Though the fervour, the vibration and the occasion start touching you well in advance, the actual Guru Poornima celebrations this year started on 3rd July and ended on 5th July, with Paduka Poojan of Param Poojya Guruji, Swami Satyananda Saraswati.
On the first day the celebration began at five-thirty a.m. with mantra chanting and meditation conducted by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati followed, after a short recess, by chanting of Sunderakanda from Ramacharitamanas. In the afternoon session Swamiji gave satsang on the teachings of Lord Sri Krishna as expounded in the twelfth chapter of Srimad Bhagavad Gita.
On the second day the program again began with mantra chanting and meditation led by Swamiji. It was, we felt, a very long day for him. The ever-growing queue of aspirants coming under Swamiji's spiritual umbrella had swelled enormously this year. While havan was taking place in the hall on the second floor, Swamiji started giving diksha at seven a.m. in Jyoti Mandir. He gave karma sannyasa diksha to sixty-four aspirants, jignasu to sixty-seven and mantra diksha to two hundred and forty-two devotees; and it continued till around one p.m. Swamiji was, however, right on time for satsang at two p.m.
On the final day, the day of the guru, mantra chanting began at five-thirty a.m. Paduka Poojan started a short while later with Swamiji the first to offer his pranams to Guruji. Then followed the sannyasins, karma sannyasins and other devotees who had jam-packed the hall. A queue quickly formed and the devotees quietly inched their way forward to the dais and offered their pooja. When my turn came I felt slightly confused. I touched the paduka but I could not see it. Were my eyes closed? I first saw only Ammaji and then Paramahamsaji sitting behind a frame. Was he sitting there behind the paduka also?
While Paduka Poojan was in progress, devotees led by Swamiji were engaged in bhajan and kirtan, the climax of which was 'O! Rikhia wale Baba', which brought every devotee to his/her feet, singing and dancing in a sort of trance, with Swamiji taking the lead from atop a platform.
When the queue of devotees showed no sign of shrinking and reports came in that the end of the queue was somewhere near the Parade grounds, Swamiji rose to leave, partly also to allow other devotees access as it was past luncheon time. Later, the Paduka had to be shifted to Jyoti Mandir when the end of the queue was still not in sight, so that the hall could be reordered for the afternoon session. The devotees continued to pour in till one p.m. It was reported by Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal that around twelve thousand devotees had offered their pooja and received prasad. The multitude of devotees this year prompted Swamiji to remark, in the presence of the District Magistrate, that this trend would perhaps compel him to ask the administration for permission to hold the Guru Poornima celebrations in the Parade grounds from next year!
Devotees came from all the parts of the country and also from abroad, including a group of thirty-five from Greece led by Swami Sivamurti, the acharya of Satyanandashram Greece, and an old disciple of Paramahamsaji.
During afternoon satsang Swamiji called Swami Shankarananda, Vice-Chancellor of Bihar Yoga Bharati, and Swami Sivamurti to the dais. When asked by Swamiji, Swami Shankarananda gave an eloquent speech on the importance and significance of the occasion. Swami Sivamurti also gave an inspiring discourse with an anecdote in English which Swamiji translated into Hindi for the audience.
The greatest highlight of this year's celebrations, so beautifully managed by the tireless, red-clothed army of children from Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal, Munger, was at satsang when Swamiji explained the message of karma yoga as told by Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the twelfth chapter of Srimad Bhagavad Gita. The uniqueness, which will go down in the history of Bihar School of Yoga however, was in Swamiji including the children of BYMM, who recited the slokas of the twelfth chapter in Sanskrit as well as in Hindi verse with flawless pronunciation and in perfect classical tune. It is difficult to express in words how Swamiji conducted it all, explaining the intricacies of each and every word of the slokas so that the message was directly reaching everybody's mind and heart. All those present must have fully understood the message of karma yoga or abhyasa yoga as conveyed by the Lord.
Swamiji explained that people follow the path of jnana yoga, raja yoga or hatha yoga but the path of bhakti yoga is the supreme way to attain the state of samadhi through sadhana, abhyasa. When one has a desire to be one with God, it is only bhakti marga that one has to adopt. Worship of God can be either external or internal. Karmakand is an external form which influences our mind, our thoughts and our tendencies. Internal worship, which is also internal penance, is the other form. The intended result of both is transformation in life, which is invariably painful. Those who follow karmakand achieve only external change and unless there is internal change it will not lead to the final goal of God-realization.
Arjuna, Swamiji explained, asked the Lord which of his two devotees, or sadhakas, was superior - the one who worships His external manifest form or the one who worships His unmanifest, subtle form. Not one in a hundred, not even one in a thousand or a million, maybe only one in a billion can perform sadhana on something which is unmanifest, formless, beyond description, beyond the human senses. We are made up of material which in itself is limited, so how then can we think of something which is limitless? We are bound by age-old samskaras.
In clarification, Swamiji said that although a blind man says he wants to see the sun, it is certainly not necessary for him to see the sun. His need is to have a pair of eyes to see the entire creation. In the same way, moksha, or liberation, may be one's desire but not one's need. Our need is to prepare ourselves through sadhana, abhyasa, which is the ultimate purpose. The Lord told Arjuna that both the paths of sakara (with form) and nirakara (formless) sadhana are difficult. Sakara sadhakas have to maintain equanimity, put their minds fully into it and do their sadhana with all their devotion, which is sure to lead to realization.
However, Arjuna was not satisfied. He was finding it rather a difficult path and prayed to the Lord to show him an easier one. The Lord said that if you cannot fully engage your mind in Him, then engage your intellect in Him, which will also ensure salvation.
Swamiji said that Arjuna, like any other ordinary being, found this also a difficult proposition. How can one devote oneself to Him, think of Him and perform His multifarious karmas at the same time? No, it would be sure to upset everything: If I remember you, think of you, all my daily chores will automatically be suspended then and there.
The Lord then suggests to Arjuna that if he is unable to do that, then let him come and have his abode in Him in the same way as He remains present in Arjuna, in everybody and everything, and that also will ensure his salvation.
While explaining the main theme, Swamiji said that if you want to achieve anything you have to make the effort, do your karma, but do it without any desire for a result; you have to sacrifice all expectations of your actions and efforts. Do your karma in the name of God. It is true that all actions have reactions but that depends entirely as to which desire is associated with your action. If it was nishkam, or selfless, then there would be end of karma.
Here Swamiji cited the living example of Paramahamsaji who, when he entered the ashram of his guru, had the usual desire to make efforts for God-realization through sadhana. But his guru said, no sadhana, no study of the shastras, only engage in karma yoga which will remove the sheath of karma that is encasing you. Only a thorn can remove a thorn, only a dose of poison can ward off the ill effects of poison. So only karma will liberate you from karma. Paramahamsaji understood the underlying meaning of the dictates of his guru and went on doing the work assigned to him without any ifs and buts. And it is the strength of selfless karma that has brought him to the high pedestal where he stands today.
Another landmark of this year's celebration was the experience of hearing Swamiji sing the theme song he has chosen for this year - 'Karo Raksha Vipatti Se Na Aisee Prarthana Meri' (That you protect me from trouble is not my prayer, That I do not become afraid of the trouble is my only prayer, O Lord). Swamiji had chosen this prayer spontaneously on visiting the Bhuj district, Gujarat, in March to inspect the devastation caused by the January earth tremor. On all three days of the Guru Poornima celebrations, Swamiji recited this prayer, touching the hearts of all present, who joined him in full voice.