By Arun Srivatsav
Suddenly,I got a glimpse of the events of the new millennium. In this millennium, yoga will move to the background. Devotion will acquire a major role in people’s lives. Devotion means reverence, and love, pure love. This will definitely happen, not as a proposition but as a science.
—Paramahamsa Swami Satyananda
It is virtually impossible to meet Swami Satyananda these days. There was a time, not too long ago, when as the founder-head of the renowned Bihar School of Yoga (BSY) in Munger, India, he was never far from the public eye. Then, in 1983, after almost 20 years of managing BSY, he handed over the reins to his spiritual successor, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati and moved into solitary sadhana (spiritual meditation practices).
During his tenure at the helm of the BSY, Swami Satyananda’s fame spread far beyond Munger and yoga began reaching people on an unprecedented scale. Yoga aspirants from around the world started thronging to Munger. In 1984, the Swami founded the Sivananda Math, a charitable institution, and the Yoga Research Foundation to scientifically establish the efficacy of yoga as a therapy for a variety of health problems.
When he left the BSY and everything he had created over the years, it created a revolutionary redefinition of renunciation. He relinquished not only the ashrams but also his disciples. He took with him only Rs 108 and two dhotis (lower garments worn by Indian men).
Later, Swamiji performed the panchagni sadhana in which he meditated under the scorching summer sun, with lamps burning near him in the four corners. He would not meet anyone during that time and his dog, Bhairav (whom he considers a disciple from a previous incarnation) would guard against any intrusion by curious onlookers. Growing old, he lived alone in a remote hut.
After emerging from his rigorous panchagni sadhana, Satyananda began the annual ritualistic ceremonies of Sita Kalyanamand Sat Chandi Yajna at Rikhia in Jharkhand as an occasion to meet his old disciples and infuse them with his newfound mantra—Bhakti Yoga. He says: ‘I never talked about God before, but now I can’t speak on anything except this. Technology was the science of last century; bhakti (devotion) would be the science of this century.’
Having heard so much about this legendary saint and curious to meet him, I decided to attend the Sita Kalyanam in December. From what I had gathered from my talks with his disciples and students at the BSY in Munger, I expected an ascetic well advanced in years, and the picture of an infirm and humble seer living in a lonely hermitage flashed through my mind.
Earlier, Satyananda used to give darshan (divine glimpse) to devotees every Sunday morning for which, people would come from as far as Australia and Greece. But for the past six months, he has stopped all interaction, informs a BSY sanyasin(monk). The reason for the Swami’s self-imposed exile is his sadhana. Further questions about that are met with silence as sadhana is something very personal and not to be talked about, I am told.
As one begins the 10 km journey from Deoghar to Rikhia, it’s impossible not to notice the natural beauty of the place. Vast tracts of barren and hilly land spotted with palm trees. No plastic bags, no overflowing drains or garbage dumps, no chaos of excessive traffic. The calmness makes it a wonderful place to be in.
In Rikhia, I see a sprawling campus with high boundary walls, inside which there are blocks of multistoried buildings. This surprises me, as the place hardly seems ideal for the kind of solitary sadhana the Swami is supposed to be immersed in.
A one-on-one meeting with him seems impossible, considering the multitudes that had gathered for his darshan. I did get the opportunity to hear him speak, though. Following are extracts from his discourse:
‘All of you have come from far off places to take part in this ceremony. This occasion should facilitate a change in your mind. Change of thought is not necessary but that of mind is important. There is something called destiny; you can call it fate, too. What is it that can change this destiny? Action, your honest efforts, cannot change your destiny. After all, your actions are not meant to bring about undesirable results, which they do at times. Destiny can be changed only by God’s grace. Indian mythology is full of such stories in which this has happened.
