The Popularity of Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati - All India Yoga Convention, Bangalore, 24.1.82

In ancient days, there lived a great yogi known as Maharathi Kama. He was born more than 5,000 years ago, but history ignored his spiritual existence. Mahabharata speaks of his performance, qualities and accomplishments, but very few people remember him as a mahayogi, a master of the art of tantra. According to mythology he used to offer his body to 64 yoginis. The mythology also has it that he was one of the greatest men of his time. He was outright, generous and charitable. He always gave whatever was asked of him, and nobody who went to him came back disappointed. He was therefore known as Danaveer Kama. So, this man was at once Maharathi, Danaveer and Mahayogi.

Kama ruled over a kingdom known as Anga. At present, that region includes Bhagalpur and Munger. However, Munger was the capital of this kingdom. In that ancient city on the bank of Sri Ganga, he established his seat, now known historically as Kama Chowra.

My early days in Munger

I first came to Munger in 1956, and it so happened that I stuck to that place. Finally I established myself there, not to found an ashram, to create a tradition, or to teach and preach, but to live and to understand myself. I wanted to experience the totality of existence beyond body and mind, name and form.

During this period between 1956 and 1963,1 developed an understanding of the vibration of that place, which seemed to have been forgotten for the last 5,000 years. And, on the hillock of Kama Chowra, which was desolate, deserted, barren and solitary, I sat for hours, days, weeks and months. I did not know what exactly I was assimilating, what exactly I was understanding. I knew, however, that Maharaja Kama was a man of great magnanimity who used to give gold in charity and alms to all the people who came to him.

I realised that in this age gold has no relevance to mankind's real eternal existence. Of course, wealth is necessary in life to give us a notion of security, though that security is after all a delusion. Although gold is not the ultimate means of obtaining peace, freedom and perfection in life, still I knew very well that I could not discharge the responsibility of that great man unless I was able to deliver some form of wealth to the people. So that seat was not really for me. He gave gold, and I could not give even a morsel of food, because I had nothing but two dhotis and that was my wealth.

What can I give?

Ultimately an idea dawned - I would dispense yoga. After all there are so many religions, not just sects. And every religion has its own authority based on revelations directed from the topmost. And yet these great religions have not been able to illumine the inner being, the inner fountain of man's experience. They have always been walking around the periphery of man's existence. They have only touched the external, social, modern and affluent man, not the effulgent, complete man, the poorna purusha. All these religions teach and preach about the poorna purusha, but they do not provide the way to reach it. For example, if you tell a child to climb up a tree, and he cannot, you will have to provide him with the perfect means to climb the tree, a ladder. In the same way, it is very important that we provide mankind with the correct means to reach the true and innermost experience, which is the basis of all our experiences.

In 1964 I came to a definite conclusion about yoga and I decided to establish an ashram in Munger in order to disseminate the practical teachings to people from all countries and walks of life. A lot of water has flowed since then. Yoga has gone around the world breaking through barriers of religious, political and philosophical thinking.

Yoga is the one word, the one thought that has brought communities together. Where churches have failed, where temples and mosques have failed, there yoga has brought, if not the whole of humanity, at least a cross-section of humanity together. Scientists have been brought together, seekers have been brought together. Today, if there is one word that rings around the world, one idea that is acceptable to every person belonging to different philosophies, political thinking and national status, it is yoga.

Why should the people accept yoga? Because a powerful king or a powerful ruler gives it to them? No. A king does not rule the people, it is a philosophy or culture that rules the people. In the final conclusion, political, military or economic powers can do nothing. Never depend on these external powers. Look back into the history of the world. What has happened? Only those cultures and civilisations, philosophies and religions have survived, which were established on the rock foundation of yoga. Therefore, we must work towards re-establishment of the yogic culture. This must be realised now, throughout the world so that the people can transcend bravely the barriers of closed religious philosophies.

