Under the tutelage of Swami Niranjanananda, the Bihar School of Yoga, based in Munger, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, strives to create a new generation of yoga exponents—and the success shows
"RELIGIONS ARE MADE BY FOLLOWERS, NOT TEACHERS" Swami NiranjananandaBorn in 1960 in Rajnandgaon, Madhya Pradesh, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati entered the tutelage of Swami Satyananda Saraswati at the tender age of four. He was taught the intricate aspects of yoga by his guru while in the state of Yoga Nidra. Till date, Swami Niranjanananda does not know how much he knows consciously and how much more is stored in his subconscious. Now, at the youthful age of 38, this charismatic, intelligent and much-traveled spiritual leader of BSY talks to Saurabh Bhattacharya about various aspects of his life, BSY and its future, spirituality, the guru-disciple relation, and yoga in a freewheeling interview.
What is yoga? How different is it from other religious practices?
Religion has failed to provide answers to our problems. Yoga is like a spiritual thread connecting all the beads of different religions, philosophies and cultures. It is a complete subject. When people are introduced to its real principles that facilitate managing social life along with spiritual life then they feel the substance of tradition. For this reason we are never in conflict with religion.
How would you differentiate spirituality from religion?
Indian spirituality is a holistic subject which inspires you to follow the four purusharthas in lifeartha (social security), kama (fulfillment of desire), dharma and moksha (liberation). Religion can be one arm of your body and spirituality another. Religion provides you with social norms and disciplines and spirituality provides you with the opportunity to discover yourself. Spirituality avoids religion. Today, our concept of religion is very limited. It is being used not for spiritual uplift but for manipulation and control of humanity.
Is the strong point of BSY its primarily apolitical stand?
BSY is apolitical and definitely non-religious. Sanyasis are never supposed to be religious figures. Throughout history, they have worked to harmonize society, like Sri Shankaracharya. Religions are made by followers, not by teachers.
There are innumerable yoga institutes in India and abroad. What is unique about BSY?
We adopt the holistic approach to yoga. And we do not concentrate on any one aspect. Our idea is to bring yoga to the world as a scientific subject. We are a composition of body, mind and spirit. So we need to cater to the requirement of all these areas. Therefore, even yogic practices have to be in conformity with the desires of today so that they can influence all the various facets of personality.
So what we are getting over here is a way of living?
That is the aim. That you understand yoga in its totality and as it is, not as an extracurricular activity.
How much importance is given to the asanas and meditation in BSY?
Asana is just one tiny aspect of yoga and meditation is another tiny aspect. In the curriculum of Bihar Yoga Bharati, although we teach asanas and meditation, the emphasis is on the subject being taught. For example, in yoga psychology, you learn mind management and how yogic practices can help overcome psychological and emotional imbalances.
Compared to its popularity in Europe and Australia, BSY has not made sufficient inroads in India.
When BSY was being established, the Indian society saw yoga as something meant only for sanyasis and sadhus (ascetics)the householder had nothing to do with it. Recognizing that yoga will have to be represented to Indians in a more scientific way, we went abroad to establish the scientific aspect of yoga. Today, BSY has a very good standing in India. And it is our intention to work for the development of the Indian society. We have not migrated to another country like thousands of others. This is our karma bhoomi (vocational arena).
How would you define the guru-disciple relationship?
It is integral to any spiritual organization. Here, the relationship is not of the mind but of the heart: how much shraddha (faith) and vishwas (trust) can one have in a person. And how well can you connect yourself with the inspirations or the traditions that have guided your guru. After all, a guru is a guru in the eyes of others. But in personal life, a guru is always a disciple. Other people may look up to me as a guru but I am and will continue to be the disciple of my guru. So that channel has to remain open.
In most cases, after the guru's demise, he/she is metamorphosed into an icon while teachings take a back seat. Will BSY also end up as such a cultic setup?
Well, we are not on that path now and we hope that this situation will not come up in the future either. To avoid this, we have to prepare the next generation from now on.
So you have begun grooming your successor?
Yes, definitely. I have, in fact, retired. I worked in active administration of BSY for only 11 years and now I'm only the acharya (principal teacher). Even the present administrators are preparing their own successors. If, in my own lifetime, I see three generations prepared and a tradition created, I'll be happy.
