Interview with Jyotish - Developing an Intuitive Creative Flow
You didn't start painting until rather late in life. How did that come about?
Jyotish : It was a bit unusual, so I’ll tell the longer story, and maybe we can take it from
My father and my older brother were architects, my mother was a weaver, my sister
was a potter, and my younger brother teaches graphic arts. So I was born into a very
I was the rebel who went into the humanities, first in philosophy, then psychology. My
mother nearly always had two or three art projects going. But it wasn’t a facility in the
arts that I absorbed from her, so much as a mindset that if something needed to be
done, we could exercise a little creativity and do it, and it would be lots of fun. I think
those were the two things I absorbed from her – a love of the arts, and the thought, “I
can do anything I put my mind to.”
I didn’t apply it to art until I started painting in my mid-fifties. I came to Ananda in my
twenties, and then all my creative energy went into helping Swami Kriyananda build
Building a spiritual work, and starting a community from scratch required a tremendous
amount of creative thought. And because I had that creative mindset from early on, I
was never intimidated by the challenges. You might say that the early exposure to a
creative frame of mind set the stage for what I’ve had to do at Ananda.
I did a little photography, because it was something I could fit in – I could take photos
for an hour, and it gave me a small creative outlet, but it was never a primary focus.
Then, oddly enough, we were in the Bay Area, and we happened to meet a well-known
healer. He’d been an engineer, and he’d built a machine that allowed him to dial in any
wavelength of light he wanted. He would muscle-test you and come up with two or
three wavelengths of colors that your body seemed to be needing, and then you could
look into a chrome tube and absorb your personal colors.
I’ve never been a good subject for subtle healing methods like homeopathy and so on.
But when I came out of the light treatment my body felt lighter than air, and I felt like I
was floating over the ground.
The colors stayed with me very strongly for weeks, and I realized there was something
in my system that needed color. It wanted intense color. And at first I thought that I
might get a bright light bulb and some theatrical gels so that I could dial-up the colors
that felt right in my meditation room. The light machine was far too expensive, and I
never got around to building my own system, but there was an abiding sense that I
needed more color in my life.
We had a large blank wall in our living room where we had hung a tiny painting that we
bought in Italy. It was ridiculously small, but it was all we could afford. Then Devi went
away for the weekend, and I thought, “We need a bigger painting, and I want more
color. I’ll paint a large painting that we can hang on the wall.”
I went shopping for art supplies, and of course I bought entirely the wrong paints –
they were what you’d use to paint a wooden duck or something, and not at all suitable
for what I wanted to do. But it got me started.
My first attempt was terrible. Then I got hold of a book on painting and did four or five
exercises, and by about the seventh or eighth painting I had one that I liked a lot, and
we still have it on the wall.
It was a painting of tulips, done in bright colors.
It satisfied my artistic side, and I felt it was
good enough to put on the wall.
As I kept painting, fresh ideas would come to
me in meditation. Often it would be no more
than a feeling, or an energy, or a particular
color. It was hardly ever a scene from the real
world that I envisioned.
For example, I was meditating on the energy of
the chakras, and the third chakra was filled
with a powerful energy that evoked a vibrant
orange-red. I wasn’t seeing it in a literal way,
but I could feel the vibration of it in the chakra,
and after the meditation I thought, “How can I
express that feeling in a painting?”
I’m not drawn to abstract art, because it seems too ungrounded for my taste. But the
feeling was very clear and specific – I had a very strong sense of a particular energy
and color, and I began to think of how I could put it in a painting.
The image came of Mt. Shasta erupting, reflecting
the energy I had felt in the spine. The painting has
bright reds and oranges, with an abstract
mountain stream flowing from the crater. I called it
Shasta is Born. It represents the energy that I had
felt in meditation – the explosion of reds and
oranges, and the mountain stream – those images
came from the meditation, and I tried to use my
intuition to translate it into a visual form.
Many of my paintings have come from
experiences in meditation. It might be a clear
feeling that energizes me to express it on canvas –
a mood of peace, or a feeling of aspiration, and I’ll
ask, "How can I translate this spiritual quality and
put it on canvas?"
Your paintings are landscapes, but you’re reversing the usual process where you
would see something in nature and paint it, perhaps with the hope that you could put
the right feeling into it?
Jyotish: Yes, but even if I were to start with a subject from nature, the painting would
express a spiritual energy, or an uplifted state of consciousness.
Quite a few of my paintings have Paramhansa Yogananda or Swami Kriyananda in
them. About eighty percent will have Yogananda meditating with his back turned. What
it’s saying is, “Don’t look at his physical body. Don’t try to form an overly personal
relationship with his personality and his physical form. Try to see him as one who is
fully merged in God.” As Swami said, Paramhansa Yogananda is not that physical form
– he is the divine light of God.
