Yoga is our Heritage

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

The following is a speech given by Swamiji in El Salvador, Central America, after attending the International Yoga Convention in Bogotá, Colombia.

Hari Om Tat Sat is the way to greet you and express happiness at being here with you all. This is a beautiful country with wonderful landscapes, greenery, sea and, most of all, people full of the spirit of yoga. Time is limited for me, but I will try to talk to you about all aspects of yoga.

We (Swami Satyananda and Swami Amritananda) have come here having attended the International Yoga Convention, which was of tremendous importance since it heralds in a new era for humanity. After the convention we traveled to various countries in South America and we are now here in El Salvador. Tomorrow we have to leave for Guatemala, and after that we proceed to Spain and then back to India. I have visited nearly all the countries in the world, in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, South-east Asia, Australia, Latin America and North America. In the minds of many people there arise the following questions : What is the motive for all this travel? What do we teach? Who are the people involved? Why should swamis go from one place to another without any attachment to religions, cultures and political systems? What are these swamis talking about? This is what I am now going to tell you.

Throughout the whole world, in every small town, in every city, there are people talking about yoga. Regardless of beliefs, political affiliations, status etc. vast numbers of people, in one way or another, are practising yoga. Man today has started to think deeply about himself.

Questions like: 'What is the reality in me?' arise in his mind. He does not know his reality, but he has started to think whether or not he has any deeper being. This is why you people here who are representatives of your whole country, have come to this meeting- the same question is in your minds. You have come to look for that. From the depths of your being you are all searching... to find your true nature and potential.

Now the question arises: 'Are we being indoctrinated into yoga? Is yoga a new system, a new religion or a new philosophy?' The answer to this enquiry is a big no, for yoga is the universal inheritance of mankind. It is a culture which was known and practised by man in ancient times, perhaps more than forty centuries ago. During those times it existed throughout the whole world, but it was lost in the course of time; it died out.

Recently, however, in Latin America and all other parts of the world it is coming back to life. It is being revived. Lack of insight in man was the cause of the loss, or rather, the disappearance of this ancient yogic culture. It was put aside, hidden, and forgotten. It was replaced by materialism, together with pleasure seeking; man wanted more and more possessions, wealth and status. This materialism has driven man and society to the edge of total collapse.

At this present time, when man is poised on the edge of this precipice, he is starting to think: 'What have I done?' And it is at this moment that he begins to search within himself and finds that his ancestors - yours and mine - had a way of life, a culture called yoga. We are starting to relive it again. It is nothing new, neither brought nor planted from outside, but something which is already in the collective consciousness of all humanity.

When I was a child, people thought that yoga enabled a person called a yogi to sleep on a bed of nails, to drink nitric acid and to remain immobile in temperatures below zero without harm. They thought that a yogi was a puritan, a renunciate, an escapist and so many other things. This was what yoga meant to most people, and superhuman feats were thought to be the aim and ideal of yoga. People used to say: 'If these feats are the aim of yoga, then I don't want to know about yoga. What do I gain by sleeping on a bed of nails? What do I gain by drinking a litre of nitric acid? What do I gain by renouncing everything? What is the sense in renouncing all the things of life?' These were the misconceptions that kept the science of yoga hidden away from the majority of mankind.

However, things are changing. Recent years, in the last few decades, free thinkers started to investigate and understand the real purpose of yoga. They started to realize that their preconceived ideas about yoga were totally wrong. People who were previously pessimistic and critical started to propagate the real meaning and practices of yoga.

Let us briefly discuss the mind. Perception can be directed downwards, towards the outside world, towards the senses, to sensory perception or, on the other hand, it can be directed upwards, towards the inner being and away from the senses. When you practice this process of introspection then you are actually doing yoga. When your perception becomes extroverted through the senses then you are not practising yoga- you are doing bhoga (total concern with worldly experiences). Yoga can be defined as the union of the finite, individual mind with the infinite, cosmic mind. It can also be defined as harmonization of the inner world with the outer world.

The mind, like everything else that exists in the material world, is subject to the process of evolution. In its most primitive state it is very gross and responds to stimuli in a vegetable-like manner. In this state there is no thought such as we know it. With evolution, the mind develops to a state which can be described as instinctive. This is the mind level of animals. A third state of mind is reached through the evolutionary process, which can be described as the oscillating mind. In this state, there are thoughts and perception of objects but the mind continually oscillates, going here and there. The mind is not able to fix itself on one point. These three states of mind are natural and are obtained automatically in the course of evolution. They require no practice; they require no self effort. Nature gives and produces them in the course of evolution. Most of us function at stage three, the fluctuating mind. We are not capable of centring the mind.

There is a fourth stage in which your thinking process is kept fixed on one idea without interruption, or interference from other thoughts, without any oscillation whatsoever. Different practices of yoga bring about this state of mental one-pointedness. I will not describe these practices here. There are thousands of different techniques, all of which will take an individual to a state where the mind is kept constant, where it can maintain smooth concentration for a long time.

When we speak of the evolution of the mind, we are not talking about the evolution of one aspect of the mind, but of all components which constitute our whole personality. There must be an integrated development of all aspects of the human personality whether physical, emotional, psychic or mental. It is no use developing the psyche if the emotions are not simultaneously harmonized. It is no good becoming highly developed intellectually but remaining emotionally empty. There must be overall balance and development of the whole human being. This is why there are different types, or rather, branches of yoga. Bhakti yoga deals with sublimation of the emotions; karma yoga deals with making one's actions powerful and one-pointed; raja yoga is for control of the psyche; jnana yoga develops superior wisdom; hatha yoga deals with the control of physical and pranic (vital) energy; mantra yoga with sound; and there are so many other types. Yoga covers all fields of life in order to bring about the integral development of the personality.

Yoga aims at harmony and equilibrium of the potentialities and aspects of the human being, whether emotions, intellect, intuition etc. so that the individual can obtain the fullest possible expression of himself. Once this is obtained, then true contentment arises. Until this total expression and development of personality is achieved, man will remain unhappy. All the ingredients of the mind must be balanced in the same way that the physical body needs to be balanced by the correct intake of proteins, vitamins and other nutrients. All these aspects of the mind must be harmonized. in order to achieve true inner peace.

One of the most important methods of bringing balance to the mind is meditation. It is being practised by people everywhere in the world. Meditation means a state of total perception, of total consciousness. It implies the merging of the mind with the object of perception. It influences both the physical and mental bodies. It has been proved scientifically that in advanced states of meditation, when the mind is about to merge with the object of concentration, when it is about to enter a state of total one-pointedness, that alpha brain waves increase, more than in everyday life, thus removing all anxieties, anguishes, tensions and inducing a deep state of relaxation.

I will give you an idea, a concept, which you should be able to fully appreciate: society is nothing but the product of man's mind. This means that according to the mental states of individuals, so too is the state of society. We always complain about social structures and social patterns that we don't like and with which we disagree. But the way to obtain complete transformation of society is first to bring about the transformation of the individual, and this is achieved by meditation. Systematic practice of meditation brings about a transformation of the whole consciousness of the individual - his mentality and attitudes. And if there exists a group of these individuals, then without a doubt the society will change.

Yoga gives one mental peace and balance, but what does yoga give to society and to mankind? The answer is simple - by changing the consciousness, the mental structure of individuals, yoga will bring about real and positive change in the social structure and the collective consciousness of man.