iHanuman's Second Interview with Chandra

Interview of Chandra Om

This interview was conducted in February 2008 with Tilak Pyle, of iHanuman. In this audio interview, Chandra tells the story of her journey with 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:

Chandra

Tilak: (introduction)

Chandra Om has spent her life in service to humanity, disseminating the ancient knowledge of how to achieve radiant health and spiritual development through the science of classical yoga. She is the founder and director of North Carolina School of Yoga and the Senior teacher and Disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra. She is the author of three critically acclaimed CDs and the book Dharma Mittra; A Friend to All. After years of being a teacher to the yoga teachers and a celebrated and much respected teacher in her own Guru’s Ashram, in 2008 Chandra was recognized by Yoga Journal as one of the top yoga teachers in the world. Her teacher trainings are attended by Yogis from all over the world and are designed from years of practices which Chandra did herself to become a Yogi.

Each student is prescribed spiritual programs that drastically charge and change their life, to become a calm, content and better person. These yoga teachers, through Chandra’s guidance become much more then just teachers, they become Yogis. Chandra is a beloved teacher and a rare gem in the world of yoga today, known for her humility, humor, joy and kindness in teaching. Still teaching in traditional way, students from all walks of life attend her classes and are guided to a state of complete surrender and contentment, merge in complete identity with the true Self, the ultimate goal of Yoga.

In the following interview Chandra answers questions on the connection between the body and mind, pranayama, the belief in God, Mantra and the Guru-Disciple relationship. Enjoy.

Tilak: It is wonderful to see you again

Chandra: Nice to see you.

Tilak: First I would like to say congratulations on being chosen by Yoga Journal for being one of the top 20 yoga teachers in the world under 40. That is a great honor and really a testament to your service and all that you have to give and all that you allow to come through you. So I would like to congratulate first on that.

The first question is...A lot of the teachings, the initial teachings of yoga, deal with the body, whether they are prescriptions for diet, asana, for pranayama. What is the relationship between the body and mind, why do they have such an intimate relationship with one another that one can affect the other so directly?/p>

Chandra: Well, they are one and the same, they are both part of the material realm. Anything involved in the material realm is truly one in the same, it is just different states of consciousness. Some minds are of a higher consciousness, some bodies are of a higher consciousness. In some, the prana and the blood are traveling at a higher level of consciousness, and some others are a bit low, but in reality they mind and body are the same, as they are both part of Prakriti—in reality there is no separation between mind and body. The purpose of the purification practices involved in the early stages of the science of yoga are preliminary. They are not to become hypnotized with. Many people become distracted by the hatha practices, they become very hypnotized, it should feel good and if it does not feel good then don’t do it. They become lost in the physical sensations. But then, you see, immediately once they are unable to do something they are identified with that and experience further duality. In particular, in the hatha practices, that is a very forceful practice, that is one of the literal translations and so you are going to feel some things as the machine changes in a forced way. For me, personally, because I am doing the hatha exercise, I always feel something, a pain here, something here, always something. But eventually it all goes away.

You must learn inside of the yogic system not to become distracted and preoccupied with the body and mind. You must not become hypnotized. That is a mortal person. A mortal person, walking around, perceiving the reality through the physical senses and believing that if you cannot experience it through the five senses or the more subtle three, it does not exist. But for a yogi you are going beyond the physical senses—beyond the material plane. So even though you must respect the laws of the material plane, you keep the machine healthy, keep the mind concentrated, you must never become distracted by that. Or begin to become hypnotized by their experiences. The body is a treacherous friend. You must give it its due, nothing more. And then eventually you feel very little in the physical and material realm—you become wholly unidentified with it.

Eventually, where you may have felt a pain in the knee, a pain in the hip, a pain in the mind, eventually as you go beyond mind and body, you are not even going to experience that. You may have an ache here or a pain there, but it is like the other thing you asked about earlier, you are not identified with it. So the very best is just to give the body and mind their due, nothing more. Do not become stuck at that plane of consciousness. Keep going beyond it, very soon it will leave you alone.

