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Edmonton Temple -Yogaswami

Edmonton temple visit, liken to Alaveddy, Sri Lanka. Satguru Sivayogaswami, elders speak of, story told. Mahavakiyams-Know thyself.

Unedited Transcript:

Good Morning everyone. A very nice ceremony this morning and welcome to the individuals into vrata sishya, initiation into the Church. Let the fresh air come in here and wake us all up.

Our talk this morning starts off with a recall of our recent trip to Western Canada. Paramacharya Ceyonswami and I spent three days in Edmonton and then three days in Vancouver. The time in Edmonton corresponded with their annual temple festival called Alankara Utsavam. Gurudeva and Ceyonswami in fact had both been there four years ago at this time, which was the temple had it's Kumbhabhishekam. Though the Temple Society has existed for over twenty years, they have only had the temple in the current building for the last four years. Initially they were in a rented hall and then later moved to a house on the same property that the temple now sits.

It's a very interesting temple the devotees are mostly from Sri Lanka and were quite happy to have us there at festival time. Many of the older devotees personally knew Yogaswami and like to tell personal anecdotes about his regularly visiting their home and have lunch or visit their restaurants. It's always wonderful to meet people who knew Yogaswami first hand. The priest there we've also known him, seems like forever since 1972. When we met Subramanya Gurukkal, when he was still in Alaveddy, Sri Lanka on the Indian Innersearch. In fact in 1972 he was one of the priests participating in a grand ceremony at the Alaveddy Ashram, I think there was ten priests there in all. Gurudeva was quite instrumental in bringing him and his family to Edmonton for Singapore some 20 years ago to serve as priest. I described him in following Gurudeva's tradition of honoring the priesthood. I try and find something to say about the priest always toward the beginning of any talk in a temple, give them proper recognition. And I said not only is he an excellent priest he was a loyal priest as well. Meaning he's stayed over twenty years at this one temple. He didn't jump here and there looking for higher salaries, he's very loyal to the temple and they appreciated that a very great deal

Another way in which the Edmonton experience felt like being in Alaveddy was the temple itself. The temple is a traditional Ganesha Saiva temple with Ganesha in the center shrine and side shrines for Siva, Murugan, Sakti and Bhairava. So all the Deities are pure Saivite. In fact the Edmonton temple prides itself on being totally a traditional Saivite temple. Which is very unusual in North America, usually the temple trustee give in to the demands of various groups and Krishna sneaks in before you know it and Durga is over in this corner and Rama comes in here. Before you know it you have a real assortment of Deities, a real mixtures of traditions. They don't seem to be subject to coecions or bribery, they seem to be sticking to their ideals for a stanch Saivite temple which is very nice. And it reminded me of the temple nearest the Alaveddy ashram which is the Kumbalavalai Pillaiyar Kovil which has a very similar Ganesha vibration, a very strong central shrine to Ganesha. So the temple itself reminded me of Alaveddy.

In Edmonton downstairs they have a small shrine to Gurudeva in the downstairs cultural hall, honoring his extensive work in helping establish the temple over a period of more than two decades, helping them through their various challenges and issues to help the temple finally manifest in it's own building. So they're honoring him with a shrine down there which is unusual because the temple likes to keep a certain distance from Swami's, it doesn't want to align itself with one particular Swami, it wants to be a vehicle where many Swami's can come and talk. Anyway they did make a shrine for Gurudeva which is very nice honoring his work which was extensive. And another aspect about it relates closely to us is Aran Veylan is teaching the Sunday children's class, has a pretty good group, we met 12 of the students which wasn't all of them there's quite a few more but weren't able to come because of exams and again the teachings are very strictly from Gurudeva's teachings and gave a very nice Saivite presentation.

All in all being there felt like being in Alaveddy. It reminded me of that, it reminded me of the experience many of the monks had in the 1970's so we nick-named our experience just southern Edmonton just around the temple we nick-named that part of Edmonton, Alaveddy North, because it felt just like being there just as if we were back in Alaveddy with all the people and experiences, the food, the temple, the vibrations of everything

Paramacharya Ceyonswami and I left Edmonton totally inspired by the experience. In many ways it felt like we hadn't left Kauai Aadheenam even though we were thousands of miles away, there we were in the middle of this strong Saivite community, strong temple, traditional food.

