The Teaching Stories of Swami Kripalu
Swami Kripalu was a renowned master of kundalini yoga in India. Even though he maintained the most rigorous spiritual discipline for himself (including 12 years spent in complete silence), he was fond of telling unforgettable, often funny and heartwarming stories as a way of making his teachings relevant to everyday life.
In 1977, Swami Kripalu surprised thousands of devoted Indian followers by accepting an invitation to visit America. He was so struck by the spiritual openness of the American youth he met that he stayed more than 3 years. He deviated from his life of silence to deliver a series of teachings and stories, which devotee and author John Mundahl has compiled and edited into From the Heart of the Lotus: The Teaching Stories of Swami Kripalu (2008, Monkfish Publishing), excerpted here with permission. These stories contain the essence of his deepest spiritual teachings which still serve today as the foundation to yoga and spiritual life at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, MA.
Story #12. June 21, 1977
Compassion is the religion of the Lord, the religion of love, and the religion of everyone. The brother of compassion is service, not obligation, and service is selfless. The daughter of non-violence is compassion. The daughter of violence is cruelty. The pain of others doesn’t touch everyone. Those touched by the pain of others are God’s messengers because God can comfort his suffering children through them.
The Old Master Whips The Young Prince
Once there was an old acharya, an old spiritual teacher. He was an exceptional saint and an exceptional teacher. He served the king of that area and the king respected him so much that he never disobeyed an order from this saint, even though he himself was the king.
The king had one son.
One day the king called the old master to his side and said, “I’m getting old. The prince is ready to sit upon the throne. I’d like to have a coronation ceremony. Please plan this in keeping with the scriptures.”
The acharya planned the ceremony with the help of others in the court, and when the festive day arrived, everyone in the kingdom celebrated. That morning the king and queen inspected the special clothes that the prince was to wear, along with the jewelry and ornaments.
“Everything is fine,” the king said. “Bathe and dress the prince now for the ceremony.”
But when the prince was only half dressed, he received a message from the acharya. The message said come at once to see me.
The prince was surprised. What could be so important that his teacher would call him now? The prince left immediately because he, too, never disobeyed an order from this great saint. Maybe Guruji wants to tell me something special, the young prince thought, since this is such an important day in my life.
The prince entered the acharya’s room and bowed to him. Immediately the acharya took a whip off the wall and whipped him hard on his bare back! Then he did it four more times! He whipped him so hard there were marks and blood on his back. The prince screamed with pain!
“Why is Guruji punishing me?” He asked himself. “Normally Guruji is gentle and explains everything to me! Today he’s punishing me severely and yet saying nothing! I must have made some mistake!”
When the beating was over, the young prince stood up and looked into the face of his teacher. The old acharya’s face was peaceful, totally balanced and calm, and full of compassion for the young prince.
The attendants rushed out to tell the king and soon the king and queen and many others arrived. Here it was, such a happy day, full of music and dancing, and yet the prince was being beaten? No one could understand this.
The prince left the room and everyone saw the marks and blood on his back. They saw the pain and hurt on his face and the tears in his eyes. They knew he had an innocent nature, yet no one dared say a word, not even the king. The old acharya was loved and respected so much that no one ever doubted the wisdom of his actions.
Everyone returned inside the palace and the great coronation ceremony continued. By the end of the day, the young prince had become the new king.
“Maharaja,” the old acharya said to the young prince the next day. “Now you’re the king, so I’ll call you Maharaja. Now you must serve as final judge on all matters in the kingdom. So I ask you to administer justice to me for the harsh beating I gave you yesterday.”
The young king became silent.
“Why did you punish me?” he asked softly.
“I saw the need for it,” the old acharya said.
“Did I commit some wrong?” the young king asked. “Did I make a mistake?”
“No, you did nothing wrong,” the old acharya said.
“Then why did you punish me?” The young king asked.
“To teach you a lesson,” the old acharya said.
“What is the lesson?” The young king asked.
“You were born into the family of a king. You were raised with great love. You have never experienced physical punishment. Now you’re the king and you must pass judgment on others. I wanted you to know the pain of physical punishment so that you don’t rule too harshly. You must punish people with understanding.”
The young king stood up and bowed to his teacher.
“Guruji,” he said softly. “I know the horrible pain of the whip now and I won’t be unjust to anyone.”
“May you rule with compassion,” the old acharya said, and then he left the room.
Story #37. July 16, 1977
Many years ago when I was sitting in meditation, I chanted this same Ram dhun that I chanted for you this morning. The tune emerged automatically from within. I didn’t try to chant it or arrange the words or the tune. It just came spontaneously from within. This is called “anahat nad,” or spontaneous sound. This happens in yoga sadhana when the prana and apana both begin to rise up. When they join together and work in the “visuddha” chakra, or throat chakra, sound is produced. The yogi spontaneously chants Om, Ram, and the immortal mantras such as the Gayatri and Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya, your mantra. These are divine sounds to the yogi and so the yogi says these sounds are from God. When we use sound willfully to create music we can enchant our mind and make it one pointed. It’s useful then as a tool for meditation. We can even use sound as a friend in a difficult situation, which reminds me of a funny story.
