An Interview with MARSHALL GOVINDAN
Marshall Govindan (or Yogacharya M. Govindan Satchidananda) is a Kriya Yogi, author, scholar and publisher of literary works related to classical Yoga and Tantra and a teacher of Kriya Yoga. He is the President of Babaji’s Kriya Yoga and Publications, Inc., and the President of Babaji’s Kriya Yoga Order of Acharyas, a lay order of more than 25 Kriya Yoga teachers operating in more than 20 countries and ashrams. The Editorial team of Asana Journal is honored to interview him for the 1st issue of 2018.
How did you get onto this path and which teachers are your main inspiration?
After my first profound spiritual experience in 1963, at the age of 15, I began searching for a path that would help me to have Self-Realization. A few months after reading about Babaji and his Kriya Yoga in Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, in 1969, I received initiation from Yogi S.A.A. Ramaiah, a direct disciple of Babaji. This was in Washington, D.C. while completing my degree at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. A few months later, I abandoned my plans to join the U.S. Foreign Service as a diplomatic officer and I joined him in his new ashram in Los Angeles, California, my hometown. With his encouragement I studied the literary works of the 18 Tamil Yoga Siddhas and Sri Aurobindo. I practiced Kriya Yoga an average of 8 hours per day for the next 18 years while residing in ashrams established by Yogi Ramaiah in India, Sri Lanka, the USA and Montreal, Canada.
How would you explain the kriya yoga philosophy to a lay person?
The goal of life is happiness, peace, love and enlightenment. The desire for perfection comes from the Self, the image of God which seeks to express itself through all humanity. Kriya Yoga is a scientific art of perfect God truth union. It says that one’s own personal experience is the highest authority, but that the Divine can only be truly known through the experience of Self-realization, known as samadhi. Philosophically it is monistic theism, which means that as you change your perspective from “I am the body,” “I am the mind,” and “I am the emotions,” to “I am the Witness,” your conception of God also changes from one who is distant, to That which is the foundation of my being. Like a person who sees a mountain from a distance, and feels that it is remote, God seems to be very distant. But if one finds a path up the mountain, it becomes familiar. When one climbs to the top of the mountain, the distinction between the self and the mountain disappears. So also, one can realize ‘I am one with the Divine’, which is the meaning of the mantra Om Nama Sivaya.
Do you find there are any significant differences between Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and Thirumoolar’s Thirumandiram?
In an introductory chapter to my book, The Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Siddhas, I compared them and demonstrated how they shared the same philosophical perspective on 20 different criteria. For example, in both, the world and the soul, Prakriti and Purusha, are real, not illusionary as in Vedanta and Buddhism. Both consider Ishvara, Siva, to be the Supreme Being, and the special Self. While the Yoga Sutras is considered to be dualistic and theistic, a close reading of its third and fourth chapters indicates humanity’s potential for perfection. It is therefore consistent with Tirumandiram’s monistic theism in which one begins the path in a state of duality, (“I am the body, emotions and mind”) and through the practice of Kriya Yoga and a progressive surrender to the Lord, I not only transcend duality in the spiritual plane of my existence, the descent of Divinity transforms me in all five bodies. Neither of them praise deities. Their conception of the Divine is absolute Being, Consciousness and Bliss. They both refer to human evolution and its potential for perfection as “siddhi.”
The method of the Yoga Sutras is what Patanjali refers to as “Kriya Yoga,” in verse 11.1: intense practice, self study, and surrender. In verse 1.12 he says that one must practice detachment from identification with the movements of the mind or the vrittis. The Yoga Sutras are written in 195 Sanskrit verses, in the third person, in a terse, dry, formalistic manner. The Tirumandiram is written in the first person, with great feeling, in the older Tamil language and is made up of in 3,047 poetic verses. Unlike the Yoga Sutras, it describes the chakras and emphasizes the need to practice Kundalini Yoga.
Who are Siddhas? Are they different from Yogis and Sadhus? Do Siddhas still exist?
