A sense of calm and loving kindness washes over you as you walk through the doors of Dharma Yoga in Chelsea, New York City. This is a spiritual center led by Master Sri Dharma Mittra - but you would never know that - you only feel a sense of “being home” when you arrive in the front lobby. As if you walked into your own living room, you are greeted with warm lights and rugs and a conversational area complete with sofa and pillows and chairs for lounging. This is a restful place of spiritual contemplation that also happens to be home to many of the students and disciples of Sri Dharma Mittra.
Dharma Yoga is a community of like-minded and spiritually-open students as evidenced by their easeful smiles and genuine levels of kindness. Ego does not live here, which is a refreshing concept in yoga circles today. You can feel the support in the temple as you practice. You can’t help but notice students aiding and assisting each other in more complicated poses. Like angels, everyone here has your back and wants you to succeed. This is a studio where people really care about you, where one can feel the energy of love, compassion and support as soon as you walk through the doors. In a competitive city like NYC, this studio is a real hidden jewel.
Dharma Yoga is what it is because of the lineage of the Guru – the guidance and teachings passed down from Yogi Gupta. Being in the presence of Sri Dharma Mittra automatically opens your heart making you feel at ease and more comfortable in your skin. Your fears of “being judged” or “not being good enough” simply melt away with his sweet smile and prankish jokes. If Sri Dharma’s humor isn’t enough to lighten your spirits, you get to enjoy the energy of Sri Dharma Mittra’s canine companion Baxter, who practices alongside you in the temple when he is not sitting at the foot of his master.
In a city of practically thousands of yoga teachers, Yogi Times wanted to find out how he got to be where he is today and ask him specifically to share some of his teachings and his light with us. What we found out is that when you open your heart to this gifted teacher, a part of you shifts… a part of you changes… a part of you learns who you really ARE. It is about self-knowledge. When the student is ready, the teacher truly does appear.
Donnalynn for Yogi Times: How would you define yourself as a teacher?
Sri Dharma Mittra: After 48 years of practicing yoga techniques and the various experiences this leads to, having been under the guidance of an enlightened Guru (I believed Yogi Gupta to be so) and for having passed through all manner of temptations, illnesses, doubts, attachments and other obstacles, finally, in old age, I have achieved success! My doubts are 99% removed, some self-control is firmly established and the most crucial attribute, full compassion (to be naturally and extremely reverent to all living beings), is now automatic. Shining through all of this is some Self-realization, the result of which is being always established in the state of Sattva (natural inner spiritual bliss). Sattva is essential for teaching yoga. It takes a long time to attain, but eventually it will come. This all is what I feel qualifies me to be a teacher of yoga. Remember, all teachers progress slowly. When Self Knowledge is almost realized, only then do they reach their final state. That is to say, they become “Supreme Teachers”.
Donnalynn: What brought you to your spiritual teacher and what prompted you to share your teachings?
Sri Dharma Mittra: I knew that in order to succeed in yoga, it's essential to have a qualified yoga teacher. I found one at last through my younger brother. He knew about and practiced the yoga that he learned by studying books on the subject some time before I did. In 1962, my brother came to the USA and met Swami Kailashananda. Very soon thereafter, he became his disciple. He then wrote to me saying: “My brother, I found a Guru! Come as soon as you can. Everything we have been searching for is here.”
At the time, I was serving in the Brazilian Air Force. I quit the service, bought a one-way ticket to NYC, and upon arrival, was immediately introduced to the Guru. After 2 years of full-time yoga study and practice that included lots of Karma Yoga (selfless service to the Guru), I was finally accepted and initiated as His disciple.
Regarding sharing the teachings, it is said that the highest form of charity is that if you have a little spiritual knowledge, you should share it. I have dedicated my life to sharing what I learned from the Guru and from my practice.
Donnalynn: What do you consider the most important part of the work you do?
