If You Have to Struggle, Then – for Heaven’s Sake – Prevail.

{Photo credit: James Abro}


When I was in India, in 2007, and shortly after returning, I had a couple of seemingly diametrically opposed experiences that reinforced the following for me: although on some rarefied but real level of human existence, there is really no reason to struggle, but if and when we have to struggle, we need to prevail.

So please allow me to set the stage for this excursion into the paradoxical realm of co-existence between struggle and no struggle.

In 2007, I travelled to India in order to be part of a Kripalu lineage tour. After a brief stay in Mumbai, we — Yogi Amrit Desai, a small entourage, and me — traveled together to various places in India that were of seminal importance to Yogi Desai’s spiritual  development and subsequent founding of Kripalu Yoga.

The second leg of our journey took us to the village of Malav, which was on the itinerary because it is where Swami Kripalvanandji, the namesake of Kripalu Yoga, performed his Kundalini Yoga sadhana and offered darshans. He passed away two decades earlier and there was now a temple being raised over his entombed remains. The temple, though still under construction, was well on its way to becoming a major sacred site and place for spiritual pilgrimage in India.

Why? What energy was drawing people there?

In addition to housing the remains of someone considered to be a rare Kundalini Yoga Master and saint in India, the temple was also home to an active spiritual community, or ashram,  that was being presided over by one of Swami Kripalvanandji’s closest disciples, and the only disciple who had followed his  guru’s intensive Yoga sadhana: in 1981, following Shri Kripalvanandji’s Maha Samadhi,  Swami Ashutosh Muni went into silence and performed Kundalini Yoga sadhana until he achieved  mastery of the practice in 2005.

When we met him in 2007, he was talking again. When he spoke about his sadhana, he told us, “When I told Bapuji (Swami Kripalvanandji) that I wanted to practice the same sadhana as he did, he replied, ‘My son, it would be easier for you to swallow all of the water in the two great oceans.’” (more on this shortly)

Among other things, the ashram, under the direction of Swami Ashutosh Muni, sponsored an in-house elementary and secondary school. Children in the local villages generally did not go to school past an age when they were physic ally able to do household chores or earn a meager income for their families.

The temple not only provided the children with free schooling, but also provided them with school uniforms, food, and transportation from their villages. In addition, any families that needed financial compensation for the loss of their child’s income were provided with it.  And if a child showed college-potential, the ashram arranged for their matriculation and paid the tuition fees.

Swami Ashutosh Muni was also a medical doctor. The ashram, therefore, also opened and sponsored several nearby free health clinics and staffed them with trained doctors.

The most striking thing about the ashram’s accomplishments is that they are being overseen by Swami Ashutosh Muni, who is  an avowed  sanyasin, or renunciate monk. How then can someone who has renounced worldly possessions, including money, finance the construction of a lavish temple, and fund schools and health clinics? For me, it was an occult phenomenon and I welcomed the opportunity to actually see and experience one — rather than just hearing or reading about them.

After we settled into our dormitory-styled accommodations in the ashram, our lineage tour guide offered us the following brief and simple instructions. ‘Drop any intentions or expectations you have for what you want to experience during this trip to India. Trust that whatever you are looking for will come to you. Relax, don’t do anything, just let it happen.’  She was not reading from a script; she’d been here before. You could see it in her soft, understated grin.

I had been working on writing a book about Yogi Amrit Desai and Kripalu Yoga for more than two decades. When I say working on, I do not mean that it was something I literally worked on every day. There was a book in me on the subject that was going to come out sometime, I just was not sure when (or how).

The next day, the others in my group decided to take a three or four-mile hike into the nearest local village. I chose to remain in the ashram because, in order to finance my trip, I was line- and content-editing a couple of books by Indian scholars who were railing against what they felt was an assault upon the ancient Indian Sacred by atheistic Western intellectuals and fervent Judeo-Christian supremacists (talk about a paradox).

There was an open-air courtyard set between the ashram dormitories and the temple, so I sat down at a table with an umbrella overhead to deflect the intense sunlight and set up shop with my laptop computer. From where I sat, I could hear, but not see, the distinctive high-pitched sounds of young schoolchildren playing happily, and just take in visually the verdant landscape surrounding the temple, with its abundance of bright wildflowers and leisurely meandering butterflies. I would have been content to just sit gazing out over the tops of trees at this whole new world I was about to discover and explore.