As we’re speaking, I’m looking at a painting where Master is meditating on a rock by
the ocean. He’s gazing out over the ocean at the horizon, and there’s a bright orange
sky in the distance, and a mottled setting sun.
Master said that the dividing line
between the ocean and sky
symbolizes the transition between
superconsciousness. He urged us to
meditate on that line, as the painting
shows him doing.
The inward experience of his
meditation is suggested in the sky, as
the beautiful golden light that we can
see in the brighter central part of the
spiritual eye in deep meditation.
But, again, it isn’t meant to draw you into a personal relationship with Master. “What a
beautiful smile he has!” Rather, it’s expressing a longing to know his consciousness.
It’s asking, "How can I attune my consciousness to his light, so that I can receive that
As you paint, do you explore the inspiration as you’re putting paint on the canvas?
Jyotish: Definitely. When I started, I tried painting with watercolors, or a watercolor
medium, or acrylic inks. But those media force you to pre-visualize the whole painting
in advance, because you can’t easily paint over what you’ve done.
That doesn’t work for me, because I’m looking to develop an intuitive flow, and I need
to be able to shift directions as my intuition leads me.
Swamiji knew that I was very logically oriented, and I needed to develop a more
intuitively creative approach. He encouraged me strongly in my painting. But
watercolor forces you into a planned approach that’s a bit like painting by the
numbers, and it’s more rational than intuitive.
I eventually moved to acrylics, which allow you to paint over and over, and oils, where
it’s even more the case.
If you were to scrape away my paintings, layer by layer, you would very often see how I
started in a direction that didn’t pan out and I painted over it, making adjustments as I
I might make many adjustments, and after you’ve been painting for a while you start to
get a sense for what’s working for you, and what your strengths and tendencies are.
Most of my paintings have lots of color in them, because I’m trying to build bridges to
the spiritual world. It may be perfectly valid for an artist to paint in grays and neutral
tones, but that doesn’t hold any appeal for me. I want color, and often my colors aren’t
realistic, because they’re brighter than you would see in nature.
The trees tend to be a brighter orange or red or yellow. And I do it for a definite reason,
because if you’re seeing the astral body of a tree, my sense is that it will be a lot
brighter than its physical counterpart.
We have a print of one of your paintings on a wall in our home. It shows a forest of
birches, and what looks like a river of golden light going up the center and spreading
out among the trees. It’s clear that you weren’t trying to recreate a physical forest. The
painting looks astral and rather incomplete, yet it looks very complete in itself. When I
look at it, I wonder about the process that it
might have taken to create it.
Jyotish: I’m pretty sure I know the painting
you’re referring to. I started out wanting to
do a specific kind of painting. At the far end
of the avenue of birches, there’s a lighter
area, and the river represents the tunnel of
the spine through which the consciousness
rises in deep meditation.
It’s a tunnel-like experience. And if you
follow the energy up the spine to the medulla
at the base of the skull, and keep following the current as it bends forward from the
medulla to the spiritual eye, the river of light in the painting represents the energy that’s
making that journey from the base of the spine to the spiritual eye.
But, again, in order to make the upward-flowing energy more defined and tunnel-like, it
needed to have walls to give it direction – but not solid walls. So the birches at the
sides represent a focusing of the energy – they keep the energy from drifting off and
spilling over without a clear sense of direction.
If you want to meditate deeply, you can’t let your energy and attention get distracted
and go wandering through the birch grove. The energy has to rise up the astral spine,
then it has to go straight from the medulla into the light.
That’s the vibration of the painting – it’s bright yellows, with a bright golden energy that
represents the inner core of the astral eye that you can see in meditation. That bright
golden-yellow color is the astral energy of the spiritual eye.
But if I had left it at that, it wouldn’t be grounded. If I wanted to suggest pure energy, I
could have done it with an abstract painting. But the river of golden light needed rocks
on either side to keep the energy moving in the right direction. The rocks are an earth
element, and they ground the painting.
The painting has the four elements – earth in the rocks, the water in the stream, the
fiery energy of the light, and when you ascend through the tunnel and rise into the sky,
you’re entering the air element.
But I don’t pre-think any of it – it comes from an intuitive flow. I might say, “Oh, isn’t
that interesting.” Because I’ll look at the painting at some point – and I do this with
every painting – and I’ll say, “Hm, the energy is starting to drift off before it has a
chance to rise into the light. I need to give it a subtle sense of containment – it needs
But I don’t want the trees to be fully seen. I don’t want to create an abrupt break from
the astral to the physical, which would distract from the feeling of a flow. So I need
trees that are half-trees and half-light, to help the rising energy transition into the light –
into the inner fire of the spiritual eye – and expand into the air element that represents
the superconscious state.
