Yoga Today

Swami Satyananda Saraswati - Given at Satyananda Ashram, Paris, on 17th September

Mankind has landed in a new dimension of time and things are completely different from what they were a century ago. Men, women and children and the way of living are completely new. About one or two hundred years ago, the emperors and the cardinals used to tell us to follow the religion of the country and everybody did so. Today the situation is completely different. The state is not concerned with man's religion. Now individuals have to discover a way for themselves. How can a king or an emperor tell you which way you should go? It is only you who can decide.

Spiritual life is a life of evolution, improvement and progression in every aspect of existence. In the process of evolution the first phase is to take care of our material existence. Human life is like an iceberg, a little is above water and the rest is under water. A lot of our personality is rooted in the body, mind and senses, and therefore we have to live in this world.

There is a reason why we were born. We have a definite destiny and that is why we are here as human beings. Man is the link between animal and divine. Therefore we are an important part of the great evolution. This evolution is not only on the physical and mental plane, it is also on the spiritual plane. In the last few centuries we were completely blinded to this fact. Man was busy with empire building, he was very busy establishing industries and looking after his body. But now we are at the zenith and we have to come back to the point where we started. Therefore, not only in our own self, but everywhere in the world, individual awakening is occurring. Two decades back when young boys of 16, 18, 20, used to talk to me about spiritual consciousness, I thought that people had gone crazy. But now I am not surprised when most people I meet want to find the purpose and the objective of life.

Language of every man

All over the world yoga has received great attention and everyone is able to understand it so quickly and so well. Even the religious fanatics have no problem with yoga. Because the philosophy of yoga is so simple, skeptics and atheists and those who are rooted in sensual life have no difficulty in understanding it.

Yoga doesn't start with a promise of heaven, it starts with the theory of the body. Everybody understands the body, therefore, yoga talks about the nervous system, energy, emotions, intellect, brain, glands, hormones, endocrines. Anybody who has been to school can understand this and they can't deny it at all.

If I talk about heaven, half of you might accept it and half of you might say 'Hmph!' But the message of yoga is rooted in practical life which everybody understands, so people have no difficulty in accepting it. Yoga talks about the mind, dreams, deep sleep, sensual manifestations, psychological depths, conflicts, depression, visions. Everybody has experienced these things and so they can understand yoga very well. Finally, yoga talks about the inner consciousness, clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy, parapsychology.

Yoga has been readily understood by everybody, because its language is the language of man. Religions have gone into obscurity because we don't understand what they say. When I was a young boy I used to ask my priest, 'How big is God's house and who is the minister and secretary of his kingdom?' I used to ask such funny questions that my priest was completely bewildered. He only said, 'Look here, you are a child, you will understand when you grow up.' If you ask a yoga teacher any question about yoga, he will definitely give you a reply which you can understand. He will not say 'First get a medical degree, and then I will explain it'.

Ashram culture

Peace of mind is a universal concern. Whether you are an intellectual or a labourer, affluent or of simple means, of a good family or a disreputable one, you know that your mind is not stable. This is the factor on which the foundation of the ashram is built. An ashram is not a place where you learn how to be lazy, not a place for passivity, not the abode of tamo guna - sleeping energy. An ashram is a place where you channelize your dynamism for the generation of inner power. Therefore the ashram has a relevance to our culture of today. The number of ashrams has to gradually increase so that many more people can come to join them and participate in their creative and beneficial activities. The ashram culture is needed to balance the mad race of mankind. It is because there are so few ashrams in our culture, that man has been misled.

Ashrams should not be too big, otherwise they require a complicated system of organisation, and where there is a large organisation, the contact can never be direct. In ashrams the contact between the teacher and the student should be direct. Therefore the ashram should not grow to the point where the relationship between guru and disciple becomes indirect. Do not aspire for a palace. Do not be proud and say, 'Have you seen my ashram; it is such a big one?' I am proud of an ashram where people can come to see me, not whenever they like, but from time to time. This is the type of ashram we have been creating almost everywhere in the world. In the course of time, the ashram will have to become the hearth of society's cultural and spiritual activities.

Universal science

In many countries people ask 'Do you preach yoga?' I say 'Yes' and the person says, 'But yoga is oriental and we are occidental. How can oriental yoga fit in with occidental culture?' I have two answers. Firstly, how did Christianity fit into the west? Is Christianity occidental or oriental? Secondly, a science is neither eastern nor western. When technology came to India we said, 'It is from the west, but that's all right. We can have a motor car from anywhere.' A science is universal - technological science is universal, and spiritual science is also universal. Biology, chemistry and botany are not occidental sciences, they are just sciences. Yoga is not an eastern philosophy, it is the philosophy. This is how we have to accept yoga wherever we are.

