Coming from a family that valued both self-discipline and spontaneity, I felt completely at home when I first came to the Siddha Yoga path. After I received shaktipat initiation from Baba Muktananda, what I learned from him was a natural progression from what I had grown up with. As I continued to pursue Siddha Yoga sadhana, one of the scriptures of India that Baba asked me to read was the Yoga Vasishtha. The translation of this scripture from the original Sanskrit is a lengthy work of seven volumes.
The importance of self-effort, or right action in sadhana, is one of the central themes running through the Yoga Vasishtha. In this scripture, the sage Vasishtha makes use of vivid imagery in order to instruct his disciple, the young Lord Rama, on the value of right action in the present moment. One of those images that has lodged in my mind is that of two battling rams fighting each other. Naturally, the stronger one will overcome the weaker one. The sage Vasishtha explains that it’s the same with the self-effort we make versus what seems to be our destiny, that is, the old impressions from our past karmas. Which will win out? It depends entirely on us. Which one are we going to throw our energy behind? If we sit back and do nothing, considering that we’re victims of the past, what we’re actually doing is giving our support to the ram that represents our least desirable tendencies, and he’ll be the victor. However, if we decide to make a commitment to sadhana and put forth the right self-effort in the present moment, then we’re supporting the ram that represents the most beneficial and uplifting power, and that one will be the victor.
Right self-effort is described in the Shiva Sutra by the aphorism prayatnah-sadhakah: “A seeker is one who makes an effort.”1 Here prayatna, “effort,” means the diligent and persevering actions that lead to the knowledge of our divine Self. When we make this kind of effort, it will bring about freedom from limitations and the experience of the Truth.
Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I became familiar with several Native American cultures. Once I heard the following story, which is an ancient parable from the Cherokee tradition:
One evening, an elderly Cherokee warrior told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside everyone. The elder said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves that live inside us all. One is the negative tendencies: anger, envy, jealousy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, and ego. The other is the positive tendencies: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”
The grandson thought about this for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old man simply replied, “The one you feed.”
The image of the two wolves fighting within us—like the two rams from the Yoga Vasishtha—serves as a metaphor for our inner sense of conflict. The wolf of negative tendencies is fighting to the death with the wolf of positive tendencies. This battle rages inside each one of us. These two parables serve as a powerful reminder of the battle that every human being must face. Whether our battle is between anger and peace or between resentment and forgiveness, it’s important that we consciously feed the values that matter most to us.
When we do the Siddha Yoga practices, for example, we are feeding the right self-effort. The Siddha Yoga practices are brimming with the power of divine shakti. Once Kundalini Shakti is awakened through the Guru’s grace, as we sit to meditate, this energy pulls our awareness inside to deeper and subtler levels of our being. It is here that we experience the awesome presence and flow of divine power within us. It is here that we come to know the great love and peace and wisdom we’ve always been seeking. This is the Self that we always strive to remain aware of. We want the beauty of this state to be reflected in all of our actions. And the purpose of Siddha Yoga sadhana is to enable us to do just that.
I want to emphasize the fact that self-effort in sadhana is not strenuous; rather, it is natural to our being, and it is deeply rewarding. In fact, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda has often encouraged Siddha Yogis to select one practice to immerse themselves in for a given period of time so as to fully experience its rasa. I cherish all the Siddha Yoga practices, and at various points in my life, I have focused on different practices. My favorite practice, however, has always been meditation, and I’ve been diligent about my daily practice of meditation over the past fifty years. For example, I’ve always made the effort of going to bed early so I can get up early and meditate during the brahma-muhurta, the “time dedicated to the Absolute,” the hours between three and six o’clock in the morning. This is a time when nature is hushed, silent. In this tranquil atmosphere, I find that it is very easeful to glide into meditation and experience the profound silence and peace within me.