Tilak: What is the goal of pranayama?

Chandra: The goal of pranayama is to unite prana and apana at the height of the naval, the manipura chakra, to withdraw the prana from ida and pingala nadi and learn to situate it in shushumna nadi. As the prana travel up spine your consciousness will lift, correspondingly, you understand? As the prana travels up, very soon your consciousness is going to lift, then as your consciousness lifts, you are going to see reality more and more clearly. So the yogis have the pranayama techniques.

Prana means breath, yama is control. Learning that instead of like a mortal person, just dissipating prana through all the gates constantly, you learn to withdraw prana from the psychic channels, primarily the two auxiliary channels and place it inside a channel that is closed, the one that is blocked to mortals. Inside the spinal column is a tremendous amount of prana, tremendous amount of shakti or energy. But it is closed to mortals, to keep them safe.

But as you employ your pranayama practices, the ones prescribed to you by the Guru, you are going to purify your psychic channels. As your psychic channels become more purified then you are going to be able to learn to situate the prana at the base of the spine. And then as you learn to situate it there, the fibers that are at the base of spine, microscopic, they become stimulated. As they do, very soon there is going to be a break here and the prana is going to travel up. That is why your other psychic channels must be purified first, so that you are going to be prepared for the various levels of consciousness that are going to awaken as the prana travel up spine. In the beginning you will know if the purification is working because in the first stage you begin to perspire tremendously and of course you know you must never wipe the perspiration off. As a yogi you have to keep all the perspiration you have. It is sometimes like a cold sweat, you just rub the perspiration back in, don’t dab it with a towel or something else. And then the second stage you begin to shake. Generally upon the kumbhaka, generally you shake tremendously, you fell tremor in your manipura chakra. That is the second sign your purification is getting very strong. And then eventually you are going to see…once that is happening, then just keep doing what you are doing. Just keep doing the practices because you are getting very close. Generally by that time the prana has reached here, the height of the navel, then keep doing what the Guru prescribes. Very soon the prana is going to reach here, then up here, then you have to be careful. Because when the prana travel up here you become very serious about finding God. When your consciousness reaches the height of the throat, but you must always remember that until the prana reaches here, the third eye, it is always going to be in flux. One day you might be here, very serious about spiritual matters, desperately trying to find God, very concentrated , then the next day, all of a sudden you think about how you can get more students or get more money or something and you are all of sudden the prana is back here, you become concerned with name and fame. Then maybe you catch yourself and you think, "what am I doing? I have to get serious again." Then you do your repentance, then you go back here again, then the next day maybe you see a pretty girl, or a handsome man and then all of a sudden you are back down here, so as long as the prana is situated between the base of spine and the throat region, your level of consciousness is always in flux. Only when you bring the prana (through the practice of pranayama, through the specific techniques), to the area known as trikuti, the space between the eyebrows, once the prana reaches here, it never goes back down, never travels back down. The consciousness stay there, then you see reality. Then no matter what you are doing, the consciousness stays here, even when you are doing worldly activities. It may look like you are moving about in the world, it looks as though you are maybe doing something here, something there, but you have lifted your consciousness to a plane where there is no return from. So the practice of pranayama initially is to unite prana and apana vayu at the height of navel but then eventually to lift you consciousness. this is why…. I know you already know all of this but this is why the human birth is said to be so rare and why even though a cow and a pig have a very complex nervous system, almost like a human, still they cannot achieve Self realization because they do not have the ability to withdraw the prana, to manipulate the prana. That’s all. That is the sole difference. To lift your consciousness through the practices of the Saints and the Gurus. But very soon next life, maybe they will have a human birth. Then they have their turn.

Tilak: You had started to say that when you get to the throat, the vishuddha chakra, you have to be very careful. Why is that, what were you going to say there?

