Sayings of a Paramahamsa

Paramahamsa Satyananda

How did you find your guru?

I had been searching for a guru because my previous teacher, a tantric lady, had told me that I would need a guru if I wanted to again have the experiences that she had given me. I asked, “Where do I find a guru?” She replied, “Well, if you are a disciple, you can always find a guru. A dog can always find a bone.” So I set off and found my guru. I got the right master. I was a very angry young man; he was calm. I was very foolish; he was enlightened. I was very impatient; he was patient. I used to lie; he never lied. I had no mercy or compassion; he had nothing but mercy and compassion. I was very miserly; he was very generous. You must find a guru who can be your complement. A devotee has sung this devotional song about the guru:

I can abandon Rama, but not the guru.
I do not consider Hari equal to the guru.
Hari has given me birth in this world
But the guru has set me free
From the cycle of birth and death.
Hari had sent five thieves to me,
The guru has freed this desolate man from their clutches.
Hari had entangled me in the net of family,
The guru has cut the fetters of attachment.
Hari had involved me in disease and sense enjoyments,
The guru has untangled me by making me a yogi.
Hari had led me into karma and bondage,
The guru has shown me the form of Self.
Hari brought liberation and freedom
But the guru effaced all illusion.
I dedicate my body and mind to my guru.
I can abandon Hari, but I will never abandon my guru.

It took me so many years to emulate my guru and practise his principles. He used to say, “Serve, love, give. Whatever you have, give it to others. It does not belong to you.” I never understood him then, but now I do. Nothing belongs to me and nothing is mine. I am just a medium. Here it comes, there it goes. Even if this mat is given to me, it is not for me, it is for somebody else. On every grain is written the name of the person who will eat it. On this bicycle is written the name of the recipient. Every cow that will be donated has the recipient's name written on it. Swami Satyananda is a post office!

Now, the teaching of this guru is that for the generous man, the entire world is a family. This is mine, this is not mine; such are the thoughts of a limited mind. This concept of mine and thine is a very low and mean one. For those who have a generous and liberal character, the whole world, irrespective of religion, caste and creed, is their family. With improved communication, this concept has now become a reality. The barriers of distance are gone. Once I travelled from London to New York by Concorde, which flies faster than sound. I had my breakfast in London and when I reached New York, it was not yet breakfast time! So, the definition of neighbour needs to be changed.

What is the quality of the love between guru and disciple?

If you have to reach somewhere on the spiritual path, the guru is necessary. He is the stepping stone. But I do not believe that the guru can carry you all the way to the goal. I have never propagated this concept either. No doubt, the guru is important to begin with. To reach the roof you need a ladder. In spiritual life, too, you need a ladder. But if you keep holding the guru's hand and tell yourself that he will take you ahead, it is not possible to reach anywhere. Only if God showers His blessings on you, can you get through. In the Kathopanishad, it is said,

Rise up, be awake,
Go to the great sages and know about Brahman.
Wise persons say that
The path of knowledge is like a sharp blade,
And very difficult to walk on.

The rituals performed by worldly people are alright, but love depends on sincerity, not on rites. Just bowing the head is not prayer.

Swamiji, we feel blessed when you call us. Will you call us again soon?

Now I have attained ananda, I have found my path. While travelling on a train, one meets many people on the platform or in the waiting room. But how many people can you feel love and affection for? This temporary love and affection happens only in transit houses and there is nothing much to it. This temporary feeling cannot become a part of you. It has been said in Srimad Bhagavata,

O Mother, the assembly of living beings
Is like an assembly of persons at a well.
They assemble for a short period and then disperse.
Similarly, living beings come together and disperse
By virtue of their previous karmas.

There is only one truth in the world, God or Ishwara. I am not concerned with whether you call it Atman, Paramatman, Shiva or Rama. There is one Ishwara and every person has to find his personal relationship with Him. For a brief period there is guru between you and your God. This is necessary because you need a guide. But it is not right to become attached to your guide. There is a very limited role for the guru on this path which all of you are on. Gurus are not of one type; they are like teachers. One teacher teaches one subject, another teaches another subject. Every teacher has his own area. Hence the guru or teacher who shows you the spiritual path has a limited role. To remain attached to the guru is like a brahmin and his follower drowning together. The guru and disciple will both go down if they remain attached.

The Brahmin sank himself
And made his followers sink with him.
Both alike were doomed.

You have to establish a relationship with your master, who is your inner self, who is within you, who is the breath of your breath, who is the life force in you, who is the essence of your life, and on whom your life depends. It has been said in Kenopanishad,

The disciple as well as the Master himself,
Is the ear of the ear, the eye of the eye,
The speech of the speech, the mind of the mind,
And the life of the life.

The aim of life is to establish a relationship with Him and to abide by it, to sit in satsang and to be in the company of saints. If you can develop this awareness or knowledge, then your aim is clear. While travelling to Bombay or Calcutta, you drink tea, eat peanuts and read the newspapers on the way; nobody will stop you, but that is not your aim – the aim is to reach Bombay.

I want to follow the spiritual path but I don't have a guru. Can you advise me where to begin?

You should follow the spiritual path after ascertaining it from your guru. If you are interested in this path, then you will have to search for a guru. Go to a guru, sit down at his feet and try to understand his teachings. If you are able to follow his teachings then seek his guidance. The path shown by the guru is your path if you have faith. Then you need not go here and there with your queries because everyone will answer your questions from his own point of view and your mind will be a mixture of many views. It is better to catch hold of one person only and keep your clarity of mind. You should have one guru. If you follow one guru you will have clarity of mind. Otherwise you will become confused by the views of different people and then you will not be able to realize what is true and what is false. The path that I am describing belongs to the guru-disciple tradition.

