Swami Kriyananda would often tell his students that a yogi’s true goal is to get the little “self” out of the picture so that he can focus on the divine “Self” within. By the little “self” Swamiji meant our egoic identity, built around the physical body, the personality and the “bundle of self-definitions” that egoic identity brings in its wake: old or young, rich or poor, healthy or ill, happy or unhappy, and so on.
By “Self” Swamiji meant our true nature as a divine soul made in the image of God — unchanging, immortal and ever-blissful. The entire purpose of yoga, Swamiji was implying, was to transfer our identification from the “self” to the “Self.”
I have often struggled to reconcile this central teaching of yoga as an aspiring yogi with the now ubiquitous selfie phenomenon. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a selfie as follows:
Selfie (noun): an image that includes oneself and is taken by oneself using a digital camera especially for posting on social networks.
Taking a selfie (to put it humorously) requires that we literally get the little self into the picture —a direct contradiction of Swamiji’s guidelines! I, as a yogi, bent on “Self”-realization through “self”-transcendence have often, therefore, eyed selfies with certain disapproval and have done my best to refrain from this practice, whose very definition requires that I include my own face in a photo!
The purpose of this post, however, is not to justify my critical attitude toward selfies, or toward those who practice this modern art form. The purpose rather is to share how I overcame this critical attitude and learned to see selfies as a delightful reminder of my true goal of “Self”-realization.
One can in all fairness ask the question: “Why, in light of Swamiji’s statement, would you want to overcome an attitude of judgment toward selfies?” The answer surprisingly enough is the same — the central precept of yoga is to get the little “self” out of the picture! A judgmental attitude whether seemingly righteous or not is the biggest obstruction to doing just that! Paramhansa Yogananda once had the following strong words for a student who suffered from this fault:
Whenever you see wrong in others and are distressed by it, remember it’s wrong with you. When you are right inwardly, all things are right, for you see everything as part of God. You then accept all things as they are, without judgment, and look with kindness and sympathy on everyone. — The Essence of Self-Realization
Having read this precept many times, I sincerely wanted to learn to accept the selfie phenomenon “as a part of God” and to get rid of my censorious attitude toward both selfies and selfie-lovers. The catch was that I wanted to do so without going the normal route of taking numerous selfies and posting them on social media. A superconscious solution—one that allowed me to see God in selfies as well as in selfie-lovers while not having to take selfies came when I read the following exhortation from Swami Kriyananda:
Let everything remind us of Divine Mother. Paramhansa Yogananda was like that; even in little things. When he heard the “Jingle Bells” sung to him by the disciples, he cried out, “Racing through the skies to God, listening to the astral bells.” Another time someone gave him a mechanical top. He spun it and listened and to him, the sound was like OM. Everything reminded him of spiritual truths. And so it is when we develop discrimination and devotion side by side. When a man is hungry, everything reminds him of food. So when a man develops discrimination and devotion, everything reminds him of God.
As I meditated on these words, trying to connect selfies with God-remembrance, I had a wonderful inspiration: Why not think of meditation as the science of taking a “Selfie”—with a capital “S”! After all, meditation is quite literally the practice of holding steady the “smartphone” of deep, devotional concentration and focusing the camera on our own “Self.” When we perfect our meditations through repeated practice, we capture the perfect “Selfie” — a clear perception of our true identity as a divine soul.
Seeing meditation as the process of taking a “Selfie” led to some delightful revelations:
- While the selfie phenomenon is considered a recent trend (Google suggests it became popular in 2012) the art of taking a “Selfie” is among the most ancient practices known to mankind, tracing its origin to the beginning of meditation itself!
- The Bhagavad Gita explicitly equates the state of yoga (union) with taking a perfect “Selfie” in meditation. Consider this verse:
The state of complete inner tranquility, (which is) attained by yoga meditation, wherein the little “self” (the ego) perceives itself as the “Self,” enjoys itself as the “Self” (is called the state of “yoga”). (VI:20)
- Paramhansa Yogananda had dedicated an entire poem to describing the perfect Selfie! He called his poem Samadhi. The thrilling final lines are an ode to the one true “Selfie” we all must eventually capture:
Gone forever, fitful, flickering shadows of mortal memory.
Spotless is my mental sky, below, ahead, and high above.
Eternity and I, one united ray.
A tiny bubble of laughter, I
Am become the Sea of Mirth Itself.
Armed with these thoughts, Swamiji’s advice to “let everything remind one of God,” became easy to practice. Now I saw clearly that the first “Selfies” were captured not by those equipped with mechanical smartphones but by yogis equipped with the smartphone of perfect devotional concentration! I realized also that the true Selfie-addicts are the yogis—they never miss their dedicated, twice-daily practice of Selfie-capturing (meditation) and they dedicate their lives to spreading this addiction devotedly, often in the face of persecution!
My judgment of selfies and selfie-lovers effortlessly dissipated as a consequence of this inspiration. From now on, every selfie will remind me of the true “Selfie” that can be captured in deep meditation. The act of taking a selfie will remind me of the exalted science of meditation. Finally, the selfie-lovers themselves will remind me of the great yogi-saints in all religions who spend hours enjoying their own “Selfies” in deep meditation!
Next time you see or take a selfie, I hope that you too are reminded of the true “Selfie” which is “enjoyable beyond imagination of expectancy,” and whose beauty will win the first prize hands-down in any selfie-taking contest!
Happy “Selfie” taking!
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Very beautiful analogy!
Thank you Sagar for for making selfie a reminder for Selfie.
Ever-so delightful, ever-so charming – and yet wonderfully insightful and humorous! Thanks for sharing, Sagar. The light and playfulness that permeates the article is subtly underscored by a very real victory over yourself. This is good. Life is supposed to be educational and(!) entertaining!
joy to you!
A voice for the times. Thank you not only for the reminder to accept all things as they are, but for reminding us how to do just that…by seeing God in everything.
Sagar ji, how delightful, insightful analogy into selfie-taking. It will be indeed a beautiful meeting when I see you next, in this different facet as one sharing swamis and masters teachings to the one I already knew and loved back in Mumbai. Waiting for your next blog :) In love and joy
AUM PEACE AMEN
Insightful article- Believe me, I have never taken a Selfie in my life. I am reticent on the Social network- but now I may have to go for the Big time SELFIE which the Bhagavad Gita, Master and Swamiji vividly profess. Your article inpires.
Thank you so much Sagar for explaining Selfie so well. For a very long time I have wanted to dissect Samadi to have a greater understanding. I am so thankful for the way you explain the teachings.
With much gratitude,
Dear Sagar ,
Thank you for this article !
I really enjoyed the comparison between selfie and Selfie !!
Much joy ,
Thank you, Sagar. This is an insightful and helpful approach to dealing with a number of important issues for devotees.
Delightful and thought provoking blog…..thanks a ton for such insightful blog….Jai guru
You post invites and inspires to perceive the Divine in everything (even if just a glimpse!) and try to always enjoy Him inwardly. Jai Guru ?
Wonderful and wonderfully done, very amusing and insightful at the same time. Thanks for the smiles. Where can I get a Selfie stick? What’s the best phone for shooting Selfies? Should I shoot in 4K? What app should I use to edit my Selfie videos? Can I post my Selfies wirelessly on Instasamadhi? Uh-oh, samsara……………..
Delightful analogy in the modern time Sagarji?
[sigh] I frequently fall foul of the wise words: “judge not, lest ye be judged”.
Thank you for this reminder that I should “let everything remind one of God”.
I will endeavour to have this at the front of my mind to meditate upon whenever I begin to rail against what are usually nothing more than oblique offences towards my little self – especially when I consider what my own past, current and future “failings” or “learning opportunities” might look like to someone else observing ME!
Beautiful post, this will really help me too to overcome the judgemental attitude I hold towards people taking selfies – an attitude which I sincerely want to get rid of. Now I will always think about the Yogis who are obssessed with constantly taking their own Selfies in ?♂️ :)
How wonderfully you turned an undesirable trait into something so positive! Kudos to you for overcoming the “ little self “! There is a lesson to be learnt here, as I too have been trying to overcome the very same trait! Thanks for the wonderful and powerful message!
Sagar, You reflect the essence of our goal to realize our truest ‘Selfie”. We are blessed to know you & have you in our lives. joy and blessings ?
Thank you for this!!!
I love selfies — in fact I think I sent you one in my last class with you when I set up our meditation space.
I will now love the devotion of taking better Selfies!
Thank you for your wisdom.
This is a very informative blog for a new practitioner especially not to judge and how to see and feel divine in everything happening around us. One day I wish to see the Self in a selfie.
A most delightful read and so profound too!
I’m taking in everything said. Thank you!🙏
Very insightful analogy, one we can all relate to given the role cell phones now play in our lives. In particular, the camera that we can point outward or inward! In time, may we all be able to point our attention inward or outward just as easily.
Wonderful and Delightful article. I am struggling with similar problem and this article is a great help. I read it twice and may come back to read it again. Thanks Sagar for these insightful words.S
Oh this is delightful and thoughtful! I so appreciate your perspectives and guidance!! Thank you for reflecting Truth so that we may follow it with Joy!!
Always a joy to read your posts, so much humility and humor! God bless you.