But these are all just afterthoughts that I’m making up after the fact. In reality, I set out
to paint an experience, and I’m not sure at the start which way it will go.
Looking at that painting, I have the feeling that it’s about meditating in the spine. It’s
a pleasure to contemplate – it gives off a harmonious feeling, and it makes me feel
And that raises a question: what role does the viewer play in your paintings? Are you
trying to help people? Are you trying to inspire them to explore their own spirituality, or
Jyotish: I would say so, because it’s my nature to teach. It’s been my dharma in this life
to serve as a teacher and leader, and it’s an influence that I’m not going to be able to
escape when I’m painting.
I could give a lecture about almost any of my paintings, and there would be a solid
story and a solid philosophy. I would be trying to help people to have an experience of
their own, or to understand some important points about the spiritual life. I suppose I
could even say that most of my paintings are lectures translated into images. But as
Georgia O’Keefe said, “If I wanted to explain things, I would write essays. I paint. Look
at my paintings.”
I’m paraphrasing, but she’s saying that it isn’t necessary to translate a painting into
I’m talking like this to help you understand the process I go through. But I never say,
“Gee, that was a really good talk. I think I’ll translate it into a painting.” Still, I would say
that my paintings all have a spiritual element, or a spiritual energy.
Continuing with the theme of the viewer’s role, I’ll briefly tell about a personal
experience, as a way to kick off a direction for our discussion. It was during the court
case, toward the end. We had some time off in December, and I took a motel room on
the beach near Santa Cruz. I brought my camera with the idea that I might take some
pictures. And on the first evening I decided to go to Pacific Avenue, the main drag in
Santa Cruz, and see what was there, and maybe go to a bookstore and a health food
I ended up walking up and down the street for hours, just up and down. I did that every
night I was there, and I never went to the beach or took a single photo. And the reason
was that everything was so beautiful. Things that I would never have seen as beautiful were radiant with beauty. The clothes that people were wearing, male and female, and objects in the store windows, and just everything.
Later, I had a reading with a Vedic astrologer who told me that my Moon had been
sitting on top of Venus, or something like that, and that it was a very rare and deeply
artistic period in my life. Later, I mentioned it to Robert Bush, an artist who lives in our
community, and he looked at me with a pained expression, as if to say, “Why are you
telling me this – this is where I live!”
But it brings up the issue of whether it’s valuable for people to try to get into that
space, where they aren’t thinking and they’re just appreciating beauty in a very deep
way – whether it’s valuable psychologically or spiritually, and whether they should be
encouraged to explore that side of themselves through the arts or through music, or
Jyotish: I think it’s absolutely valuable both psychologically and especially spiritually,
because when you’re in that state, you’re in an equivalent state to a good meditation,
or maybe even a very high meditation, where you’re absorbed in something and the
ego is no longer active as much as it normally is, in its usual habit of judging and liking
and disliking, rejecting this or accepting that, and all those kinds of things that go on,
generally speaking, at a subconscious or semi-conscious level.
When you’re absolutely absorbed in things, it raises the consciousness, and in that
raised consciousness you may have heightened perceptions. You might see textures
more clearly, or colors more vividly, not psychedelically but more brightly, with more
feeling, and you realize that the colors are there more than you might in your normal
state, or especially in a depressed state.
Colors and patterns will have a feeling, a very strong feeling attached to them.
Jyotish: Yes, anything that uplifts the consciousness and expands it, I would say, is an
innately spiritual experience, whether we label it as such or not. And I would go farther
and say that any innately spiritual experience is good for a person psychologically.
You mentioned that Swami encouraged you to continue with your painting. Did he
share any thoughts about how the arts can help us?
Jyotish: Swami didn’t say so much to me in that vein, but he wrote and spoke about it
a lot. He would often talk about creativity, or the arts, in a way that made it very clear
that he was encouraging us to develop that side of our consciousness.
He often encouraged me to be more intuitive and less rational, and when I started to
paint, I think he saw it as a way for me to keep working on being less oriented toward
reason, and more flowing and intuitive, and that it would help me in other ways. It
would help my speaking and leadership, it would help with organizing, and in working
Getting that balance would help everything I did. So I don’t think he was saying,
“Wonderful, you’ve found your dharma as a painter,” so much as he was saying,
“You’re developing your creativity in a flowing and intuitive way, and that’s a very good
direction to help balance you. It’s a good step, and I’m going to encourage that.”