One of the ways in which we were inspired was a strong desire to make more of Yogaswami's life and teachings available in printed and computer form soon. I look around in my library and I have certain books on Yogaswami, Natchintanai, and Words of our Master and the publication date on most of the books is 1970, somewhere in the 1970's these books came out, they look like they came out in the 1970's they're old and battered. And it struck me that we really needed some new material on Yogaswami, simple material that can be shared particular with the younger group in these temples, in the Edmonton temple as well as other temples and Societies which have elders who knew Yogaswami. It's a wonderful opportunity to plug into that knowledge and encourage the elders to speak about Yogaswami in ways that they usually don't by having Yogaswami stories and teachings presented in the temple and it will come to life. And talk about Yogaswami and impress all the younger people that gee, Yogaswami really did live and the elders know Him, worked with Him, He's a real person. And take advantage of these next 10 or 15 years, 20 years maximum that these elders who knew Yogaswami will still be with us. So it's a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of their presence and impress that Yogaswami was a real person and how great and unique He was, on the minds of the younger Hindus in those groups.

Having said all that, of course I have to tell a story. Not being the greatest storyteller I found one, it's a nice story, it's a long story too. It's by Susunaga Weeraperuma and it's on the web if you want to find it.

So here goes the story, it doesn't give a date.

It was a cool and peaceful morning except for the rattling noises owing to the gentle breeze that swayed the tall and graceful palmyrah trees. We walked silently through the narrow and dusty roads. The city was still asleep. Yogaswami lived in a tiny hut that had been specially constructed for him in the garden of a home in the city of Jaffna. The hut had a thatched roof and was on the whole characterized by the simplicity of a peasant dwelling. Yogaswami appeared exactly as I had imagined him to be like. He looked very old and frail. He was of medium height and his long grey hair fell over his shoulders. When we first saw Yogaswami he was sweeping the garden with a long broom. He slowly walked towards us and opened the gates.

"I am doing a coolie's job," he said. "Why have you come to see a coolie?" He chuckled with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. I noticed that he spoke good English with an impeccable accent. As there is usually an esoteric meaning to all his statements, I interpreted his words to mean this: "I am a spiritual cleanser of human beings. Why do you want to be cleansed?"

He gently beckoned us into his hut. Yogaswami sat cross-legged on a slightly elevated platform and we sat on the floor facing him. We had not yet spoken a single word.

That morning we hardly spoke for he did all the talking. Talking to him was unnecessary for one had only to think of something and he replied instantaneously. I did not have to formulate my questions into words for Yogaswami was aware of my thoughts all the time.

After we had comfortably sat on the floor, Yogaswami closed his eyes and remained motionless for nearly half an hour. He seemed to live in another dimension of his being during that time. One wondered whether the serenity of his facial expression was attributable to the joy of his inner meditation. Was he sleeping or resting? Was he trying to probe into our minds? My friend indicated with a nervous smile that we were really lucky to have been received by him. Yogaswami suddenly opened his eyes. Those luminous eyes brightened the darkness of the entire hut. His eyes were as mellow as they were luminous - the mellowness of compassion.

I was beginning to feel hungry and tired and thereupon Yogaswami asked, "What will you have for breakfast?" At that moment I would have accepted anything that was offered but I thought of idly (steamed rice cakes) and bananas which were popular items of food in Jaffna. In a flash there appeared a stranger in the hut who respectfully bowed and offered us these items of food from a tray that he was holding. A little later my friend wished for coffee but before he could express his request in words the same man reappeared on the scene and served us with coffee.

After breakfast Yogaswami asked us not to throw away the banana skins which were for the cow. He spoke loudly to the cow that was grazing in the garden. The cow clumsily walked right into the hut. He fed her with the banana skins. She licked his hand gratefully and tried to sit on the floor. Yogaswami held out the last remaining banana skin to the cow and said, "Now leave us alone. Don't disturb us, Valli. I'm having some visitors." The cow nodded her head in obeisance and faithfully carried out his instructions.