One of the lessons on self-effort that I learned early on in my sadhana is the necessity of being flexible. Particularly when I was traveling on Siddha Yoga Teaching Visits, my meditation hours fluctuated according to my schedule. But no matter what was going on, I continued to make the effort to take time for meditation because I treasure this practice, and I found that it helped me to become anchored within myself. I saw the considerable difference between the seva I offered after meditating, and the seva I offered after not meditating. When I brought the effects of meditation into my daily activities, my dealings with others were much more harmonious and easeful. The bumps of annoyance and attachment to my own point of view were somehow ironed out.
“A seeker is one who makes an effort.” Don’t you love this sutra?
1 Shiva Sutra, 2.2; Jaidev Singh, Shiva Sutras: The Yoga of Supreme Identity (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1979), p. 86.
Just now I was drawn to the Siddha Yoga website and read Swami ji’s profound exposition on the importance of putting forth right self-effort in each moment. I feel very connected to this teaching in my heart, and I want this understanding to bless every moment and event of each new day. Perhaps in this way, as I join with people choosing to break free of old conditioning and limiting samskaras,
and as we offer the uplifting power of our hearts, deep peace, health, and harmony will prevail within each one and all around the world.
Colorado, United States
The truth in this essay is so meaningful to me now. How I feel the battle raging! Sometimes the battle is at a peaceful distance from me, at other times it sits on my head trying to lock my attention on strife. As I read Swami ji’s words, though, I realize my meditation practice has been spotty, and my right effort will be to return there.
Washington, United States
How I have needed to read Swami Kripananda’s essay about self-effort!
Lately I have noticed I’ve slid into a “staying up late and sleeping in late” syndrome. Fortunately, I realize this benefits neither my sadhana
nor my daily responsibilities. Swami ji’s words have inspired me to renew my meditation practice. I can feel myself realigning.
Florida, United States
This morning, I was delighting in my breath during my morning meditation.
Two hours later, I found myself in a city, waiting peacefully behind two people at a parking payment machine. The transaction of the person at the machine took quite a bit of time, and the wolf of impatience was beginning to show its face within me when suddenly I saw on the machine screen: “Wait.” The wolf of patience won the battle within me! I began to share smiles and nice words with the other two people who were waiting to use the machine, entering during this ordinary situation into a shining atmosphere reflecting our essential brotherhood.
I am also grateful for Swami ji’s reminder of the power of meditation to feed the benevolent wolf!
As I opened the Siddha Yoga path website today, the synchronicity of Swami ji's essay was so uncanny! I knew with all my heart that this essay was for me. When I saw the face and eyes of the wolf in the image looking into my heart, I realized that there is no room for excuses anymore.
It has seemed that every time I would try to sit down to meditate, the wolves at the nearby sanctuary—very near the city where Swami ji grew up, in fact—would howl, calling out and interrupting my meditation time. And that would be the end of my meditation.
Swami ji's words entered my heart, Gurumayi's grace enveloped me, and now, I have turned the page and found a fresh new beginning. No more excuses! Instead, I will bring self-effort to join with the Guru’s grace. I feel completely supported.
New Mexico, United States
I never cease to be amazed at how the teachings on the Siddha Yoga path website are so responsive to where I am myself. When I read Swami Kripananda's essay on self-effort and her own habit of going to sleep early so that she could be up for meditation during the early morning hours, I was stunned.
I have been wrestling with my lifelong tendency to stay up late and have been praying to wake up early enough to meditate before my day of activity begins. I know that it will make a huge difference in my meditation experience. And now my prayer has been answered, for I am encouraged by the story of the Cherokee elder and Swami ji’s own example of right effort.
California, United States
I am grateful to have read this essay on “The Importance of Self-Effort.” I stopped for a moment to consider just how the fight goes on within myself between the wolf of negativity, self-pity, and helplessness and the wolf with qualities like positivity, peace, and love. I know that contemplating this will help me to reflect more deeply and work on myself.
I am also very much attracted to the importance of meditating early in the morning, during the brahma muhurta
I was inspired by Swami Kripananda’s words about the “necessity of being flexible” when putting forth self-effort. For some time, I have been in the habit of meditating in the evening just before going to bed. Lately, though, I have been so tired that, to my regret, I have often ended up going to sleep rather than meditating.
