This section of the book sets the tone. It establishes the real nature of spiritual practice, reveals Rohini’s life story, and offers a few hints for readers about what they will encounter in the pages ahead. The first few paragraphs explain what spiritual practice offers—and what it does not offer—before discussing the central place of the Heart in spiritual work, and the inward progression that work entails. Here, Rohini introduces the metaphor of walking home—spiritual practice as a return to our true nature. Rohini’s autobiographical sketch includes accounts of her early studies in dance at Washington University in St. Louis and Mills College; her years of studying Tai Chi Chuan under T. R. Chung, a student of the great Kuo Lien Ying; her successful Tai Chi Chuan school in Boston; her subsequent years in India and around the world as appointments secretary, head of security, librarian, and personal assistant to Swami Muktananda; the birth of her first son; and her more recent work as a spiritual director. The Preface closes with a brief explanation of how the book is organized.
Chapter 1: Introducing the Practice
Spiritual practice begins with two desires: the desire for happiness and the desire to know ourselves. Truly knowing ourselves means letting go of our wrong identifications. We must put our personalities, our minds, our emotions, our bodies, and even our energy in their proper places: not as who we are, but as instruments of the true Self. The lower self, which most of us think of as our identity, is in reality nothing more than a collection of ideas and attachments, and we must disentangle ourselves from it in order to reach true happiness.
Turning inward to the true Self is turning back to God. As we mature spiritually, our understanding of God evolves. First an object of worship, God gradually becomes pure Subject, the ground of all being, the Self of All. In order to find God, we must trace our own being back to its origin by freeing ourselves from attachment to everything that is not the Self.
Freeing ourselves from our outer vehicles requires understanding their nature. In yogic tradition, the manifested universe is made up of three constituent elements: the gunas (inertia, activity, and calm). The mind is also made up of these elements. Our task in spiritual practice is to achieve calm by stilling the vibrations that disturb our consciousness—and then to let go even of calm. Only when we still our minds and free ourselves from their relentless dichotomizing can we experience the Reality beyond all thought. Until we achieve complete liberation from all attachment, we are subject to the laws of karma, or cause and effect, and we reap what we have sown.
Spiritual practice is ultimately the discipline of self-surrender. We must be willing to surrender our precious individuality to live in the bliss of our true nature. Self-surrender is a moment-to-moment discipline, and must be practiced everywhere and anywhere. This practice does not, however, require us to withdraw from the world, and it is anything but selfish. The discernment and non-attachment that arise from spiritual work allow us to engage in the world from a place of true selflessness and empathy.
The path of spiritual discipline may seem too steep to climb, but divine grace helps those who sincerely pursue liberation. It first appears in the form of an awakening—the activation of our dormant spiritual energy. This may happen spontaneously, but more often it comes from a teacher. As we continue practicing, grace draws us toward God.
As we grow more into the Truth, our practice evolves. We learn that what appears real now will soon be revealed as temporary. When we surrender to God completely and rest in our true nature, we arrive home.
Chapter 2: Stories of Early Teachers
This chapter presents a series of autobiographical vignettes on the teachers who helped Rohini on the way to her encounter with Muktananda. After recounting her experiences with college professors of dance, art history, and design, Rohini shares stories of her martial arts masters. The chapter culminates in her meeting Baba and being spiritually awakened by him.
Chapter 3: The Three Levels of Practice
Most people do not realize that spiritual practice unfolds through three levels. These levels are not parallel and equal, but progressive.
The first level of practice is outward-turned and involves the senses. All sorts of rituals, customs, and physical exercises are first-level work. Though there is nothing wrong with these things, they deal with outward forms. First-level practice should leave us wanting something deeper; the best it can do is lead us to the second level.
The second level of practice uses the mind. Through mantra, study, and self-examination, we work to shift our awareness from the head into the Heart. The downside of second-level practice is that we can get caught up in intellectual understanding and miss the point of spiritual work entirely. If we practice the second level correctly, it will lead us to the third.
Third-level practice is the only true way to happiness. Here we use the will to ground our awareness continuously in the Heart. At this point, practice becomes effortless, because we have surrendered ourselves completely and are no longer the doers. God is the doer.
Chapter 4: Stories of Baba, 1976-1977
This chapter continues the book’s series of autobiographical stories, concentrating on Rohini’s first year with Baba. From Rohini’s first invitation to Baba’s house to her tenure as head of ashram security in Ganeshpuri, India, the stories in this chapter recount Rohini’s early experiences with her Guru. The stories convey her deepening understanding of her own karmic issues and of ashram life during her first full year with Baba.
