Mark Givert

Interview with Mark Givert

Mark GivertMark, I know you are a long time Kriyavan, but tell us where it all began.

Success Was Not Success!
Oh my goodness, you know, it all began when I used to be a chartered surveyor in commercial property. This was the early 80s, the time of the property boom; everything was amazing. My career was incredible, lots of success in the material world and interestingly enough, I was not a happy camper.

Although I ticked all the boxes apparently for what success looks like in terms of having a nice career, being healthy, having a relationship and all this. You know, everything on the face of it was quite normal and good in all arenas but I really had this huge sense of feeling unfulfilled. I felt that this was not what life was all about.

Two Questions That Changed My Life
One morning I woke up and had two questions. Two very simple questions but questions which I did not have the answer to. Those two questions were: ‘Who Am I?’ and ‘Why Am I alive?’

They are the questions we all have Mark, ‘Who Am I?’ and ‘Why Am I Here?’

Yes, and I absolutely did not have the answer to those questions at that time. Really it was from that point on that I decided to start investigating, and began a voyage of discovery to find the answers.

I started experimenting with different meditation practices. I was actually quite heavily involved in martial arts which was what really started my journey into the world of meditation and healing.

Too Much Ego
The journey really started when I got involved with Tai Chi and as a result that facilitated me learning about healing my own body.
I used to practise Thai boxing and frequently experienced a lot of serious injuries. I was actually looking for a way that I could heal myself and some of the damage that resulted from my competitions and training. Tai Chi certainly helped me to understand how to start healing my own body. However as a spin off, I started to learn that it was possible to help heal others as well.

I went on to open a centre called the London School of Mind Body and Spirit and started working with people in terms of healing. More to the point healing was being given through me, that is more accurate.

I was doing more meditation and the meditation that I was sharing with people was very much about energy work and light. I was simply sharing what was being revealed to me during my meditations.

I was running the school and giving healing sessions. The bottom line was that I was continuing my search for a spiritual teacher.

Irrespective of the experiences I was having during the healing and my meditation, I did know that I didn’t know. Does that make sense? I was not under the illusion that I was illuminated, or that I had access to the Truth.

I was wary of the fact that it is very easy to go down the path of being a teacher or some kind of guide helping people. I think it is very easy to get swallowed up by the ego and getting misled by, for example, the feedback you might be getting from people.

You know, people telling you how wonderful, people looking up to you for an example. It is very easy to get lost in that and believe your own publicity and your own hype, if that makes sense.

I totally agree with you 100%. What people are telling you is false and you think in some way it is true.

I was having lots of good experiences, lots of good things happening in meditation and although I hadn’t started the Kriya, I was experiencing some of the Divine Qualities.

I was experiencing light, sound and vibration, albeit, I didn’t know anything about Kriya at the time. My understanding is, certainly from my talks with Baba Hariharananda, he explained to me that these things are carried forward from previous lives.

That must have been a very interesting conversation to have with him?

Yes it was! I was very blessed when I was living in Miami with Baba. I was often allowed to sit in his room with him when people came to see him.

I don’t know if you know, people used to come to Miami to see him, they would have appointments and they would go and talk to him. He would help them in whatever way they needed.

Often I was in the room sitting in the corner quietly meditating. I also saw many things. I saw many people coming to ask him questions:

‘have you been guiding me my whole life’
‘have you been my Guru before’
‘have I studied with you in previous lives’

Sometimes Baba replied ‘yes’.

Sometimes they would say, ‘in this life I was experiencing sound light and vibration before I came to you and before I got initiated’ and he explained that’s because they were together in previous lives.

So it was illuminating to really understand and see that you are not just looking at one life time and it seems there is a progression. We have been with teachers lifetime after lifetime and it seems to be a progressive experience throughout a cascade of lifetimes. Seeing that and understanding that sheds a very different light on daily life.

So I was running the meditation centre and giving healing and realising actually I was getting a bit caught up in it all and I felt as though I was losing my way.

