With the 'I' that I emptied, my consciousness got filled up
The yogi and author of the book with the long title Yoga Vasistha an instructional book on Hatha Yoga and guide to Physical Well-Being through Ancient Wisdom of the Science of Yoga, Ernest van der Linden (51), talks about his spiritual awakening experience and much more. What are the similarities between yoga and the world’s religions or philosophies? What are the benefits and the disadvantages of psychoactive substances on the path of consciousness? How comes that one of Ernest's greatest gurus was not a human? Why is Ernest ready to die? These and other exciting questions the author answers in the conversation with Vertical Truths.
Read the INTERVIEW
Jennifer: If a five or six-year-old child asked you, “Ernest, what is yoga?”, what would you answer?
Ernest van der Linden: There is no point in teaching this to a five-year-old. A child is much closer to the reality of everything than we are. Yoga is about union, oneness. For a two-year-old child there’s not a difference between the 'I' and the surroundings. When children grow older, they start to differentiate a little bit, but most of their being is still in truth.
How did you get onto the path of yoga?
It was through my spiritual awakening experience. Before that, I was not spiritually inclined or very religious. But this experience made it clear to me that we are a part of something much bigger. This made me search for answers related to my experience, because I could not understand or explain what had happened. Then I found yoga.
“When all these doors were closing, I just let everything go in my despair”
What exactly happened when you went through the awakening?
Before it, I have done many things, I lived in many countries, submerged myself in many cultures, I speak many languages. After this awakening experience, I realised it was a deep meditation, this process of trying to figure out the right way in life to do something. It was quite hard to realise I couldn’t find any further way out. When all these doors were closing, I just let everything go in my despair. It was a quite personal despair that ended up with me letting go of everything I ever held dear to my life. All my beliefs, all my convictions, such as the conviction of becoming a father for example, anything imaginable that I was taught is worth living for. This created a big void inside me and I was quite literally standing on an edge. Then however, this void didn’t stay empty. It got filled with something. With the 'I' that I emptied, my consciousness got filled up. It overflowed with this experience of awakening and it was also an experience of oneness.
“It can’t be taught, it can only be found.”
Where did you look for to find answers to explain your experience?
I came to find answers everywhere, because especially at the beginning all my senses were completely open. I met people and saw the truth in a person. I read a book and got the true essence of it. Then I came across a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, which is like a poem on yoga in its true meaning, it transcended its words. What I read was like a mirror to what I had experienced. Since it spoke to me so clearly, I came to understand that I could embrace all these teachings about karma (the spiritual law of cause and effect) and about yoga. So I started to study yoga and began reading Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Yoga Vasishtha and so on. The Bhagavad Gita was indeed the most profound text that I have encountered from all these beautiful teachings from the Quran to the Bible, as well as Buddhist teachings, Eckart Tolle or the Gurus Sivananda, Yogananda, and others. They are all trying to convey the same message which has been spread throughout ages, all religions, all philosophies, all the gurus. But nobody has succeeded in 'teaching' it, because it is something that can’t be taught, it can only be found.
Didn’t you keep anything, a habit for example, from your former life before your awakening?
I was basically reborn. And everything that happened before was irrelevant. I used to be quite successful in the things that I had done in my life, in my business. I had fame, I had fortune, had everything that society declares as the ultimate goals to be achieved. What I achieved in this one moment of self-realization , has no comparison though. It is by far the greatest achievement I’ve ever had.
“I had built this strong body from the ‛outside in’, but strength comes from the inside out.”
Did you learn practising asanas (yogic body postures) and pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) too?
In the beginning I practiced only a little bit. I used to be more athletic and the asana practice came with the realization that though I was trained like a top athlete and very fit, I would never reach full health with this system I had embraced to keep myself healthy. In a sense, I had built this strong body from the ‛outside in’, but strength comes from the inside out. Since that realization, a lot has happened. For several years I used to practice asana every day, until I couldn’t practice for a long while after an illness. Since my recovery I have slowly started to rebuild my physical health and body. The illness has enabled me from then on to rebuild my physical temple from the inside out through the practice of yoga!
Do you have a favourite asana?
No. It all comes and goes.
How about a favourite mantra?
Gayatri mantra. I think with the mantras as well as the asanas, it is better to choose one or only a few rather than many different techniques. Then it becomes easier to create what is called one-pointedness.
How important is asana practice to come to a deeper understanding?
Although asana has been brought to the West as a physical exercise, there is a spiritual effect associated to it. Those who are prone to evolution will benefit from asana. But I think places where yoga is practiced in its true sense are rare nowadays.
Some people are having a hard time to keep up with the asana or meditation practice. What do you tell them to stay motivated?
