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Interview with Dr. Robert E. Svoboda

Dr. Robert E. Svoboda is an American author and ayurvedic doctor who gives lectures and courses around the world, related to the subjects of ayurveda, jyotish, tantra and Eastern religion. He is author of eleven books, including Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution (1989), and the Aghora trilogy (1986, 1993, 1997) about his mentor, Vimalananda, and the Aghori sect.

Robert Svoboda is the first Westerner ever to graduate from a college of Ayurveda (in 1980) and be licensed to practice Ayurveda in India. Lived in India 1973-80 and 1982-86. Since 1985 he travels the world lecturing, consulting, teaching and writing. He has served as Adjunct Faculty at the Ayurvedic Institute, Albuquerque, NM, and Bastyr University, Kenmore, WA.

This interview was taken on 1st Ayurvedic Conference in Moscow, Russia, where Dr. Svoboda and Dr. Claudia Welch gave lections.

Interview with Dr. Robert E. Svoboda

Ilya Zhuravlev: We all read your book about Aghora and how you studied this Tantric or Agamic tradition. As we know, we can divide the Hindu tradition in two parts: the Vedic and Agamic knowledge. They are not opposite to each other, but are parallel ways.

Robert Svoboda: Yes, because after all the Agamas have emerged from the Vedas.

Ilya: I have spent about 12 years in India and talked to many Indian pandits. They usually would say that to follow the Vedic tradition one should be born as a Brahmin or a Hindu; but to follow the Agamic tradition it does not matter where one is from or which is your native culture. One can join this tradition and study within it. As we are seeing now in the West, this traditional Indian knowledge has become more and more popular. But as it’s coming to the West it assumes a new form, because the people who have a western mind are trying to transform it according to their goals and habits. At the same time in India most people have lost interest in this traditional knowledge. They are trying to be more western; they are trying to build a consumption society. So we can see in general that the knowledge is moving from the East to the West. I was in California a few times and I saw a lot of people practicing yoga, at least physical yoga. They were trying to follow a vegetarian diet, to study Ayurveda, sing bhajans and kirtan and so on. So what do you think about the moving of knowledge from the East to the West? What is your opinion about it?

Svoboda: Certainly, it is moving in a superficial form. The clothing is moving, the external version is moving. Whether the internal version is moving or not it is a different matter. It is good to practice Ayurveda, it is good to worship the Gods and Goddesses, it is good to do bhajans. Of course, depending on what your own personal development is, that will determine how, in what way and how well you will be able to connect to that tradition and bring it to life inside yourself. So if you are singing the praises of Krishna, this is always good, but if you actually want to generate a connection between Krishna who lives in the world of archetypes and yourself, you have to be able to connect to the world of archetypes. That is not so easy, and most people in the West have no clue, that that is necessary, because they have no clue of what that means. They see the image, they see Buddha here, but they don’t see what the image represents. Its one thing to see with this physical eyes, it’s another thing to see with this spiritual eye. It’s a way different thing to see with spiritual vision. It is much more difficult, but it also produces a much more accurate picture of what that reality really is. So the problem that I see in the West is that, especially in places like the USA, where I am from, is that a person will obtain this much knowledge and immediately think that they have a large amount of knowledge. And then start to act on the basis of what they think, they posses. Instead of having this much knowledge and realizing that in fact this is only this much knowledge and the amount of where you can go there is where you came is much bigger than where you’ve already gotten. Also I think it’s very important to distinguish between what most people in the West think about knowledge, and what the Indian concept of knowledge is. In the West the knowledge is something that is tangible, is material, it is something that can be transferred easily, can be bought and sold; or as in India real knowledge is something that is a living being – is a Vidya. So when you think of Vidya in just in a general sense it means a body of knowledge, but when you think of Vidya in the traditional sense, it means the embodiment of the potential knowledge that exists in the Universe. So Ayurveda is a bunch of techniques and theories and practices that have been accumulated over many centuries in a way that we think about Ayurveda. But the Ayurvidya is the Shakti that has inspired the development of Ayurveda. It’s inspiring the spread of Ayurveda into many other countries. And has to posses an individual before that individual can actually act as a vehicle for healing energy to move into the world.                   