I was aware enough to realise that I was getting really quite overwhelmed by my ego and beginning to think that I was really something great/something special.

I knew that basically setting myself up as some kind of teacher or healer, can be a very dangerous path. You really need to be spiritually advanced, wise and experienced and have authentic teachings to be able to help guide others.

Everyone in truth is our teacher but I just saw myself as really getting a bit lost and I knew I didn’t know. I thought any teacher who is not realised ultimately is being run by the ego and doesn’t really know the way to the Truth. Does that make sense?

Yes it does.

Seeking The Master
So my decision was that I really wanted to find a teacher someone that knew God. My idea was that if they were realised, and they had made that journey and were in communion/union with God, that they would know the way and they could share that.

So began my journey. Long story short, I ended up closing my business, I came out of property and as I said, I ran the meditation and healing school and ended up closing that down.

I read the “Autobiography of a Yogi” and that really resonated, and was a life-changing book for me.

I decided to go to India and more specifically to go to Ranikhet and literally get dropped off in the jungle. I was just going to stay there until a teacher appeared. I believe Ranikhet is where Babaji appeared to Lahiri Mahasaya.

I hadn’t shared this decision with my family, because I think they would have been very worried and concerned. I just told everybody that I was going travelling.

However my resolve was such that I had no intention of returning until I found my teacher. If it meant that I didn’t return, then I decided so be it.

I had arranged my passage to the foothills of the Himalayas. I was staying in an ashram there and I had a guide organised to take me into the jungle and literally drop me off.

That was my plan and I was going to wait and see; either I found my teacher or I didn’t. But I wasn’t leaving until either I departed this world or my teacher appeared and that was my decision.

Interestingly enough, when I got to the ashram, I had been there a couple of weeks and met somebody there who pulled out a magazine.

It was the Kriya Yoga magazine for the Sterksel ashram in the Netherlands. On the front of that magazine was a picture of Baba Hariharananda.

As soon as I saw that picture I knew that was who I was looking for. The person who had the magazine explained to me that it was the Kriya Yoga lineage of teachers and I thought ok that’s it.

There was a Kriya Yoga centre in Calcutta, so I made my way to Calcutta. I met Swami Brahmanda at the centre, and he immediately said to me, you go to Miami and meet Hariharananda.

I started to make my return journey back to the West. I contacted the centre in Miami and it transpired that Hariharananda was travelling and teaching. I think he was in his late eighties at the time and he was still travelling the world teaching.

When I contacted the centre it was August, and they advised me that he would be back in the ashram mid-September.

So I arranged my flights and booked into the centre in Miami to coincide with his return. In the meantime I had four weeks to make my way back to Miami.
I started my return journey and spent a couple of weeks in Bhutan on my way back to the USA.

When I flew back to the USA I returned to a place in Northern California, called Mount Shasta which is where my journey began and where I returned before meeting Baba Hariharananda.

It transpired that I had circumnavigated the world; it was an interesting journey but I ended up where I started. I was camping on the mountain; a very special place Mount Shasta. This is a sacred site for the native American Indians.

I spent some time camping on the mountain and literally flew down to Florida to the centre. When I arrived at the Miami Centre there were just a few residents present, otherwise it was empty.

Some people, other guests started to arrive before Baba’s return to the centre. Baba finally arrived at the ashram.

Now one of the things Baba used to do, was to hold darshan outside on the porch around 4 o’clock, teatime. So he would have his tea in his room and then come out, sit on the porch and give darshan.

I had never met him before, when he saw me on the porch he pointed to me and said, ‘I remember you” – it was quite a shock. But I knew the truth of it, I knew when I saw his picture, I knew this was the teacher that I had been seeking. I had no doubt about that.

To be Initiated or not to be Initiated???
There was a bit of a play around my initiation. I mentioned to you that I was previously running a meditation school and teaching meditation.

Unbeknown to me at the time, there was a policy that meditation teachers could NOT be initiated because there was a concern that they may take the techniques and start teaching them without being an authorised teacher. I had no idea about this!

