Satsang with Swami Sivananda

One of the best types of Satsang is the study and contemplation of the enlightened saints of the past and present. Studying their lives, teachings and missions can provide an aspirant with much needed inspiration, nourishment and practical guidance. Satsang is also one of the paths leading to the experience of union; during Satsang we attempt to discover and commune with the essential, living spiritual truths which pervade the lives of all great spiritual figures. It is with this aim that this issue of 'Yoga' has been devoted to Swami Sivananda Maharaj of Rishikesh.

This Satsang serves several distinct purposes, and works on many levels at the same time. On one level, it is a way of contributing to Swami Sivananda's own well known mission - the widespread dissemination of spiritual knowledge. His life, writings and teachings contain a vast treasury of information on all aspects of yoga and spiritual life which will surely continue to inspire many future generations of aspirants.

On a second level, this is an opportunity for all of us to trace the historical antecedents of the science of yoga as currently practised and taught at Bihar School of Yoga and its branches. It is one example of the way in which the main threads of spiritual truth remain intact throughout the centuries, even though they may be woven into many different, equally beautiful patterns by changing cultural and social forces. Hearing the same principles echoed in different voices, seen through different eyes, and filtered through different personalities and viewpoints, reinforces their impact on our own lives.

However, this Satsang is intended to fulfil yet another, more sublime purpose. Swami Sivananda, as Swami Satyananda's own guru and source of light, is our spiritual forefather as well. By immersing ourselves in, his remarkable vibrations and energies, we can add a new dimension to our spiritual awareness. Through this process we can forge another link in the chain of spiritual transmission which has been extended to us by our guru.

The chain of transmission

Spiritual energy represents a kind of inner attunement with oneself and the world at large; it is the mystical spark which ignites the blaze of creative potential in each of us. Just as radio waves or electro-magnetic waves permeate throughout physical space, spiritual energy is an unseen presence which permeates the psychic atmosphere. The guru can directly access this higher energy, and serves as both receiver, amplifier and transmitter of these higher vibrations. His task includes the preparation of disciples as auxiliary channels, so that the spiritual experience can be transferred via this network to as many people as possible. Although spiritual energy manifests in many forms and expressions, it is unchanging and everlasting in essence. Once linked with it, the aspirant can partake of the same states of consciousness as the enlightened gurus and saints of the past and future. In yoga and tantra, the entrance into this network is achieved by initiation. It constitutes the basis of the ever-enduring relationship that exists simultaneously between disciple, guru, guru's guru and all the way along the chain of transmission, which includes the avatars, realized beings and the one divine consciousness.

A spiritual family

For those who have accepted the initiation and guidance of a guru, and are committed to the tradition, there is a special significance in the study of their spiritual heritage. Sometimes disciples tend to lose their awareness of their spiritual 'roots', and they forget that when the guru initiates them into spiritual life, he grants them full membership in his spiritual family as well. His own sources of energy and grace then become available to them, and his personal teachers stand ready to guide them also. The disciple then is reborn as a child in this new family. All children delight in poring over old photographs, and listen avidly to stories of their ancestors. Through the family traditions, they recover a sense of identity and continuity beyond their own individual existence. In identifying aspects of themselves, or their parents, in a person who may have lived fifty or a hundred years ago, they overcome the barriers of isolation and loneliness imposed on them by a modern culture which teaches that the only reality is the individual ego, and nothing endures beyond birth and death.

In modern society today, people are conditioned to believe that everything begins and ends with the individual consciousness, with the current body and current mind. Originality and invention are therefore overvalued at the expense of tradition and culture. All new ideas and works of art are required to be the totally original products of a single independent mind. The whole system is based on individual reward for individual effort, and to a large extent, a person's sense of self-worth is defined by the measure of uniqueness- in appearance, behaviour, work, etc. - that he can muster.

Spiritual connections

The aspirant can easily be influenced by this competitive, individualistic orientation and slip into the belief that his particular version of spirituality is something completely new, different and superior to all others. He may then become overly dependent on the physical form and personality of his teacher as the only one who can guide him along this virgin path, the only one fully able to convey and interpret the esoteric message. It is true that spiritual teachers develop unique, powerful personalities, which are expressions of their own inner nature, and which naturally lend colour and flavour to their teachings.

However, the true spiritual guide is the first to admit that his knowledge emanates from a higher source and that he himself is just a conductor for the universal, timeless knowledge. It is one of the paradoxes of spiritual life that in order to recover the true Self, the outer self must be extinguished, and with it all notion of individual credit or blame for one's efforts and achievements. In this system, therefore, tradition and culture must be valued and cherished above all else, because they are the repositories of the accumulated spiritual force of many thousands of enlightened souls.

Thus, just as awareness of his connections to a family tradition releases a child from his cultural isolation, so the awareness of his spiritual connections can release the disciple from his spiritual isolation. Also, being a child, either in the physical or spiritual sense, entails risky and uncertain periods of growth and change. During these times, having a tradition to cling to can provide some measure of comfort, stability and security. A sense of proportion develops, when we realize that our problems, our sufferings, our rites of passage and our ultimate arrival at the supreme goal have all been shared, and will continue to be shared, by our brothers and sisters throughout time.