Ilya: As we know the traditional way of transmitting knowledge is the Gurukula system – from person to person, and this is the traditional way of studying Ayurveda also. But we see in the modern world most of the knowledge is transmitted by media. You talked in your lecture about the transmission of knowledge by media.

Svoboda: But let’s not call that knowledge, let’s call that information. So yes, information is being transmitted by media. The problem that I had 40 years ago when I was studying Ayurveda is that the amount of information in English was very small, and even the amount of information in other languages which was not so great. So I had to put a lot of attention into obtaining the information. But I was also fortunate enough to be able to assist people, to have people to assist me, to turn that information into knowledge. Nowadays it’s a different problem: there is plenty of information that how do you turn it in into knowledge. So, If you are not so fortunate as to have a person who is going to guide you personally, then you have to do it the old tried and true way which is: you take one piece of information that appears to you that many people have told you is real information, then you have to try it out in yourself. Then you have to have personal experience what we call in Sanskrit “Anubhava”. Then you have to have personal experience, then you know. My favorite proverb is in Italian: “Il moldo migliore per imparare. Espatindo la testa contro il muro”. “The best way to learn something is to beat your head against the wall”. Then you know: that is the wall, this is my head, and when I beat my head, this is the result. Then you are never unclear. Someone else can say: you should go beat your head against the wall. And you can say: “I’ve done that already”. So when you don’t have someone to assist you, then you have to try things out on your own. And you should always try the most basic and simple and less dangerous things out on your own first. And then you have to pay attention to how your organism reacts to taking in new information and converting it into knowledge, and then you start to get a prospective on how the next piece of information can be integrated, and then slowly you can develop some momentum. And then automatically if you can attract the attention of the Ayurvidya or whatever Vidya you are trying to attract, then automatically at some point you will ran into somebody who can teach you more. You may have to be patient, that’s why we call people who are not well and need to get cured, we call them a patient. We don’t call them impatient, because that’s not going to help them. They have to be patient, if they want to get well. A person who wants to learn has to be patient; you will not learn over one weekend, you will not learn over one year, may be 12 years will be not enough, we don’t know. But you have to focus not on how much time it is going to take, because you don’t know, you have to focus on actually making sure that you integrate each piece of information that you are trying to integrate. And then move ahead from there. This is why nowadays when I personally study yoga; I like to study with Mr. Shandor Remete. And I like him because he is a very focused guy. And he is very interested in prana, and he is not interested in trying to show off, at least not any more. It may have been when he was younger, but now he is very focused on simply making sure that people understand how they need to move the prana in their bodies in order to get some benefits. Otherwise there is no use.

Ilya: He studied from different sources: Indian yoga, Chinese martial arts, Kalaripayattu, Bharatnatyam dance, and he is making his own system by mixing this.

Svoboda: He says it’s his own system. He is not trying to pretend that it is not his own system. So let’s remember Yogi T. Krishnamacharya: did he add anything to what he was taught? It’s pretty clear that he added something from English exercises. And for that matter the people that he learnt from, did they add anything from some other traditions possibly? We don’t know, but why not. And where did those things come from? Did they come from nowhere or did they come from people experimenting and possibly being taught by we don’t know who: the Tibetans, the Chinese, a bunch of bears and monkeys – we don’t know. So at least Shandor is saying: “This is my own system”. This is Shadow Yoga. He is not saying: “This has come down from the man in the Himalaya that you won’t be able to meet because he is the way over apparently, only I can meet him”.

Ilya: This is what I mean by how the western mind transforms the tradition. Of course you said that for some people it’s just a fashion, like an ethno fashion, but we are talking about maybe deeper things, for example we were born here in the Western world. Russia is maybe half-East, half-West and we have influence of both cultures here. Because we have interest in this Eastern tradition, it means we have some samskaras, like it’s written in “Bhagavat Gita”: “Who practiced yoga before will be reborn, and will start to feel an interest in these practices, even without a teacher, through his/her own samskaras”. But why were we born here? Maybe, because we were not satisfied completely with the traditional way of transmitting knowledge like it happens in the East. Maybe some things became very rigid in the East. And we got more opportunities, have the opportunity to combine the different sources. Like for example the traditional Indian people they could not study some Chinese things or some shamanism of South America, something like ayawaska. And in our position - we have opportunity to combine this knowledge. What Shandor is also doing, he combines.