So I stayed at the ashram and was advised there was going to be an initiation at the weekend. I said I would certainly love to do the initiation.

The weekend of the initiation arrived and everyone is gathered in the barn. You had to fill out all the forms and give some details for the initiation.

I filled out all the forms, gave everything in, then we were all led to the barn and were sitting waiting for the initiation to begin.

I didn’t know anything about the initiation ceremony or process. In my mind I just thought I would sit with Baba Hariharananda and he would teach me and initiate me.

When I found out about the initiation, it appeared that this wasn’t going to happen. I learned that one of the monks initiates the groups in the barn.

I was a little surprised because that never even occurred to me for a moment. While we were all sitting in the barn waiting for the initiation somebody comes in and called out my name and said ‘please step out we need to talk to you.’

So they called me out, and said, ‘we have got your form and can see that you have been teaching meditation, we are sorry but you can’t be initiated.’

Now bear in mind that I had spent many years searching and committing to this path. I then journeyed to India very much with a view to finding my teacher or departing and leaving this world, one or the other.

Having gone through this whole journey and arriving at Miami to be told ‘we can’t initiate you’ it was never an option. I was never going to take ‘NO’ for an answer. My commitment was absolutely total.

Even though on the face of it, it wasn’t going to happen, I have faced situations like that many times in my life where circumstances, events and appearances do not appear to be in my favour.

What I had in mind was completely contrary to what I was being told! I wasn’t really perturbed by what they said. I simply responded, ‘I do understand, no problem at all but please allow me to speak to Baba directly.’ I said, ‘I have travelled from all over the world to come here and I would be very happy if I could speak to him.’

Now it was very interesting because they arranged that, and a few minutes later I was being taken to Baba Hariharananda’s room to speak to him.

I walked through the door of his room and he points to me and he said ‘fraud, you are a fraud’, and I knew exactly what he was talking about. That is the very reason why I was there! I knew I didn’t know the Truth, I knew I had been teaching meditation and healing and all these things. Ultimately, I knew that I didn’t know the Truth and the moment he said to me ‘fraud’ I said ‘yes’.

As soon as I said ‘yes, Baba’, there was a chair sitting in front of him, he pointed to the chair and told me to sit down and he then proceeded to initiate me into Kriya yoga.

So that was my introduction and initiation and I had the desire to remain with Baba Hariharananda. I requested that I be allowed to remain with him and stay in the ashram and learn Kriya and he said yes. I stayed in the ashram for about a month and then I returned to the UK just to tie up some loose ends.

The Visa & The Vision
The only way for me to remain in Miami for an extended period was to actually obtain a ten year visa from the American embassy and at that time it was quite difficult to get the visas.

The Americans were very wary of people looking to go there and get a job and emigrate and I was a little concerned. However, I had every confidence it would work out.

So when I returned to the UK I had to apply for my ten year visa; that meant going for an interview at the American Embassy. I had to prepare all the documents to basically demonstrate that I was not going to work but that I was just going to study yoga there. I was nervous I have to say but I did know it would work out. I went along to the American Embassy and was sitting outside the interview room.

The strangest thing happened, I actually suddenly saw Baba’s face appear smiling at me, I thought wow that’s odd. And I kind of took it that ok I have Baba’s blessing and everything is going to be fine and it will all go smoothly.

Little did I know!!! Some minutes later I am called into the interview room with this lady who was conducting the interview. She was an absolute terrier, a real interrogator; she absolutely tore me apart.

I provided her with all my bank details demonstrating that I had funds and that I didn’t need any money. I took all the Kriya yoga documents to show that they were a real organisation and that I was going there to study and learn.

This lady was basically piling into me:
Interviewer – ‘I know you are going to work, I am going to call them now, I don’t believe they even exist’.

MG – ‘Please go ahead call the number.’

Interviewer ‘I know you are going to get a job and you just want to work in the States, there is no way you want a ten year visa to just go and study yoga.’