After the cow had left us Yogaswami closed his eyes again and he seemed once more to be lost in a world of his own. I was indeed curious to know what exactly Yogaswami did on these occasions by closing his eyes. I wondered whether he was meditating. It was an apropos moment to broach the subject but before I could ask any questions he suddenly started speaking.

"Look at those trees. The trees are meditating. Meditation is silence. If you realize that you really know nothing then you would be truly meditating. Such truthfulness is the right soil for silence. Silence is meditation."

Yogaswami bent forward eagerly. "You must be simple. You must be utterly naked in your consciousness. When you have reduced yourself to nothing - when your 'self' has disappeared - when you have become nothing then you are yourself God. The man who is nothing knows God for God is nothing. Nothing is everything. Because I am nothing, you see, because I am a beggar - I own everything. So nothing means everything. Understand?"

"Tell us about this state of nothingness," requested my friend with eager anticipation.

"It means that you genuinely desire nothing. It means that you can honestly say that you know nothing. It also means that you are not interested in doing anything about this state of nothingness."

What, I speculated, did he mean by 'know nothing' - the state of 'pure being' in contrast to 'becoming'?

"You think you know but in fact you are ignorant. When you see that you know nothing about yourself then you are yourself God."

End of story, that's a great story. We need more stories.

This is certainly an informative story and its shares a number of important points about Yogaswami's teachings. The most dominant point made has to do with nothingness and not knowing. In life, the normal emphasis is on acquiring knowledge, that is replacing a lack of knowledge on a subject with knowledge. For example, we purchase a new computer and know little about its operating system. Therefore, we need to read the manuals, talk to experts and end up acquiring enough knowledge to operate the computer. We have replaced a lack of intellectual knowledge on a subject with knowledge.

However, Yogaswami's approach is the opposite. We start with intellectual knowledge about God and strive to rid ourselves of this knowledge. When we succeed we end up experiencing God. Why is this? It is because the intellect cannot experience God. The experience of God in His personal form and His all pervasive consciousness lies in the superconscious or intuitive mind. And the experience of God as Absolute Reality is even beyond the superconscious mind.

Yogaswami had a simple phrase that captures the essence of this approach to God realization which is: "It's not in books you fool." Acquiring clear intellectual concepts of the nature of God is good, but these concepts must be eventually transcended to actually experience God.

One of Chellappaswami's mahavakiyam, great sayings, also emphasizes the same idea. In Tamil, it is Naam ariyom, which translates as We do not know. Again, opposite of what we usually think we know, we do not know is the message

In Gurudeva's writings the same idea appears in his Cognizant Ability aphorisms in which he says the intellect strengthened with opinionated knowledge is the only barrier to the superconscious. Gurudeva goes on to explain that a mystic generally does not talk very much, for his intuition works through reason, but does not use the processes of reason. Any intuitive breakthrough will be quite reasonable, but it does not use the processes of reason. Reason takes time. Superconsciousness acts in the now. All superconscious knowing comes in a flash, out of the nowhere. Intuition is more direct than reason, and far more accurate.

Thus we can clearly see that the same idea is being expressed by all three gurus of our Kailasa Parampara which is that the experience of God is only possible when we transcend the limited faculties of our intellect and the concepts it has about God and dive more deeply into our superconscious, intuitive mind and beyond. Said another way, clearly the experience of emptying ourselves of our intellectual concepts about God needs to precede filling ourselves with the experience of Gods holy presence within us.

The next section of our talk this morning is on Yogaswami's emphasis on Know Thyself, and includes a short story about his disciple Markanduswami.

Sivayogaswami, Gurudeva's Guru, was both the consummate Sivabhaktar and Sivayogi, which means He was a great devotee of Lord Siva as well as a profound meditator. This combination of devotion and meditation is unique to the path of Saiva Siddhanta. Most Hindu traditions focus on either devotion or meditation but not both. In Saiva Siddhanta deep devotion to God is in fact considered a prerequisite to meditation. And meditation is considered a practice that all need to eventually take up after devotion has awakened.

As we mentioned Sivayogaswami was a great yogi and he would sit for hours, even days in deepest meditation. He would also stress the importance of meditation to his devotees and formulated a key teaching, or mahavakiyam-great saying, to help them meditate which is:

Tamil-Tannai ari English-Know thyself.