There are several usages for the term “Siddha.” The most common use of the term is to describe a “perfected being,” “one who has become one with God,” or “one who has realized the non-duality of their psyche, or individual soul’s consciousness and the consciousness of Siva, the Lord,” “An adept Yogin, who possesses specific psychic or supernatural powers is known as a Siddhi.” The eight categories of Siddhis are as follows:
1. Anima: the ability to become asminute as an atom.
2. Mahima: the ability to expand infinitely.
3. Laghima: levitation, or the ability to float through the air.
4. Garima: the ability to reach everywhere.
5. Prakamya: a freedom of will, or the ability to overcome natural obstacles.
6. Isitva: the ability to create or control.
7. Vasitva: domination over the entire creation.
8. Kamavasayitva: the gift of wish fulfillment, or the ability to attain everything desired or to attain the stage of desirelessness.
They emphasize the practice of Kundalini Yoga to realize one’s potential divinity in all five planes of existence. They condemned institutional religion with its emphasis on temples and idol worship, ritualism, casteism and reliance upon scriptures. They teach that one’s own experience is the most reliable authoritative source of knowledge and wisdom and to acquire this one must turn within to the subtle dimensions of life through Yoga and meditation. Most of their writings go back 800 to 1600 years, as far back as the 2nd century A.D. Their teachings are known as “Siddhanta.” Anta means “final end.” Siddhanta means the final end, conclusion or goals of the Siddhas, the perfect masters. It is also derived from citta and anta meaning that it is the end of the thinking faculty, therefore this is the final conclusion reached at the end of thinking. While they existed all over India and even Tibet, the tradition to which we belong, and whose literature we have researched, translated and published since the 1960’s, They come from south India, and are known as “Tamil Kriya Yoga Siddhantha.” The writings of the Tamil Yoga Siddhas were in the form of poems, in the vernacular language of the people rather than Sanskrit which was known only to the top caste, the priestly Brahmins, who opposed them. Other Yogis may embrace other philosophies, such as Vedanta, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism or methods such as bhakti or hatha yoga. A Sadhu is a Hindu renunciant who has taken vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience.
The Yoga Siddhas are mystics, the Western term for a Yogi. But they are also much more. The word “mystic” is derived from the Greek word muein, which means to close the lips and eyes. However, these two outward indications of mystical experience only suggest the inner state of the mystic, wherein one perceives the oneness of everything, transcending the ordinary subject versus object duality of the ordinary mind. Furthermore, the term “mystic,” is generally limited to only the first stages of spiritual development, at least in Western literature. Einstein referred to the essence of mysticism as the finest thing we can experience.
When mystical communion with the spiritual dimension of life becomes facile, we may refer to the mystic as a “saint.” The ordinary egoistic perspective is replaced at least in part, by an awareness of the Presence of the Divine. Egoism is the habit of identifying with the body, its sensations, the emotions and the movements of the mind. As we let go of this false identification, the background, which is pure consciousness, comes the foreground.
The Yogi, or mystic, may still be bound by a need to make philosophical or theological distinctions until he begins to surrender his ego in the intellectual plane. A Christian mystic may refer to “my belief” or “my faith” and a Buddhist mystic may say “I think” or refer to other word symbols.
One becomes a sage in the intellectual plane of existence when one is able to enter a state of identification through samadhi (cogni t ive absorption) in communion with any subject one contemplates. In that state one can access any subject with intimate familiarity because one has transcended the subject/ object barrier. One is in a state of communion with the object.
The ego still lingers however, until the surrender encompasses all planes of existence. There is always the risk of a fall, and desire, aversion, clinging to life can still create suffering. As Saint Augustine put it: “Lord, help me to surrender, but not yet.” That is, part of our lower human nature, in particular the mental plane, the seat of fantasy and desires, and the vital plane, the seat of the emotions, resists the transformation which surrender entails. As the mystic’s surrender deepens still further and they embrace the mental plane, wherein lie the five senses, one becomes a Siddha, manifesting siddhis (divine powers) beginning with clairvoyance – the ability to see things at a distance in time or space, or clairaudience – the subtle sense of hearing, or clairsentience – the subtle sense of feeling. One may make prophecies, manifest the capacity to heal the sick and know the past of others by intuitive insight as one can enter into deep states of communion with the past, future or any aspect of an object upon which one concentrates.
