June 10, 2016

Once Upon a Yogi Time: Why Teachings are a Crucial Element of Our Practice.


Let’s start with five magic words: “Once upon a yogi time…”

Whenever I heard our guru, Goswami Kriyananda say those five magic words, I’d smile, sigh and settle down.

This relaxation response may have been connected with the bedtime ritual of my childhood—bath, brush and then a story. But it’s also a soul-deep response that goes beyond my personal history. Stories, myths and fairy tales speak to the inner mind, stirring ancient memories that evoke the wisdom of the soul.

After all, who doesn’t love a good story?

As I’ve been working with the Wisdom Heart Community on how to best support our awakening life, a particular yogi story keeps coming to mind which I’ll share with you here.

Once upon a yogi time…

There was a very important swami (or at least he believed he was very important) who, during his pilgrimage across India, arrived at the edge of a vast lake. Peering across the sparkling waters, the swami could see that his destination lay on the other shore. But, how could he get there? The lake stretched for miles to the North and miles to the South—to walk around it was quite impossible.

The lake was deep and wide—to swim across was unthinkable.

Just then, a thin, young man approached the swami.

“Revered sir, would you like to travel to the other shore?”


“Please come with me. I have a row boat and I can take you there,” the young man bowed.

While traveling in such a humble craft seemed below his stature, the swami, having no other option, agreed and joined the young man in his row boat.

As the young man plied the water, the swami noticed something unusual.

On one oar was carved the word: Teachings. On the other oar was carved the word: Practices.

“What is the meaning of these two words, carved into your oars?” he asked.

“These oars are a gift from my father. He carved these two words into the wood so that I would always remember that if I only study teachings…”

With this, the young man lifted the “Practices” oar out of the water.

He rowed intensely with the “Teachings” oar. As he did so the boat made a wide circle.

“With teachings alone, my life will simply go in circles. I will know much but realize little. However, if I only engage in practices…”

And he switched oars, rowing only with the “Practices” oar as the boat made a wide circle in the opposite direction.

“Practices are essential,” the young man continued, “But, without deep understanding that comes from teachings, practices become mechanical—with no transformative power. To make progress, to reach the shore of Awakening, requires both oars.

Both teachings and practices are needed.

With teachings, my mind opens, I see beyond my conditioning and attune to wisdom; with practices my heart opens and I embody that wisdom in each moment.”

With those words, the young man plunged both oars into the lake and rowing with ease, he carried the swami to the opposite shore.

Teachings are like maps—they reveal a vision of possibility, a larger world.

Teachings reveal the possibility of living an awakened life.

Listening to or reading the teachings allows us to see beyond the boundaries of our conditioned map of reality. But a new map will not automatically bring us into a new life. A map reveals what’s possible but we still have to make the journey to experience a new life. Making the spiritual journey requires more than teachings.

It takes practice.

Practices bring the abstractions of the map into the reality of your life.

Practices bring the teachings down to earth—into our bodies, relationships and lives.

We don’t think about our practices; we just do them.

The practice of meditation isn’t an idea, it’s an embodied discipline. We don’t think our way into meditation—we sit down, straighten our spines, connect with our breath.

We bring attention to the object of meditation—we do it!


As you do the practices, they un-do you.

The practices release the conditioned tensions that constrict your awareness. Practices open you up to experience a new world, a new self, a new life. It’s liberating—and sometimes a bit disorienting.

That’s when the map—the teachings—become so valuable.

Having a map keeps us oriented. The map says, “You are here.” A map won’t move you along the path—but it will keep us from losing your way.

The map reminds us that we’re not lost. 

As the practices open you up and dissolve the familiar patterns of your world, the teachings remind you that: the world is larger, deeper, more wonderous than your conditioning would have you believe.

Teachings and practices complement each other:

  • When we embody the teachings through whole-hearted practices, our lives open up.
  • When we infuse our practices with the wisdom of the teachings, we awaken.

At the Wisdom Heart Community, we’re creating an integrated learning process that includes:

  • The deepest teachings of the Wisdom Heart.
  • Powerful practices for embodying your awakening life.

The doors to the Wisdom Heart Community open on June 22—click here if you’d like to receive a special early invitation.

Until then, remember to keep both oars in the water!

Love & Shanti,


Author: Eric Klein

Illustrations: original artwork by the author

Editors: Renée Picard; Yoli Ramazzina

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