She didn’t believe it. She looked at my bank account and said

Interviewer ‘Look I don’t believe you have enough money to go, you’re just going to work there and I’m not going to give you the visa, I think you just want to work, you will take jobs away from Americans and I’m not going to grant you the visa. I am convinced you are going to work.’

I was just floored. O my God. I didn’t get a word in edgeways, she just absolutely downloaded. I was a fraud and I was just going to work there. And after this barrage, this assault from this interrogator I said to her

MG ‘I have no desire to go to your country whatsoever, be clear, I have no interest in living in America at all. There is only one reason that I am going to the States, And that is because this yoga teacher, this meditation teacher, is living there. Had he been living anywhere else I would have gone somewhere else, but it so happens that he is now living in Florida, in your country. The only way that I can be with him is by going to live in Miami to study with him and to learn from him. I have no interest in your country in any way shape or form. And all my family and loved ones are in the UK. I don’t need any money, you can see from my bank statements I am more than in funds and I can take care of myself and you need to know that.’

As soon as I said that she said: Interviewer ‘Very good’

The Interviewer stamped the visa and granted my 10 Year Visa.

Interesting how the guru knows what is happening through our own experience. You just described the password, you saw him smile and knew it would all be ok and it was ok eventually.

I had no idea what the journey was going to be but I knew it would be ok. When I saw him smiling at me I thought obviously that’s reassurance and I knew I was in good hands and that it would all work out.

Hence once again, all the distractions that go on in the world where we are tested. And as I said, as soon as I got there I was tested, they said no, forget it we are not initiating you, so these are the games.

So when you got your passport, how long did you spend with Baba Hariharananda?

Well, what actually happened was I ended up living in the Miami Ashram from 1998 – 2004.

And probably being there that length of time you must have discovered yourself, the teachings and found what you were looking for in some way.

Having met Baba I had no further questions of any kind.

You know, it’s interesting, we were living there, learning the scriptures on a daily basis and going through all kinds of different texts.

Prajnanananda Guruji would be coming and visiting and he would hold classes and we would be running regular programmes there. People would travel from all over the world to come and visit and listen to the teachers and the teachings.

For me life was much simpler perhaps than all the scriptures and all the teachings.

Hariharananda, Baba, for me was an incarnation of love. His life was the scripture, his example was the scripture. There was nothing I needed to read, there was nothing I wanted to learn from books. Just being in his presence, seeing him as the living scripture, that was it. That was enough!

We were outside in the garden one day and we were filming a welcome video for people to come to visit the ashram and as we were filming Baba’s closing statement to this welcome video was

‘I want to give love to every human being’

I have never heard anybody, I have never heard those words spoken by another human being. Ever-loving, what more to say. To this day those words are emblazoned into my consciousness; I have never forgotten them and I never will.

For someone to say I love you and feel it in a way, that is a remarkable thing which that human being left behind, regardless of whether they are in the physical form or spiritual form. And he consistently lives and brings this being that he loves us and we love him at the same time.

When Hariharananda left his body, he had been saying constantly, ‘when I am free of the body I can do more and help you all much much more, once I am free from the body.’

The reality is they are not the body they are ever-present, omni-present. That is the truth and I think a lot of us felt that experience more when he did leave the world, when he left his physical form.

Mark, you got to spend time in the ashram and time with a living guru, but later on in life do you still constantly practise Kriya? Does it benefit your life in some way right now?

That’s such a great question and it’s not a straightforward answer. I had this vision of me being a monk and being a teacher and helping spread Kriya yoga. I had this vision of me meditating deeply, many, many hours every day. This was my imagination, my sense of what I wanted and where I thought my life was going to go. But my life has taken a very different path.

To answer your question, when I was in Miami something that really astonished me was that people would travel from all over the world and would come and learn the Kriya and 95% of them would stop practising.

The majority of people just gave up, they quit. That kind of stayed with me and has remained with me ever since. It was such a curious thing really, that the tools for our self-development and our evolution have been given to us, they are in our hands and we just stop.

