Sayings of a Paramahamsa

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Have your teachings changed? Aren't you teaching yoga any more?

Frankly speaking, yoga is not my subject. My subject is Vedanta. When I was in Rishikesh I did not even know about asana and pranayama, not to speak of neti, dhauti and basti. That was beyond my comprehension. The area of my study was Adwaita Vedanta, the commentaries of Shankara, the commentary of Ramanuja on the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras. I was always thinking about paramatma, the supreme soul, jivatma, the individual soul, nyaya, logic, avidya, ignorance, and so on. This is the subject matter of the Vedanta of Shankara. My studies were done through the medium of Sanskrit, not Hindi or English. Even now, I speak Sanskrit much better than any other language. But my guru said that I had to teach yoga, so I said, “All right, I'll teach it.”

However, I had two problems: first, I did not know yoga and, second, I had no constituency. When you teach something, you should have a constituency, people who will listen, support, patronize and invite you. I had nobody and I was a most unimpressive fellow. From 1956 to 1963, I wandered around India, Afghanistan, Burma, Nepal and Tibet like a vagabond. I used to beg for bhiksha, alms, and often spent days without food. I travelled the length and breadth of the Asian sub-continent, sometimes by train, sometimes on foot, even by elephant. I crossed the whole of Burma on the back of an elephant. I went to Afghanistan on foot and by donkey.

Repayment of debt to guru

By 1963 I felt completely broken. I was sure that I had lost and could do nothing more. So, I went to Trayambakeshwar, near Nasik, in Maharashtra, the seat of my ishta devata, Lord Shiva in the form of Mrityunjaya. I am a devotee of Mrityunjaya. I spoke to him just as I am speaking to you, saying, “I feel defeated. The only hope now is for you to work through me. I owe a debt to my guru and I have to clear it.” Every disciple who lives with a guru will leave that institute, ashram or gurukul one day, and after going out they will have to repay their debt.

Swami Sivananda did not ask me for money. He asked me to repay my debt by teaching yoga and making it popular all over the world. He had faith in me, but I could not do anything. So, I spoke to Lord Shiva and said, “Work with me for twenty years and when that time is over I will renounce everything.” He fulfilled my request, and after that, wherever I went I spoke with authority. Whatever I wrote in the books about yoga was according to the classical texts and it was absolutely scientific. All that happened because he was speaking, writing and teaching through me.

God is the teacher

So, the question that I have changed my teachings does not arise because I have never taught! He was teaching through me. If I had studied the texts on hatha yoga and had known something about asana and pranayama, then you could say, “Why are you teaching this now, when you were teaching something else before?”

You will be surprised to know that I have never practised asana or pranayama. When I read my own books now, I am surprised at the clarity with which I spoke on a subject that I knew nothing about. One day I was reading one of the books printed in Munger and was simply amazed at what I had said about shakti and nadis. How did I know all that? Where did the knowledge come from? I have never studied it. I have read all my books and, frankly speaking, I appreciate what is written in them, but remember I did not write it. So, I have never taught yoga. Whatever I taught, it was God teaching through me.

Perform sat karma

Now if my teachings have undergone a change, he is doing it. He is working through me. What are my teachings now? I just teach one thing – practise sat karma. Sat means 'truth' and karma means 'action'. Sat karma is dharma; do good acts and earn divine merits. What is good karma? When you serve your husband, wife and children it is karma, not good karma. If you feed the hungry or help a poor person, that is sat karma, selfless or divine karma. Sat karma is any act you do that helps somebody physically, mentally, spiritually, monetarily or in any other way. That is the teaching which is coming up now through me. I have not made any changes in my thinking.

I came to Rikhia in 1989. On 14th January 1990, I made a sankalpa to repeat my mantra 10,800,000 times. It took me three hundred days to complete the mantra at the rate of ten hours per day. During that period I practised japa all day. Towards the end I heard God tell me, “Love thy neighbour.” He said something like, “As I have given you the comforts of life, so shall you give the same to your neighbours. I have given you a place to live and food to eat, so you will do the same for your neighbours.” This was a clear mandate.

