iHanuman interview with Chandra with Tilak Pyle

Interview with Chandra

This interview was conducted in August 2007 with Tilak Pyle of iHanuman.com. In this interview Chandra tells the story of her journey with her Guru, Sri Dharma Mittra, and shares her wisdom and perspective on Guru Bhakti and the necessity of living Masters, the spiritual import of asana, Karma Yoga, and the history and impetus behind the NC School of Yoga.

Here is a transcript of this interview:

Tilak: Namaste. Welcome to the iHanuman podcast. This current offering is an interview with Yoga teacher Chandra Om. Chandra is the senior teacher of the much loved and respected Sri Dharma Mittra and founder of the North Carolina School of Yoga in Raleigh, NC. She teaches traditional, classical Yoga in the lineage of her Guru and has dedicated her life to service of humanity. Enjoy. Again, Chandra, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I had the wonderful privilege of taking a class with you last night and I enjoyed it very much. I’ve also had the privilege of taking a class with Sri Dharma Mittra as well and the greatest compliment I can give you is that I felt him so much last night through you.

Chandra: Thank you.

Tilak: So, if you would, just start by telling a little bit about you and about your path and how you came to Yoga and how you came to meet your teacher.

Chandra Om

Chandra: Okay, well, I had been studying for a little while. Not very long, about 2 years, and in the midst of that, I was reading some of the modern Masters. Swami Sivananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Satchidananda, Swami Vishnudevananda, and some of the others. And in all of the autobiographical information I believed that that type of Discipleship was still available, even though we are living in the more modern climate of Yoga. I would read some of the personal accounts and I knew that was what I was interested in studying. That I was interested, not just in studying a little Yoga, I wanted to study—I wanted to be a Yogi. I wanted to study under a Guru. Not because I was looking to acquire some powers or anything, I just wanted to study Self-realization. And I believed what the Masters said—that a Guru is necessary. And I believed that that type of Discipleship must still exist somewhere. And so I began studying with a very wonderful Yogi in New York—Swami Bua. He is a Disciple of Swami Sivananda--he is now 118. I was with him for 2 years and even though I was learning traditional Yoga and I was really blessed to be with such a Master, I knew in my heart that he was not my Guru. So then I just kept praying and praying. I kept talking to God. “Please—may I be worthy to find my Guru. Whatever blockages are there, preventing me, please let me have some Divine assistance to remove them. So then, one day, Swami Bua just said to me, “I believe you belong to Dharma Mittra. Do you know him?” I had no idea. And he said, “well, he’s on 23rd st, right downtown”. So, the next day I went to see Sri Dharma Mittra and I just—the moment I was there, I knew. I was there, waiting for class to begin and I had my mat out and I was just sitting, observing everything going on, and then Dharma came up to me and said, “it’s you”. And I said, “oh, yes”, and I thought that Swami Bua had told him, “I’m sending this girl to you, She needs some help, help her out, she’s looking for something. Be nice to her”. But later I found out, he hadn’t said anything. And then by the end of that class, I just knew. I couldn’t stop crying. I knew that I was home and I was overcome with gratitude. I didn’t feel sad, it was just an overwhelming--like a big exhale and just tremendous gratitude to God—to all of the Masters who have prepared the path. And then I had the good fortune, for some reason the Guru accepted me instantly. He began to work with me immediately. And then I just—everything that the scriptures say—all of the Yogis say about the necessity of a Preceptor is 100% true. There’s no question about it. And I owe everything to my Guru and I am wholly indebted to Him for being patient with me, for imparting spiritual knowledge and for having the courage to tell me what nobody else would. To help to clean up some ego behavior. For the scoldings, and the reprimands. I always felt so grateful. For me, the Guru is everything. I didn’t have any resistance. I never saw another teacher again. I didn’t feel resistant at all. I don’t know why, what type of karma I had, or what I did in the past that allowed me to surrender to the Guru’s teachings almost instantly. Because my Guru is a traditional Yogi, and even though he is renowned around the world as a phenomenal Hatha Yogi, that is a very little part of our lineage. Even though, I like that aspect of it. He always said that Yoga is obedience to the teacher. And that you must be obedient otherwise you’re not going to go anywhere. So that’s a little—do you have any other questions?

Tilak: Yes. Guru Bhakti here in America—there are so many people who don’t understand it and it is such a different culture here than in India, where relationships with the Guru are so much more natural. It’s great to hear how lucky you are to have had that experience. You know your home. I don’t think very many people have that experience. So do you feel that the most important thing for people to do is to prepare themselves to meet Masters in the body. Do you think that’s essential? It was obviously very essential for you. Are there enough Masters in the states? Are there enough students here who are ready for living teachers and what it requires?