Fulfilment of guru's words

My guru, Swami Sivananda, was born in Pattamalai, a small place in the district of Trinalbhauli in South India. He was educated in Madras and after completing his medical course he went to Malaysia. Even today there is a place in Singapore called James Park, where a small settlement called Joharvahai still exists. It had a hospital for plantation people and Swami Sivananda was a doctor in that hospital. While serving there, he was deeply moved by the plight of suffering humanity. There was acute poverty in those days. The condition of the poor and the downtrodden was appalling everywhere.

After serving in Malaysia for a number of years, Swami Sivananda renounced his medical practice, returned to India and took sannyasa. He lived in Rishikesh at Swarg Ashram, on the bank of the Ganga opposite to where he established the Divine Life Society, and did sadhana there. I first met him in 1943. Now he is no more, but there is a big ashram in his name. Swami Chidananda runs that ashram and he is greatly revered outside of India as the chief disciple of Swami Sivananda. Swami Sivananda's life was an example of compassion, charity and generosity. He used to say to me, “Look, you have come here to live, but this ashram will prove too small for you. You won't be able to develop here. Therefore, take yoga and spread it throughout the world so that it becomes a universal science, acknowledged and accepted by all.”

At that time I told him frankly that I had no knowledge of yoga, as it had never been my subject. I had studied Advaita Vedanta, but I started to study yoga so that I would be able to reply to any questions that people might ask. I had never done asanas myself, but I had seen my guru doing them in the ashram and thought he was doing some kind of acrobatics. I only read Sanskrit texts on Advaita Vedanta, the Upanishads and the commentaries of Shankara and Ramanuja. I was a man of intellect and reason. When I told my guru that I knew no yoga, he replied that I would pick it up, and so it happened. I learned yoga very fast and carried his teachings far and wide, across the continents.

While travelling all over the world, I realized how difficult it was to enter into competition with God-men. There were too many mahatmas, too many teachers, teaching many types of spirituality. The main problem was that the people who invited me never paid my return fare; I had to buy the ticket out of my own pocket. Once I went to Jabalpur and the organizers asked me by which class I would prefer to return, first or ordinary. I told them I would take whatever they gave me. They said that it was up to me so I opted for first class, only to discover subsequently that I was to pay for it myself!

Once I went to Raigarh at the invitation of a particular gentleman and found no one to meet me when I got off at the station. I spent some time looking for him in vain. By then I had become very hungry and felt a headache coming on. So I asked for food, but the people would not give me any, saying how could a young man like me expect free food without working for it. In those days, being young, I used to get terribly hungry and it would cause a headache. Now I do not get headaches and can easily go without food. That day I walked for a few miles and found a monastery by the side of the road where a Belgian priest was living. He welcomed me and offered coffee and biscuits which relieved my headache. He also gave me a cigar to smoke.

I had such trying experiences that I finally succumbed to them and accepted defeat. Then I went to Trayambakeshwar, my ishta devata, near Nasik. I prayed to Him, “Lord, please give my car a little push from behind. I cannot get it running by myself. Once you get it moving, I will run it on my own.” But the question remained: What could I give to God in return? So I promised that, after reaching my destination, I would leave that car and repay Him. “Lord,” I prayed, “if you will just push my work now, I will instantly leave it all after completion! I shall renounce all my achievements then and there and move away.”

From 1964 I worked with the thrust of a bulldozer. I travelled all over the world, to England, America, South America. Wherever I went people used to shave their heads and become sannyasins. I taught them bhajans and kirtans. Later I lectured at hospitals and universities, and generous donations were given in return. My talks were always well received and I had to book engagements one year in advance. I used to travel without red tape and formalities. The first secretary would escort me to my destination. I enjoyed immunity from customs and immigration checks.

In 1963 I asked the Lord to help me fulfil my mission for twenty years, and in 1983 I gave it all up. I had only one goal in the beginning, which was to restore yoga to its original status and glory. This was my guru's order and through me this mission was fulfilled and yoga was universally accepted. If it is the wish of the guru, then his grace also comes down upon you. There is simply no scope for doubt in this regard.

However, the relationship which I have with my guru is not the same as that which some people have with me. Often people just want to cling to me and move in the guru-disciple orbit, but I do not like that. I like open envelope relationships. My guru commanded me to establish yoga all over the world, and it happened like that. The words of the guru fructify through the disciple if his heart and lifestyle are simple and innocent. The disciple should have a heart like a child.

There are many paths in spiritual life, so what is the best way to find our atma?

Serve mankind, help human beings who are sick, who are poor, who are bad, who want spiritual life, who want your love. Help animals; don't kill them. Your dharma is to do for others. Don't do much for yourself, don't work much for yourself. Work for others. When you work for others there is no karma, but when you work for yourself there is karma. So work for yourself a little bit, have a little food, clothes, a few facilities and comforts. But all your strength, buddhi, mind, heart and soul, all your money, knowledge, power, resources and friends should be for others. That is the easiest way.

I am telling you this from my own experience because I have done everything. There is practically no form of spiritual life which I have not experienced. But my mind opened when I started living for others. As long as I was living for myself, I was blind. When I began to think about others – he is sick, he is poor, he has no home, poor man – I started growing inwardly. Now I'm not very far from my destiny. I am very close, almost there.