In that moment, I thought of following the others into town but, alas, I knew I would have bills waiting for me when I got back home. And there is nothing I like less in life than playing cat and mouse with bill-collectors. If I could continue to make myself work a few hours a day, I would keep from falling behind. I softly turned my focus to the text I was editing.

Most Indians do not think in English, in spite of their proficiency in spoken and written English. That makes editing their work for American publishers technically challenging, and at the same time, mentally and psychologically rewarding and expansive. I was enjoying working on the books; and successful Indian writers published in the United States pay very well for good editing.

After an hour or so, I finished editing what would usually take me two or three hours to do. “God,” I remembered thinking to myself, “it is so easy, so effortless to concentrate here.”

I felt someone approaching my table before I saw her standing next to it. It was Ma Ritambhara Prajna, surrounded by a few attendants, one of whom held an umbrella over her head while another wafted a fan. All of them stood silently. My senses piqued at the sweet fragrance and cool mentholated breeze that accompanied them.

Ma Ritambhara Prajna was Swami Ashutosh Muni’s closest assistant, guide, protector — her role and relation to him was ambiguous, but her presence was not. When I did a little research later, I found out that she was a liberated woman ahead of her time — an artist and adventurist who had traveled the world until she came upon Swami Ashutosh Muni. Thereafter, she dedicated her life, in her own way, to the continuation of the Kripalu lineage and its now worldwide mission.

She gazed down at my computer screen and pointed to it. “What are you working on?” she asked directly.

I did my best to make what I was working on sound interesting, but she displayed disinterest, at best, in hearing about cross-cultural squabbling. She dismissed what I was saying and asked more pointedly, “What else are you working on?”

Even though I really had nothing to hide — Yogi Desai already knew that I was writing a book about him and Kripalu — I could not help but feel like a double-agent spy being outed. I also could not help feeling that if was futile to even try to hide or be coy about anything with this person.

“I’m writing The Kripalu Story.”

“Is that right?” I watched her bosom heave forward on her next breath as she moved closer. “Can I see it?”

I did not have a printed copy of the book with me, but I did have a digital copy on a CD. I showed it to her in its glass case. She seemed nonplussed as she looked at it and me.

I was aware that whatever she wanted to see also meant that Swami Ashutosh Muni would see it. And I knew that Swami Ashutosh Muni was not only enamored of modern technology, but adept at it. (He is the only swami I have ever seen use PowerPoint during a discourse.) I handed it to her saying, “Shri Muniji will know what to do with it, how to read it on there.”

She took it and handed it to one of her attendants. “Very well then; we’ll get back to you.”

In her loose-fitting floral sari, she seemed to move away from me without moving her legs.

As I watched her go, the lineage tour guide’s words coursed through my mind:

“Trust that whatever you are looking for will come to you. Relax, don’t do anything, just let it happen.”

I knew immediately that what I needed to kickstart my project, and perhaps finally complete by book on Kripalu, would be some feedback from Swami Ashutosh Muni.

However, the way in which I would receive it would require me to, once again, ‘Drop my intentions or expectations… Trust that whatever I am looking for will come to me… Relax, don’t do anything, just let it happen…’


Now I am aware that the words Kundalini Yoga and the title of Kundalini Yoga Master get bandied about quite liberally in the West these days. But most true yoga adepts recognize that mastery of Kundalini Yoga takes place extremely rarely, perhaps four or five individuals in every generation of humans — that is equivalent to one in a few million or billion.

Swami Ashutosh Muni had performed the most arduous part of his sadhana:  living in seclusion and silence while taking on ever instinct, energy block, ego limitation and whatever else a yogi goes through when they literary ‘pass through the fire’ in order to be reborn as a fresh new human being. But the stages of the sadhana do not actually end until Maha Samadhi.

Here are a few descriptions of Kundalini from my book, An American Yoga: The Kripalu Story.