Shifting directions slightly, Swamiji said that if Ananda’s music were to get even a
little bit off in terms of how people perform it, or how it’s interpreted, that it would do a
great deal of harm to Ananda, because the music basically is us. Do you have any
thoughts about that, and about how important it is for people who live in the Ananda
communities, or who are associated with Ananda, to be careful about the way we
approach the music and the arts generally?
Jyotish: If you think of the pillars of Swami’s creativity, including the tremendous
creativity that he brought to his leadership and his writing and speaking, music was
definitely one of the main pillars of his expression.
He often said, “If you want to know me, listen to my music.” He made lots of
statements about the music and its importance. “I’ve never written an insincere note.”
And, “Music is a language, and I understand that language, and most people don’t
understand that language.” And he definitely worked to keep the vibration of the music
One of the things we’ve had to fight battles over, and that we still have to fight
throughout this work around the world, is where people will come along and say,
“Swami wrote music. I think I’ll write music.” And then they’ll want to know, “Why don’t
the Ananda choirs sing my music? It’s just as good.”
But Swami could hear the vibrational difference between spiritually uplifting music and
the folk music, or whatever it is, that people tend to be writing.
There are many beautiful melodies, but the melody, in and of itself, doesn’t quite carry
it. An example that Swami gave is the theme song from the movie Brother Sun, Sister
Moon, performed by Donovan. Swami said, “It starts out beautifully – it’s just exactly
right, but then it gets to a point where, instead of going deeper spiritually, it goes
(Singing), “Brother Sun and Sister Moon…” And Swami said, “That musical phrase is
just perfect.” But then the next note should be (singing), “Brother Sun and Sister
Moon…” And it should stay on that note. But instead it goes emotional. It goes, “I
seldom see you, seldom hear your tune.” It hops over to the emotional and becomes
very soupily sentimental. And Swami could immediately hear that and know what was
Whereas others might say, “Yes, but it’s so popular!” Or “Yes, but it’s so sweet!” –
Swami knew what it was saying in terms of setting up a vibration, and how it would
affect our consciousness, by engrossing us in a sentimental mood instead of raising us
toward a level of self-forgetful devotion.
All of Swami’s music has a very definite spiritual vibration. As he put it, “I’ve never
written a single note that wasn’t inspired by Spirit.” And he knew that if people would
sing the music, and especially if they would sing it together in choirs and small groups,
they would be greatly helped by being immersed in that spiritual vibration.
But he had to fight against the tendency of people to come along with all sorts of
opinions, without really understanding the language of music. They would hear
something that evoked an emotional reaction in them, or they would get lost in their
own sentimental tendencies and say, “But I like leaping up to the emotional note,
because it’s what I heard in the music I grew up with.”
The fact is, most popular music takes us into ego consciousness, while Swamiji’s
music takes us into a higher consciousness and leaves the ego behind. And then
people who don’t understand what it’s doing will want to change it, or they’ll want to
bring it into resonance with the patterns of their old listening habits, which are reflected
in the music they grew up with. “Let’s speed it up a little – it’s too slow.” Or, “Let’s
make the beat heavier.” And we’re constantly having to fight to keep the music pure.
It’s one of the absolute pillars of this work, because people who sing the music and
listen to the music get in tune with Spirit in a deeper way.
Devi and I hardly ever play any other music. We don’t sing much, because we’ve had
to choose where we can put our energy. But we’ll often have music playing, and it’s
hardly ever anything but Swami’s music, because it feels so right, spiritually and
Swami said, “Don’t try to make the music too beautiful.” Which is another way of
saying, “Don’t try to sing it operatically, or emphasize the feeling side of it to a point
where it becomes emotional and smarmy.”
Jyotish: (laughs) I remember a movie about Beethoven’s life that we saw many years
ago. This was when Kalyani and her son Prem were living at Ananda Village. Prem was
seven or eight, and in the movie a guy walked into a scene, a German fellow with a big,
beautiful baritone voice, and sang part of the “Ode to Joy.” He sang it beautifully, but
very much in the awareness that he was the great artist. And Prem piped up and said,
“Mommy, is he winning?” Because he could feel the ego in the expression, as opposed
to the purity of the music itself.
So, yes, I resonate with “Don’t try to make it too beautiful.” In the sense that, don’t try
to make yourself as a performer the point of interest. Make the music itself the point of
interest. And the same with speaking: don’t try to make yourself the point of interest.
Make it what you’re saying – the ideas, the philosophy, and the spirituality – and let the
people be focused on that, as opposed to “Oh, isn’t he a wonderful speaker – or a
painter or singer.”
Do you have a website where your paintings are available?
Jyotish: Yes, it’s JyotishArt.com. Or you can visit JyotishandDevi.org and a link will
take you to the art. These paintings are for anybody to use in any non-commercial way.