage, the determination
and the persistence to undo your self-made prisons. Awareness
is the key. Recognize the key. Find the door, put the key in the
lock and open the door. Courageously step into that new freedom.
In his farewell address to me when I left India, Swami Sivananda said, "Don't
worry about the absolute and the ultimate. Selfless service alone will make
Selfless service means doing work without self-gratification,
not just because you like it. You work without waiting for approval,
without praise. You do the work that needs to be done simply because
it needs to be done, putting high quality into your efforts and
expecting nothing in return. Even my words imply it is difficult,
but if you can do it you will grow very strong inwardly. Selfless
service brings very good results.
You should not object even if you are taken for granted because if you sit
down and look at your entire life, you'll see how much you have taken for granted.
If you had to pay a dollar for every time you took something for granted, you
would owe a lot of dollars. In other words, there's a lot to be repaid. Selfless
service helps us repay our debts.
Besides making a living, everybody should do some kind of selfless service.
There's no limit to the opportunities. Even if you are in an office from 9 to
5, when you hear the siren of a fire truck or an ambulance, you can think "Om
Namah Sivaya" or repeat the Lords Prayer – it doesn't really matter
which – for anybody who is in danger and for whatever help they may
need. It takes only a minute and then you can continue your work. The problem
is that we are so wrapped up in ourselves that when we hear a siren we think,
"What a disturbing noise!" But we have the power of choice. We can
choose to send a blessing. Cultivating concern is a very important thing. It
helps to counteract all the criticism that we usually generate.
This article has been adapted from a talk given in 1974.