'My aim is to improve the individual's approach to life, to help him discipline himself through the practice of yoga. And many such individuals can create a generation which in turn, will influence the society and help it,' Swami Satyananda Saraswati, a Swami of the Dashnami Order and an exponent of yoga, says with a benign look.
Twenty five years ago, Swami Satyananda had a vision : to spread the knowledge of yoga 'from shore to shore and from door to door'. In 1962 he founded the International Yoga Fellowship Movement; two years later, in 1964, came the Bihar School of Yoga on the banks of the Ganges at Munger. This institution has now grown truly international, with branches all over the world.
The Swami believes that yoga is neither a cult nor a religion, 'Yoga improves the mind, which means a better philosophy, and philosophy is the backbone of every civilisation,' he says. For him and his school of thought, yoga is the process through which one's mind is disciplined and through this discipline arises spirituality.
Yoga, according to Swami Satyananda, 'is a time-tested system which can answer the needs of everyone, whatever these demands be and at whatever level the demands are made- without judgement and prejudice and without care for any barriers'.
The Swami believes that man has moved far away from himself and the solution to this problem lies in man discovering his deeper personality. This rediscovery can be done through the practice of yoga-hatha yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, kriya yoga, raja yoga, etc.
Swami Satyananda has evolved his own brand of yoga, derived from various texts on the subject, tantric knowledge, and self-experimentation, which is all encompassing. Physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of human life-all these ate taken into consideration. The Swami calls this 'Integral Yoga'.
'Some people make the mistake of thinking that yoga is a form of exercise, which it is not. It is not a process through which the body sheds of energy. On the contrary, the body and the mind acquire energy through the practise of yoga,' the Swami says, explaining the misunderstanding most people have about yoga.
The Swami has a practical approach towards the practice of yoga, the stresses of modern existence being of prime importance. He has developed a special form of yoga, 'yoga nidra', derived from the ancient practice of nyasa. This form of yoga helps release the stored up negative, emotional stresses of daily modern living.
'Live your life fully, but live a spiritual life. At the same time, there should be no conflict between the two', this is the Swami's advice to his fellow men. And it is probably this no-nonsense business which has kept him out of all the controversies which shroud the other gurus of these days.
The Swami is not a 'God-man'. He believes in no God except the spiritual power which is omnipotent, 'If there is one thing which I have been afraid of from my childhood, it is religion, and it is the existence of guilt complexes which is responsible for the existence of religion. Some people, to attain their own goals- the politicians, the insecure- have fed religion to the masses to have support. And the largest support which they can find is in the largest community in the world: the religious community,' the Swami says.
The Swami is not close to any political quarters, like many of the other 'Swamis' but, nevertheless, he made a statement which is very relevant to today's politics: 'The sages and mahatmas who have lived in this country, have never preached sectarianism. They have preached enlightenment and spirituality. Had they been here today they would have fought against what is thriving in their name.'
To his thousands of followers - not that he preaches a permanent discipleship - he is simply, 'Swamiji' and for the Swamis who stay at his ashram at Munger and abroad, he is a beloved guru. The Swami has blended the ancient with the modern in a very deft manner. His ashrams are a conglomerate of people, some of whom are involved in research into yogic studies, some in simple manual labour, and others attending to administrative works. At the same time, they are all involved in sadhana.
In Calcutta, a branch of the Bihar School of Yoga has been opened at Thana House, N.S.C. Bose Road, Tollygunge. Various yogic classes are held regularly. Recently a ten day course on Yogic Management of Stress and Depression was held at the school.
The publicity-shy Swami Satyananda Saraswati has come a long way from his days of wanderings on the banks of the Ganges. His vision 'to spread yoga from shore to shore and from door to door' may not have come fully true, but more and more people are taking notice of his preaching and of his school of yoga.
The Telegraph, Calcutta, Aug. 27th 1983