Chapter 5: Seeds
In spiritual practice, seeds are an apt metaphor for vibrations that arise in our consciousness. A seed is the manifestation in the mind of a vibration that, like all things, originates in the Heart. We grow attached to certain vibrations, whether they are positive or negative—even going so far as to believe that the flowering of a seed is the expression of our true nature. We must learn to still all vibrations.
Once we recognize that a seed has set our consciousness vibrating, we follow a clear process of stilling. Through the nine steps clearly set forth in this chapter, we recognize that we are caught in a seed, can name it, disentangle from it, and still our consciousness. The process is explained through narrative examples.
Chapter 6: Stories of Baba, 1977-1978
The stories in this chapter convey Rohini’s deepening relationship with Baba and her evolving spiritual practice. Along with other narratives, Rohini relates her experience of dying from malaria and returning to her body, of how Baba used her clothing and jewelry as tools of spiritual teaching, and of how she learned the real meaning and technique of spiritual practice while spending time alone with Baba.
Chapter 7: The Foursquare Personality Game
The lower self is nothing more than our identification with our physical bodies, our thought-constructs, and any other qualities or objects. Though in reality our own true nature is looking out at our intellect, we convince ourselves that our intellect, our faculty of knowing, is our core self. The intellect creates dichotomies, and the lower self identifies with these dichotomies, trapping us in the box of personality.
As the Shiva Sutras explain, bondage arises from the power inherent in letters and words. From birth, we are encouraged to differentiate, particularize, and judge through words; as a result, the lower self is really a collection of words. This becomes a true prison-house of language. But words can also serve as a means to liberation, because through them we can deconstruct the prison we have made for ourselves. That deconstruction begins with recognizing the dichotomies on which we have hung our limited sense of self. Once we have recognized them, we must own all the qualities connected to each dichotomy. For instance, someone who is attached to the dichotomy of “lazy” and “hardworking” will also have issues with “easygoing” (the positive aspect of lazy) and “consumed” (the negative aspect of hardworking). Only when we own all four terms unreservedly can we transcend them.
The Foursquare Personality Game, a tool developed by Rohini, establishes a map of the dichotomies to which someone is attached at a given time. It allows the person to work with that map to accept and then transcend those attachments. Once free of attachment to the qualities on the chart, the student is free to tap them consciously and appropriately. The process of the game is explained through narrative examples.
The Foursquare Personality Game requires of its users the ability to hear their own true answers to yes/no questions rather than opt for the “right” answers offered by the intellect. It has proved remarkably effective among Rohini’s students, and often leads not just to new dimensions of freedom but to laughter as well.
Chapter 8: Stories of Baba, 1978
Most of Rohini’s stories in this chapter, all from the first year of Baba’s world tour, convey his manner and methods as a spiritual teacher. Others share Rohini’s experiences as her practice progressed during this time. Vignettes include the Zen-style story of Baba’s conversing with a Brahmin friend, the ordeal of a friend of Rohini who served as manager of the world tour, and Rohini’s experience of accepting and mastering an inner seed of terror. The reader sees not only Rohini’s unfolding practice but also Baba’s wisdom as it manifested in both humor and anger.
Chapter 9: Meditation: What It Is and How To Do It
Meditation may be the most misunderstood part of spiritual practice. Nearly everyone has an idea about it, but few understand what it really is. In yogic terms, meditating is proceeding from concentration (dharana) to meditation (dhyana) to absorption (samadhi). Concentration is the ability to focus your attention on one thing; meditation is sustained, one-pointed concentration; absorption occurs when the meditator, the process of meditation, and the goal of meditation are revealed to be one.
But we become what we meditate on, so where we direct our concentration is even more important than the act of concentrating itself. External objects will not do. Our breathing will not do. Our thoughts, however exalted, are still external and will not do. Meditation is not a thought process, and you cannot still the mind from within the mind. The kind of concentration required for meditation takes place not in the head but in the Heart.
To meditate, find a quiet place as free from external stimuli as possible. Adopt a comfortable posture; despite what many say, the only requirement is that your back remain straight. Once settled in, shift your attention and your intention inward, toward the center of your chest. It will take time to be able to hold your attention there, but that is where we access the Heart. Since the Heart is reached through the center of the chest, and is the only gateway to the Self, meditating on any other part of the body would be a preliminary exercise at best. We must also learn how to overcome the various obstacles to meditation: physical discomfort, mental chatter, falling asleep, and distracting inner experiences.