It means that you are most likely facing some inner barriers and some resistances. I’d recommend to just stick to the practice, whichever it is. Then after a while understanding comes about what it was that was holding you back, so you can consciously face it and let it go.
“This gets you out of the safe bubble and that’s when you hit the boundary that you’ve created for yourself.”
So, embracing what it is, instead of resisting it...
Exactly. Meditation. Looking at things. Many people fall back into old habits, because this is where they feel comfortable. Once you start practicing seriously and do pranayama and all these things, energy starts to flow more freely. This gets you out of your comfort zone, out of the safe bubble and that’s when you hit the boundary that you’ve created for yourself.
Should we change our lifestyle so that we can live more in a yogic way of life, or do we change our lifestyle because we live in a more yogic way of life?
Both ways are possible, I would recommend pursuing both simultaneously.
Should asana, pranayama and meditation classes be free of charge in your opinion?
This is often mistaken for yoga. The yogic teachings are free. But it is always up to you, how you see them, take them in and digest. That is free. If somewhere in the world, somebody is offering you something for money, then this is probably not a truly inspiring teaching.
How important is karma yoga (yoga of deed and action)?
We should always live to the best of our abilities and talents and do this freely without expecting anything in return. For example, publishing the book Guruji (about the Indian yoga philosophy teacher Sunil Kumar Ramachandran - check out the Yoga Conversation with him) was an active karma yoga, that I performed. Nonetheless, it was important for me to know in advance what the motivation for this book was. I decided to publish it because it’s not been written in order to make profit, just for the greater good, for sharing this yoga message. Once you know yourself, this knowledge holds tremendous powers.
“If I were to use my talents freely to my own benefit, I would commit karmic suicide.”
Why is it so powerful to know ourselves and our talents?
Imagine one of these Japanese master chefs, fileting artfully the raw fish. They have this knife that they know how to use so skilfully and they can do with it whatever they want. If you realize what it is that makes you good at the things you are 'cutting', you can use your tools and talents in the way it pleases you. This is something which can become very powerful over time.
Yes, but it brings many responsibilities. The more you know and read, the deeper the meaning is. The deeper your understanding goes, the more you realize that every thought and every action has a reaction, a karmic consequence. So, if I were to use my talents freely to my own benefit, I would commit karmic suicide. I personally want to live my life as well as I can according to all these teachings. I don’t want to be a Trump. [slight chuckle]
If more people were to practise yoga and transform themselves, would then also yoga transform the world?
Inevitably. Because this world we live in is recreated every day. When higher consciousness awakens in the individual through the practice of yoga, it becomes part of the whole.
Is your aim to contribute to that?
I have no ambitions or goals. I have given up on those things. In that single moment of eternity, it all left me and never came back, and I also don’t want it back [smiles]. I simply aspire to live by the yogic guidelines, as a yogi, and simply by living, I contribute.
“All that makes people feel as 'themselves', it is something they reinvent daily.”
It’s heavy to carry along, right?
It’s very heavy. [We are both laughing.] But it is not easy. [Ernest goes back to his normal serious face]. Most people wake up and create this image of themselves. This means holding on to all these ideas and dreams and ambitions. All that makes people feel as 'themselves', it is something they reinvent daily.
What was your inspiration to write the book Yoga Vasistha – an instructional book on Hatha Yoga and guide to Physical Well-Being through Ancient Wisdom of the Science of Yoga?
The yoga teacher and my friend Sunil Kumar Ramachandran (you can find his Yoga Conversation interview on Vertical Truths too) asked me if I could help him to make a reference book for his yogasana class, since I had already published the book about him and his tales Guruji and his Pearls of Wisdom by Anji Pink. I agreed. But as I was already in my deep studies of yoga and had made many notes half way to have a book ready when he asked me, it was logical for me to add something more from my side. Yet, nothing in there is mine, it is the old knowledge and I’ve just taken it, digested and then put it into form so that it is a basic starting point for somebody who would like to know a little bit more about yoga. Having the manuscript, my main motivation for getting the book ready and published was my desire to offer it to my twelve-year-old nephew. I witnessed him belittling yoga and found he shall know something about it before judging it. So, as his birthday was nearing, I put all the book together, including the drawings, ready to give it as a present. I told him: “What I am giving you here is a gift I had hoped to receive when I was at your age.” Because there is so much to be learned from yoga and its teachings, that we simply are not taught when we grow up, that we are actually consciously steered away from in Western society.
You mentioned in your book description that the 'ancient knowledge' got lost and we are not in touch with it anymore...
Yes, but in India they are still closer to this knowledge. There and in some other countries are still some tribes that are more in touch with their own nature, with mother Earth and the Self. But us, where we come from – the Netherlands, Germany, Europe and so on – we have been detached since many generations from our own nature. And it’s very hard to find the way back.
