Interview with Paramahamsa Niranjanananda

By Mr Ranjit Hoskate of ''The Times of India'', Bombay, 26.5.93

How is Yoga relevant in the world today?

In Yoga we are integrating the faculties of rational mind, feeling and action. If we try to understand Yoga in this context we will find that many of the problems we are facing in society will be solved naturally. The rational mind is subject to wear and tear due to the stress which we encounter in society. That inhibits the growth of the total mind. So, what happens? We tend to adopt a negative and selfish attitude towards life which then dominates our actions.

Tensions also cause mental and emotional imbalance. We have the ability to be passionate or kind or unselfish but we do not use this ability. As our attitude and awareness are self-centred, the 'I' emphasis becomes very strong. Therefore, we start to react against those situations that do not give us satisfaction and the 'feeling aspect' of life is suppressed. It is the growth of mind, the balance of emotions and the co-ordination of behaviour and action which Yoga aims to enhance.

Although I am a sannyasin, I do not try to make everybody a sannyasin, neither do I try to make anybody a biased person. That is against the principles of Yoga. Yoga says that you are where you are at present, that you can evolve from that stage, and that you can find that harmony within you.

If we are able to remove negative traits from our personality then we can achieve greater understanding of our needs, find the practical application for our ambitions, overcome our inherent weaknesses, develop more of our faculties and be successful in life. This has been the aim of Yoga from the very beginning. In this context I do not see Yoga as a philosophy. To describe Yoga I like to use the word Siddhanta, a system which has a definite aim in mind. Anta is final attainment and siddha is definite, precise or Anta.

But how can Yoga be applied in society? That is very important in relation to the world in which we live today.

Yes, I am coming to that social aspect. Yoga has always believed that by changing oneself, one can change society. If we can change our attitude towards other people then that will help change society also. If I can inspire you to incorporate these yogic principles into your life you will definitely change. If society adopts the yogic principles, not as a form of religion nor a system of thought, but in its practical application, then the different social ills that we see everywhere will be eradicated.

Here is just one example of the achievement of Yoga. There is a school in Paris which, according to the statistics, was famous for failures. If a dozen pupils passed it was a record. The French Government wrote to us saying that, as we claimed Yoga could help concerning discipline and concentration, could we prove this in their school?

Drug addiction was very high in that school, and if there was any unrest in the society those students would be at the forefront, breaking windows, etc. After the introduction of Yoga, in six months, the entire school changed. Now the Condorcet School in Paris is one of the most prestigious institutions in France.

How would you evaluate the nuclear programme which brings its own kind of problems and possible devastation?

Different countries have their own way of functioning, and their own desires and motivations. That we cannot change, because it would mean total eradication of every kind of social structure which protects the society from outside interference.

It has been historically proven that a country needs to have rules and disciplines in order to govern it. When Ashok became a Buddhist and took up the path of non-violence he closed down the factories which used to produce arms. He reduced his armies also, but despite his good intentions the country became weak. So, we have to find a balance in order to preserve the integrity of a country and at the same time have a balanced outlook towards life, which is not limited to our individual belief.

Not everybody can think alike. We are at different states of evolution and our rational power is at different levels also. We think differently, but despite all the diversity we can develop the humanness within us. In a garden you need to have different varieties of flowers to make it beautiful. We do not wish that everybody becomes one single unit. We want them to remain individuals, but at the same time have the openness and the human qualities that can make the world a better place.

Could you explain what the Bihar School of Yoga stands for?

I will tell you of the work we are doing first so that you can get an idea of our approach. We have an organisation known as B.S.Y. 'B' stands for Bihar School of Yoga, which is a Yoga Teaching Institute. 'S' stands for Sivananda Math which is an institute dedicated to social development. 'Y' stands for the Yoga Research Foundation, which is constantly involved in researching the various aspects of Yoga and finding the practical things which can be incorporated in our life, either for therapy or for the development of the mind, etc.

As part of our training, apart from being sannyasins and propagating Yoga, we get together in order to develop the underprivileged and weaker sections of the community. We provide shelter under the patronage of Sivananda Math, which also provides education and knowledge of primary health care. We have a team of doctors and vets who constantly go out and check human and animal health. We also have agriculturists who go to different villages and tell them the best methods in order to have good crops. All this work is supported by donations.

Are you planning to promote Yoga in every part of India?

Yes. It is our belief that political and ideological discord can be overcome by creating a cultural awareness, and Yoga is our culture. Ours is a land of many jatis (castes), religions, ideologies and creeds. We try to apply one law for the whole of India, one ideology, but I feel that it is the culture which is one and not the jati or dharma. It is the culture which can unite India from north to south and from east to west.

So, keeping this in mind, we are working out a plan, a project, in which we will be sending out emissaries, well-wishers of the community who will be devoting fifteen days of their life (not every year, just once in a lifetime) to go and work on the project which consists of teaching Yoga and raising the cultural awareness. Cultural awareness is not limited to dance, drama and music.