Chandra: I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that question. When you say “people”, do you mean Yogis or the civilians?

Tilak: Yogis. There are so many people who do Yoga, do you find a lot of students that are ready to take this not as just a class you do a couple of times a week, but as a bigger part of Sadhana? And as bigger Sadhana, should it include Guru Bhakti, and Satsang and Darshan with Masters? And how available is that to most Yogis?

Chandra Om

Chandra: Well, it’s always available. It’s just according to one’s karma. I see what’s happening. I see that the climate of Yoga is more physically oriented and people are altering the classical science—making their own hybrids and things. But I think it’s okay if people do that as long as they are not looking for name and fame. If they are doing it because God Is speaking to them and something is really passing through, then maybe it’s okay. If you’re not involved in the “I” part of that. But is a Guru essential, I say yes. Because my Guru always said, “whatever a teacher tells you should be backed up by scripture—any scripture”. Anything a teacher tells you, you should be able to go to a scripture and there it is. So is a Guru necessary—of course, because spiritual knowledge can only be imparted psychically. Spiritual knowledge can only be imparted from the Guru to the Disciple. You may read a book, you may go to your class, you may do all of your nice exercises and your breathings and even maybe have a little Self knowledge. You may awaken your kundalini a little bit--maybe your consciousness going to go up a little bit, but unless you have ignition from the Preceptor, your meditation is only going to go so far and then there is going to be a void. Like you are desperately trying to go farther, but you’re not really going anywhere more than what you were able to cultivate on your own. From your own spiritual tapas previously, your karmas from the past. Some people can become Self realized in a year or two, through strict practice—because they’ve been doing it for many lifetimes. But is the Guru’s ignition or transmission necessary I say yes. And then, are the Gurus available these days in the West, yes. I know many. I only have one, but there are many. But you have to be sure you are following someone who is really illumined. Someone who has done their purification and they are really following the tradition. Sometimes maybe they are not involved in Yama and Niyama, and my Guru always said, “Yama is the first step of Yoga. Without Yama, there is no Yoga”. I always say, I don’t care if you can throw your legs behind your head, stand on one finger completely inverted, if you are not a nice person. If you don’t have kindness in your heart or if you feel so puffed with ego. Then big deal what you can do. That’s actually binding you more—creating more and more rajas. That’s not going to lead you anywhere. And very soon, all that’s going to disappear—you’re going to break something and then suffer like hell because you can’t do it like you used to. Suddenly this hurts, this hurts. If you are really doing your postures as an offering to the Lord, to the Supreme Self, then you’re doing better than meditation because you are not attached to the fruits. You’re just doing it because it has to be done. Then even if your capacity is that you can just sit a little bit, but you’re so devoted, you’re desperately trying to find God—you’re so sincere—you’re following Yama and Niyama. That’s the one really doing Yoga.

Tilak: So, how do you approach asana so that it is relevant to this process of Self realization?