Spread of yoga

In recent years yoga has gone around the world. But it was not the ambassadors in your external affairs ministry who carried that message. It was not your kings and ministers who propagated this great philosophy, this practical way of life. This philosophy which gives a meaning and purpose to man's existence went out of India with those swamis and sannyasins who had no political backing, no power or money. Some of them went on foot. But today we don't even know the history of these unsung benefactors.

When I went to Scandinavian countries and was touring around the villages, I saw the family autograph books. There were written the names of quite a few swamis and sannyasins who are not even known today. They left the borders of India, following the land route across Afghanistan, Iran, Turkistan, and went around Europe teaching people about Yoga Sutras, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Vigyan Bhairava Tantra. This kind of knowledge the sannyasins took as far as Europe to the west and China to the east. Not one, but many sannyasins went out of their own accord, without any desire for name and fame and brief immortality in the pages of history.

You know about Swami Vivekananda, Swami Ramatirtha, Paramahamsa Yogananda, Swami Sivananda. Recently hundreds more have been instrumental in spreading the yogic culture, and today the picture is much different. The practices of raja, hatha, bhakti and gyana yoga are now well known throughout the world. In Australia alone, Bihar School of Yoga has twenty five ashrams and hundreds of sannyasins and sannyasinis. When they heard the call, they could understand the need of the day. Young boys and girls, eighteen, nineteen and twenty years of age, left their comfortable homes and underwent sannyasa training courses held in Australia. These sannyasins are now being trained, and very soon they will be sent to different parts' of Europe, Africa and America to propagate the teachings of yoga.

Similarly in South America there are many swamis and ashrams. Wherever I go to hold a meeting, people openly propose 'Can you open an ashram here?' I tell them, 'It is you who have to open the ashram, I will just endorse the idea.' Then, they ask all the participants, 'Who wants to open an ashram? Raise your hands.' After that they get together and discuss it and the next morning, the charter is ready. Within two days a phone is connected and within a week the ashram premises are purchased and a ticket is sent to India with the message, 'Please send a swami.' Such is the rapidity with which the people act, because they have realised that all the modern world gives them is tension, stress and strain, unhappiness, disruption in family life and an undisciplined, individual way of life.

To bring back this shattered culture, which is completely sick, you cannot just create a new set of laws or a philosophy based on economics, etc. You will have to give the people a system which is acceptable, which is practical, and which will provide a strong foundation for future generations.

Yoga in the church

Throughout South America, the church has issued special instructions that when Swami Satyananda or his representatives visit the city, all facilities should be provided. Even the monasteries are opened to them so that they can conduct their seminars. This special green signal has been issued by the Cardinal of the Church. And we have seminars all over South America every month, in which more than three hundred people from around the city come and participate. The people stay in the monastery where the seminar is being conducted, and their food, board and lodging is arranged by the Church.

Two or three years ago, the head Jesuit priest of Colombia visited Bihar School of Yoga and stayed there for three days. When he was satisfied, he went back and submitted his report to the council, and after that they requested a swami. We accepted and they sent a ticket. Dr Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, a renowned doctor from Australia, went to Colombia and trained six hundred workers of the church. From this you can now understand how important yoga is to these people, who believe in their religion, but are unable to practise it properly.

If you have a religion, you pray and you do pooja. But where is your mind, what are you thinking? And for how long have you been praying and doing pooja? What is the net outcome of that? I am not discouraging you. I only want to say that if the people who believe in religion take the help of yoga practices to discipline their body, mind and emotions, they will be able to fulfil the purpose of their own dharma, whether Hindu, Christian, Islam or any other religion. Even if you do not believe in religion, you are free to do so. Religion cannot be a compulsion. If you are an agnostic, if you do not believe in the existence of an immortal soul, or you do not believe in continuity of the self after death, that is up to you. I am not going to interfere with your philosophy. It is not important whether you believe in God or not. The important thing is whether you enjoy peace of mind.

If you do not enjoy peace of mind, how can you enjoy your family and children, wealth, friends and society? All your hopes in life will be destroyed. Shanti is first and foremost if you want to enjoy food or anything else. In order to live life to the fullest, physical, emotional and mental peace is necessary. And you cannot have it without bringing yoga into your day to day life. This is why the whole world has accepted yoga.