I think what I mentioned earlier is that Baba was always, he always made it so simple, he always said just;

‘’Watch Him in every breath’’

It is that easy you can get it in a moment and I believe that’s the truth.

The Kriya yoga, the techniques, the practice, it’s an infrastructure, it’s a discipline to help us develop our discipline and our concentration, and all of these things are essential.

At the end of the day, it is about being aware and in the presence of God in every breath. I was searching for a way that I could be God-conscious throughout all of the day, all the time, ever conscious. That’s what I wanted and I was led and guided to Kriya yoga.

So as valuable as the practice is in terms of doing my morning meditation and maybe sitting in the evening and doing my meditation, for me the practice is in every breath in every moment, being aware.

One of the quotes from Baba was; ‘Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Greatness’

That is very much what I focus upon today. It’s being aware of my breath, it’s becoming the witness and observing the mind, knowing that I am not the mind, I am not my thoughts, I am not my feelings, I am not my body.

Part of the Kriya practice is sitting and practising the techniques. For me what we are doing the rest of the day is so important.

You can practise your meditation in the morning or whenever you practise; but then during the day we can just get so distracted and engrossed in daily activity, being unconscious during daily activity for me is not helpful.

It is so important to be aware and conscious during the day. The daily practice is helpful. What I like to do is to be really aware of my breath, to be conscious of my thinking, and allowing the thoughts to come and go.

I prefer to not get too involved with my thoughts but to practice being the witness…….

I find with that, comes peace and quiet – the thoughtless state.

I still practise daily, the techniques, but as I said having seen so many people stop the practice and Baba ever emphasising ‘watch every breath’, I like to focus on this as much as I can.

You know there are some texts by Lahiri Mahasaya saying, ‘the shortest quickest route to realisation is watching Him in every breath’.

I believe it is as simple as Baba was saying,

‘’Watch Him in Every Breath’’

For me watching the breath and being constantly vigilant, that’s my Kriya – God in every breath.

Mark, as we wrap up here, is there a funny story you would like to share of your Kriya experience, of being in the ashram with Baba Hariharananda that comes to mind?

Yes I think there is quite an amusing experience that we had.

So one of the things that Baba loved to do was to plant roses and in Miami at the peak of the rose extravaganza, I think there was something like 800 rose bushes lining the driveway into the ashram.

Baba literally would take us out of an afternoon, at about 4 0’clock, everyone would be on the porch and there would be a tour around the property, and the property was like a paradise.

You know there was every tropical fruit, vegetable growing that you could imagine. We used to do the work, we used to plant everything, grow everything, graft the mango trees, he taught us how to do all these things.

One of the things he taught us was exactly how to cultivate, how to plant the rose bushes, how to take care of them and bring them on.

I was out in the garden one day, one afternoon, it must have been about 5 o’clock or something in the afternoon and I was with another resident called Scotty.

We were out planting some roses and we prepared and dug all the holes which was challenging because Miami was all coral. So either you had to have the holes literally drilled out or you had to use a pick to basically break down the coral and shovel it all out.

So we had all the holes prepared for the roses and we were standing there and Baba was absolutely scientific, there was an absolute method in which you planted them, gave them so much water every morning and evening, and you planted them at a certain height.

For some reason we weren’t sure how high to make the roses in this particular plot where we were planting the roses.

Then for a couple of minutes we were kind of stumped saying, ‘I really don’t know how high we should make these’.

We were on the other side of the property and nowhere near any of the buildings, way out in the gardens where we were doing this planting.

Suddenly we see one of the monks running towards us and he said to us, ‘raise the roses by one inch’ and then he runs off.

The monk had just come from Baba Hariharananda’s room with the message; We really started laughing……..

Mark, thank you so much for taking your time out and sharing your experience, your story and what you have got to do and be right now.

It’s been an absolute pleasure and I hope this will perhaps inspire Kriyavans in some way, shape or form. ‘’ Love Love Love Love Love’’ Paramahamsa Hariharananda