Chandra Om

Chandra: Well, you have to remember that the physical—it is very high karma to have human birth. There are billions of souls waiting for incarnation. So we are very fortunate. According to the Yoga system, because of the complexity of the nervous system, it is only in human form that one can achieve Self-realization. So we have a great opportunity here—all those lifetimes of suffering through various incarnations to finally be here—now we have this great tool to accelerate the path of Self realization. If your psychic channels are clogged, blocked with impurities through improper living, if you’re not following Yama, if your diet is not too good, then your meditation is not going to go anywhere. To keep you safe—it’s to protect the student. Some people can raise the kundalini, but they do it too quickly. Like when people do drugs. They alter their state of consciousness before they’re ready, then they see something they’re not ready for. They flip out. Jump out a window, end up in a mental institution or something. Because what they saw is real—they’re just not ready for it yet. So the same for a Yogi. The psychic channels must be clean. You must be involved in purification. Then as you purify the channels, slowly, under the guidance of the Preceptor—you have to follow it to the letter—you cannot alter it or mix it up—because Yoga is science. Then you become fit for the various levels of consciousness to awaken—and the asanas, the postures are a part of the purification process. They are designed to awaken various states of consciousness. Like my Guru is very well known for a famous poster. The original poster—the real one. Before the new ones starting popping up. The original 908 Asana Poster—Sri Dharma Mittra poster. When he was doing that poster, he told me, he said, “first, the poster is an offering for the Guru. But also, he wanted to have it accessible to everyone in one place instead of having to see a few in this book, a few here, a few there…if you’re really serious, if you like the exercises, and you have that capacity then they’re all in one place. But most importantly, do you know why there are so many? Because every pose is for a particular person. Every pose is designed, based on the angles of the posture, the angles that the body assumes when it’s in the particular asana, every posture has a particular consciousness associated with it. As your body, slowly over time, assumes the correct angles, and then you hold the posture, five breaths, ten breaths, whatever, that consciousness begins to awaken inside of you. So, the warrior pose has a particular state of consciousness associated with it. The savasana, a specific state of consciousness. Do you understand? So, that’s why some people, no problem, they can do eka pada sirshasana, the leg behind the head posture, first yoga class, because they’ve done it in the past. They came into this life with that knowledge already there. But then they try to do the handstand and they’re stumbling like a beginner, you understand, because there’s something inside of that consciousness that has not been born yet, inside of them. But you keep working, very soon it’s going to. So the asana, first and foremost, is involved in the purification process so that if you want to be able to sit for extended periods in concentration, self-reflection, the machine must be healthy. It’s very difficult to sit if your knees are talking to you. Even if, for some reason you are blessed and this doesn’t bother you, but your food is not so good, then you have all kinds of digestive issues, or just cravings. Let’s say your young, just twenty or something, and the effects have not begun to show, but still you sit and the mind will not leave you alone, because the food, you are constantly satisfying cravings and desires, you have no self-control yet, your diet is very rajasic, perhaps, then even though the machine may not be bothering you, you can’t go anywhere because as you begin to sit you begin to feel the effects on the mental plane. So, the postures are designed to aid, and if you really like the Hatha yoga, to accelerate the purification process so that the consciousness can lift safely. And then, of course if you know a little bit more, then you realize that as you assume the posture, you don’t fidget. You want to come into it, fine, you move a little bit, get everything aligned properly, but then you don’t keep moving. You understand? You don’t fidget, don’t be fickle. Stay there, become still. Very soon, a thought is going to come into the mind, based on the posture you’re in, the consciousness inside of it, just like the animals. You’re really doing the bhujangasana, the cobra pose correctly, you’re going to begin to feel like a cobra, did you ever have that? You feel so strong, like you’re about to strike something. You understand? Then you really understand the consciousness inside of that. But the best, the most important, if you ever use this for anything please don’t edit this out, every posture must be an offering to the Supreme Self, it must be an offering to the Lord. You’re not doing it because you’re trying to achieve something, it’s not born of personal desire. The postures must be done as an offering to the Lord, you do it because it has to be done, that’s all. Then you’re really practicing yoga, that’s all. I don’t know why I’m doing this, just because it has to be done. So, also, that’s something, I don’t want to say to much, I don’t want to offend anybody, but sometimes you see, these days, the people, they’re going to have a heart attack sometimes, I think, the students. Not my students, but people. Everything is so rajasic. I never, my Guru, when he was teaching me the postures, always, your heart rate must not increase, your pulse must stay even, never lose your breath, you must be fully concentrated. If you’re interested in the more advanced postures you have to build slowly, you have to be patient. You can’t force the handstand before it’s ready. Then you see, like the students here, they’re not sweating all over the place, they’re not striving. If you have determination that’s good, but it must be done to find God. You cultivate self-control and perseverance and determination for concentration of the Supreme Self. Then, as you’re doing the postures you realize, “It’s time to stop for today.” Or, “I think I injured myself because I was a little too, I lost my concentration, I began to strive, I was personally invested in achieving something.” I think that is lacking a little bit these days, but that’s okay too, but I feel, I wish for everyone to feel nice and to be able to have these teachings that are so available to us through the grace of the living link of the Masters, the history that they have left us, that I hope that people maybe get a little more interested in the other components of the Science of Yoga, but of course I understand that everybody is interested in different things based on their temperament. So, it will all come out right in the end.

Tilak: Would you tell us a little about your space here, the NC School of Yoga in Raleigh? Can you tell us a little about how that came about?

Chandra: Oh, well, the students built this space. They just, everybody, there’s a big family here, they just come together always. If they see there is something that has to be done, they just do it. Lots of karma yoga.

Tilak: So here you offer not only weekly classes, but you offer teacher trainings as well that are in this lineage of classical Yoga.