The Woman and the Truck Driver
Once a young sister was driving on a narrow mountain road. The road was so narrow that there was only one lane. She was all alone. It was night time, very dark, and her car broke down.
“Now what will I do?” she said. “There’s no one around to help me.”
She tried fixing her car, but couldn’t. So she got back in her car to rest until help came.
It was late and she was tired so she fell asleep.
Eventually a truck arrived. The driver saw the car blocking his way and someone sleeping and he became angry. There was no way he could get around the car because the road was too narrow, so he honked his horn. Then in anger he kept honking it again and again.
The sister woke up and now she was scared. She was all alone on a mountain road and in a bad situation. A strange man was angry at her, honking his horn and wanting her to move, yet she couldn’t move her car.
Getting up her courage, the young sister opened her car door and approached the truck driver.
“Dear brother,” she said with a smiling face. “Would you please help me? I’m having car trouble. I’ve tried, but I don’t know what’s wrong with my car. I’m sorry I’m in your way.”
Listening to her kind words and seeing her desperate situation, the truck driver climbed down and agreed to help.
“Thank you,” she said, climbing into his truck. “You keep trying to repair my car and I’ll keep honking.”
They both laughed and all the tension in the situation ended. The kind truck driver fixed her car and they both continued on their way.
Story #39 5/22/77
The Man Who Was Going to America
Once there was a well-known saint in India named Swami Ram Tirtha. He lived during the time of Swami Vivikananda. He was truly a non-attached mahatma. He decided to visit America, but before he left India, a man came up to him and asked,
“Are you really going to America?” “Yes,” he said. “Please write to me and tell me when you’re returning, as I would like to see you then.” “That’s fine,” Swami Ram Tirtha said. Swami Ram Tirtha left for America, just as he had planned, and stayed a long time and created many devotees. When he returned to India, the same man found him.
“You’re back from America now?” the man asked.
“Yes,” Swami Ram Tirtha said.
“I’m also thinking of going to the America,” the man said. “How expensive is it?”
“There’s no expense at all,” Swami Ram Tirtha said.
“But I’m not a swami like you,” the man said. “No one will give me food, money, and passage. How can I go to America without money?”
“Brother,” Swami Ram Tirtha said. “You’re just thinking about going to America, so there’s no expense involved. The expense comes only when you go there.”
It’s the same on the spiritual path. As long as we only think about going to God, there’s no expense involved. The expense comes only when we decide to make the journey.
Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita to control the mind and to control the wind is the same. Extraordinary seekers understand the importance of mental steadiness. They take immediate steps to calm their minds before they enter their meditation room.
The Man Who Rescued a Dog
Once upon a time during the monsoon season a well-known, dignified gentleman set out for his morning walk. He happened upon a dog stuck in the thick mud of a ditch. The dog was unable to free itself. The man paused, studied the painful situation, and then jumped into the muddy ditch without giving a thought for his fine, clean clothes.
The frightened dog was struggling violently to extricate itself. Its eyes were rolling wildly with terror. As the man approached, the dog bared its teeth, snarled and snapped. When the man pulled on the animal to free it, the dog bit the man’s hand.
The man’s only thought, however, was to free the dog. There was no anger in his mind. In spite of the pain in his hand he continued to tug. Finally after great effort, he freed the dog from the mud.
When the man climbed out of the ditch, his entire body and clothes were soaked with mud. He walked home casually, not the least bit embarrassed to be in public in such a dirty condition.
When his friends heard about the rescue they were impressed.
“That was a wonderful thing you did,” they said. “You saved that poor animal. We respect you for what you did.”
“No,” the man said, shrugging off the compliment. “I don’t deserve such praise. I didn’t rescue the dog for the reasons you think. I actually did it for me. When I saw the dog suffering in the ditch, I was so heartbroken that I rescued him just to sooth my troubled mind. I was merely helping myself. Had I returned home without rescuing the dog, I would have felt guilty for months. Saving the dog was a greater favor to myself than the animal.”
Before we enter our meditation room, we should attend to our thoughts first. Are we angry at someone? Are we hurt by something? Do we need to take care of something? The music of the Lord can’t be heard on a radio full of static.
Story #102 August 4th, 1977
How to Chant OM
Before you chant OM, you must relax and withdraw the energy, the outgoing energy, and focus it within. Then take a long, deep breath and chant the sound of OM.
Continue to say OM as long as you can with one breath. Then experience the vibrations that are generated within your body and mind.
Start another OM and let your mind dissolve in the sound. Then sit still and experience the vibrations generated within your body and mind again.
If you continue doing this with a peaceful, steady mind, you will experience peace, joy, and bliss.
OM is the king mantra; all the other mantras are included in it.
Reprinted by permission of Monkfish Book Publishing Company from From the Heart of the Lotus: The Teaching Stories of Swami Kripalu, as spontaneously translated by Yogi Amrit Desai, edited by John Mundahl, foreword by Rick Faulds, preface by Yogi Amrit Desai. www.monkfishpublishing.com. The unedited archival materials underlying this book are copyright Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health and used by permission.
John Mundahl has been a yoga teacher and practitioner for 32 years. He was a resident at the original Kripalu Yoga Ashram in Sumneytown, Pennsylvania from 1977-1981, the four years of Swami Kripalu’s remarkable stay in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.