A medical doctor, psychiatrist, family therapist, and licensed homeopathic physician, founder of Tree of Life Center, and author of several books, Gabriel Cousens cumulates titles. While interviewing him and his wife Shanti at one of their overseas retreats at Five Elements in Bali, we felt captivated by his humble, calm, and gentle demeanor, his wide knowledge on all aspects of health, and his passion for karma yoga. We caught up on his latest accomplishments and were eager to welcome him to the Yogi Times' I AM "DOING IT" project.
Yogi Times: Can you tell us why you have been "doing it" all this time?
Gabriel Counsens: That’s all there is (with a wide smile).
YT: How are you "doing it?"
Gabriel Counsens: I’m doing it with a love for humanity. I’m doing it with a combination of spiritual, social, and medical skills. I am bringing the consciousness of a new world vision; one of putting God at the center of our lives; one of bringing holiness to all we do, including food, and teaching a way of eating food that uplifts every aspect of the cycle of life.
The “how” is about transforming and expanding human consciousness, while feeding, elevating, and healing the planetary way of life. Specifically this is through the vehicle of diabetes prevention, treatment, and screening centers in nations throughout the world, including Central America, South America, North America, Canada, Bali, Singapore, Mainland China, Taiwan, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Papua New Guinea.
The teaching is always the same – “bringing the consciousness of the Divine into how people live their lives so that they will be motivated to love themselves enough to heal themselves and understand that food is a love note from God." In that way, all that we eat should contribute to building a healthy web of life on the planet.
YT: What motivates you to keep "doing it?"
Gabriel Counsens: It is the will of God, and I am spontaneously aligned with God’s will. This is how I choose to spread this message.
YT: What brought you to your spiritual teaching?
Gabriel Counsens: I have always been interested in spiritual life. In 1975, upon receiving shaktipat from Swami Muktananda, the kundalini was profoundly awakened and since then has been the expression of God as the driving force throughout my life. I am also moved to understand the truth in many traditions including Judaism, in which I am a Rabbi, and the Native American tradition, in which I am a four-year Sundancer and have been voluntarily adopted into the Lakota and made the head of the Yellow Horse Clan. The way of the Tao is a background theme to the whole flow.
YT: How do you define yourself as a teacher?
Gabriel Counsens: As a holistic, Liberated (according to my two enlightened gurus, Swami Muktananda and Swami Prakashananda), world humanitarian, and world healer.
YT: How would you describe your style of teaching?
Gabriel Counsens: “Blood on the ground” – direct experience of the truth in the play of the world – love in the heart – wisdom in the mind – and the power of devotion. It is an integrated style of teaching, which involves the scriptural teachings from the Torah and Kabbalah, from the Vedas, non-dual Advaita Vedanta, Jnana Yoga, Tantra, Shaktipat, Shiva, Vishnu, Datatreya lineage, Bakti Yoga, Yoga Asana, Pranayama, and the Way of the Tao, aligned with the Divine Will in all these ways.
YT: What do you consider to be the most important part of the work that you do?
Gabriel Counsens: Helping people to “Wake up and to Stay awake”.
YT: What part of this work brings you the most joy?
Gabriel Counsens: At a certain level of awareness, one begins to predominately live in non-causal joy, non-causal peace, non-causal love, non-causal compassion, non-causal contentment, and nothing in the outer world particularly touches me. The inner bliss and peace is so strong that no outer event (positive or negative) has any significant impact. In the same way there is no part that particularly frustrates me. It is the play of God, and whatever God does is for the best. It is my inner experience through which I live in the world, but not as the world.
YT: Why would you say that most students come to study with you?
Gabriel Counsens: Because they are attracted to my passion for the deepest enlightened truths of life, the subtleties and bliss and love of the Divine, and the awakening of and support for the Shakti/Kundalini.
YT: Is there any particular process that you lead your students through during your overseas retreats?
Gabriel Counsens: The essence of my overseas retreats, and all my retreats and trainings, is the awakening of the kundalini. Once the kundalini is awakened it naturally begins to move you in the direction of expanding consciousness. (In our latest fast in Bali, 100% of the participants had the kundalini awakened.) This awakening of the kundalini is the final opening before liberation. The focus on kundalini is more of a focus on the feminine aspects of the divine in a sense that it is the play of consciousness in the world, expanding to merge in unity with Shiva (male aspect).