As our meditation takes us further inward, we find that absorption has many levels. We must pass through them to reach the place of pure Subject with no object. Until we reach that place, we must work to carry our meditation with us. Ultimately, spiritual practice is a continuous meditation, in which we rest in the Heart. True meditation is always looking from the Heart out at the world.
Chapter 10: Stories of Baba, 1978-1979
This chapter includes stories from Rohini’s tenure as Baba’s appointments secretary, and the narratives show how Baba was a parent as well as a teacher to her. From Rohini’s “test” to qualify as his appointments secretary, to her encounters with VIPs and false gurus, to Baba’s masterful lesson for an arrogant publisher, the stories show Baba’s playfulness as well as his ability to make every situation an occasion for disseminating wisdom.
Chapter 11: Teacher, Student, Community
Spiritual practice is such a personal and interior experience that we might believe it has to be undertaken alone. That mindset can be destructive: it tempts us to believe that we are special in our quest for wisdom, and it leaves us with no outside measure of our progress on the path. We need the guidance of a good teacher and the support of a practicing community to stay on track.
How can you tell a true teacher from an ineffective or false one? A true teacher has to have had a good teacher; there must be a lineage. Many teachers claim to be part of a lineage, but the trappings of a lineage do not make a teacher. A real tradition is passed on internally. Do not expect a good teacher to look or act the part as you imagine it. When you encounter a teacher, observe how she interacts with her students, on what level she communicates with them. Does her instruction remain on the superficial level of ideas and ideals, or does it run deeper than the intellect? Does the teacher coddle students’ egos or always remain focused on the Self? Does the teacher foster dependency or guide students to freedom? If you decide to work with a teacher, ask yourself after a few months exactly how your experience has been transformed, if at all.
The student is actually more important than the teacher, for the simple reason that the student must be open to learning whatever needs to be learned, facing the rigors of spiritual practice, and giving up everything that is not essential.
Ideally, your practice should involve not only sessions with your teacher but the community of other practitioners. Whatever other communities you belong to, a spiritual community will offer you support in your practice as well as in mundane activities. Other students can help you uncover your ignorance and provide empathy and encouragement. We are not meant to do spiritual work alone.
Ultimately, spiritual practice requires us to keep good company. Good company is anyone or anything that encourages health on every level.
Chapter 12: Stories of Baba, 1979
The stories in this chapter recount Rohini’s most challenging period with her Guru. Beginning with her dismissal as appointments secretary, a seeming fall from grace which was really a liberating lesson, Rohini recounts how Baba quietly sustained her through a difficult stretch of tapasya (burning up of ignorance).
Chapter 13: Action in the World: Love, Compassion, and Empathy
Spiritual practice does not stop when our mundane life calls us to action. Our practice should inform not only what we do, but also how we do it—or, more precisely, the place within ourselves from which we do it. Appropriate action is action without attachment.
Karma yoga, the yoga of action in the world, is selfless service. It means giving up the fruits of our actions to God. When we rest in the Heart, and our actions arise from God, whatever we do remains untainted by the ambitions and ideas of the lower self. Only when we act from the Heart, as an expression of the Self, are we in harmony with the universe. And because Reality is Love, everything done from the Self is an expression of Love.
True compassion is love with detachment—and such love doesn’t always conform to the lower self’s idea of love. Compassion may require sternness, and may even appear harsh to those who cannot see past the surface of things. When we go deep within ourselves, we can truly empathize with others; what connects us is not superficial commonalities, and still less nice ideas about “oneness,” but the Self. Practicing selfless service is loving your neighbor as the Self because you are your neighbor.
The non-attachment of true compassion allows us to discern what support really is in a given situation. Enabling someone who has done injury, or forgiving just to forgive, can be destructive; sometimes our neighbor’s lower self must be rebuked so that the Self can be uncovered for that person.
When our consciousness is still, and the wrong understanding that gives rise to the lower self is gone, we can really listen, love, care, and empathize with everything and everyone, including ourselves. The love of the lower self is a shadow of Love; the Self is All, All is loved, and All is considered and taken care of appropriately.
Chapter 14: Stories of Baba, 1979-1981
The stories in this chapter recount Baba’s continuing love and support for Rohini as her practice deepened. One vignette recalls how even a brief, private phone call from Baba was a spiritually charged experience. Another relates Baba’s lesson for a prominent psychologist who visited the ashram in Santa Monica. A third captures the moment when Baba gave Rohini a precious yellow sapphire, the guru stone, and told her, “Now you have the real guru.” Other stories range from the comedy of birthday celebrations to the deep seriousness of Baba’s teaching Rohini about speaking up in the face of injustice.