A few rare Siddhas succeed in surrendering their ego at the level of the vital plane of existence. Then they become Mah Siddhas or great Siddhas, capable of manifesting siddhis or powers which involve nature itself. This may include materialization of objects, levitation, control of the weather, wish fulfillment and invisibility. While they have lived principally in India, Tibet, China and Southeast Asia, the Siddhas have traveled all over the world (The Yoga of the Eighteen Siddhas: An Anthology, pages 11-45). There are examples of many such Siddhas in the twentieth century: in Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, Miracles of Love: the story of Neem Karoli Baba, Living with Himalayan Masters, by Swami Rama, Maharaj: a biography of Shriman Tapasviji Maharaj, a Mahatma who lived for 185 years, by T.S. Anantha Murthy, and Sri Aurobindo: the Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem. I have described the above process of surrender and transformation in all five planes in Chapter 2 of my book The Wisdom of Jesus and the Yoga Siddhas. My first book, Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga Tradition explores many of their teachings and lives of the Siddhas.
For people who meditate regularly, what are the signs that they are on the right path?
The first sign is a growing sense of calm. Calmness is not an absence of thoughts, but a state of consciousness in which one is present with whatever thoughts, emotions or feelings arise. A Yoga sadhak’s first objective must be calmness, also known as “presence,” or “balance”. All of the practices of Yoga increase sattva and diminish rajas, agitation and dispersion, tamas, fatigue, and doubt. A Yogi seeks to be calmly active and actively calm.
The second sign begins to appear after calmness or presence develops. It is the state of consciousness known as the Witness. Patanjali refers to it as vairagya or detachment. It is the opposite of attachment. It is a pre-requisite for pure, unconditional love without attachment. It requires some effort to maintain it until, after much practice, it becomes effortless in more and more difficult or stressful situations in life.
The third sign begins to appear as a result of witnessing and detachment. It is the growing realization that “I am not the doer.” This grows as one purifies the subconscious mind of memories which are pleasant or unpleasant, or tendencies, known as vasanas, and habits known as samskaras. You recognize vasanas when someone or something “pushes your buttons” and your ego reacts with desire or fear in some way. By “letting go” of these reactions and choosing to respond only after establishing calmness, with words that are helpful, necessary and edifying, you weaken and eventually eliminate these old tendencies. By swadhya, or self study, which includes self observation, and the use of auto-suggestion and mantras, you can change your habits. Swadhya also includes the reading of sacred literature which can serve as a mirror in which you can recognize your higher, true Self, as distinct from your personality and the sum of your tendencies and habits.
The fourth sign begins to appear as a result of the purification of your tendencies and habits. It is the realization that “I am”. It is not “I am this or that limited experience, memory, name or form.” It is indescribable. Those who have realized the Self refer to it as satchidananda, Absolute Being or Presence (Sat), Absolute Consciousness (Chit) and Absolute Bliss (Ananda). One recognizes that life is a miracle and that one has the power to create. One becomes a cocreator with the Divine. The Divine inspires and graciously provides the guidance and the means to manifest his creation through oneself as an instrument.
Can one reach the higher stages of yoga if they are not reading works of literature such as the Bhagavad-gita or Patanjali’s Sutras?
It is possible, but as I indicated above, their study provides a “mirror” in which ones own higher Self is seen, if only for a glimpse. No amount of study will give you Selfrealization. Only the progressive establishment of samadhi within will do so. The Yoga Sutras provides a road map to samadhi, particularly through detachment, meditation and surrender. The Bhagavad Gita provides a road map to complete surrender, particularly through the cultivation of bhakti, or devotion. Without regular reference to them, one can easily become lost or distracted, particularly in the first years of practice when negative tendencies and habits are very strong. They serve as reminders or guides, just as a road map does to a driver who is navigating the streets of a city.
Being a student of yoga, what intrinsic qualities can the student find from a true guru?