The European yoga federations

In Europe the population is not so large except in a few East European countries and England. However, the number of yoga teachers registered with the yoga federations and the union is over 72,000. Now nearly every country in Europe including Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Spain has a national federation of yoga. Every yoga teacher, whether part time, full time, private, institutional or government, is a member of that federation. In order to qualify he must pass certain examinations and attend a certain number of lectures. Reading includes the original texts such as Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Srimad Bhagavat Gita (4th and 6th chapters), Srimad Bhagvatam, (the chapter relating to kundalini yoga). Each yoga teacher must study these texts and pass the examination.

Every year the Yoga Federation of European Union meets in September and thousands of yoga teachers come together for this conference. It is such a powerful and organised movement that three years ago they requested the governments in Belgium, France and Switzerland to make yoga exempt from income taxation, because yoga teachers were paying up to 16% of their income in tax. Now yoga teachers in nearly all European countries are completely exempt from income tax. This is a proof of the respect which yoga commands around the world.

If you think that yoga can benefit your children, can raise the standard of education, can improve the nature of criminals, then why don't you support the yogic movements as you support many of the other fruitless movements in your country? As more of you begin to support yoga, more dramatic and positive results will be seen at an international level.

Yoga treats the distracted mind

In USA there is a massive prison known as San Quentin. Five years ago we received an invitation for a swami to come and teach yoga to the prisoners there. The swami was sent and while he was teaching in the prison, the drug rehabilitation centres also requested him to speak. He went to USA for one year, and after five years he is still there.

Why teach yoga to drug addicts and prisoners, you may wonder. In India people say, yoga is for sannyasis, brahmacharis, renunuciates. But today when the entire world is in a continual state of crises, how can we say that yoga is only for us? Medicine is not for a healthy man, it is for one who is sick. If you open a hospital for me, I will never go there. Hospitals are for sick people. Yoga is not for those who have attained shanti and peace. Yoga is for those who have a distracted mind and unbalanced emotions. Yoga is for those who have no self-control and behave in all kinds of disruptive ways within the family and society.

A corrupt society needs the practice of yoga. It is something which makes sense. What is yoga? "Yoga-chitta-vritti-nirodhah", that is the first principle of Patanjali's Raja Yoga Sutras. When you are able to control the modifications of the mind, the chitta vritti, that is yoga. What are the mental modifications? They are the different attitudes that your mind assumes at different times. When you are angry or jealous, that is chitta vritti. When you want to kill someone, to steal something or to cheat somebody, that is chitta vritti. When you tell lies, carry tales about others, or want to harm another, that is chitta vritti. When these things arise in your family and social situation, it means that your mind needs complete treatment. Psychologically or philosophically, you cannot resolve them, but yoga can do it. Yoga not only treats the sickness, but the patient. Whenever you practise yoga, the treatment first begins with you.

A world culture

Now, humanity must realise how important yoga is, not only for personal liberation, but also for the liberation of the nation. We cannot depend on any higher authority. In order to propagate yoga, there should be plenty of ashrams in every city, not only Bihar School of Yoga, but as many ashrams as there are shops, cinema houses and clubs. Ashrams are the means and not the end. The purpose of establishing ashrams in every city is to provide a sound method whereby the people can recreate a healthy society.

So, we must remember that yoga is a Very important evolutionary science and that very soon it is going to be the culture of the whole world. In all the religions there is a tendency towards exclusiveness in spite of the great faculties that they have. But yoga is not an exclusive philosophy. It accepts every way of life. For the agnostic, there is Samkhya yoga. For the disciplined Hindu, Mussulman or Christian, there is raja yoga. For the bhogi, who is given to sensual enjoyment and at the same time wants a higher spiritual life, there is the vama marga path of tantra. Yoga has a total approach to life and therefore it is going to be the world culture. This is not the beginning of the end, nor even the beginning of the beginning. Much progress has already been made and much more is yet to come.