To this extent I teach in all my workshops the Six Foundations and the Sevenfold Peace. The Six Foundations include:
1. Spiritual fasting and spiritual nutrition, which is a 100% vegan, 80% live food diet.
2. Building prana (or chi), which is done with yoga asana, pranayama, tai chi, chi kung, and sacred dance.
3. Service and charity (which is what your project is about) or what we call karma yoga.
4. Being with an awakened teacher and reading the great scriptures and vairagya (equal vision) and viveka (discrimination between the absolute and the temporal reality).
5. Kol Demama or sacred silence, meditation, prayer, mantra repetition, devotional chanting (Bakti Yoga)
6. Shaktipat meditation, which is the lineage that takes us 8,000 years back to Shiva and Shakti and the awareness of Datatreya (Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu as one being), the primordial Guru.
The Sevenfold Peace is peace with the body; mind; family; community; culture on all levels: the rock people, sprouting ones, walking ones, and talking ones (humans); ecology; and peace with God. The Six Foundations plus the Sevenfold Peace make thirteen, which is a slightly unbalanced number that tilts us always in the direction of liberation. This path I teach and live is called Sanathana Dharma, which is the natural way of life that leads to liberation. It is one in which we are lived by the Six Foundations and Sevenfold Peace that establishes us in Swarupa, the natural state of liberation. In Swarupa we are lived by liberation.
YT: Sounds like a very intense and complete program! You often speak of the Koshas, what are they?
Gabriel Counsens: The six layers of the mind are called koshas. (Some also say there are five koshas.) These have to do with the subtle ways that we operate in the world at the mental level.
The highest level is Anandamaya kosha, which is the bliss body. It is the source of non-causal bliss, love, joy, peace, contentment, compassion, which are our true human emotions. As we live the Six Foundations and the Sevenfold Peace more and more we break into this level of awareness until it becomes the background interior experience of all that we do.
Underneath those layers are the Vijnanamaya kosha, which is the pure wisdom of the mind (including viveka and vairagya). We may call this Advaita Vedanta wisdom.
Under this is Atimanasa kosha, which is the first movement into the supercausal levels. It is the level at which the urge for the Divine is activated.
Beneath this is Manomaya kosha, which is more or less the emotional mind and level. Beneath this is the Kamamaya kosha, which is the pleasure mind. It is our realm of inner pleasure that we derive from our actions in the world.
Finally is the food body, Annamaya kosha, which is the interface between us and spirit, with food nourishing not only who we are but the whole planetary web of life.
YT: If there was one thing you would like every student to learn from your teachings what would it be?
Gabriel Counsens: “The personality is a case of mistaken identity”; “the Spark of the Divine dwells within you as you”; and “there is only God”.
YT: In your lineage, diet and living food and particularly veganism are important. Can you explain the connection between nutrition and the path toward enlightenment?
Gabriel Counsens: The key to the connection between nutrition and the enlightenment path rests on a few pillars:
1. You cannot eat your way to God.
2. Appropriate diet that turns you into a superconductor for the Divine is one of the foundations for accelerating the awakening to the Divine. It is important to note that our spiritual fasting retreats are one of the most powerful and consistent ways of awakening the kundalini. The idea of eating in this context is to eat in a way that transforms and expands the consciousness of the individual and affirms all life. When you have a diet that promotes the movement of the kundalini through your nadis, because a raw food vegan diet clears the nadis and activates the flow of tejas, prana, and ojas in the system, it builds the ojas (deep primordial life force) and activates the flow of tejas (electrical refined fire) and moves the prana (air element/life force) in the system.
In this context diet becomes a way of purifying our inner nervous system and sanctifies our life on every level, including the chakras and the layers of the mind called the koshas. When we are eating at least an 80% live-food vegan diet we are able to follow the advice of Patanjali, which says, “Yoga is the stilling of the vrittis of the mind.” When we eat a sattvic, live-food, plant-based diet, we are eating a diet that best calms the activity of the mind so that we can rise above mental activity. So for these simple reasons this is the diet that best supports the unfolding of the kundalini. It is the diet that best clears and purifies the nadis and the koshas through which the kundalini energy moves. It is the diet that best quiets the mind and the one that best supports the unfolding of the kundalini so that we become a superconductor of the Divine. It helps to reveal the doorway of the light body so we may walk through and go to the ultimate point of yoga, which is to merge with God and thus be liberated from our misconception that we are the “I-am-ness” separate from God. It is no accident that the ancient rishis ate this type of diet.