“It is only like a diluted residue of the full truth”
Many paths seem to open up again. Yoga is fashionable and also shamanism is becoming quite popular in the West. Some people take medicinal plants like ayahuasca to consciously reconnect with mother nature and their true selves. Do you believe this too is a valid way to open up and get onto the right path?
Any substance that we use to heighten our awareness is actually limiting. We can have a moment in which we break through certain boundaries and in which truth and the greater reality shine through, but it is only like a diluted residue of the full truth. There is a reason why yoga, as science, teaches us to first and foremost take care of this temple we live in (our physical and energetic body) – going from the gross to the fine -, and this excludes the use of substances like alcohol, drugs and coffee.
Have you ever tried any of these substances yourself?
Since my awakening I haven’t and I don’t need anything. Except for the fact that I’m drinking coffee sometimes, although I know I shouldn’t. But previously in this life I have smoked and drank alcohol and I tried several substances when I was very young, like marihuana, LSD or ecstasy. So, I know what I’m talking about. I was ignorant at that time. But even though you can never reach higher consciousness by using these drugs, I do realize that they have broadened my horizon. I became aware that there are alternative realities.
I’ve also spent time with Anangu people (an aboriginal tribe) in Australia deep in the outback. And I’ve learned some of the laws that they live by – ancient teachings. They don’t have a written language and pass their knowledge through arts, dance, singing, and also dreaming and some of these dreams are evoked by certain plants which they find in the desert. These people are a living proof of humans that are still fully in touch with their own spiritual selves. So, I can’t say there’s no use to it.
“The texts were more alive sometimes than the people I met”
Nowadays, yoga seems to be more popular in the West than in its land of origin, India. How do you explain this?
There is a big void. Lots of emptiness and people are eager for something that fills them up or sustains them. I don’t think there’s a big search for yoga in the West. They do a lot of exercise. And this is also why I have not done any teacher training, because when I first found this science, I pursued to find more about it in its deeper sense. In India there are ashrams and many Westerners are ‛seeking’. For me, though, the texts were more alive sometimes than the people I met there. There seemed to be not too much enlightenment in ashrams, just people going through emotions. I also had my hoops in the years after my awakening and wondered, why am I here? And now I don’t walk around with a belief, but with a knowing. I’m a witness to myself. There’s a higher consciousness that witnesses everything that is going on in this life that I am living.
What’s better: Ashram life or life in society?
I think that everybody has to decide on their own. I have lived in an ashram sometimes, because there I didn’t have to worry about anything. But I’ve lived also in Varkala, Kerala (South India), for two years without giving in to any temptation. Now, I embrace to live like Krishna does, just playing his flute and playing to the tune of life. [laughs]
“I and this heavy bull trustfully, joyfully engaged with each other. A scary situation and yet I was not scared.”
Who was your greatest guru?
A temple bull. I used to live near the temple on the North Cliff in Varkala and saw the bull daily, I approached him, at the beginning with a bit of insecurity. There were just me and him and we slowly became friends. After a while I even started challenging him playfully, grabbing his horns. He took the challenge, and then I and this heavy bull trustfully, joyfully engaged with each other. A scary situation and yet I was not scared. In his eyes there was this spark, this connection in full trust.
Some people I met managed getting quite far in their own spiritual evolution by themselves. Do we actually need a master?
Some people can achieve a lot by themselves. But what happens once we awaken our faculties, we get more capabilities. The senses are wide open, and we become aware of other things. And if we are not properly guided this can have a very bad effect, which could be counterproductive.
You studied yoga deeply, keep practising and you have also published books. What’s next on your journey?
I’m going to study yoga in an ashram from October 2019 onwards, deepening my practice, going to the next level. But if I don’t reach a certain state in this life, then maybe in the next. I don’t care. In a way I’m done with this life. I already embraced death, I’m sort of done and over with it.
Do you actually feel you’d like to die already? Isn’t there anything about life anymore that you could enjoy?
There’s always purpose. But if we really embrace the fact that we are all one and that there is no duality, then it doesn’t matter anymore whether we are alive or dead.
Thank you for this interview.
Ernest van der Linden
Ernest (51), Dutch yogi and author of Yoga Vasistha – an instructional Bbook on Hatha Yoga and Guide to Physical Well-Being through Ancient Wisdom of the Science of Yoga ventured onto the yogic path after he’s had an empowering awakening experience, that took him out of his previous life - one in which he was ambitious and successfully ran his business, lived in many European countries and Latin America full of fame and fortune. He let go of all beliefs and ambitions, lived in India, studied the old scriptures and practised devotionally, keen on living to his fullest and deepest potential and using his gifts to help spreading the message of yoga.
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