Sri Dharma Mittra: What most pleases me is to remove the doubts of the obedient students since these doubts are the cause of all pain and suffering. I really appreciate addressing questions such as:
1) What is Self Knowledge?
2) What happens to the soul after death?
3) How can I be free from pain and suffering?
4) Is there reincarnation?
5) What is eternal?
Answering questions and helping the students discover the source of the answers right there within them is what I consider to be the most essential work I do each day.
Donnalynn: “What part of the work brings you the most joy?”
Sri Dharma Mittra: “I love to teach on Yama and Niyama – the Ethical Rules and Observances of yoga, especially Ahimsa (non-violence, the first Yama) and compassion. What a joy this is! By following Ahimsa, compassion is fully established and, from this, a strong desire for liberation develops. All this leads automatically into supreme obedience to the teacher. Develop obedience to the teacher, please the teacher and he will, with all his love, psychically impart to his devotees spiritual knowledge. Thus, the students are led to enlightenment. This is all really a joy to me!”
Donnalynn: “Is there any part of your work that frustrates you?”
Sri Dharma Mittra: “Yes, there is. If I notice a lack of obedience or interest on the part of the students in what I'm teaching, I feel extremely sad. At the same time, I feel pity for those that lack obedience because they are really only hurting themselves. It's so sad to see students lying down while the teacher is speaking or leading Kirtan, and most especially when the teacher is reading from the scriptures. This behavior on their part is disrespectful and unethical. Automatically, the student is blocking or avoiding a supreme relationship with the teacher and, without this connection, no real progress is made. Also, as a direct consequence, the student suffers lots of disappointments. I feel sad when this happens, but, at the same time, I don't blame them because they just can’t see that their actions and attitudes are not correct. Regardless, under these conditions, discipleship will never happen.”
Donnalynn: “How would you describe your style of yoga: Dharma Yoga?”
Sri Dharma Mittra: “Dharma Yoga is the simple, easy and pleasant method born of my over 48 years of practice and direct experience under the guidance of my Guru. I believe the techniques and material chosen to be the most efficient and the best of yoga for the most satisfactory results. Dharma Yoga is the traditional, classical yoga taught as this specific method.”
Donnalynn: “Why would you say most students come to study with you?”
Sri Dharma Mittra: “Well, I don't believe that “most students” come to my classes. Many who do come here (to the Dharma Yoga New York Center) come out of curiosity or another such desire. Even so, if they take a “taste” of my classes, in most cases, they love the experience and return for more.”
Donnalynn: “If there was one thing you would want every student to learn from your teaching, what would that be?”
Sri Dharma Mittra: “Well, this is very easy for me to answer. I would be really happy to see the students well established in compassion. Not the mundane compassion of today, but further updated as the compassion that extends beyond our pets, relatives and friends. Compassion that embraces all living beings: that's it!”
Donnalynn: “You have eluded to many shifts ahead (shifts in consciousness, shifts in the planet’s vibratory energy, Mayan Calendar ending/2012, etc.) How do you see events progressing over the next couple years?”
Sri Dharma Mittra: “The present condition of our planet is no doubt leading to unpleasant natural and weather-related disasters including: earthquakes, hurricanes and Tsunamis, etc. Many of us, due to lack of Self Knowledge, distraction, attachment, little understanding and too much greed, are helping to destroy everything. There are other issues as well. Natural events such as: solar flares, changes in the Earth's magnetic field and so forth. Thus, most of us are facing situations that are causing us discomfort and great suffering.”
“There is some scientific evidence that this situation is slowly worsening each year. All this is perfectly natural – every inhabited planet passes through the same thing and all variables are governed by Mother Nature. Automatically as a result, man, out of fear of violence, pain, loss of comfort and loss of loved ones, will greatly increase his/her attention and commitment to spiritual practices. Man will more frequently attend services at churches and temples, his/her compassion will increase and, when the pain intensifies, many will throw themselves into each other’s arms desperately seeking help. Eventually, through lots of disappointment, pain and suffering, man will come to change the pattern of his/her thoughts and direct them more towards the Almighty One.”