Chapter 15: A Companion to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
This section of the book presents a concise and authoritative commentary on selected sutras from Patanjali. Rohini focuses on practice, and her insights show how the Yoga Sutras offer a roadmap for the walk home.
After a brief introductory passage, Rohini focuses on a number of key areas: a definition of yoga, the eight limbs of yoga, the nature of samadhi, the nature of the mind, ignorance and misery, and the solution to suffering. In each case, she uses specific sutras to show how Patanjali speaks to the actual work of spiritual practice.
Chapter 16: Stories of Baba, 1981-1982
The stories in this chapter cover the last year of Baba’s life. First, Rohini relates the story of her final job with Baba, as librarian of his personal library, which was actually closed to everyone but Baba and the few disciples he gave permission to enter. Then she relates her final encounter with him. Finally, she tells the story of his death, and how she worked through its emotional and spiritual aftermath.
Chapter 17: Conclusion
This book may give you lots of ideas. If you walk away satisfied with ideas, the book has failed in its purpose. Spiritual practice is about direct perception, not thought. Part of the practice is having your ideas about spiritual work shot down.
Knowing who we are means comprehending that we are not the intellect but that which enlivens it. We must let go of all that “knows” in order to become all-knowing. We must let go of our lower selves in order to rest in the Self. Once we accomplish this, the illusion of separateness, from which our lower selves create their suffering, dissolves.
Be with your experience consciously, let whatever comes up come up, and function appropriately on the physical plane. Ground your awareness in the Heart. Be still.
Show Ideas involving Rohini Ralby, Author of Walking Home with Baba
After earning a Master’s degree in dance, practicing and teaching Tai Chi Chuan, becoming a close personal disciple of Swami Muktananda, and serving as a nondenominational spiritual teacher and director in suburban Baltimore for nearly three decades, Rohini Ralby is an expert in spiritual practice.
Rohini will be able to:
• Use her Foursquare Personality game, which she developed over years of work and includes in her book, to identify the attachments that make us miserable and begin to let go of them
• Show how to meditate properly
• Explain how to still internal vibrations in order to experience who we really are
Rohini will also be able to:
• Discuss her experiences with Swami Muktananda (Baba)
• Tell us why much of what we think we know about Yoga is wrong
• Explain the nature of our true Self
• Show us how to live fully by resting in the Heart
• Discuss parenting in the context of spiritual practice
Possible Specific Shows/Events:
Ellen: Ellen always has guests on her show that can teach her something new. She has done everything from meditation to participating in a potato sack race on TV. For the show, Rohini could teach Ellen how to get to the Heart, how to meditate, and how to identify her attachment using the Foursqure Personality Game. She would also recount some of her experiences and dance with Ellen.
The O Network: (O.W.N.): Rohini would be happy to be interviewed on a show and discuss spiritual practice.
Advice Radio Shows: Rohini would be willing to answer questions on spiritual practice.
1. How do you tell the difference between the lower self and the True Self?
2. How is the common idea of Yoga as practiced in America limited and even deceptive?
3. What are some of the lessons in the stories about Baba? What common themes do many of the stories have?
4. What does Ganesh mean? Why was Rohini called that?
5. Rohini meets some very famous people in the ashram. Can you tell who any of them might be?
6. Where does the Heart lie? How do we reach it?
7. To which of the three levels of spiritual practice do you aspire? Why?
8. What is the point of the Four Square Personality Game? Make one for yourself.
9. What is a Seed and how do you get rid of it? Can you identify unwanted vibrations in your life?
10. Why did Rohini lose her job as appointment secretary to Baba? Who might be person they are discussing?
11. What is the significance of the large monastery where the abbot only has two disciples?
11. Why does Baba seem to yell at so many people? What purpose does it serve?
12. Why was Rohini ostracized? What did it accomplish for her?
13. What sort of people at the ashram really learned from Baba? What was the significance of Rohini’s time with Baba at the back stair?
14. Why did Baba want to make the teaching available to everyone?
15. Why was Baba concerned that there were boys with Rohini and his translator?
16. What was Baba’s point in tricking the Brahmin?
17. Many of Baba’s “lessons” hint at teaching something. Do you think he really was teaching all of the time? Or were some of his stories told in this book for simple reading enjoyment?