Pilgrims' Progress

Some impressions from devotees of their darshan with Paramahamsaji at Rikhia and of Swami Niranjanananda and the Bihar School of Yoga

Impressions of Swami Niranjanananda and BSY

A.M.: Swami Niranjanananda's satsangs were absorbing and instructive. The accent now is on love and bhakti whereas previously it was on yogic topics such as meditation.

J.S.: BSY has improved so much over the years. I have been there many times and it has grown from strength to strength. There has been an increase in the number of buildings, and developments in the teaching of Yoga; for example, I had never experienced Nada yoga before. I think it is an ideal place for people to recharge their batteries, to learn something new, to be away from all their attachments and grow in a spiritual way.

Swami Niranjanji is very witty, and makes the philosophy easy for a layman to understand, using examples from our day to day life. He is very approachable. Usually with God men there is a gap in their understanding, but he can understand you at your own level.

B.M.: Swami Niranjanji is so caring that when I talked to him, I felt that he was listening just to me, with a smiling face, like one of his own. Perhaps this is because he is a divine soul called down to the earthly plane by Paramahamsaji to help him and humanity.

R.M.: Swami Niranjan is a very composed and serene Guru. He thinks very deeply before answering a question. I found him to be direct and a real Guru without any aura of artificiality.

BSY is very clean and the garden is beautifully maintained. In the library I saw books on many religions and I would like to go there just for the purpose of studying these great scriptures. The atmosphere is just right for learning higher yogas. Jyoti Mandir is very spacious and well-designed, the atmosphere is electrifying and it is inspiring to sing bhajans there.

H.M.: In his satsangs, Swami Niranjan defined ego as being the identification with individuality. Just as there are separate leaves on one branch of a tree, so there are different personalities on the same branch of humanity.
The environment of the ashram is so clean and green, with a wonderful view of the Ganga all around.

J.S.: I liked my stay at Ganga Darshan so much that I want to come for longer and attend the yoga classes. I never knew there were such places before. The morning bhajans and night-time kirtans were excellent.

T.R.: I found Swami Niranjan to be very clear, perceptive, warm and intelligent, and full of humour. I believe he is truly a great soul whom I am not able to fathom. I think that as we go deeper and become more subtle, we will be able to experience more and more of his depth and greatness. There is so much behind his face and words that we can only intuit. I think he knows and understands far more than he shows, but will only show it at the appropriate moment.

I was particularly impressed with how some of the swamis develop themselves, even under the pressure of ashram life. For example, managing the kitchen is a very trying task; you have to be up early and available to cater to people's needs at any time. The swami in charge of the kitchen was smiling, warm and helpful, even early in the morning well before breakfast time, catering to the needs of travellers leaving the ashram early. When I feel impatient with people, I will always remember him and take strength and patience from his example.

Impressions of Paramahamsaji and the Alakh Bara.

A.M.: I found Paramahamsaji much more relaxed and full of humour. His satsangs were more at our level, at a practical level, and I was surprised that he hardly touched on Yoga at all. In fact, when a question on Yoga was asked, he said, "I've forgotten all about Yoga." The emphasis was on love, affection and bhakti. He said, "Live a life of love thy neighbour", which Swami Niranjan is also passing on. The Alakh Bara is not an ashram; it is more a place of pilgrimage, The work of Sivananda Math in the community, the dispensary, the clothes, etc. is commendable. I think it could set a trend for other ashrams.

R.S.: Paramahamsaji was very humorous. He said that he is a sevak (servant of God), and he obeys God's instructions to the letter. The role of the servant is just to obey the Master implicitly. He is also following the highest dictum of all religions: 'Love the neighbour as thyself.' Paramahamsaji cited that when doing sadhana, you are bound to attain siddhis. But the sadhaka has to go beyond the siddhis, not exploit them and only then will he attain Brahma Vidya. If he gets carried away by them then he will not attain the highest, which is actually Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahman), seeing Brahman in everything. Paramahamsaji has attained that level as a result of his work. Whatever philosophy we have learned from him is very practical. If we are householders, we can do whatever duty is required of us at that level. Even in that, we can be a servant of God if we have the right spirit. One lady asked, "Supposing the situation is unpleasant?" Paramahamsaji said, "That is the challenge." As a true sadhaka, you should not worry about what the situation or condition is, but should go beyond it by broadening your perspective of life and its relevance to your sadhana.

B.M.: When I visited the Alakh Bara in 1993, everyone was wearing black and performing rituals. I felt that it was purely tantric, and hard to accept. This time it was not so extreme and I felt more comfortable being there.

R.M.: In my opinion, unless we do sadhana like Kriya yoga and practise moral ethics such as ahimsa, we won't acquire the intense devotion needed to approach God, as Paramahamsaji has. It is not easy for the majority of people to attain such intensity of devotion. It is not just an outward exhibition, it has to come from the heart. Paramahamsaji says the trans formation has to come from within us. He may say that his duty as a Guru is over, but I will always worship him in my heart because he has lived the real life of a sage. I have not seen this elsewhere and he embodies the spirit of all the great sages of India.

The Alakh Bara is beautifully planned and an ideal place for sadhana, with a very serene atmosphere. Paramahamsaji was accessible to both rich and poor, unlike many other ashrams and temples where money is the criteria for darshan.

H.M.: When I think about Paramahamsaji's life span - from searching for a Guru, to forming his own ideas and starting BSY and its branches, to now leading the life of a tapasvi, I am totally stunned. I feel happy that I have been given the rare opportunity of having the darshan of someone who has completed Panchagni maha tapas, which is unique. As a result of his darshan, I became more energised and empowered.

Now I feel that I am standing in the right place, as regards my views on life, The Alakh Bara was so serene, and I felt the togetherness of all human beings there very much.

J.S.: The Alakh Bara is like the ashram of the olden days of the Ramayana, and very clean, calm and quiet. All the people were very co-operative, and We were given a good opportunity to see Paramahamsaji.

He spent at least ten minutes telling us about his body-guard, and watchdog, Bholenath.

Swami Niranjan mentioned that Paramahamsaji had always preferred cool, comfortable weather, air-conditioning, etc. So he had deliberately denied himself cool comfort by doing Panchagni puja, sitting between four fires in the hot midday summer sun of Bihar, for five years. The tapasya has enabled him to break his dependency on the comfort of the senses, and given him power over the senses and the tattwas.

Perhaps doing the things we dislike most, until they cease to be distasteful, will free us from material and physical bondage and give moksha.

Paramahamsaji spoke about only being interested now in improving his relationship with God. I wonder whether the Panchagni puja has brought him closer to God, how it has done that, and if it could do that for all of us, or if' it is only his personal path to God?

Swami Niranjan told us to work out why Paramahamsaji had called us. He said that we would each receive an answer according to our own personality. What message did each of us get from Paramahainsaji?

R.M.: By seeing Paramahamsaji, it became clear to me that renunciation has taken him very far into the world of God.

H.M.: He chose to give darshan so that his disciples would be happy, and his neighbours would also be benefited. I found Paramahamsaji to have an interest in scientists and scientific developments and in the up-liftment of the whole world.

B.M.: He has proved that Panchagni sadhana can be done to achieve God-realisation.

J.S.: No one knows if he will give another darshan. He said that he wanted to spend time with the devotees, and he gave very good answers to each question.

Y.R.: I think that Paramahamsaji called us simply because he wanted to see his devotees, perhaps to have a break in his intensive sadhana, and to confirm and share his realisation that bhakti is the most important path to God in this day and age.

From 'Atmabha', Published by Atmadarshan Ashram, Bangalore