“We may still be surprised by unpredicted phenomena from Mother Nature and wars, but real Yogis are always ready to face whatever happens because they see Divinity in everything.”
Donnalynn: “In your lineage, diet is extremely important. Can you share a bit about your views on a Yogi’s diet?”
Sri Dharma Mittra: “My view is that it is ideal for Yogis to eat food that shares no connection with the pain or discomfort of others, in other words, food that is not animal-based. This is what I follow personally and recommend to anyone and everyone because my compassion has long extended beyond my pets. I view eating animals as uncivilized and unethical. I, myself, was raised on meat; pork, chicken and the rest of my food was cooked with lard. ‘Waeirhhh!’ My parents were meat eaters, but as soon as I was on my own, I became vegetarian.”
“Most everyone eats meat during the journey to enlightenment, but then there is a specific time when everyone's consciousness passes beyond the five senses. Then meat eating ceases, because animals cannot then be seen as food anymore. We come to view the flesh from a dead animal’s body as the flesh from a cadaver of our inferior brothers and sisters. Do you want to find out how civilized we truly are? Simply study the way we eat and treat the animals. This is the way I view it anyway.”
“Concerning my physical and mental health, I avoid fried, over-cooked, dried, processed, frozen food and all junk food. I also drink/consume no alcoholic beverages.”
Donnalynn: “For yourself, what is your favorite meal? Do you ever make any exceptions to the above Yogi’s diet?”
Sri Dharma Mittra: “Blends are my favorite “meal” as I generally keep foods that require chewing to a minimum these days to conserve energy and for ease of digestion. Here are three of my current favorite blends:
1) Banana, grapefruit juice, vegan protein powder and raw oatmeal
2) Banana, sprouted, peeled almonds and grapefruit juice
3) Banana, avocado, soya milk and vegan protein powder
“This is about 80% of what I eat – occasionally it changes. The exception is: if cravings torment one immensely, it’s O.K. to eat some cheese pizza or other dairy that’s organic in moderation!”
Donnalynn: “You have been invited to join the Yogi Times Global Project - "I AM DOING IT" - Which is about raising consciousness with your skills and passion in your community. Can you tell us WHY you have been "doing it" all this time?
Sri Dharma Mittra: “Everything I do is accomplished through Divine inner intuition because in reality “I” am not the doer at all. Whatever “I” am doing is the result of this mind having acquired lots of yogic knowledge, through constant practice over many years and due to some realizations I have had as a result along the way. Because of my having passed through all of this, it takes very little effort for me to live out my dharma as a yoga teacher. Also, it's really a great pleasure for me to share spiritual knowledge with those desperately in need of it and see their doubts, pain and suffering destroyed. This is indeed the most pleasing thing for this mind to experience and I'm extremely grateful to have this opportunity.”
Donnalynn: “WHY are you ‘doing it?'"
Sri Dharma Mittra: “I am ‘doing it’ because it's the highest type of charity to share spiritual knowledge with others. For a Yogi who has achieved yoga (Divine Union), automatically, a strong desire arises in his or her mind to help others to escape the darkness that is ignorance of the True Self. This ignorance is the root cause of all pain and suffering and it is eradicated by Self Knowledge. Also, I believe that sharing the knowledge of the Self with others is the most ethical and civilized action one can take.
Donnalynn: “What motivates you to keep ‘doing it?’”
Sri Dharma Mittra: “What motivates me to keep teaching and sharing this precious knowledge is the realization that I must follow the example of the great masters of the past who also devoted their lives and efforts to passing on Self Knowledge. Doing so is natural for me at this point – there is nothing else I would rather do.”
Sri Dharma Mittra continues to disseminate the complete traditional science of yoga through daily classes, workshops and his “Life of a Yogi” Teacher Trainings at the Dharma Yoga New York Center and around the world. For more information on all things Dharma - dharmayogacenter.com