Although most people are aware that healthy eating is generally good for them on every level, not everyone is ready to do this because it requires that you love yourself enough to heal, transform, and elevate your body, your mind, your spirit and the world. Because people are not ready to do that their ego sets them into resistance so that they can justify their lack of love for self and God.
YT: Even though most of us know that our mind and body need healthy food, why do we continue to eat unhealthy food?
Gabriel Counsens : One needs to love themselves enough to want to heal themselves. The junk food diet today is symbolic with our break from the natural way of living that is in tune with the flow of life. People are so out of tune with nature and the flow of the divine, that they actually have an ego resistance to moving out of their synthetic egoistically created comfort zone into a deep profound and satisfying alignment with the divine in all of the natural ways.
YT: Do you find that your medical background has lent credibility to your nutritional and spiritual teachings?
Gabriel Counsens: Yes. It has been helpful not only because it has lent credibility, but also because my medical training has a scientific base that allows me to have a more holistic picture of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual complexity of seeing ourselves as multi-dimensional beings.
YT: You often talk about the importance of karma yoga and how important it is to integrate into our daily lives on a practical level. What is your expression of karma yoga?
Gabriel Counsens: This whole "I AM DOING IT" project and your questions are interwoven aspects of karma yoga, which is selfless service. “It is all there is to do.”
Selfless service is based on the fact that we are the world and as we are so guided, all our actions are meant to transform the world into higher and higher levels of consciousness. In this process, we become more and more open to the Divine. It is a holistic synergy and the more we are involved in karma yoga we open our hearts and feel our oneness with the planet, with our neighbors, and the more we are transformed. At a certain level we become the expression of the Will of God without questioning but as who we are, and in that process we let go of our illusion that there is a separate “I” that is doing it. We simply are “it” happening.
That is the deep basis of what people call karma yoga. I can’t identify with appearing to be a karma yogi in my life, because it is simply the divine Will flowing through me. I have given up the illusion that there is me choosing to align with the divine Will. It expresses in a variety of ways including the Tree of Life Foundation in Patagonia, which is sponsoring this work to prevent and heal diabetes throughout the planet in over 12 nations at this point. It manifests in the Cousens School of Holistic Wellness in which we have the world’s first Masters program in live-food, organic nutrition, the world’s first Masters program in organic, veganic farming at the Tree of Life Center US, in which people from 110 nations have come for healing and training and for the experience of the organic, veganic live-food lifestyle and spiritual life.
It plays out in our 6-month apprenticeship program in our live-food Café, and certainly in the development of our spiritual teachings, which have been taught in over 40 countries worldwide. It simply manifests as the love of God that I feel in the sacred relationship and that I feel with my children and grandchildren and my global family. It is part of the path of Sanathana Dharma, which means the natural way of liberation, and ultimately Swarupa, the natural way of liberation.
YT: Shanti is your partner in life and in the realization of your sacred relationship. Can you share how her presence is vital?
Gabriel Counsens: Although I primarily live in the eternal bliss of the non-causal love, independent of external conditions, my relationship with Shanti amplifies this non-causal love in a way that takes it even delightfully further through our sacred relationship. The merging of the inner male and female and outer male and female as Shiva and Shakti in our oneness adds an ongoing subtle ecstasy. Shanti is the “Rainbow Radiance”, which balances my “Dying into the Nothing”. We are able to play in our divine relationship in a way that adds a vital dimension to our lives as a living sacred relationship dancing with the Divine, reveling in the divine kiss and laughter. Because of this, many people and couples are inspired by us as a model of sacred relationship and the meaning of spiritual marriage.
YT: A single word of wisdom to communities worldwide:
Gabriel Counsens: Open your heart and eyes to the dance of the Divine in all creation and in every moment of your life. In that subtle ecstatic awareness serve God in every moment until we merge with God. We are the expression of God being danced. In this way consciously establish God as the center of your life.