Here are some of Yogaswami's sayings on knowing thyself:

You must know the self by the self. Concentration of mind is required for this.

You lack nothing. The only thing you lack is that you do not know who you are.

Truth is not encompassed by books and learning. You must know yourself by yourself. There is nothing else to be known.

And of course his first Natchintanai begins with the famous line:

Ennai yenna karivitan engalgurunatha. Our gurunatha, referring of course to his guru Chellappaswami, made me to know myself

Gurudeva began taking his monks to Jaffna in 1969. Yogaswami, of course, had passed away in 1964, so we did not have the opportunity of meeting him. However, Yogaswami's disciple Markanduswami was living in a hut outside of Jaffna and would share Yogaswami's teaching with all who visited. In this way many of our senior monks had the opportunity to visit him and listen to his explanations of Yogaswami's teachings.

Markanduswami liked to stress the teaching that Yogaswami only gave us one work to and would often say:

Yogaswami didn't give us a hundred odd works to do. Only one. Realize the self, yourself, or know thyself, or find out who you are, in Tamil thannai ari. You can't find the truth in a thousand books or by listening to people talk. You must realize the Self by yourself.

What exactly does it mean to know thyself? Satguru Sivayogaswami explains this beautifully in one of his published letters called Nan Yar? Who am I. (Natchintanai Tamil version page 388)

"You are not the body, You are not the mind, nor the intellect, nor the will. You are the Atma. The atma is eternal. This is the conclusion at which great souls have arrived from their experience. Let this truth become well impressed on your mind."

This exact thought appears in the first sloka of Gurudeva's work Dancing with Siva.

Who Am I? Where Did I Come From? Rishis proclaim that we are not our body, mind or emotions. We are divine souls on a wondrous journey. We came from God, live in God and are evolving into oneness with God. We are, in truth, the Truth we seek. Aum

Yogaswami and Gurudeva are both explaining that in the great saying "know thyself," self refers to the Atma, our internal spiritual nature, our immortal soul.

They are also pointing out that many people think they are the body, how they look is who they are. Others identify with the emotions and memories of their mind. And still others think they are the intellect, the reasoning part of the mind and the will power to successfully accomplish their plans.

Today we are deluged by information. Books, television and the internet provide us with much more information than ever before available. We are in fact in technology's information age. Unfortunately, though information abounds, how much of it is teaching us we are a divine soul? Certainly only a very small amount.

Most of the information in our modern world teaches us to identify with our external nature: movies and TV teach us we are our body and emotions and in school we are taught we are our intellect.

As we know, Yogaswami's saying is that "It's not in books you fool." For today's world we need to amplify his saying to read "It's not in books, television, movies, the internet or computer games you fool."

Yogaswami often encouraged devotees not to simply worship the Deity in the outer temple but also to worship one's self in the inner temple. In the words of Markanduswami:

"Yogaswami said leave your relations downstairs, your will, your intellect, your senses. Leave the fellows and go upstairs by yourself and find out who you are. Then you can go downstairs and be with the fellows."

In conclusion, we all of course recognize the high spiritual attainments of Satguru Sivayogaswami. However, it is also important in thinking of Yogaswami to understand that the high spiritual attainment of Sivayogaswami is the potential of each and everyone of us, the spiritual destiny of each soul to be reached at some point in this or a future life. Be re-inspired by Yogaswami's great spiritual attainments to devote more time to your own spiritual practices.

A verse from the Maitri Upanishad beautifully summarizes the path to Self realization:

"By austerity, goodness is obtained. From goodness, understanding is reached. From understanding, the Self is obtained, and he who obtains the Self is freed from the cycle of birth and death."

And lastly remember that Satguru Sivayogaswami only gave us one work to do . "Thannai Ari, Know thyself."

Thank you very much, Aum Namah Sivaya.

Interesting the last page is blank, emphasizing God is nothing, we know nothing. Blank page.

Photo of  Gurudeva
This is the straight and certain path, the San Marga, leading to Self Realization--the inmost purpose of life--and subsequently to moksha, freedom from rebirth.