By Punya Srivastava
Punya Srivastava meets Swami Smaranananda Giri, the General Secretary of YSS of India, and an eminent scientist who threw it all up to pursue spirituality
The book, Autobiography of a Yogi is probably one of the most popular books in the spiritual world, having introduced lakhs of readers to spirituality. The travels and travails of Paramahansa Yogananda have intrigued, astounded, charmed, and inspired many a man and woman, in many a land. Yogananda, who introduced Kriya Yoga to the West on behest of his parampara, headed by the eternal Yogi Mahavatar Babaji, has been one of the most powerful disseminators of Indian spirituality in the US. In his own land, Yogananda founded the Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS) which, since its inception, has dedicated itself to the service of mankind through the teaching of Kriya Yoga.
The organisation recently premiered Awake: The Life of Yogananda – a documentary based on the Autobiography of a Yogi. Swami Smaranananda Giri, the General Secretary of YSS of India, delivered a precise, clear and practical speech on the true purpose of religion at the event, which inspired me to seek an interview with him. Within a week, I sat waiting for an audience with him in the meeting room of the Yogoda Satsanga Society’s Noida Centre.
He entered the room clad in his usual ochre dhoti and kurta, and sporting his small, grey ponytail. His voice, as calm as a summer sea, revealed his tranquil depth – ubiquitous to men of elevated consciousness. His meticulous attention to detail was apparent in the way he settled down – sitting straight with his back erect, right leg crossed on his left as he delicately smoothened out the crease of the dhoti at the knee. Every gesture spoke of peaceful serenity; every thoughtful word resonated with graceful humility. The shining pools of his eyes softly held your attention as he listened to you keenly with a slight smile that never seemed to leave his face.
Swami Smaranananda Giri is also the current head of the Yogoda Satsanga Sakha Ashram, Ranchi – the very first institute founded by Paramahansa Yogananda. As the story goes, he was at a crossroad in the year 1985, when faced with opting to join either the late Dr Abdul Kalam in his missile project as a scientist, or Yogoda Satsanga Ashram as a sanyasi. Fortunately, his heart won the day and he joined the ashram. Swami Smaranananda is a post-doctoral Fellow from Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, and a PhD in Electronics and Communication Engineering from IIT, Kharagpur. He has served at premier academic institutes in India and abroad in various capacities.
Excerpts from the interview.
Swamiji, what exactly is Kriya Yoga?
Kriya yoga is a psycho-physiological technique wherein we practice special breathing through which we take excess oxygen to decarbonise the system, as the physical body is burdened with carbon. It is the function of the heart to decarbonise the body by pumping blood. The special kriya technique does this more efficiently, consequently providing the heart with some rest. As a result, all the raging emotions, anxieties, and feelings get subdued, and one experiences a deep state of peace. Hence, one is able to function in this world while being calmly active and actively calm.
Remaining calmly active and actively calm is quite a challenge…
That is because we have forgotten our true nature after getting involved with the world outside. Our true nature is eternal joy. It is possible to always be joyful ‘irrespective of my atmosphere and my situation’. Joy is not dependent upon conducive conditions. One realises this by the regular practice of meditation; more and more people are realising this. Going within and realising oneself is not magic, it is science.
Are people realising this on their own or is this a part of the grand plan devised by the Eternal Masters up there, as mentioned in the Autobiography of a Yogi?
It works both ways, I guess. Each individual is endowed with free will. I can choose what I want and you can choose what you want. God doesn’t impose His will on us. We are not automatons governed by the Supreme Being, or by our past karmas as people say, or by our destiny. They might have some influence but my present thinking, present decisions, shape my life. Meditation is my choice; practising it regularly to benefit from it too is my choice. It is not as if only a chosen few are destined for this path of spirituality. One may not become a musician, an artist, a sportsperson, an engineer or a scientist, but everyone can become a meditator. Perpetual joy is everyone’s birthright and the best way to tap that joy is through meditation.
But for a scientist to make a conscious choice to enter a monastic order…
I approached the Ranchi ashram purely to improve my concentration prowess through meditation. It was 1979, and I was doing my PhD. I had a very busy schedule at that time. I was asked to meditate daily for 20 minutes in the morning and evening, and 20 minutes were all I could afford to set aside in my busy life. Had I, at that point of time, known that I would be sitting in meditation for longer than those stipulated 20 minutes, I would have never started with meditation in this life! (laughs) Yet, my meditation practice of the hamsa technique grew steadily along with my career graph.
What made you choose the life of a sanayasi over the life of a scientist, especially when you had the choice to assist Dr Abdul Kalam?
The fact that I could taste that perpetual joy – the ultimate sought-after luxury in this world – which is always present inside me; it was the greatest revelation of my life. After reading the Autobiography of a Yogi, I was convinced that God is ‘sacchidananda’ – truth-consciousness-bliss. And it was revealed to me that the purpose of life is awakening to that perpetual joy. I went to Canada and worked as a scientist, as a professor but the Ashram’s influence had strongly influenced me as a person. In my earlier life, I had never even thought of God or joy or spirituality in an active manner. Being born in this country, God was always there but only for the festivals, or to be remembered before a trip to the hospital or an exam – always in the background. I believed in God but never sought Him. To sit and meditate on God was unthinkable. Yet, thanks to my sincere meditation practice, I was coming in contact with peace, tranquility and joy. I was joyful ‘inspite of…’ and not ‘because of…’.
How does the life of a sanyasi benefit society at large?
My life as a sanyasi is based on meditation and service which constitute my sadhana. As a monk belonging to the Yogoda Satsanga Society, I aim to assist mankind by teaching it definite, scientific techniques of meditation for a direct, personal experience of God. Sanyasis serve mankind as their larger self – through various charitable activities. YSS’s aim is to unveil to mankind the superiority of mind over body, and that of soul over mind.
YSS does not have a living guru; it is run by various administrative heads. Who decides whom to initiate into Kriya, since it was always based on dissemination of knowledge from the guru to the shishya?
Paramahansa Yogananda, the last guru of Yogoda’s lineage, does not need a physical body to bless people. He guides people through his consciousness. The present head, Sri Sri Mrinalini Mata, and other monks of the order are authorised by Yoganandaji to be his channel; to initiate people into Kriya Yoga on his behalf. Also, to me personally, the guru’s teachings are the guru now. The physical body is ephemeral; the teachings are eternal. I benefitted from the teachings, not by the darshan of any spiritually enlightened master. Also, those people who get initiated are already a prepared lot. They undergo at least a few years of practising the Hamsa and the Om (energisation) techniques to elevate and purify their consciousness to be able to receive the kriya techniques.
There are several accomplished personalities in YSS’s swami order – ranging from high profile doctors to politicians to industrialists – people who have lived their lives by the teachings and reached the pinnacle of materialistic success. And then they have left their flourishing careers to serve society.
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