Svoboda: Now of course, he’s combining, after studying with Mr. Iyengar for 20 years and studying with Patabhi Jois for 7 years and studying martial arts for many years.

Ilya: And became disappointed …

Svoboda: And became disappointed but after studying very thoroughly. What happens to a lot of people, they don’t study thoroughly. They study for 6 months, for 3 months, for 2 years, they are picking up a little bit; they are not necessarily having it actually be integrated into themselves. Then they add in some other staff and they’re cooking it and add in some chili powder and fry for a little while and try to dish it out to people. So it’s like any other kind of junk food, it may be tasty, but are you going to digest it and what kind of disease will you get from it? That remains to be seen, we will find out. So in my opinion, if you want to change your tradition, first you have to actually be able to tap into the tradition. I spent 6 years at the Ayurvedic College in Puna, being bitten by bed bugs morning, noon and night, in the bed, in the desk, in the cinema hall, in the train etc and having to go through riots and strikes and miserable weather and all kinds of other stuff. And in addition to that had to search out the people who actually had some connection to the tradition and not just the ones who claimed they did. So after being there for many, many years then it was easier for me to know exactly what parts of the tradition still exist, what kind of people had them and how to tap into those traditions. And then having taped into the tradition felt like I was connected enough to add that I had a connection to it and felt like it would guide my own experiments and doing something with that tradition. It was only then that I decided it would be useful to try to express it in a way that was not the same as what I had been taught.

Ilya: Yes. But what to do there are so much people who want to study and it’s not possible now to have Gurukula relationships for everybody.

Svoboda: Let’s go back to the “Bhagavad Gita” … (17:39). What does Krishna say? He says: bhanuman, which means “many, many, many, many” after many, many, many, many births, only then does the person say: “God is the only thing. God is everything. There is nothing but God”. Finding a person like this is extremely very difficult. Rather than try to think that you are going to grab hold of this tradition and you are going to be able to immediately convert it into some form that everybody else can make yourself including you. Start with one thing, implement it into your own life, see what it does and before you start trying to think about teaching other people make sure that you are benefiting from whatever it is you are learning. And make sure that whatever it is you are learning, is actually transforming you in some way. And then ask yourself what really is my dharma? That’s why we talk about dharma, artha, kama and moksha? People nowadays focus a lot on artha and kama. So, it’s fine, it’s good to focus on artha and kama, but in the context of dharma, that’s why they put dharma first, otherwise they‘d put dharma somewhere else. The point is you should be in the position to know what your personal dharma is. Is it your dharma to go out and try to tell people that this is the new way to do these things? Or is it not your dharma? Are you sure you are in the position to know that? And it is not always easy to know. If it was easy, it would all have been figured out a long time ago. It is not easy, in fact just because somebody in, let’s say in India, belongs to a certain tradition does not mean they are enlightened. In the context of the tradition may be very good, but maybe they are using slave labor or seducing all the female students or doing something else. So you can easily have a situation when somebody is very much connected to the tradition but the rest of their life is a calamity. And I’ve seen this with many students of Mr. Iyengar, for example, and I’ve studied with many of his teachers and I took classes at his Institute for more than once, for month at a time. And a lot of the people who claimed to be his style teachers have picked up a lot of the information that he provides but they also picked up his anger, and how is that benefiting them or anyone else?

Ilya: This is a part of his ahamkara, his personality.

Svoboda: Yes. This is part of his ahamkara. Just because you have a teacher it does not mean that you can take everything that the teacher does, without using your discernment, your viveka, your buddhi. So you don’t want to pick up all the parts of the ahamkara that are not good, which is why Vimalananda said again and again to me: “Just because I say something, do not think I am the Bible or the Veda or the Koran or something, it could be that I am saying it out of one of my own limitations”. Look out it carefully, evaluate it, if you need to restate it for yourself, take out the part that is not true for you, that is not real for you and only keep the part that is real. But of course, you have to be in the position to know what is real, what is not real and not simply say: “Oh, this does not apply to me, because Guruji says: “I can decide what applies to me”.