The word guru is much misunderstood. It is not a person. It refers to the guru tattva, or principle by which Truth is revealed. This principle may be experienced whenever Truth, Beauty, Love, Wisdom or the Divine is experienced, for example, when one feels very moved when viewing a sunrise, or sunset; or when one reads words of wisdom which inspire or bring a sublime or uplifting experience. Another example may when one experiences the innocence or purity of the soul when looking into the eyes of a baby. When the guru tattva expresses itself consistently through an individual person, there is a tendency to refer to that person as a guru. But it is not the person that is the guru. It is what is coming through that person, the truth, beauty, love, purity and soul. These are the qualities that one can find in a true guru. They may or may not communicate knowledge.
The word guru is derived from the word gunas. The word gunas refers to the three forces or qualities expressed in Nature: rajas, tamas and sattva. The guru is one who teaches you how to transcend these three forces, and to become free of their influence. Yogis see the world as a constant play of these forces. Kailvalya, or absolute freedom from the influence of the gunas is the final goal expressed in the final chapter of the Yoga Sutras, known as Kaivalya Pada. As Ramana Maharshi described this state, when someone asked him to describe his state of enlightenment, he replied “Now, nothing can disturb me anymore.”
Is being a vegetarian important to progress in one’s spiritual path? Does drinking coffee or tea affect one’s spiritual experience and progress?
Being a vegetarian is important. Meditation will be easier. Tamas will be less. Non vegetarian food requires four times as much time to digest as vegetarian food. Whenever one is digesting, tamas, or fatigue increases. Your best meditations will be when you are fasting, for example, before breakfast because the organs of digestion will not be diverting so much blood away from the brain. The caffeine in coffee and tea increases the guna of rajas and therefore it may one cause one to feel more active. If taken in excess this brings feelings of agitation, nervousness and mental dispersion. Meditation may become more difficult. A diet which will balance your personal constitution, such as on ayurvedic, or macrobiotic diet, will have as its purpose the establishment of sattva, or calmness. To determine this, seek the advice of an ayurvedic consultant who can determine your constitution through the reading of your pulse.
What practices or elements of yoga are missing in the modern yoga world today? Is the practice of asanas, pranayamas, mudras, bandhas and kriyas combined with vegetarian diet enough to experience the higher states of yoga?
Today, the word “Yoga” has become a homograph, a word with multiple meanings. For most people today, the word “Yoga” refers to an exercise regime which involves stretching whose goal is weight loss, health and fitness and the management of stress. Therefore, if these are your goals, there is nothing missing!
Even if your goal is to experience something spiritual, as with any experience, it will end; it will not last until you overcome the fundamental limitations of human nature, egoism and its manifestations, including pride, anger, desire, aversion and fear.
However, if your goal includes the spiritual dimension, or the transformation of your human nature and the perfection of your nature into one that is Divine in all the five planes of existence, then there is much that is missing. Babaji’s Kriya Yoga is a progressive series of 144 kriyas which have these as their goals. It also provides the road map to reach this goal, through the teachings of the Siddhas, Siddhanta and their support and guidance. Through the grace of the living fountain head of Kriya Yoga, Satguru Kriya Babaji Nagaraj, initiates learn to communicate.
If one wants to get initiated in the Kriya Yoga tradition, what is the best way to start? Are there any programs coming up in Hong Kong or other parts of Asia?
Interested persons may enroll in the 1st initiation seminar which will be conducted by Acharyas Siddhananda Sita on February 3rd and 4th, 2018 at the Island Club No.23,Tai Long Village, Lantau Island. There will be with a free introductory lecture on Friday, February 2nd.
Persons who attend the 1st initiation seminar are also eligible to enroll in the 2nd initiation seminar on February 5 and 6 at the same location. If you have any questions about participation in these seminars please feel free to contact Yan via whatsapp (+8613918340252) or Email: kriya.anjani@outlook. com.
If you have questions about the contents of the seminar contact firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about Siddhantha, Babaji’s Kriya Yoga, my publications or other articles, visit our website: