Interview with Dominik Gackstatter
Welcome, Dominik. Good to have this opportunity to speak with you and it’s great that you agreed to share some stories with us. Could you tell us about yourself?
I was born 1967 in Southern Germany and spent a carefree childhood with my brother in a large house with four generations. Nearly carefree, as my parents divorced early and there was a void in my young heart that needed mending and filling. Nature helped me with this. Back then it was not unheard of for a six-year-old to roam the woods and fields on one’s own. My granny’s house was full of wonders; the cellar was a feast of smells, from fresh apples and potatoes to glorious fresh washing powder and petrol. It was also full of items to discover, old ploughs, gear and toys from previous generations. Both my great-grandmother and granny were practising Catholics, and I remember fondly the large paintings of saints and Mother Mary in the house. Praying felt natural, and I remember looking forward to bedtime as emptying my mind had a strange appeal.
Moving to Hamburg on the other side of Germany was a big deal. I graduated from school and studied Graphic Design, eagerly pursuing a side career as portrait artist and drawing teacher in evening classes. My first wife Sylvia and I lived together for ten years, seven of these filled with Kriya activities. Life is colourful and full of surprises. We separated, and after a few years intermezzo I moved to Queen’s Park, London, marrying a second time. My three sons Noah, Quinn and Leo were all born in England. Well, three is a magical number, and since 2011 I am happily together with my third and last wife Claire. After a time in Richmond we moved down to the coast to Hastings where we enjoy both the vibrant community and beautiful coast. The boys and her daughter Isabella love coming to us. We recently opened a brasserie in St Leonards-on-Sea, a great time of change and transition. It will allow me to spend more time painting, drawing and meditating whilst practising patience and ahimsa with a wide spectrum of customers.
What led you to become a Kriyavan?
My mother was interested in what was then called the occult as long as I can remember. Having had a keen interest in Astronomy early on, I used to make fun of her astrological and other pursuits. A turning point happened when I was fifteen and read one of my mother’s books ‘The Third Eye’ by Lobsang Rampa. It kick-started my interest in the divine world. Michael Harner and Carlos Castaneda opened up a world of shamanism. I also studied Blavatsky’s theosophy in regular group circles and got initiated into Mahayana Buddhism in 1992. I was a seeker, and none of the above managed to fulfil my desire.
Finally, in March 1993, my then-wife Sylvia came home from work and brought the ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ along. She mentioned that someone on the train she met was reading this book, and she was fascinated by the photographs of saints and yogis. So she immediately bought it. I read the book with a sense of wonder and homecoming. I wanted to practise this Kriya Yoga. The only clue towards learning the technique was the address of the Self Realisation Fellowship in Los Angeles. We contacted them and were told that we had to study a series of SRF lessons/newsletters first before Initiation would be possible. We ordered them immediately. Around two weeks after my first encounter with Yoganandaji’s timeless book I saw an advert in Hamburg’s new age periodical KGS, advertising Kriya initiation with Peter van Breukelen, a disciple of Paramahamsa Hariharananda. On the same day I stumbled into a bookshop in Hamburg. Now here is where my memory is playing a trick on me. Part of me believes that Baba Hariharananda’s book ‘Kriya Yoga’ fell out of the bookshelf right in front of me. But it cannot be somehow- I must have simply seen it on the shelf. On the penultimate page was a picture of Gurudev with his disciple Peter Baba… this was all I needed to reassure me that the Kriya Yoga lecturer was a bona fide and distinguished Yogi. My Mum also got initiated into Kriya. All it took was to tell her at shortest notice that there was a yogi in town and she arrived for the initiation with five flowers, fruits and her donation.
So could you tell us about your initiation?
Peter’s introductory talk was mesmerising. I remember approaching him afterwards and rather unnecessarily asking for reassurance that Kriya Yoga is indeed a fast way to God realisation. I got initiated on a Thursday evening in March 1993. There were two consecutive initiation evenings with around twenty five initiates each. The Hamburg Kriya Group was particularly active in those days, and the programs took part in the rooms of the local church. One of the priests being the organiser certainly helped to bridge the gap between conventionally practised religion and the advanced and somewhat eclectic practice and philosophy of Kriya Yoga. I remember the evening being serene and magical, and perceiving the three divine qualities Light, Sound and vibration felt extraordinary.
Back then one could purchase meditation tapes. We meditated daily using this tape, sometimes twice a day. I still remember vividly the seven bows. It took three to four months to finally get to know the group and attend the group meditations. Being enthusiastic and keen, we soon were in charge of the book and photo stand. I still have some treasures from these days in my closet, one being a large and beautiful rubber stamp of the Kriya logo. No idea how this ended up in my belongings, by some kind of osmosis no doubt. Later on, by some considerable miracle and injection of faith from our teachers, I acted as president of the Hamburg Kriya Yoga Foundation. As such, and also due to my organisational work before, I was immensely blessed to spend many a meal and darshan with our teachers. One of my main duties was to translate the swamis on stage, from English to German.
Do you think practising Kriya Yoga has benefited you? And if so, in which ways?
There had been a fair amount of confusion and anxiety in my life before my initiation. Kriya Yoga anchored me in something immeasurably vaster than my little self/mind and gave me great calmness. There is nothing like managing to remain anchored in the divine during the day – such a privilege and joy. Particularly in my first seven years of practise my level of devotion and concentration was such that I carried this awareness like a rucksack, 24 hours a day. But such level of spiritual ardour demands a lot of grounding, and I felt quite airy and detached back then – not an ideal state when one tries to build a career and function in life. I managed to regain my balance by doing physical exercise such as running and simply trying not to take myself and my spiritual gain too seriously. Baba Hariharananda and Peter Baba also helped me. They realised that I started drifting a bit and gave me certain mantras to repeat and dried roots to wear. I remember Baba Hariharananda waving ominously when he treated me, talking about the dangerous work he is doing. I took this in good spirits, thanking him inwardly for the extra work and inconvenience I caused him. Maybe he took some of my karma in this moment, and what was destined to become an insecure mess could rise again. I can confirm that this gave me my strength and focus back. I still repeat these mantras when the time feels right.
The benefits of my Kriya practice then and now are with me, they are second nature, sometimes overshadowed by my lower self, stress and impatience. But the state of deep calmness is never far away and can be accessed in an instant if needed. Also, the direct relationship and guidance of a realised master is priceless. Baba was not only like a loving grandfather to me, he was much more than that, so much more, and the practice of Kriya made me love people. It also gives moments of bliss and deep love for God – a state that feels like our birthright. This is a state no theory could ever produce. I am a wasteful person, alas. Tapping into this Shangri-La is very possible and can be instant, yet I do waste my time with lots of unnecessary things. But good intentions and a deep connection with the spiritual world prevail.
Could you say something about your meditation practice?
I try to mediate as frequently as possible. Having practised for some years now, and having enjoyed the blessings and presence of our teachers there seems to be an awareness I can tap into. This can make one lazy as is certainly the case with me. It shows that through regular Kriya practice something can be created and maintained that never leaves, regardless whether we have a worldly week or two and do not quite manage to meditate. This armour however is wearing thin after some busy worldly days so regular top-ups are needed. I am happiest when I take time out of my busy day, sit in silence and meditate. I have always been attracted to the bhakti path of spiritual practice, love for the divine. This sounds less and less acceptable in our increasingly mundane world. I always try to think of God first when I wake up and feel the presence of the divine. It is like taking refuge and surrender and hand over the day’s duties to this force.
Devotion is an important ingredient in my meditation practice. I can feel how it can lift one on a different plane. I developed a certain trick in the mid 90s, a method to entirely let go during meditation. Maybe one or two of you can try it out and see whether it works for you. We are all so different, God’s children. Sit comfortably in meditation and envisage your right hand to grow until it fills nebulas and half the galaxy. See your thumb glistening with clusters and stars. Now do the same with the left hand, until it drifts majestically in huge constellations and pillars of dark matter. This has always worked for me. I am not an advanced yogi, and I have somehow wasted so much time with unnecessary things in my life. So I cannot pass on any teachings but simply my little corner of truth, my piece of mango I was allowed to try.
Have you visited any of our ashrams or been on Kriya Yoga retreats?
Yes, plenty, and I really recommend it to visit such places and events as it can really elevate us. Meeting other like-minded Kriyavans and of course our divine teachers gives us an immense boost… Baba Hariharananda always spoke about spending some time at the petrol station (the ashram), and then the car can drive off again for a while. I went many times to Sterksel in Holland. Peter leads this ashram with love and a soft touch. There is such peace in this place. I remember especially the Christmas and New Year programs being both exceptionally serene and intense. I love this place. I ventured three or four times to the ashram in Tattendorff as well as the Mother Centre in Homestead. Particularly the latter is imbued with the divine presence of Baba Hariharananda. Every grain of soil and every plant carries his energy and love. In 2000 I travelled to India- visiting places such as Varanasi and Bhodgaya and finally arriving at the initiation program of the Balighai Ashram. It was an unbelievable trip and event, full of magic. I feel a bit sad that my life never allowed me to return to this ashram. The frequent Brahmachari courses sounded very attractive to me but simply out of reach for the time and possibly this lifetime.
One Kriya seminar that stands out for me took part in a 16th century French Castle. It was just the most picturesque and peaceful setting and I remember tiny little frogs living in the cracking facade who came to life in the warm evenings, chanting melancholic odes to the guru with their tiny voices.
Have you been involved in any other Kriya activities? And if so, are there any occasions which spring to mind which were significant in some way, perhaps amusing or perhaps creating an inner change or major stepping stone – anything?
I will share some of my experiences with Baba Hariharananda. I have seen the guru both being soft as a baby and hard as steel. Nothing Baba Hariharananda did was without reason or casual. I remember standing with some advanced Kriyavans. Baba Hariharananda approached us and was in a jovial, chatty mood. He told all the others where and how they got initiated and how the room looked like, using his divine vision. He then turned to me and said ‘I have no idea where you got initiated’. Ouch. The message for me was that I tried too hard to get noticed whilst it was true humbleness and stillness that really counted. On another occasion I presented him with a large oil portrait I had painted of him. Again he didn’t buy into my eagerness and said: ‘First I will tell the defect’, pointing out some irregularities he had noticed in his painted face. There were more occasions like these, and they had a profound impact on me. I completely lost track of the picture’s whereabouts and only learned last month that since 2015, it found a place in Tattendorf Ashram.
The guru’s care was sweet and extraordinary. One of the most profound experiences with Baba I had was when he left his body in December 2002. When I heard that the guru had died I stopped eating. It was part of the way I could deal with the grief. It felt like something I could do, could observe for him. Three days later I sat in a plane to Florida, still fasting. I arrived at the ashram and went to bed in one of the dormitories. The next morning I joined the others who sat down for breakfast. An elderly Indian lady approached me and was very eager for me to sit down too and break my fast. ‘You need to eat’ she said repeatedly and with increasing rigour. This seemed irrational and random as I was one of a hundred and did not look starved at all. I realised that it was the All-seeing eye of the master who looks after the well-being of his disciples, even in death.
Guru’s love was like an ocean. I remember him taking a particular interest in a young Dutch man. He let him meditate in his room, telling him again and again ‘Go to the sky’ (i.e. go into high heaven) in his sweet and melodic voice. Weeks later this young man died suddenly in circumstances I cannot remember. The all-seeing guru wanted him to get as much spiritual progress and blessing in the time he had left. The guru’s power was remarkable. I remember one of Baba’s birthday seminars in Vienna, maybe in 1996. I was sitting on stage to translate his talk (somehow the Viennese needed a stand-in). Whilst I felt and feel the three divine qualities in my practice, I never thought them very distinct or remarkable. But on this occasion, being the mouthpiece of the master, his energy went right through me and all I could see was a sea of milk-white light. No shapes, no faces. Astounding. Hamburg June 1996, before entering the stage.
What advice if any would you give new initiates?
Meditate daily and with love. We are all different. Baba used to say, some students like mango, the others like papaya. If you can feel genuine longing and love for the divine you are lucky. It really is the rocket fuel for deep and blissful meditation. If you want to get inspired on this particular path of direct God communion, then I recommend to read Yogananda books such as ‘Divine Romance’ and ‘Man’s Eternal Quest’. Maybe you love music and feel inclined to chant…Yogananda wrote some wonderful songs. Singing can open the heart, and might bring you closer to the source. But it eventually will have to stop and turn into silence. Even Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the founder of the Hare Krishna order, stopped chanting with advanced age. He had transcended the chanting and went further. I don’t think this fact is very well known or taught in the Hare Krishna movement, but he used his devotion to go deep. Developing love for God seems impossible; it is either there or not there. But it will grow with continuous practice. And you can even pretend for a minute to storm the heavens ‘reveal thyself, reveal thyself’ and you might just get that inch further in your meditation.
Be yourself. I always had a big problem with using Khechari Mudra. The way my mouth seems to be formed it leaves me a mumbling, bumbling mess afterwards. In short, I cannot practise Khechari daily and permanently and be able to communicate without slurring. I never told anyone; but Baba Prajnanandaji once turned to me and said ‘The real Khechari is on top of the head’. I have since learned that even a fraction of rolling up the tongue can have the same effect. Meditate deeply and take it into the world. Staying on top of your head for an entire day is not a conscious effort. This would be impractical and impossible as we have so many duties to fulfil. It is more like something clicking into place, or what is also called locking the head. It will come with practice. Once you have spent some hours or days in this awareness your life will become full of meaning, joy. Once you manage to be in this awareness you feel like reborn, but pace yourself, all will happen in due course. When there is too much willpower and force in our practice an imbalance gets created. This might come in the form of physical tensions or difficult situations with other people and circumstances. I have seen this many times in myself. The safest way really is to lose our feeling of self-importance, surrender and keep practising with no expectations but a sense of longing. Use the divine sound like a boat. It can carry you away into deeper states. As it is very real and divine it seems better to concentrate on it than visualising dots or spots you can concentrate on. Be creative and find your own unique way to get deeper.
Baba Hariharananda always kept urging us to use pin-pointed attention. I find this so essential. Be it the sound or in fact a dot of light you visualize – keeping your attention there uninterruptedly will not only make your meditation deeper but it will also let you carry it into the world afterwards. Constant flow of concentration, ongoing, like white noise from the television (most of you won’t remember a time when broadcasting stopped after midnight). Be absolutely determined to stay there. If you can hold this level of focus even during the bow and mahamudra then your paravasta will be easy and intense. And you will come out of your meditation as if drunk, full of energy, bliss and a clear and empty mind. There is a fine line between will power and intention and relaxing at the same time. In my first years of Kriya I put so much energy into focussing that my face looked as if in pain, tense, and my head started shaking. Even during my 2nd Kriya initiation the teacher banged me on the head repeatedly urging me to relax. I really meditated like a terrier holding the postman’s trousers. I have since managed to relax more (sort of).
You may use some crystals to keep your energy level high. Put in your pocket they can help you to stay alert during your daily activities. I found that stones that activate the higher chakras need to be managed carefully, especially clear crystal and other high energy stones can sort of intellectualise your meditation, they can make you heady rather than acting from the heart, and might make you quite impatient and restless. I found that increasing prayer and humility in meditation can balance this out. They are still worth it in my opinion, especially at an earlier stage in your practice. Practise the now. The current moment, the only truth is awareness of the divine, in the fontanelle is being in this moment (the past is a story and the future speculation).
Concentrate on your breath frequently. This will also calm your mind. Stopping the inner dialogue, this relentless whizzing sewing machine of anxiety, judgement, projection and doubt, is essential for reaching the yogi awareness in the now. You will find that you start thinking less as you meditate more. Never get worried by this, the truly creative and profound thoughts will prevail. I have written these lines also for myself. I am alas riddled with faults and struggle sometimes to see the light, but I have seen a glimpse of it. May we all discover it together. Pranams.
Thank you for sharing, Dominik. I can see that others could benefit from your experiences and how you’ve interpreted them and put them into practice.