Ilya: A lot of my friends asked me: “If you meet Robert Svoboda, ask him was Vimalananda a real personality or was the “Aghora” series of books maybe half fiction or something like this. “

Svoboda: Whatever he told me and he was a real personality, he lived in Bombay and yes, I know his family and yes I know many people who know him, Doctor Vasad Lad knew him well, my friend Doctor Fred Smith who teaches at the University of Iowa knew him well. So he was very much a real person, he was not a combination. His Guru Maharaj I knew well. You can see his Guru, his samadhi (burial place) is near Vishakhapatnam in India.


Ilya: It was when your “Aghora” series was translated to Russian it became extremely popular like the Carlos Castaneda books. And some people even compare the Aghora series to the Castaneda books but in an Indian background. First you became very famous among Russian readers through the “Aghora” series and then when the books on Ayurveda and Jyotish were translated also.

Svoboda: I’ve read almost all the Carlos Castaneda books. And many of them I liked quite bit. Whether or not Don Juan and Don Henaro were real, many of the things they said were real. So I’m interested in that, maybe they were real, maybe they were not real. I did not meet them, so it does not matter to me. What matters is is what they said that something feels true, not only here, but down here. Human beings have only been using rational thought for 10 thousand – 20 thousand years, emotional thought probably for quiet a while longer but intuitive thought since the last several million years.

Ilya: You mean the Manipura.

Svoboda: I mean the Manipura. What really has made people humans, what has made humans human is the fire. That’s why the first word in the Veda is “Agni”. It was the fire which allowed us to have many different food sources, allowed us to stay awake at night, kept the wild animals away and acted as something that suddenly provided us with a totally different perspective on things. Because normally in city you don’t see fire, you can walk out to the Moscow River: there is the water, there is the earth, there is the air, there is the space – but we don’t see the fire. How often do you see fire? Very rarely. You see the sun, but the sun is not fire. And normally when you see fire it’s not good, it’s burning things down. So the ability to harness fire was the major turning point other than standing upright, but that had happened many millions year ago. Whether it was deliberate or not, we don’t know. But we know that harnessing fire was deliberate. What has led to where we are now is fire, and where is the fire focused in the body?

Ilya: In Manipura. And also I have a question. I think you know about Past Life Regression practice. I have studied in the Michael Newton method, do you know about it?

Svoboda: I’ve done one Life Between Lives session. I thought what I got was very helpful and useful. And I know other people who have done more than one and still find it useful.

Ilya: We can read in Yoga Sutras couple of times that during meditation a yogi could see his/her past lives but Patanjali does not give any techniques how to get it. And this technique which is very helpful, I believe is very helpful for spiritual growth, comes from the Western psychotherapists. In my opinion, it’s like a meeting point of two cultures. And also there are Western people who have deep interest in dharma and spiritual knowledge. It means they have some samskaras maybe they were in this Eastern culture before in their past life. So do you find it helpful also?

Svoboda: Yes. And I find Chinese medicine helpful and I think that Ayurveda would be benefited; I think        learning acupuncture would be a good thing for many Ayurvedic doctors, because after all it’s a way of using the prana in the body. And personally I am very fond of ayawaska, me personally. And I think it is a very fine thing, except that of course like anything else it can be misused. If you have some shaman who is more interested in doing black magic, then that person can cause all kinds of troubles. Many of the shamans in South America do nothing all day long except protect themselves from other shamans or attack other shamans, what is the benefit there?

Ilya: The same thing we can find about vamachara tantrics in India.

Svoboda: Yes, there is black magic all over India; there is a black magic all over Malaysia. Everywhere you look, you get to a place and you are able to do something that is different than what the average human does, a small number of people will use it for good, and the rest of the people will either destroy themselves with it or kill other people with it. It’s the way it’s always been.

Ilya: You talked about the ahamkara diseases. I’ve read in your book that some terminal diseases like cancer, for example, are diseases of ahamkara. We also know that a lot of spiritual teachers in India, like Ramana Maharshi, for example, or Ramakrishna or Swami Sivananda – they died not from old age, they died from such terminal diseases. Maybe Sivananda not from cancer but Ramana Maharshi did. I’ve heard two versions or explanations: some people explain that they took bad karma from their disciples; some people explain that they became so powerful in Atma Gyan, so they stopped identifying with their physical bodies and the physical bodies left, like a horse without a rider. So what do you think and what does Ayurveda prescribe on how to keep the balance between Atma Gyan and a healthy ahamkara?