Since reading this essay, I have been motivated to shift my schedule, and have started meditating earlier in the evening. This small change in my daily routine has made me very happy. It has enabled me to focus more on my meditation and to honor the value I see in it. I feel I am now able to properly approach and carry out this vital spiritual practice.
I so appreciate Swami ji’s essay about self-effort. I was particularly moved by the powerful story of the inner wolves and the teaching that the wolf you feed is the one that prevails.
I have recently started to pay more attention to how I go through my day and to the choices I make about how I spend my time. I have found that when I opt to put my energy and time into what is uplifting and energizing, I am choosing to align with the light of the Self. These choices are bringing more love into my life. I am then able to share my heart with those I come into contact with.
New Mexico, United States
This essay is really thought-provoking and timely for me and my family. At my husband's prompting, my family and I—including two teenagers —each took turns reading aloud one paragraph of this essay after our dinner. We then had a discussion about Swami ji’s commentary on the inner battle that each person faces. This actually helped to shine a light on some personal issues that our teenagers are facing in high school, particularly with regard to peer pressure.
Reading this together as a family felt like receiving a perfect gift of grace and guidance. It gave us access to the Truth in our hearts. It enabled us to experience our own innate goodness and to recognize our own inner wisdom.
California, United States
After reading this essay, I am feeling a sense of renewal in my life. This morning I woke up with a spring in my step and went straight to my meditation space. I sat for meditation for thirty minutes, something I had not done for some time.
It seemed to me that this practice bore immediate fruit, as all day long I felt a sweet detachment from my actions. I’m so grateful that by choosing to meditate, I fed the wolf with positive tendencies.
Virginia, United States
Today I was excited to read Swami Kripananda’s wisdom about self-effort. When I read the Cherokee parable, this line stood out to me: “The one you feed.” When I went for a walk along a road in our small town, I was upset by my mental battle of the day, and “the one you feed” kept resounding in my mind. I stopped at one point to reframe my thoughts to only positive ones, and I said them out loud to the sky.
When I began walking again, I looked down the road and saw something walking toward me. It was a black wolf! I stopped again and watched as it disappeared into the meadow. It was soon followed by a second wolf! The parable manifested before my eyes, except these wolves weren’t fighting. After this experience I could only think positive, uplifting thoughts of gratitude. The battle was won.
Alaska, United States
I am grateful to Swami ji for sharing her love of the sweetness of early morning meditation. I am also drawn to it. It fills me with blessings for the day. It has carried me through challenging times. It is my still and quiet connection to my deepest love. Swami ji’s words inspire me even more. I also treasure the illustration of the rams and the parable of the wolves. I have been smiling since I read them.
Oregon, United States
I am grateful to Swami Kripananda for this beautiful essay on self-effort.
Just this morning I found myself in the clutches of an old, strong negative tendency, and then I remembered I can exercise my choice to not go down that path and give it more power.
This year I decided to focus on meditation as my primary practice, and I am increasing my effort to meditate daily. This effort is giving me the awareness and strength to make the beneficial choices between the two wolves!
London, United Kingdom
This essay on self-effort could not have been more perfectly timed for me. I have been reciting Shri Guru Gita
daily since the pandemic began. Today I had been resisting doing my daily practice. I felt tired and half-hearted. Then I read Swami Kripananda’s essay and immediately realized that I had the energy for the full recitation, and
I wanted to choose this path over the path of inertia and falling victim to past impressions. I am now feeling ready to recite Shri Guru Gita
and immensely grateful.
West Footscray, Australia
I found Swami Kripananda’s essay to be incredibly inspiring. I feel enormous shakti
and strength in keeping discipline in my sadhana
by, for example, waking up during the brahma-muhurta
and maintaining silence.
I experience that daily practice of Siddha Yoga meditation removes inner conflict and allows divine attributes to flourish.
The Houghton, South Africa
A few days ago, I began to earnestly pray for guidance and understanding because I've been feeling sad and discouraged as I've watched the events of the world. I've felt cut off from the flow of love and compassion, struggling to maintain a place of equipoise and peace in my heart.