For me, culture is samskriti. Sam means balanced and kriti means performance of action. Culture is therefore an expression of an homogeneous and evolved personality. So, we will be trying to bring this awareness of our heritage and the relevance it has in our life, to the people. At the same time, we will be involving ourselves in social growth and development of education and many other efforts to improve the lifestyles of the deprived and weaker sections.

What sort of technological model do you have in mind since we are speaking of social growth and industrial development?

I believe that whatever is existing now is right. The only thing that we have to consider is the negative fallout. We have to find the right use for the technological advancement and if we can control it then we can be a model for other nations. If we use the nuclear energy for the benefit of the community and not for war, then it will be good, we eliminate the destructive aspect. If we control pollution, protect our resources and find a constructive use for them we will be creating a model for other nations.

You were speaking about samskriti. What are its limits, because I am a little sceptical, when one says culture is an expression of homogeneous personality. It seems to negate the originality of which you spoke.

Well, you have your way of thinking and I have my way of thinking. These two trains of thought go in opposite directions. However, while maintaining our different patterns of thought, we can work for a creative expression of our personalities. We cannot make everybody think alike but we can become more constructive by adopting the principle of compassion, regardless of what the other person's thinking pattern may be. You can have a universal vision where you do not care for yourself only but for others also. That is another expression of samskriti. So, creative and constructive action, thought and behaviour is the meaning of samskriti for me.

It seems that people need symbols and icons and that they find them out for themselves. How could you influence the minds of these people?

That can only be possible through educating the mind to accept what is relevant, not by educating the masses academically. If you accept a particular icon and I prefer to accept another I should still respect your choice of icon. Whether one is Hindu, Muslim, Christian or of any other religious denomination we should have mutual respect for the beliefs of others.

Today, someone who expresses a view like yours is attacked by the right-wing forces.

Do I sound like a left-winger?

No, what you just said is a circular statement. It does not have to be left wing.

We do not speak about it in theoretical terms. We simply try to do as much as we can according to our capacity. We believe in a silent tradition, not a vocal one.

The problem with some silent traditions is that they might become silenced traditions.

Silent traditions are only silenced when they become vocal. If I can convince you, and you support my ideas and convince a third person who, in turn, convinces the next person along the line, then this is a better way to go about this kind of quiet awakening. It will take some time. It cannot come about in only a few years, but at least we will be walking in the right direction. Life is like a train. At different stations people get off and others get on, but the train continues.

You are not the only one who experiences this.

I cannot read anyone's thoughts, but I believe in common sense. For me, life is nothing but common sense. I am a sannyasi but I do not believe in any kind of philosophy except the philosophy of common sense.

Yet you write commentaries on ancient texts.

Yes, I write according to the need of society today, because there have been different means and languages to express a thought in various ages. Reality is the same although the appearance may change. You are a human being but by wearing different clothes you look different. Do you change by wearing those different clothes? No, only your appearance changes.

If we can project the ancient ideas which are not actually just ancient but also relevant to the growth of the human mind and personality in any age, then it will definitely be for the better.

Do you think one needs faith to practise Yoga?

Faith in oneself and not in any other thing.

So this does not exclude scepticism?

No, rather, we welcome scepticism because it is the sign of an inquiring mind. An inquiring mind can also be a scientific mind. I have been a sceptic all my life, particularly in my own performance of Yoga. Only when I experience the benefit for myself do I become a firm believer in a practice. I have experienced the benefit but it is not necessary for you to believe in my experience. You have to be a sceptic in your own right.

Generally, those who are optimists or believers tend to miss many of the subtleties of life. They know what is going to happen so they are unaware of the side event. They drop their guard. Of course, there has to be optimism as well so that we do not feel depressed about the situations and conditions that surround us. I welcome scepticism very much.

Do you think that social transformation requires some kind of violence or upheaval which the yogic approach will perhaps now allow for?

The yogic approach will not allow for any kind of upheaval or violence. Yoga will come after the violence. Look at Arjuna. He was given the knowledge of the Gita when he was in a state of depression and anxiety. Also, today people come to Yoga after they have suffered some kind of physical, mental or emotional problem. So, to create violence is your job and to bring peace is my job.

What is the yogic approach concerning the violent events that have taken place in the last few months?

I believe that compassion is the only solution to fill up the gap. Loss has happened, it is true. There is no way of reversing the process, but today, if we can incorporate compassion into our thoughts and actions and give a helping hand with the idea of compassion in mind, we can reduce the pain and suffering. For me, compassion is a quality which is free from every kind of obsession and negative trait. Compassion unites individuals and it also makes them free from their narrow obsessions.

A lotus only grows in the dirtiest pond. We have been working for the last thirty years in Bihar and more specifically in Munger District, Here you will find many villages which have mended their ways. If you visit villages and hear the firsthand accounts your heart will fill up at the changes that have taken place in the villagers' lives and attitudes. This was not because of the jail but due to the influence Yoga had on their lives. They have never looked back since. Miracles do happen!