Svoboda: In the case of Ramakrishna he deliberately on one or two occasions took some karmas from one of his disciples. Vimalananda used to say that he got throat cancer, because he let out too many secrets that God did not necessarily want to let out. Ramana Maharshi, of course, people would say: “You’ve got cancer. And he would say: “Yes, only the body, why you make such a big noise about it?” Certainly it’s quite physical for people of this level to take on the karmas of their disciples or other people. That certainly Vimalananda would do it periodically. But the fact is that the more you are connected to that world, the less interest you have in this world. There is no good answer for how to maintain balance. What I have found is even if you try to remain completely balanced on the border between that world and this world there will be a preference in one direction or another, and may be a very small preference. And different people have different preferences. As it has happened in my life, it started out happening this way before I understood what happened. My preferences are slightly in this direction. Because I have to be responsible for a lot of different people, so I have to be able to function in this world at a moment’s notice. Other people that I know, who are very close to this are slightly in that direction; and they have to put a lot of energy into maintaining their harmony and balance without simply letting go and becoming completely disconnected. So you have to find somewhere near that point but inevitably either you are going to be slightly above or slightly below. There is going to be a slight preference for the one or the other. It’s very rare to find people who are exactly right on top of the knife edge and can stay there indefinitely. If you can do it, that’s great. It’s almost always there is a slight preference.

Ilya: Here is my friend from Greece; she came from Greece just to see you. She has also a few questions.

Angelina: Yesterday you said that among others the Ganas represent all disembodied beings. Would worshiping Ganapati be an ideal remedy for the condition known as Pitru Dosha and Jyotish? What would be the correct method of doing that? Can you give us some specific guidelines?

Svoboda: Ganapati would be good for any non physical personalities including Pitru Dosha, but really for Pitru Dosha it’s better to do what they call Tarpana. In my Prakriti book I have a small description of Tarpana.

And it just so happens that the time for doing that this year is starting. So the Ganesh festival is starting on Monday and will go for ten days, and there will be a full moon. And then the two weeks between the full moon and the new moon it’s the time to do ancestor worship. And it changes of course every year. But this year it’s that two weeks. So ideally you have some black sesame seeds, milk and water.

Ilya: Also I have a question about Rasayanas and this part of Ayurvedic knowledge. We know that Rasayanas are not merely medicines. They are more advanced substances that increase the lifespan and also maybe develop some spiritual capacities. What do you think about it?

Svoboda: It’s to increase Rasa, and remember Rasa can mean taste, Rasa can mean water, Rasa can mean any of the tissues, Rasa is emotion, but Rasa is also aesthetic taste, like the sort of flavor that you get from music or from art. So Rasayana in its most advanced version is to connect to the flavor that God is experiencing and to become part of that flavor and to taste that flavor everywhere in your existence.

Ilya: In the Patanjali Yoga Sutras we read that you can get Samadhi through various ways: mantras, meditation (dhyan) and aushadi – some substances, or some herbs. Nobody knows exactly what Patangali means. Maybe he means Rasayana or maybe some other special thing. What do you think about it?

Svoboda: People used to ask Vimalananda: “Where we can find the soma that’s mentioned in the Veda?” And he used to say that soma you ‘re never going to find, because you have only located if you are already immortal. Because it’s immortal already. So forget it. What you can do though is you can find a nididrabya, which means something that is not soma but will have a similar effect inside you. And then you can use that, it will not transform you the way that soma does, so completely and totally, but if you work with that it will progressively transform you as much as you can be transformed. For him he used Whiskey, Scotch Whiskey, for me I like very much Ayawaska, taken with some other things to alter the effect slightly. Different people have different things that they use. Some people will use cannabis; some people will use other substances. Even arsenic trisulfide is a very fine potential Rasayana but of course it’s very poisonous. Mercury is a very good Rasayana, it’s also very poisonous. You have to be very careful when you start using things that are very strong and very poisonous so that you only get the good effect and not the bad effect. But it has to be a personalized thing, because the real soma you and I – as human beings, we are not going to locate.

Ilya: Do you know about Raseshvara Sampradaya? It’s a school of the Shaiva tradition mentioned by the American born guru Shivaya Subramuniyaswami in his book.

Svoboda: I’ve heard of it.

Ilya: I’ve heard also, but nobody knows exactly. I tried to research for many years.