Technological culture was the work of the external man and it created comfort and luxuries for the external senses. But with the development of technology the needs of the inner man were ignored. In India the way of life was designed for the development of the inner man while the needs of the outer man were ignored. So in both the east and the west the lifestyle was unbalanced; development was not integral. Now the west must learn how to develop the inner man and the east has to learn how to develop the outer man. This will bring the world closer and remove the big gap between the two cultures.

Free of obligation

Unfortunately, there was a large gap in the history of mankind, and that was the period when spirituality was forced and yoga was lost. When spirituality is forced on people it becomes a religion or a socio-political creed which is no longer based on spirituality.

During the last three or four decades the world has been blessed with a few great thinkers, including scientists, who have made a just appeal to mankind to evolve its spiritual life. Society cannot compel its members to become spiritual; each individual must discover his own needs and develop his spiritual life voluntarily. It cannot be done out of obligation.

If you need yoga, practise it, otherwise do not. Yoga is not a law of state, and if you don't choose to follow it nobody is going to punish you. If you think you don't need asanas, then please don't do them. If you think that tranquility is not your need, then please don't practise yoga nidra. So in our age the whole process has to be voluntary and our spiritual path has to be an outcome of our discovery.

When I became a swami the state did not compel me. Today, if I want to leave sannyasa nobody can stop me; I don't need anyone's permission. This is one of the most wonderful things in India, everyone is free to choose his own path, and this is the spirit growing in the western countries now. In the last three or four decades there has been a very great change, and so it is that yoga is with us now.


Satsang on Yoga Today

Do you think that the world, is preparing for an age of spiritual awakening?

People are becoming more and more aware of the need for spiritual life, but they lack guidance, inspiration and the means of transmission. The awakening is here, now, but from time to time it is oppressed. In the last twenty or thirty years, and particularly in the last decade, the awakening has been marvelous and voluntary. This is a direct contrast to the previous generations when there was no choice; man was obliged to follow a path, whether he understood it or not.

Now, boys and girls and men and women of all ages, are earnestly trying to discover a way for themselves, and this voluntary discovery of spiritual life, and acceptance of spiritual practices, is a very happy event of our time. If this awakening continues and the voluntary efforts to raise one's spiritual consciousness are genuine and honest, then we can definitely reach the sublime heights of consciousness. Therefore I always tell my disciples, 'Do not seek wild publicity. If you do you are compelling or convincing people, then they are only accepting the way because they are impressed.' True spiritual life is not an outcome of this kind of impression. Rather, it comes to you in a beautiful and concise way.

Even if spiritual life was not openly presented and there were no books and publicity materials, a general awakening in the masses would still be taking place. If you withdrew all the books and publicity, and did not propagate spiritual life through newspapers or television, nevertheless, the mass consciousness which is trying to evolve spiritually, would discover its own way. Therefore, in our times, although we have been operating very silently and without much fuss, we still find people are in search of us. People are searching for good books on yoga and for good yoga teachers. They are looking for good systems, and this is a very positive sign of awakening.

One point should be very clear. While a spiritual institution or philosophy, or a religious institution or philosophy needs publicity, constant recognition, or whatever you might call it, the awakening of spiritual consciousness in everybody, en masse, does not need any publicity at all. If you are hungry you find your own food. If you want spiritual life you must search and track it down. So let us try to create a situation where people remain seekers. Let them go to the gurus and teachers. Let them try different philosophies. Let them read books. I teach because you are searching. What are you searching for? You are searching for a way which will lead you towards the greater possibility which you have somehow realised in your mind. This type of voluntary awakening has been occurring increasingly over the last two or three decades.

How is the knowledge of yoga being disseminated around the, world?

Last week I was in Zinal, Switzerland, where yoga teachers from 47 countries participated in the international yoga conference. I am going to Dublin the day after tomorrow for another convention, and people from all over Europe will be attending.

I was also in Denmark recently, and I found that the education department sends circulars to every Danish citizen, inviting them to participate in yoga lessons for which the government pays. The awakening is definitely under way there. In my class in our Scandinavian ashram there were 120 people. This small crowd is not discouraging and, similarly, big crowds aren't necessarily encouraging either. It is the quality which is important, not the quantity. It only matters that you are here and I am here.

Many people may think that there must be 50,000 people to listen to the message of yoga. This is not the case. Yoga is not a political matter; it is a science of man's inner personality. It is a subject which is sincere, earnest and great. Yoga is a mighty culture in the making, and very soon it is going to direct the experiences, the behaviour, the thought, and the process of the perception of mankind.

Will there be enough teachers for the increasing number of people who want to practise yoga?

There is a law of supply and demand. Where there is demand there will be supply. Through the practice of asanas and pranayama you can prepare your body, mind and nervous system so that from among you many enlightened people will come forth, with a thorough knowledge of the science, and they will make very capable teachers.

What kind of things do you teach? What kind of yoga do you give to the people?

There is only one definition of yoga, no second definition. Yoga means to be able to control the varying patterns of consciousness and this, of course, I teach everyone. But if I find that their body is not co-operating, then I try to mend it also.