Chandra: You have to become careful because unfortunately, no matter how sincere you are, one can become very arrogant about spiritual experiences. As your consciousness lifts you are going to see God more and more in full force. And then if you do not have a foundation in Yama and Niyama or you do not have a measure of humility, maybe as each plane of consciousness is revealed to you, you might think it is you, maybe you are discovering something, that you are uncovering something. You become so puffed with pride, so puffed with ego, so intoxicated with spiritual experiences and psychic abilities and then very soon maybe you come crashing down because you are identified with the doer. "I am so great; I am creating all these phenomenal astral experiences" when in reality they are being revealed to you. The science of yoga will work for anyone up to a point . Because yoga is a science, if you apply A to B you can expect to get C. So anyone can practice. My Guru taught me the psychic development treatment, a series of mantra with specific breathings and specific visualizations to increase your psychic abilities so that you can be more receptive to the higher planes. But my Guru told me explicitly: you must never share this with anyone you do not believe to be sincere. Because the techniques work. It does not matter if you do not have a foundation in yama. I am sure Mr Hitler was very concentrated. I am sure he was very disciplined. So if you have lots of fortitude and concentration, if you really have a desire to experience something, to see something in the astral realm and you get your hands on all these ancient practices and your determination for control is what is driving you, you are going to do your practice very seriously and lift your consciousness—but with no moral foundation. So suddenly you are using the higher planes of reality you are seeing, beyond the material realm for name and fame, for control of others, for manipulation, for any number of things. I know for most students, that is not the route that they take, but believe me when I tell you, it is a slippery slope. You can initially just feel a little puffed with pride. And then before you know it, much darker qualities begin to take over. So once your consciousness reaches the throat region, just keep watching and try to be more humble at that time then any other. And keep talking to God: "You are my everything. I know nothing. Please keep guiding me. The scriptures say that arrogance is one of the gateways to suffering. Please do not let me fall; I know you are with me." Then you have real success.

Tilak: What are some of the specific pranayamas that you emphasize? And are all pranayamas suitable for all levels of students?

Chandra: No. The first pranayama that should be introduced and that I recommend and that anyone can do is the alternate breathing, the alternate nostril breathing. The first practice that should be introduced. The fingers you use are very important, and if you ever lose this arm or this hand you have to do like this with this one, because the fingers and the psychic channels are very important. So the alternate breathing is the first one that should be introduced, but with no retention. This is very important because this is the main pranayama, the only one you really need, truthfully. The only one you really need because the more you practice it, it is going to purify all the psychic channels and then as we said earlier as your psychic channels become purified, you begin to do retention and then as you do the retention, the friction begins and that is when the prana travels. So the alternate breathing is the first one that should be introduced. Very often the kapalabhati is thought to be a pranayama but it is really a kriya truthfully. So the kapalabhati I think is important as well but in the form of a cleansing practice. All the other pranayamas are designed for specific effects. Some pranayamas are designed to heat the body, some are designed to cool the body, some are designed to develop psychic abilities and so on. Most are designed to purify, some are designed to develop positive qualities, let’s say the mind is disturbed by depression or there is some mental imbalance of some kind. The Guru might prescribe positive breathing, or if your auric field is very weak or you are a subject to psychic attacks then you might do a special breathing with color and sound. After the initial stages of purification, which (in regard to pranayama) occur through the various stages of the alternate breathing, then the others are given only for a period of time, as the Guru sees you need something specific. So I would say in the beginning you want to practice the alternate breathing and once a measure of comfort is found then you may begin to do the retention in the count the Guru prescribes—it is very specific. If you are interested to go a bit further you may do some kapalabhati as a kriya to accelerate the purification and then the other techniques your Guru, your teacher will teach you as they see what you need.

Tilak: You speak a lot about Ishvara Pranidhana, surrender to God and place an incredible amount of importance on, as the Gita says, offering the fruits of your actions to God, and you say to do everything, including asana, everything as an offering to God. What advice do you have to give to those people for whom the idea of God feels like an abstraction, it does not feel real or they don't have a belief in God. What advice do you have for those people for whom devotion and bhakti is more difficult?

Chandra

Chandra: You want the short answer or the long answer?

Tilak: I'll take the long answer.

