Perched on top of a hill in the city of Munger in Bihar sits the finest yoga centre in the world. Carrying the traditional torch from Swami Sivananda, combining scientific and depth spiritual dimensions, Bihar School of Yoga has been growing in strength. Situated as it is, between an electrical sub-station and a gun-manufacturing workshop, I always thought the idea was to arouse the inner source of energy, channelize it and to fire people's imagination to begin to view their lives in a different fashion.
Even though this is my third visit, to hear of Munger referred to as the city of dacoits causes enough tension before undertaking the journey, but once in Munger surrounded by goats, donkeys and cycle-drawn rickshaws you forget all about this and fill yourself with its fresh air, gorgeous sunsets and amazing slowness of life. While October 1973 was celebrated as the 50th year of renunciation of Paramahamsa Satyananda's guru, Swami Sivananda, in the form of an International Yoga Convention, November 1993 was the Tyag Golden Jubilee of Paramahamsa Satyananda himself. This year's Convention drew people from all over the world - from more than 30 countries, and more than 4000 people came from all parts of India.
When such a large number of people come together, enormous pressure is put on the use of amenities, dormitories etc., demanding a different kind of living - collective living becomes the norm, individual differences get blurred, distinctiveness and special privileges are withheld. Community living pressure began to manifest itself even in the line for drying clothes; progressively one would find one's clothes thrown here and there and in its place a sari or lungi hung! Sleeping in the same room with others, the snoring in different musical keys, and buzzing droning of the oversize Bihari mosquitoes are part of the austerities and elements that test all one's patience. This Convention, I mentioned to a friend, was not meant for the weak-hearted.
Paramahamsa Niranjanananda's talks and satsangs for various groups prior to the commencement of the Convention were of great help in setting the tone and helping the travel-troubled souls to get into the right frame of mind. What was amazing though, was how calmly he would sit in the midst of a situation that was filled with hectic activity and demanded great coordination and phenomenal managerial and leadership skills, answering letters and at the same time responding to a question about a certain aspect of yoga. Paramahamsa Satyananda later revealed to us that mental and muscular tension is natural in organizing such a big function, but one should keep that inside and not allow it to show on the outside.
November 1. The Convention begins with chanting and the inaugural address. The weather is pleasant and sunny, we go for lunch and come back to resume the programme, which is held at the polo grounds under a massive shamiana of bamboo poles covered with thick canvas. Halfway through the programme, as if a zip is opened through the sky and you are placed under a waterfall, it begins to pour and the wind blows from all sides. Water soon collects on the cloth ceiling of our temporary structure. We, more than 4000 people, are caught - and my fear that the structure could collapse grows by the minute. Another possibility, probably worse than the first, is that a rush to get out may lead to a stampede. The speaker, oblivious to the environment, continues, as people rush this way or that to avoid the water coming down. Soon it is clear that the proceedings cannot go on. Paramahamsa Niranjanananda and other swamis leap to the front of the dais and with a stroke of genius turn to singing. Some devotees begin to dance, and soon disaster turns to a euphoria of joyousness and togetherness. The Convention takes a new turn.
Paramahamsa Niranjanananda's words on the second day were, "We were so preoccupied with making the arrangements, looking after each and every detail that we almost forgot that without God's blessing and grace nothing can go on. So we were reminded." Giving the whole event a cosmo-spiritual twist, Paramahamsa Niranjanananda went on to talk of imposing one's will upon God's. "The real miracle is when a person moves according to God's wishes and not otherwise."
The rains dampened some spirits, left some in a state of now-what-next-ness and energized others. The whole schedule went topsy-turvy, several presentations were cancelled.
Several doctors spoke at the Convention and the trend increasingly indicates a move towards 'polypathy' - a multi-disciplinary approach to health that does not reject any system, but rather, incorporates all. The teaching of yoga to prison inmates; yoga cure for cancer and AIDS; yoga and stress; yoga in education and other topics as well as the invitation to spiritual life through several traditions and not by one road only, were areas of some of the presentations. Then too the idea of non-violence in not only the food aspect (ahar) by adoption of vegetarianism, but in thought (vichar), conduct (achar) and in relation to others (vyavahar) was touched upon.
We lived in the midst of what a friend called a 'tyranny of coupons', requiring a pass or badge for each entrance and meal. But another friend responded, "Why not look at its positive side : the need to be alert and aware and remember to carry your various coupons that allow you to enter this gate, that space, or get your food." I had never eaten food with so many people. Under the colourful shamiana, this one raised near the school, with plates in hand, heading towards a corner and spreading out on the grass, evoked a great sense of togetherness.
As usual, a lot happens at the periphery of any convention. New alliances are made, people with similar interests find each other, the 'otherness' seems less odd; by proximity and inspired listening, new evocations happen. Every day one noticed someone's pretty hair being sacrificed to the blade of the barber, and the shaven heads under the sun, the brick-coloured (geru) kurtas and the recently introduced yellow attire, created a new collage of images.
The following questions occurred to me. Can an event like this touch people's lives? Can it help them to adopt a new way of living, a different mode of looking at themselves? What are the post-Convention resolves going to be like? When he heard the expectations of the degree of comfort of the 'citified' people, Paramahamsa Niranjanananda said, "Everyone wants attached 'this' and attached 'that', but if we consider the situation in Munger, how difficult that would be." Someone in the audience broke in, "But Swamiji, I sure want an attached Swamiji." We all burst into laughter.
Paramahamsa Niranjanananda's command over several languages was great to see, but what put us all to shame (notable to Delhi folk) was his command over Hindi; not one person spoke it so well, not even anyone of the accomplished speakers. Paramahamsa Niranjanananda's graciousness, smiling lips and laughing eyes, great sense of humanizing, humourizing, every situation and honouring every person is something remarkable.
After the Convention we traveled five hours from Munger to have the darshan of Paramahamsa Satyananda. Three mornings, for an hour each day, we sat with him. Seeing him now bearded, clad only in a loincloth and head cover, I found myself looking for familiar signs and gestures. His humour, upward side glance, total command over the situation, and alertness to the present moment, concern for safety and comfort of people, these were all there. But what was more visible to me was a sense of abandonment, unburdened freedom, and wonderful child likeness.
Paramahamsaji talked about the present phase of his life and the intensity of the sadhana that he has to do. He reiterated that to become a guru, to collect disciples, to work for some goal; this was not the purpose which brought him to sannyasa. The purpose was the discovery of the Divine. All that he did was to exhaust his karmas. In 1988 he left Bihar School of Yoga to devote himself solely to obtaining Bhagawan's darshan. "I request ail of you," he said, "to ask God to please give His darshan to Swami Satyananda," and humorously he added that in the light of so many knowing him, with such a large number of applications coming in, God would have to consider it!
I am now back in Bombay. My trip at one level looks like a dream because nothing can touch the sheer roughness of Bihar. At another level, all my troubles and preoccupations look small and insignificant in comparison to the heroism and dedication I noticed. I feel strong and willing to start new commitments to myself and others.