Svoboda: So again. If these people want to locate you for some reason, they will. And they will do that at the time they are in the mood to do that.

Ilya: I asked some very high Shaiva Guru in Karnataka, one of the Head of Lingayat or Virashava sampradaya, who has a big ashram in Varanasi also. And he also said that they are living somewhere in Karnataka. It is described in Subramuniyaswami book that there is a Shaiva school which is making these Rasayanas and this is their main sadhana – to prepare Rasayana and to use them for spiritual purposes. India is still mysterious.

Svoboda: Very mysterious. And the people that are really doing these things they don’t want to be bothered. So they are not going to let you find them. We would take the train from Bombay to Puna with Vimalananda and he would point over there and he would say: ”Look in there, there is a Siddha Ashram”. But you could be standing on top of them and you would not see it, because the door to it, it’s not like that door, it’s the door that requires you to move into a different dimension. And unless you can get into that dimension at the moment the door is open you are never going to see it. You could be existing in the same space with them and it would do you not good. So which is why he used to say: “You have to bide your time. It’s very difficult to bide you time, but you have to bide your time and at the moment if you’re patient enough then you will get some result”. But we don’t know how long that will take.

Ilya: Yes, just a few lifetimes.

Svoboda: That’s what he said: “If it’s important then you find a way, if it’s not important then go to something else”.

Ilya: Through Past Life Regression it’s become easy to accept that you can have a few lifetimes. May be also one question about raw food and raw diet, which has become very popular among Western yogis now. What is your opinion about it? According to traditional Ayurveda it’s not good, it increases too much Vata. But I saw there are a lot of people who have been using it for many years, 20-30 and they feel well.

Svoboda: The thing is that one or two people, or ten people can use it for 20 or 30 years, most of the people that I see they do it at the most 6-7 years and then their bodies are not getting enough nourishment and either they continue and get sick or they go back to eating something else. Vimalananda had me living on only fruit and dairy products for 6 years. I would have continued for longer but he send me back to the US and it was very cold where I was and I could not get warm. But I still often, will just live on dairy or on fruit only for a few days or a few weeks. And I think it’s very good provided that your organism gets what it requires. I mean that’s part of this thing of being able to maintain. You have to maintain your organism doing whatever it is that you need to do sufficient so that it will be stable enough that you can maintain your connection and amplify your connection, without it causing you to become completely Vata aggravated. Cause then the connection will be broken or your body will die or there won’t be consistency and you won’t be able to sustain.

Ilya: But most of the people who feel well they practice yoga very hard.

Svoboda: Because there is no alternative. If you want to do that, if you want to extract the Prana from there, you have to invest many hours a day doing that. I don’t have the luxury of that I have a lot of people around the world that I have to deal with. So I’m interested in addressing as many as my own rnanubandhanas makes possible, so I don’t have to do it later, why not doing it now, because it’s very easy to do it now. The airplanes will take you everywhere. Only since the last 50 years that we’ve been able to achieve easy moving from place to place.

Angelina: In “Aghora” you mentioned that Tantra purifies the elements within one. What effect would this purification have on the Prana and on the Doshas? I mean can you practice Tantra to get well or to balance your Doshas?

Svoboda: You can. What’s important in Tantra is you have a clear idea of what result you want to get. Tantra is all about deciding what you want to achieve and achieving it. It may have nothing to do with becoming enlightened; it may have something to do with “I want to become well and I can’t figure it out how to do it otherwise, so I’m going to invoke Lord Shiva and I’m going to have him transform me somehow”. Then you figure out what kind procedure you want to do and you move ahead and you do it. So often what happens is people start to purify the elements and they start to feel that they are becoming free from the limitations of the material world and then they get very excited and proceed directly in that direction and then their bodies fall apart. But they don’t care. Some people start to do that and their bodies start to fall apart and they do not care and then that’s a problem. So again, as Vimalananda said: “It’s better to take things slowly”. So you can educate your body as to how it’s going to have to live with this connection to more intense energy. He also used to say: “When you are walking on the road, remember that the road never gets tired, you will get tired but the road is never tired, the road is there, the road will always be there, if you want to come walk on it, the road is happy, if you don’t walk on it, the road is still happy. The road did not ask you to walk on it, the road did not ask you to try to stand on your hands while you were walking on the road. Road it’s just there. It’s an impersonal force.” So, the elements are impersonal, they don’t dislike you, but they also don’t necessarily like you. If you stick your finger into the electric socket, the electricity does not want to kill you, on the other hand it will kill you. Because it’s: “Sorry that you put your hand in there but; its job is to move a bunch of electrons and you happen to be there and you stuck your finger in there, so sorry, but now you’re dead”. So it’s the same way with the 5 elements. You should realize that they are impersonal forces, and if you want them to work with you, you have to respect them.