Service – stepping stone to spiritual life

My guru, Swami Sivananda, always emphasized that service is the stepping stone to spiritual life. He used to say, “Serve, love and give.” So I have not made any change in the teachings and what shape they will take in the future I do not know. Now the plight of widows has come into the focus of my mind. Whatever I have, whatever I can manage, I will consecrate to them during my lifetime and even after that. This is a trial project that will improve the area.

In the course of time thousands of young, brilliant, fresh, enthusiastic, energetic boys and girls will take up this work throughout the rural sectors of India. They will go to each village and live and work with the village people for their upliftment. It is very important to protect the natural culture of this country. I can see clearly a new type of sannyasin, who will be free from selfishness and personal ambitions, whose main thought will be how to help others.

Helping others is praying to God; living amongst the poor is living with God. Your family and children are spread all over the world. They are all are your brothers and sisters. Try to enlarge the scope of your family and get out of that little cage of husband, wife and children, 'we two and our two'. Why not say, “Husband, wife, children and other children?” That is atmabhava, feeling yourself in others. By developing this feeling, the possibility of enlightenment is greater.

My passion is helping others

Now I am seventy-five and I have been working in spiritual life since the age of eighteen. I started my spiritual career with tantric practices, then spent twelve years with my guru, twelve years as a wanderer, twenty years at Bihar School of Yoga, and now I am here in Rikhia. During all these years, the only inner enlightenment I received was what I read in books. Now I am always thinking, “How can I help this family? How can I help that man? How can I help that little girl who is suffering from polio or arthritis?” These ideas come to me all the time, even in dreams.

Only last night I was dreaming of a lady here whose husband is very sick. I gave him a cycle rickshaw, but he cannot ride it now. She is young, maybe thirty-five, and has two children. So, I was thinking of how to help her, because you cannot help people by just giving money. In the dream I saw that she was approaching an officer, and so I knew she would somehow get a job in a government department, earning maybe two thousand rupees a month, which would be enough for her family to live on.

Now, do you call such thoughts worldly or spiritual? I was thinking of that girl yesterday and talking to somebody about how to find her a job so that she can have regular earnings and feed her children. I am not talking about yoga now, I am talking about bread and butter. How will she get it? We built a house for her last year. I am looking after her welfare, but I do not give her money. I will see that she gets some work or a shop so that she can be independent.

The ideas that often come to my mind now about helping others never used to come before because I was very selfish. I always thought about God and samadhi: savikalpa samadhi, nirvikalpa samadhi, ritambhara prajna, cosmic experience All those things came to my mind, but now helping others has become my obsession, my passion.

So, every year on the 8th of September, the birthday of my guru Swami Sivananda, I open a shop for someone. It is just an ordinary shop, selling sweets, biscuits, chocolates, pens and pencils, little things involving an expenditure of five to six thousand rupees. I opened such a shop for Lakshman Mody, who is an invalid. Only a few days ago I met him with his daughters and enquired, “How are you doing?” He said, “Swamiji, I am doing very well.” I said, “I am very happy.” That night I had a very good sleep. Oh, I always have a good sleep, but that sleep was special because that man's agonies were released from my thoughts.

The next day a tricycle arrived from Rajnandgaon, so I called him and said, “I have a tricycle for you. Now you will be able to purchase all your provisions from Deoghar without any problems.” So, that man is now out of my mind. It seems that some karmas of agony and adversity are lurking there, but those troublesome karmas are all coming out.

The whole world is God's form

Now, you may say that this way of thinking is worldly, but I feel that it is spiritual because mankind is one of God's manifest forms. The whole world is God's manifest form. God is defined as nirakara and nirguna, formless and without qualities. He has no name, no caste, no home, but is this the complete definition of God? Is God only formless? No. God is sakara, with form, and nirakara, without form. This manifest universe, this manifest world, you, me and others, are all forms of God.

Therefore, when you are serving, helping, feeding, assisting, supporting, sympathizing and expressing compassion for others, you are actually doing something for God. There is no question of social service; this is spiritual service. God is in all the faces of those who are suffering, hungry, sick and ignored by destiny and fortune. I will be happy if you can feel love and compassion for all these faces, if you can think about everyone who is less fortunate than yourself. Of course, it will be very difficult. The brain is too small and it does not have an adequate programming facility.

—Sita Kalyanam, Rikhia, November 1997