The practices of yoga are divided into four main branches- karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga and gyana yoga. For people of dynamic temperament it is karma yoga; for those who are predominantly emotional- bhakti yoga; for those who are predominantly rational- gyana yoga; and for those who are predominantly psychic - raja yoga. Raja yoga has many sub branches- hatha yoga, laya yoga, kundalini yoga and mantra yoga. Besides this there is another system known as tantra yoga, which is the sum total of all these. Its main practice is known as kriya yoga. I mainly teach kriya yoga, but for me yoga is an all-inclusive science. Though I teach kriya yoga, I know that all the other forms, of yoga are necessary for people to prepare their bodies, minds and habits.

What is meant by living yoga and teaching yoga?

To live yoga is to be in harmony with yourself. You know what your mind is like. At the same time you know what kind of conflicting patterns you are imbibing in life. How unsteady the mind is! How can you teach tranquility to others while you yourself are disturbed? We have seen many doctors of psychology who treat mental diseases but they themselves are mental patients. When I say that one has to live yoga, I mean that one has to live a harmonious life in body, mind and spirit. The word yoga represents harmony, unity and co-ordination. This sense of harmony and unity has to be expressed and practised in relation to your own self first, then with the people you live with.

If you live a life of disharmony within yourself, and with the people you live among, then you know what type of troubles you are going to create. Living yoga means organising the patterns of one's own life. Many times we have seen people teaching yoga who go to bed late at night and wake up late in the morning; the same thing applies to their diet and all other aspects of their personal life. If you have no system, discipline or order in your life, you may be a good yoga teacher but you won't be in harmony with yourself. We come across many teachers of yoga throughout the world and some of them surely live a balanced life, but others live a life of paradoxes.

There are many yoga teachers who have a lot of psychological problems, physical problems, family and social problems. They are unsteady in their determination and inaccurate in their decisions.

Therefore, when I say that you should not merely teach yoga, but also live yoga, I mean that you should create a harmonious pattern in your life.

Does yoga place any absolute prohibitions or demands on an individual?

The aim of yoga is to experience a homogeneous flow of awareness. Prohibitions and acceptance belong to the realm of religious traditions. For a person who is discovering the truth there are no milestones and no barricades. I don't agree with those groups of people who create systems and then compel others to follow.

What is ashram yoga?

An ashram is not a monastery. It is a place where different types of people come and live for a certain period of time. They are all single-minded, but do not necessarily belong to one plane of evolution. In an ashram, the environment is the influencing factor. Very little teaching goes on in the form of classes and lectures as there is a continual process of transmission taking place through the atmosphere.

When you live in an ashram you are required to make a few adjustments in your way of living. In ashram life, everybody is a participant, and not a guest. Ashram is not just an institution run by a board of directors. Anybody who wants to participate in the ashram belongs to the ashram, and the ashram belongs to him. Participation in ashram life is without a selfish motive. Therefore, whatever you do in the ashram in the form of participation is nishkam karma yoga or selfless service. By living and participating in ashram life you exhaust your old karmas without creating any new ones.

The structure of ashram life is designed for the spiritual elevation of the inner personality of a participant. One does not become a monk by participating in ashram life. In fact an ashram is not a place for monks. The word 'monk' is derived from the word 'mono'- one. Ashram life is communal, and it is not the community of a monk. In ashram life, we have sannyasins and swamis, who are neither monks nor priests. They are people who have dedicated themselves for a definite purpose.

The life of a sannyasin is like a trust or an endowment. If you have a certain amount of money and donate it to a hospital, school or some other institution, then the money can only be utilised for that purpose. This is called a trust, or an endowment. In the same way, a sannyasin has donated his faculties for the fulfillment of a purpose. His wealth is his mind, body and vision. These are what he dedicates for a definite purpose. Afterwards he does not utilise this wealth for the fulfillment of his personal life. An ashram is a community of such people, and when others come from outside who are not sannyasins, they become participants in this current.

Can yoga solve the problems of poverty in the world?

If everybody wished for poverty the world would become heaven. Everybody is trying to be wealthy, but all the great saints have said that one has to live a life of self-imposed poverty. Actually the word poverty should be replaced by the word simplicity. Simplicity in life is living exactly in accordance with your necessities and means. When you amplify your necessities that creates a complication on the spiritual as well as the social plane. There is no doubt about it. It is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. When a man becomes wealthy his mind becomes inactive. Wealth is the opium of man. Therefore, we should try our level best to live according to necessity. Nowadays many nations are trying very hard to overcome poverty. They are trying to raise the standard of living for the people of their country. But I think the whole process should be reversed- back to poverty, simplicity and natural life.

When friends ask about yoga and spiritual life, how much should one tell them?

The first thing to tell them is to start practising yoga. An ounce of practice is better than tons of theory.