I am very fond of the volcano on Hawaii. But A few years ago I forgot and ended up offering Her quite a bit of blood actually. It was good; I mean She is a blood drinking Goddess after all. But still if you forget that She is who She is then you will remove. So it’s the same thing with the 5 elements which is why in India they have gone to such an effort to personify so many things, to personify Ganesh, who is the personification of the Earth element, and to personify Agni in various forms like Narasimha or like the God Agni rides around on a ram or whatever. And so that in fact you can interact with them in a way that is familiar to you as a human and have them relate to you in a little more reasonable way than if you just try relating to them as cosmic powers.

Angelina: So Tantra will not necessarily give you health?

Svoboda: No, not at all. Very often you will see people who are very good at Tantra whose health is terrible. They’ve ignored their bodies entirely and focused only on achieving what they decided they wanted to achieve.

Ilya: And also coming back to the question of ahamkara diseases: of course on a physical level we can talk about the imbalances of all three Doshas, for example in case of cancer. But we should start from curing ahamkara. We can talk also about such things as depression, for example, it’s also ahamkara disease. What are the traditional methods to cure the Ahamkara?

Svoboda: The really traditional way is to … because the job of ahamkara is to identify. Ahamkara says: “My name is John and I live in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski”. The nature of ahamkara and Kundalini for that matter is to identify with things. It identifies with your name and with your address and what you do and what you like to wear, how much you like to drink, what you like to eat. And all these things you collect together and say:”This is who I am”. And this is why in traditional India they have given people Gods and Goddesses, Devatas, Devis so you will focus on them and little by little your own personality will become dissolved and their personalities will become present in you more and more until eventually your own personality will be very small and that personality will be much bigger. And of course the problem is that it happens frequently, as frequently as it ever happens. In this process while you are replacing your personality with that personality, your personality may be resistant and it may say: “Ah, now I have become so and so”. So then you are talking instead of you are pretending that the deity is talking when actually it’s just you talking. Then you get into big trouble.

Ilya: You talk about developing bhakti?

Svoboda: And that’s why Vimalananda always use to say: “Don’t try to become too big, much better to bow down”. Instead of saying: “I have become Shiva, the Entire Universe, first I am the deputy of Shiva and I am attempting to eliminate any of my own will power and simply allowing the pattern of reality that Shiva represents to work through me”.

Ilya: It’s called divya chikitsa in Ayurveda?

Svoboda: This is part of divya chikitsa.   

Ilya: This is the problem for Western mind, because to accept panchakarma, different Ayurvedic medicines it’s easy, but if you were born in left brain culture, rationalistic, it’s not easy to accept spirituality.

Svoboda: What happens in the Russian Orthodox Church? Do you have icons? Are you focusing on the icons? Are you bowing down to Jesus? How is this different?

Ilya: Orthodox people do it, but I don’t know about yogic community, they have no well connection with Christianity.

Svoboda: You must have read “The way of a Pilgrim” and “The Pilgrim continues his way” about “starets” (Russian term for old ascetic monk) . And the “Filokalia” which I believe is Greek and was written by a bunch of monks many, many years ago. And it describes exactly. And if you want more modern there was a guy who was called… he went by the title Daskalos which apparently means “teacher” but his real name is Spiros Sati or something like that and he lived in Cyprus. The guy that I know, who is a Cypriot, but who lives in the US and met him and wrote a lot of books about him and his work. The first one is called “The Magus of Strovolos” and was written by Kyriacos Markides. And it talks about this very similar to what is going on in Indian tradition in Greece or by the way in Cyprus and apparently may be in Athos.

Ilya: We can say that the main medicine is the devotion?             

Svoboda: According to Vimalananda that was the best medicine of all, the best rasa.

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We thank Yulia Krivostupova for the help in the interview organization.