Won't this rigid hierarchical structure hinder the progress of thought?
In the life of an organization, one has to go through different phases. When you are establishing an organization, then it is important to preserve the original vision. In this case, it is the vision of our guru, Swami Satyananda, in relation to BSY and other institutions. My job is to continue this vision. Then I have a different vision, in relation to Bihar Yoga Bharati. These visions cater to a particular time: when the needs of society change, the direction changes. So, till something is established and the vision becomes clear to everybody involved, some form of structure is necessary. Once the direction is clear, the path to a democratic form is open.
The guru-shishya relationship is, by definition, a one-to-one relationship. But in a big organization like yours, it is a thousand-to-one relationship.
That is only a spiritual connection, not a direct connection. Many people come to me with their problems. I try to resolve them within my capacity. After all, I am also learning. I don't have answers to all questions. For you, an outsider, it may appear as a thousand-to-one relation. But for an insider it is a one-to-one relation where every individual is interested in my communication with him or her.
You have a sanyas course. Now, isn't sanyas more of a state of mind?
There has to be training in sanyas as well. Sanyas is not merely leaving everything and living the life of a recluse. What is the use of renunciation if you are not able to manage your desires? The sanyas course is specifically tailored for people interested in knowing more about the spiritual way of life which is, basically, incorporating spirituality in your existing lifestyle.
You do not ask for renunciation?
Not at all. The basic principle of sanyas is that you develop the human faculty, be a master of yourself and try to uplift humankind. It is not renunciation. The concept of renunciation is to leave behind all unnecessary baggage in the form of desires, ambitions, needs, etc. Renunciation happens when you have attained something.
What is the paramahamsa tradition?
The paramahamsa tradition is of people who are enlightened and who are not confined by any social or even sanyas norms. In spiritual terms they are living the cosmic dimension in material dimension. And that is the highest grade in sanyas. All the previous grades of sanyas require training and cultivation of qualities. The paramahamsa stage is intuitive.
Does enlightenment mean a cessation of further evolution?
No, not at all. It is impossible to experience oneness in a body. The body has its own nature and dharma. Oneness can be reached when the body does not exist any more. But how do we know that is the final stage? God is also an evolving reality. Evolution is continuity. You cannot define perfection because the moment you define it, you are limiting perfection. Similarly, the concept of realization can't be defined. When I declare that I have attained realization, then it is a wrong idea, as I am looking at realization from the limited capacity of my mind.
Does that mean that an enlightened guru can never give that realization to his or her shishya (disciple)?
Well, as I said, you can't define enlightenment. But you can definitely define learning. I can share what I know. That will be the learning, the training. And that is the process towards enlightenment.
What is Yoga Nidra? What are its origins?
The origin of Yoga Nidra was an experience my guru had when he was in Swami Sivananda's ashram. For some time, he used to have night duties. When he would retire for sleep in the morning, the brahmacharis of other ashrams would start their chants. Swami Satyananda was totally unaware of this. Yet, upon waking up, if somebody would recite the same mantras or slokas, he would say: "I know these mantras!" But there was never any recollection of having read them anywhere. Intrigued, he once asked Swami Sivananda to explain this phenomenon. Swami Sivananda told him: "You may be asleep but your subconscious is awake which is picking up the information and storing it." Later Swami Satyananda experimented this on a boy (Niranjanananda) which led to Yoga Nidra. To develop this technique, he took the nyasa system of tantra-rotation of mind within mind, touching the various aspects of body and mind internally to sensitize the subconscious.
How different is Yoga Nidra from hypnotic suggestion therapy?
They can be similar, although essentially they are not. In hypnosis, the therapist gives you the suggestions whereas in Yoga Nidra you have to create a sankalp, a resolution that you have to speak out at the beginning and at the end. So here, in this practice, you are guiding yourself. You are not dependent on somebody else.
Have you used the Yoga Nidra technique on children?
Not yet, although that is our next project. Children are like clay. You can mold them in any way possible.
Are you a modernist or a traditionalist?
I am very much a traditionalist. But I don't believe in holding onto views of the past. Rather, I believe in progression and evolution of thought. So you could call me an evolving traditionalist. Paramahamsa Satyananda was a strict disciplinarian and a hard task master. But he also allowed everybody the freedom to decide their own path.
Are you enlightened?
(Pause) Very far from it.
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