I feel very blessed by my sadhana. My sadhana is my wife. She stands by me and supports me, and I see she is safe and provided for as well.
Sadhana is as private as what happens in your bedroom and as public as the sky. Sadhana is very personal because nobody can know what is going on with you and your sadhana. Nobody should brag about their sadhana either. Sadhana is a grace one is lucky to have and it can leave you just as easily. Sadhana is public as the sky because it shows itself in every aspect of your life. A consistent sadhana shows itself as a consistent and coherent life. An energetic sadhana manifests itself as a life filled with vitality. No one can hide the radiant effects of a good sadhana, for a good sadhana gives a good life. Your sadhana is reflected in your aura and your aura is your radiant projection, your magnetism, the sum total of who and what you are on this blessed Earth.
I was first offered to participate in sadhana after a few classes with my yoga teacher, Margaret Kaur, who later became “Guru Raj Kaur.” She showed me the local ashram and told me what they did there. Six months later, I was back there with my rent money. I was eighteen years old. It was 1972.
The rules for living in Guru Ram Das Ashram in Toronto at that time were that I was to rise and do my sadhana each day, teach one yoga class a week, and write Yogi Bhajan as my spiritual teacher once a month. We all came together each day at four a.m. for vigorous chanting and yoga, but I remember that one morning everybody was very tired and the energy was very low, so I went for a walk outside while they slumbered. I was told that was not the way of sadhana.
One time, I awoke with food poisoning. I could not get out of bed. The ashram head reminded after sadhana me that the rule was if you missed three days, you moved out.
I consider myself very fortunate. For a long time, Toronto was a great place to be for its morning sadhana and community. People would move from other cities, even in the U.S. to be a part of the energy. From ten, we grew to twenty, from twenty to thirty. Some days, there were forty people coming to sadhana. About half lived in our big ashram building on Palmerston Boulevard. The others would come from Guru Nanak Nivas and a half dozen other locations in the neighbourhood.
We had live music every morning for many years, thanks to our guitarists. We usually had two or three able musicians who led our chanting, for an hour and a half each day. Then we would have Gurudwara, when the harmoniums would come out and we would sing for another twenty minutes or half hour. It was blissful.
Sadhana started with wake up and many mornings I would have the job of going from door to door in the ashram, first gently knocking and listening for a reply, then for some people a second round with a little conversation to be sure they were awake, and sometimes an invigorating foot massage just to make sure. Eventually, everybody would be up in the sadhana room. We didn’t start till everyone was there.
Things started to get a little hairy around 1983 when the head of the ashram began to consistently turn up five, ten, fifteen minutes late, with everyone waiting. He was a charming, charismatic man. Otherwise, he would not have been able to get away it. But one morning, at about five minutes after, I started the Japjee recitation without him. He wasn’t so charming any more after that.
A few years of quiet mayhem ensued. Soon, the head of the ashram was saying that a constant sadhana was for fanatics only, a pointed reference to myself. Sadhana attendance was no longer required. The head of the ashram then began to question the authority of Yogi Bhajan and soon after that he was gone.
Without the glue of sadhana and all that great music to keep everybody together, the community slowly came unhinged. The members, friends and lovers, began to move out, some of them far away. As sadhana attendance collapsed, egotism emerged, ambitions to greatness, ambitions to dominance, all foolish and foolhardy.
What to Do When You Have to Work All Night For a few years, I found myself in a situation where the only work I was able to find to support myself was working all night. That period gave me a great appreciation for morning sadhana and the blessing of rising bright and early. I prayed to be able to return to a regular life. In the meantime, I experimented with my own practice. Usually I was too tired to exercise and meditate after work, so I would do after waking during the day.
My Kick in the Behind My impetus for getting serious and having a more wakeful and empowering sadhana came in 1983 when Yogi Bhajan gave me the job of writing his biography. After a bit of reflection, I realized that in order to adequately represent the life of someone who lived at such a majestic height, I would have to aspire toward that height myself. The only way was through sadhana.
Experimenting with No Sadhana It is not recommended to go without sadhana, but at one stage in my life I wanted to test the reality of a certain relationship I was in. I knew Yogi Bhajan had taught that a woman should be alert to their husband’s sadhana. Once the sadhana slips, next the turban slips, then the relationship can slip. As an experiment to see what would happen, I went forty days without sadhana. My significant other did not budge. She had not been doing sadhana for some time. I resumed my sadhana and after a short time, initiated our separation.
“If You Want to Learn Something…” Yogi Bhajan once advised that if we want to learn something we should read about it, if we should like to understand it more deeply we ought to write about it, and if we want to actually master it, we should teach it. In the course of researching Yogi Bhajan’s talks to write his biography, I saw how he emphasized the importance of sadhana using many different rationales and formulations. In his last years, I do not remember a single lecture without a mention of sadhana. It was like a word from his sponsor. In 1995, I wrote and sent a book on sadhana to New Mexico for approval. It must have got lost somewhere. God willing, I will publish a version of it one day.
Rotating Sadhana In some communities there is a practice of rotating sadhana, where different people supposedly take turns facilitating the sadhana on different mornings of the week. In my experience, it is a foolish practice. Sometimes the only person who turns up is the so-called “leader” and then they sleep in or make themselves unavailable the other days of the week. The best system I have seen is when the best sadhu in the community, or at least the one most dedicated to group sadhana comes and facilites the activity every morning, while delegating various responsibilities to others who might come on a rotating schedule. This is a responsible system. Rotating sadhana amounts to collective irresponsibility.
Sadhana, Aradhana, Prabhoopatee Rishi Patanjali, the sage who wrote the Yoga Sutras many hundreds of years ago described the three pillars of Yoga practice as tapas, meaning embracing hardship as a form of purification; svadhyaya self-observation; and ishvarapranidhanani self-dedication to God. Today we say “sadhana aradhana prabhoopatee.” It is a classical formulation for self-fulfilment in different words.
Rise and Shine! The best way to wake up for sadhana is without an alarm. We have the power in us to rise bright and early with a smile. Just go to bed with an attitude of deep desire and see what happens. No deep desire? Pray for it.
Graduating the Sadhu In my yoga classes, I emphasize the importance of developing a personal practice. It is matter of self-esteem and self-investment. When I hear that they have started to practice on their own, I consider them self-initated and feel most of my job is done.
Giving Back I was rotated out of our community sadhana schedule a few years ago. Since then, I have practiced mostly by myself. However, because I still love doing sadhana with others, I have organized a monthly sadhana with live music that I really enjoy coming to. Everything, including the Japjee Saahib recitation, everybody participates in. We usually have a few people come who are not fluent in Gurmukhee, so we divide everybody in two and after reading the Mool Mantra together, we read the verses, alternately in English, then in Gurmukhee. Say if the Gurmukhee group reads the first verse “Sochai soch…” in Gurmukhee, then the English readers do the second one “As ordained by that Order…” in English.
Sadhana Buddy Having a sadhana buddy is the most blissful, wonderful thing that can happen to a person. A sadhana buddy is like an angel, a direct blessing from God and Guru. Together, you dedicate to a sadhana of mutual elevation and dedication. If you have a sadhana buddy for a time, the memory of it will stay with you forever, but life being a contant flux, sometimes you have to be your own sadhana buddy.