“Kundalini is the inner spiritualizing energy that takes us to the experience of non-causal ecstasy, joy, peace, love and God-awareness. Kundalini is the Grace of God.” ~ Gabriel Cousin

“A new center, presently dormant in the average man or woman, has to be activated to a more powerful stream of psychic energy, which must stream forth to the head from the base of the spine to allow human consciousness to transcend human limits. This is the final phase of the present evolutionary impulse in man.” ~ Gopi Krishna

“When you succeed in awakening the Kundalini, so that it starts to move out of its potentiality, you necessarily start a world that is totally different from our world. It is the world of eternity.” ~ Carl Jung

A person like Swami Ashutosh Muni, who is in the process of mastering Kundalini Yoga sadhana, is literally someone pushing the envelope of human intelligence, liberation and enlightenment — he is experiencing in this lifetime what I believe evolution has in store for the rest of us in the future, assuming we do not self-destruct en masse before then.

So the Kundalini Yogi has two mandates: to push out ahead of the pack, and try to bring as many people forward as (s)he can. (S)he is building a modern metaphorical Noah’s Ark.

So how does it actually feel when you meet a Kundalini Yoga Master? It depends.

I would dare say, because I believe it to be so, that if you were to plop a Kundalini Yoga Master down in the general population (this is hypothetical, because no true Kundalini Yoga Master would ever let this happen), you’d have a sharp increase in your rates of murder, rape and suicide.

Why? Because Kundalini is pure, unadulterated life-force energy. And what do humans in general, at this stage in our evolution, most commonly use the life force for? Dominating others (even if it means killing them), sexual reproduction (even if it is by force), and all sorts of self-destructive behavior (including suicide).

But let us assume that you are someone who finds yourself in a place like the temple of Malav, that you have practiced some amount of spiritual discipline, and that you have developed at least a modicum of distance between your life force and your base urges. Then the effects are more subtle: you will feel your posture align effortlessly, your breathing will soften and deepen, and the usual state of your mind, emotions and psyche will transform.

Instructions such as ‘Relax and just trust that Life will bring you what you are truly looking for’ will no longer seem like general advice or unattainable aphorisms, but a simple description of the way Life is and works.

Swami Ashutosh Muni and I never talked directly about the book I was writing, but from that moment on, the energetic exchange that took place between us made it almost too uncomfortable for me to stay. It felt as if I was being psychically X-rayed, or run through some high-powered lie detector.

He was energetically challenging my integrity and examining my motives for writing the book. I welcomed and understood the challenge:  it was his lineage and life-work that I was writing about. I felt confident that my integrity had already been tested, and I’d passed.

A literary agent who read a draft of my book assured me he could secure a substantial advance for me if I would be willing to focus the book more on the scandal that led to Yogi Desai’s resignation as the Director of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Even though I was broke at the time, I did not seriously consider doing it.

As far as my motivation for writing the book goes, that was personal, and as far as I was concerned, it was none of his, or anyone else’s, business.

In our final darshan with Swami Ashutosh Muni, that took place outside of the Temple of Kayavarohan, when I went before him to receive a blessing, he broke into laughter and literally showered me with roses.

I returned home and within a year finished writing the Kripalu Story, and then published it a year later without any editorial revisions.

During the same period of time, after experiencing such an exquisite taste of life without struggle, I had to battle personally, and in the courts, to keep my terminally ill mother from being placed in a nursing home. There was really no need for this struggle, but I took it on and prevailed.

Why does the Yogi have to struggle and literally go through psychic walls of fire in order to feel liberated and freed? I do not know, but when they do and prevail, we all benefit from it.
The ultimate struggle, I feel, is for all of us to get to a state where we recognize ourselves as children of God and live accordingly.

Let us prevail!

“Struggle guides everyone’s life. Struggle leads human beings from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, and from death to immortality. Struggle is everyone’s friend. It is proper to welcome struggle. Its arrival is always auspicious. It is such a noble door that it never asks the recipient to come to it. It goes to the door of the individual, gives whatever it wants to give, gives it privately, and walks away silently. Struggle is a very skillful sculptor. It creates a very beautiful idol from an ugly rock. It changes the sub-human into an ideal human being and transforms an ordinary human being into a deva (human deity) who is respected by the whole world. Struggle is a subtle sculptor who shapes the life of every great master of the world into a unique and unparalleled work of art.” ~ Swami Kripalvanandji on Struggle (also found in my book)


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James Abro
James Abro is the author of six novels, a few books and a couple of plays. His latest book, An Odyssey in the Great American Safety Net, is a personal memoir of homelessness and recovery. Mr. Abro is on a mission to end homelessness in the community where he lives. He is also a regular contributor to The Center for American Progress blog Talk Poverty, and The Nation magazine.
James Abro
James Abro