Chandra: You have to surrender. You have to find a concept or a word that does not disturb the mind. Source, nature, creation, energy, God, the Supreme Self, the true Self. All of this is involved in name and form, all of this does not matter. So if you ever have a student that comes that says, "I don’t like it when you say think of God. I don’t like it when you say bow before Lord. I am not going to bow before anyone, I don’t even believe in God."

All right, well do you believe that you have a higher Self? Do you believe in various levels of qualities? You believe certain qualities are higher then others? That it is of a higher moral concentration to be kind to someone then to kick them? Well then when I say think of God, you just think of your highest Self. Surrender to your highest Self. Surrender to the part of yourself that always chooses the most golden thing. The most sattvic action or the most sattvic thought. And just keep concentrating on that. Some people don’t like the word God. Don’t worry about that. Just find a word or a concept that does not disturb the mind and then go from there. But the reality is that the deeper you go into spiritual life and spiritual practices—and yoga is a spiritual science—your belief in God will come. There is no question about it. If you go very deep, God will come very quickly. And to those who are still going to be very stubborn and want to be very challenging, insisting there is no God, I would say: Observe your thoughts for 24 hours unremittingly and then wonder no more at God’s absence.

Tilak: What is a Guru Mantra for those that don't know and how is it different from just reading a Mantra and beginning to repeat one?

Chandra: According to the yoga system it is said that once blessed is to receive human birth, to receive human incarnation, which is very rare. Twice blessed , it is to meet the Guru in this lifetime. And three times blessed is to receive mantra from the Guru. Then in reality you have everything that you need. There is nothing more. There is no higher practice than the practice of mantra, no higher mantra than the Guru mantra. So there is no higher practice then Guru Mantra.

As your spiritual practice progresses, if you have the very rare fortune to have met the Guru who is destined to bring you home, well, somewhere along your path, depending upon your level of commitment, and the qualities that the disciple shows, the Guru may decide to accept you. They may decide to accept you as part of a spiritual family and then decide to initiate you into a mantra, a personal mantra, the Guru mantra. At first, to begin to purify the astral body. The Guru mantra is specifically for them from the Guru, because the Guru sees some astral deficiencies that may be there, then they prescribe this particular Mantra with it's specific syllables. Then as the disciple repeats the mantra with enthusiasm and concentration, it begins to affect the astral body. It begins to fill in any deficiencies that may be there, beginning to awaken some dormant consciousness that is already there but asleep.

But the real purpose, the real magic behind the Mantra and the power behind the Guru mantra is that at the time of the Mantra initiation, if the Guru accepts you and gives you the personal mantra, the Guru is not only accepting you into the spiritual family, they are taking responsibility for you. They are taking responsibility for your spiritual progress, they are taking responsibility for your final realization. In other words to say, "you have shown a measure of commitment. You have shown a measure of reverence. You have shown a measure of determination and you have the qualities of a good student. So if you are willing to work for your own Self-realization then I will work with you and I will work for you. I will give you a psychic link in the form of a Guru Mantra that the more you repeat with faith and concentration is not only going to awaken consciousness inside of you but anytime you need me, I am going to be right there for you. It does not matter time and space, it does not matter name and form. If I drop the body, if you drop the body, it does not matter. You just do the Mantra and I will be right there. And this will carry into lifetimes until you achieve your goal. Until you achieve your goal I will work for you but you must do the work." And so really, it is the formal acceptance of a Guru accepting a disciple and nothing will take you faster into Self- realization. Nothing will bring you face to face with God as quickly. And it cannot be broken. It is a spiritual marriage. You know like these days people have marriage but they don’t honor the promise that has been made. If you make a promise you make a promise—you have promised yourself to someone. Well of course the moment that you get promise yourself to someone, make a true commitment and get married, the mind is going to flip out a little bit. Your privacy gets taken away and all of your lower tendencies are revealed and exposed—there is no where left to hide or run. Then the mind starts fantasizing and doing one thing or another, finding fault and creating excuses and distractions. In a spiritual marriage you cannot break it just because the mind becomes fickle, just because you become bored with something or just because you become unhappy with some qualities. So it is truly in the disciples best interest never to break from the Guru because no matter how far you go, the Guru is never going to break from you. They are never going to break their promise for your Self-realization, to guide you home. So really you are just creating a whole lot of unnecessary work for everyone if you decide to break, because you know, everybody has to come back next time, you understand, like a family.

Tilak: You give a lot of importance to the Guru and the relationship with the Guru. What advice do you have for students who find it hard to surrender to the Guru in the form of a person?

Chandra: Just keep practicing and remember that a true Guru is never going to seek out disciples. They are never going to try to make disciples or seek out a congregation in some way so really it is entirely up to the disciple. If they do not feel comfortable following the guidance of the Preceptor then they don’t have to. Because no Guru is going to come chasing after you, saying "Listen to what I am saying. Don't you want what I am trying to give you?" They are just going to leave you alone. A Guru is never going to disturb the free will of the student. So if they are having a hard time surrendering then I would just say: Be patient, keep practicing, keep going inside the cave of your heart, keep trying to talk to God. You have to pray for strength, pray for faith. Very soon the ego will begin to chip away a little bit, you begin to feel some softness. And then once the tears start to come then you get very close and then you are ready, you become spiritually fit.

The Yogic path is not an easy one. It is not for most people. There are certain qualities that you must have before you meet the Guru. There are certain qualities that must be present already. A strong desire for liberation, intense faith. The arrogance, the ego, the cravings and desires, the inability to concentrate, the inability to have fortitude…all of that will come. The Guru can assist you in that way. But there must be certain qualities already present. It is a very great responsibility to accept someone as your Guru. It is a spiritual marriage as we said earlier. So it’s good if you take your time because once you commit there is no going back. There is nothing you can do any longer. You might decide to get a bright idea, break away or something but that’s only going to hurt you so just be patient, very soon you begin to develop tremendous faith and then you are going to hear the Guru speak to you. Generally in your dreams because in dream sleep you are more receptive initially. And then you just have to surrender. Don’t worry about it until then. Just keep doing your practice.

Chandra

Tilak: For those students who are working with a spiritual teacher and who may find themselves coming to places in their path where they feel disillusioned or disappointed by their Guru and they find themselves getting this feeling of jadedness or cynicism what advice do you have for those people?

Chandra: I have a few things to say about this, it is not just one answer. The first is that the mind is never to be trusted. You must never believe whatever mind is telling you. Whenever you make a commitment to something, you make a promise to someone or something and then everything is going very nice. And then suddenly the fickle nature of the mind, the fickle nature of ego personality of lower self does not appreciate the intensity of concentration and begins to find fault. Begins to find fault with the Guru’s teaching, begins to find fault sometimes even with the science of yoga but generally they don't go that far. Generally what happens is that they find fault with the individual and not with the science. And so what they do is they begin to seek out different teachers that use more flowery language. Teachers that allow the sleep of ignorance, that do not hold such a mirror up to the ego. And so of course it appears like they are still practicing. It appears as though they were the ones that woke up and saw reality, that they had a realization, they were the ones employing intelligence, made that choice and made a wise decision. But in reality no, they are just putting a stop to everything. Hitting the pause button. So my first piece of advice is, the mind is never to be trusted so you better be very careful and the moment you begin to find fault with the Guru, you’re in big trouble. Big trouble. It’s nothing but a downward spiral from there. It may not appear that way in the beginning but it’s very soon going to show you how your lack of respect, your lack of faith, your lack of belief--where it’s going to take you ultimately. Because you could not employ a little bit of humility, you are willing to suffer life’s countless humiliations in the material plane. Watch out for the mind, do not trust it. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is this. I was with my Guru at Yogaville and he was giving an interview to Premanjali. And inside of that interview she asked him a question about his Guru and they were talking about it and my Guru said, which I have heard him say many times: ”My Guru to me is, better then God. He was not only the representative of God, as all Gurus are, but my Guru to me was better then God. Even today", he said, "if I walked out of this door right now and I saw my Guru on the street and he had become a pimp, I would go over and kiss his feet.” Because you are in no position to judge a saint. A Guru is a representative of God, someone who has willingly relinquished the personal self to allow God to pass through them. That means that they have lifted their consciousness all the way up to their third eye, the crown of the head, full force. This means that whatever you see them doing, don’t even worry about it. In the scriptures it says you must never judge the actions of a Saint. It may appear like they are doing something for name or for fame or something that does not make sense to your material mind but they may be on a Divine mission. It may look like one way, but in reality is completely something other than it appears. You never know. There are countless examples of saint doing practices and taking action in ways that the disciples or the followers or the town people did not understand at the time. You must never judge the actions of a saint. If a saint were clear to you, you would be one already. So you must be very…your faith must be absolute. No matter what the Guru is doing, you don’t judge it. You just say, "I don’t understand what’s going on, they must be dong something that I cannot see but my faith in that individual is absolute."