Chandra: Yes, in the lineage of my Guru, Sri Dharma Mittra. And, classical yoga, traditional. This school was an offering for my Guru. As I began to look around in the mid 1990’s, I was seeing that Yoga was beginning to gain popularity. And, it seemed like as the popularity grew it became more commercial, it became more like a commodity. And I realized that I, I began to have students come to me and say, “I think that I’d like to become a Yoga teacher. Where can I go?” At that time, my Guru did not do teacher trainings, nor did I. So I tried to investigate a little bit for them. So I began to look around. There was Yogaville, maybe one or two other places, but I realized that I wanted them to have the full teachings, the experience of true studentship inside of a program. So I went to the Guru and explained and we put a little program together over a two year period and then finally it happened. But my main motivation was, and remains to preserve and to promote the teachings of my Guru. Because I saw that it wasn’t happening. I saw that my Guru had spent 50 years in service to humanity teaching Yoga as the path to Self-realization, and I believe in this science so deeply and I feel so many can benefit from it. So I wanted a place where people could go if they were interested in studying traditional Yoga, the way that I learned it. And really to share the spiritual knowledge that my Guru imparted to me. My Guru always said that spiritual knowledge is meant to be shared. You don’t keep it for yourself. You have to use discrimination to realize—you don’t waste it. Don’t just give it to anyone. But if you see a student is really sincere—they’re really looking for something, then you have to give everything you know. That’s it. You don’t just keep it, you have to share it. You have to share what you have been given. So I wanted to offer traditional Yoga as an offering to my Guru and then also to preserve the teachings.

Tilak: Would you speak on Karma Yoga and service?

Chandra Om

Chandra: Well, anything that I know I learned from my Guru, and my Guru was a Karma Yogi for 10 years in the ashram. And then I learned by example that the Karma Yoga must be—well, generally, inside of classical Yoga, Karma Yoga is one of the first steps—it is introduced very early in the aspirants path. I just learned to copy the Guru. Anything the Guru did I thought was the thing to do. So if he did, I better to that. And I was very fortunate that he allowed me to. And then I just did Karma Yoga for the Guru. And then go help him with anything he needs. For some reason I had very good fortune to be the assistant to the Guru. To schedule his appointments and to travel with him, to see to some of his personal needs and to take care of things. And Karma Yoga allows the Disciple or the student to polish the mind and heart simultaneously. Because as you are washing the steps, or cutting vegetables, or returning phone calls or teaching free classes or doing any number of things that might be needed at the ashram or wherever your teachers’ home base is—you really watch the mind flip out about so many things. I remember, my Guru has all of these steps that go up to his center. There’s two or three long flights of stairs and I used to be there, scrubbing the steps. One step, rinse. Second step, then the next, then the next. And at first, I would think, “you know, I don’t need to be doing this. There’s so many other things I could be doing”. I thought of cheating so many times. I thought of ways I could get around it. Maybe do it quickly, scrub half the step, skip a step, maybe slap a little water on and move on. Because of the mind. But then I would finish doing that and I would go sit for Satsang, or I would be with the Guru somewhere, and I would hear him say something just in passing and then I would feel so guilty. I would think ‘you don’t even deserve to be here. You should be lucky to scrub these steps.’ Then I felt renewed. I had renewed determination, renewed enthusiasm. Then it got to the point where I couldn’t wait to wash the steps. I would prefer to wash the steps or to be doing something to help rather than to be in class. I thought, ‘these are my teachings. I get everything from the Guru, let someone else have the space in class today’. So, I think that the Karma Yoga is an essential practice in the full science of Yoga and generally it is one of the steps that should be introduced early on in the aspirants practice because it really will purify the mind and heart. And then, also you see who is really serious and who is not. That’s unfortunate because then they leave, but that’s the way it is. Karma Yoga is an essential practice in the science.

Tilak: I feel really fortunate to have been able to come here and speak with you and take a class with you and it does feel really refreshing to see these teachings that have been passed down for so long are really being preserved, and it feels real, it feels genuine. So, I thank you for doing this.

Chandra: I don’t know how this happened. Please don’t misunderstand, there are millions of others doing it as well. There’s nothing special about it. I don’t know how it happened. I just feel very fortunate to be a vehicle for something to pass through. But I owe everything to my Guru. I would not know anything if it was not for him. If he was not constantly guiding me, sharing, imparting spiritual knowledge. So I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to impart his teachings. And there are so many serious students here at this school. There are people who come from all over the world to study, so when you said earlier do I think that people in the West are ready, I say yes. Really, from my heart I believe that. I know not everyone has that karma or that temperament or that inclination. Some will always just be interested in the physical, and that’s okay, because they will still get some benefits. A little Yoga is better than none. But everywhere I go to teach, I see people crying, and they come up and say, “I’m never going to touch meat again, I promise.” Because we speak about Yama and Niyama. And then they see. I do believe people are very hungry for more of the traditional teachings.

Om Namah Shivaya Om Namah Shivaya Om Namah Shivaya Om