‘So, the question before us is how to attain God’s grace. I always knew God exists, but never saw Him, never heard Him. I tried all the tricks of the trade—did millions of japa (chanting mantras), visited all temples, shrines and pilgrimage places, did yoga for decades—but did not find God. I was aware of a divine presence but did not know how to have it. I was searching for a door, where there was none. Now, I have it. The divide between you, the devotees, and myself helped me find It.’
Suddenly, in the middle of his discourse, he turned to Niranjanananda and said: ‘Bhajan karao. (Begin the bhajans or devotional songs)” Soon, a saffron-clad band of sanyasins seated on the tastefully decorated stage got into action. A mellifluous voice sang familiar lines, which were repeated by the audience. Satyananda also pitched in. The bhajan(devotional song) singing reached a crescendo, sweeping the crowd into a swinging and clapping frenzy, transcending body consciousness.
In the days that followed, there were more bhajans, community meals, with the Swami’s discourses thrown in. He enjoyed bhajans and said that one can get into bhav samadhi (intense spiritual ecstasy) by the mere singing of them.
What really struck me about Satyananda was his childlike chortle that would echo in each sentence he spoke. And he seemed to not carry any weight at all, either of his physical being or of his knowledge, or of old age. His chortles echoed deep within me. Maybe an invisible layer of divinity does envelop him, as he believes.
As I set off for home, the impressions about the recluse swami that I had carried there had changed. He was no doubt old but not at all infirm. He wore good clothes and his ashram had an air of refinement and perfection.
I wondered about what truly represents Satyananda’s legacy—the lavish ashram and dedicated clan of devotees, or the yoga, bhajan, spiritual discourses and a feel of the divine? And what is his message to his followers, and the world?
In his writings, Satyananda explains abstract concepts of spirituality with remarkable lucidity. He does not agree with the western philosophy about the mind and its functioning. He writes that the mind is not fear, neurosis, desires, passions and memory. These are simply vrittis (mental patterns). The individual mind is a part of the universal or total mind. So long as we remain within the confines of the individual mind, we cannot understand the universal mind.
He prescribes meditation as the instrument through which we can go beyond the individual mind and experience or perceive the cosmic or total mind. This total mind is the experience of samadhi. When you meditate and go beyond name and form, and gradually merge the individual, limited consciousness with cosmic consciousness, there comes a point of attainment of homogeneous awareness, where there is existence, but you are not there. The ‘I’ is completely dissolved and the self does not exist any more.
Therefore, in any form of yoga, all the training is for the discovery and proper mastery of the mind.
Swami Satyananda is emphatic about the fact that yoga is not exclusively for sanyasins, as is commonly believed. He asks: ‘Why should yoga be for sanyasins alone? They have few worries. Their needs are meager and their lifestyle frugal. It is those who have responsibilities, obligations, worries, anxieties who need yoga.’
He believes that yoga commences when you are totally frustrated, when your mind is not under control. When you get angry, when you are assailed by passions and depressions, what do you do? You try to steady yourself. This effort to stabilize the mind and make it free from anger and depression is the first step in yoga.
What best epitomizes the Swami’s teachings is the concept he evolved—Karma Sanyas. This has come to be recognized as a way of life, which anyone with adequate motivation and appreciation for the spiritual life can adopt. This allows the practitioner to view life from a different standpoint. Life then is not one fraught with pains and miseries. Rather it symbolizes human efforts and one’s true involvement in one’s work. This is exemplified by the Swami’s life and those of his disciples who successfully manage the BSY, the only yoga university in the world and also one of the best equipped and excellently managed institutes in India.
The tenets of Karma Yoga are so well ingrained in Swamiji’s disciples that for them, success is not a matter of chance but a fact taken for granted. This is because Karma Yoga says that no matter what or where you are, all you need to do is make sure that you are completely dedicated to your work. Keep steady on the path of yoga which will purge your mind and body of all impurities and you would be able to choose and do the work that best suits you and fits into the universal plan. These two tenets should take one further towards success, spiritually and otherwise.
But for a God experience, don’t forget devotion, as prophesied by Swami Satyananda.
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