The other thing is that it is terribly arrogant. When you understand what a Guru has taken on for you, that a Guru takes on all of your nonsense. Some disciples prove very troublesome. They require a lot of work because they are always stirring up trouble. But still maybe the Guru takes them on, agrees to because of the vows they have taken to serve humanity, to help any sincere student. The student appears sincere, they make all kinds of pranams and declarations, and then the moment something happens that the mind does not like, they run, they leave. That’s a horrible thing. Someone has not only promised to love you unconditionally but they promised to love you unconditionally lifetime after lifetime…eternally. Until you achieve liberation. And because your mind gets unhappy with one or two actions in the material plane, you turn your back on that kind of love, on that kind of promise? That’s something, isn’t it? That’s the height of arrogance, the height of maya, the height of illusion.

You know, a Guru is a representative of God. They have given their life for the ideals of the Divine. They have given their life to carry others forward. But a Guru is still subject to prakriti, and they also still have their Parabda karma, the karma from the past. All of the saints and sages, all had their own internal turmoil. They all had their own karma they are passing through even after liberation. There is a story in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda, where he describes his first meeting with his Guru, Sri Yukteswar. And inside of that meeting Paramhansa Yogananda is so grateful to meet Sri Yukteswar, to finally be home, to finally find his Guru and he is overcome with happiness and excitement and enthusiasm and he says to Sri Yukteswar. "Do you promise to bring me to the goal? Do you promise you are going to help me, to take care of me? I will be a good student. Do you promise you are going to help me achieve liberation?" And Sri Yukteswar says, "I promise. If that is what you want, I promise. Do you promise that if you ever see me falling from my concentration on the Divine which we both worship that you will take my head and put it in your lap? Do you promise to bring me back to the Divine that we both worship?" And of course Yogananda says, "I promise."

Chandra

And he did. It's very funny the kind of personality that would take so much from someone so willing like a Saint or a Guru and then the moment the Guru might be passing through something you could not be there for the Guru? You could not be there to put their head in your lap? To have more unconditional love for someone who has given you so much? I pray I never experience anything like that. I cannot imagine a more grievous act. As a yogi, you understand. To turn your back on the Guru? There are many times I saw my Guru pass through many things. My Guru is fully illumined, there is no doubt about it. I have seen my Guru pass through many things. I have seen him at times when he was tired, because of the machine. I know inside he did not feel it but the machine. I have seen him at times when he was maybe a little short of temper or maybe one thing or another, you understand. I have even seen him apologize to people if he ever thought he did something or spoke a little too harsh, made an error or something. Anytime I see anything like that I always think: "Guruji, you are entitled. You have nothing to apologize for--ever. Even in what appear as your errors, you are still probably trying to teach me something." And that’s the other thing. You don’t know. You never know. Maybe the Guru is testing you. Testing your faith. Maybe they are out there as a pimp on the street but, maybe not really. Maybe they are just there with three or four male and female disciples playing dress up, just to test you when you come out of the building to see if you are going to abandon your promise or have intense faith. You never know.

Guru Brahmaa Guru Vishnu Gururdevo Maheshwarah
Guru Saakshaat Param Brahma Tasmai Shree Gurave Namah