This morning, as I read Swami ji’s words, I saw the battle within me and recognized that even when my negative tendencies seem to be prevailing, it is my longing to know love and express this love in the world that wins in the end.
Swami ji reminded me that through the self-effort of returning to the practices again and again, I can once again experience “the profound silence and peace within me.”
With renewed commitment to the daily practices, I feel a buoyant sense of hope and encouragement. The feeling of love and compassion I’ve been searching for has begun to flow again.
California, United States
This essay is meaningful to me as it affirms an experience I had just two days ago.
Shopping at my local grocery store, I experienced being treated rudely by an employee. In that moment, my “negative wolf” rose up and I scolded this employee, and then I reported him to the manager. The next day I realized that I needed to reflect on my part in the scenario. I wrote and hand-delivered a letter to the store manager and the employee in which I explained my part in causing the inappropriate behavior, and I apologized.
Reading Swami ji’s words, I reflected on how my own anger, false pride, and ego needed to be transformed into humility, compassion, and kindness. Next time, may I remember to feed the better side of myself in the moment
Washington, United States
It is wonderful to read Swami ji's essay on “The Importance of Self-Effort.” I particularly appreciate her practical advice and sharing from her own experiences. It is heartening to be reminded through the Cherokee parable that many spiritual traditions emphasize the merits of ongoing self-effort.
For me, this essay is at once inspiring and helpful in renewing my sadhana.
New York, United States
I feel encouraged and empowered by Swami ji’s words. I’ve been noticing that I have a choice about which path of thoughts I go down. I can choose the well-worn path of worries and fears, or I can choose another path, a path that feels tender and new, like fresh young plant sprouts. This tender new path is rooted in the truth of the present moment—that in this moment all is well—and in my inner knowing that my life is a gift, and the Guru’s grace and protection are always with me.
Swami ji’s words remind me that this inner battle is something that everyone faces. So I am in good company with all the other Siddha Yogis as I make the effort to choose the path of beneficial thoughts. And now, having read Swami ji’s essay and articulated my understandings through this share, I feel as though I have been to a satsang
California, United States
What a delight to wake up to Swami ji’s essay on “The Importance of Self- Effort”! As I get older, it becomes clearer and clearer how my daily effort (or lack thereof) shapes my day and my life. To stay motivated and keep moving forward is a constant practice. I like to reflect on my daily practices and always remind myself of the Guru’s grace and my own disciple’s grace.
As a child I grew up hearing “God helps those who help themselves.” I know I will be helping myself by rereading Swami ji’s essay. It is a great blessing to receive such inspired words.
California, United States
This essay arrived in my life with perfect timing! A few days ago, out of the blue, I was drawn to read the copy of the Yoga Vasishtha
that I own, even though it was packed away. I could not understand where this impulse was coming from—but now I know.
It wasn’t so much about the book itself but more about the importance of creating self-effort in my practices and focusing on what I want to create in my life. The essay was also another great reminder of how the Guru is always guiding me in my life.
What a beautiful and touching essay about Swami Kripananda’s experiences of grace and effort! I too love meditation early in the morning as there is nothing else vying for my attention at this time of the brahma-muhurta
. I also feel blessed to be reminded of this beautiful practice, and the easefulness I experience in applying it to my day. Hearing this helps me to appreciate it even more.
California, United States
How perfect it is for me to read this essay on Labor Day—the day when people in the United States and Canada celebrate the value of labor and honor the people who dedicate many hours to sustain not only their own lives but also the lives of many others.
I found encouragement in reading the vivid examples—phrased in terms of battling rams or wolves—of how we all have the power to choose what is beneficial, instead of whatever takes us away from the best in ourselves. I often find myself engaged in just that kind of inner dialogue as I continually make the effort to choose positive attitudes and actions. When I make this effort, my experience is that what I do benefits my own state and, amazingly, the people around me.
This result makes me happy. This result makes me feel I am a better human being. This shows me that I can contribute to the welfare of humanity. For me, this is sadhana
, and sadhana
is a labor of love.
New York, United States