Welcome to the new Certificate Course students. For those who have had no exposure to the ashram it will be a very strange and peculiar place. You are being exposed to three different environments. The first environment is the ashram, the second is yoga and the third is spiritual life. In the course of time all three components can be experienced here.
An ashram is literally a gurukul, the family of the guru, where one vision is maintained, the vision to enrich oneself in life. Ganga Darshan is a centre dedicated to yoga and it is composed of those people who for a little while - one week, a month, a year, a lifetime (after all one lifetime in eternity is no time) - wish to experience and be devoted to the pursuit of this vision.
Not everybody is perfect in life, rather everybody is striving to become better and more perfect than before, whatever their definition or concept of perfection. Everyone is subject to their own thoughts, beliefs, nature, attitudes and behaviour. Each one is making an attempt to become a part of that common vision according to their own strengths. This common vision of the ashram is learning how to live a spiritual life, not by rejecting material life but by adjusting and being in harmony with it.
There are many who advocate renunciation, tyaga, but is renunciation possible? Is real renunciation going from riches to rags, leaving the security and comfort of the home and going into solitude and seclusion? No, renunciation has to be an internal renunciation of the things that bind us, that hold us down to our present state of being. We are at that level of being where there has to be an adjustment between spiritual values and material existence. Incorporating spiritual values with material existence in education is where yoga comes in, in the ashram.
Yoga is not only learning hatha yoga or becoming an adept in raja yoga, meditation. We don't hold a competition to see who can be in samadhi first for the longest period or who can be in a meditative state for the longest period. Perfection in hatha yoga is perfection of one branch of yoga, not of yoga. Perfection in jnana yoga is perfection of one branch of yoga, not of yoga. Perfection in raja yoga is perfection of one branch of yoga, not 'The Yoga'.
If we allow ourselves to become aware, these attempts at learning different branches of yoga open up different dimensions of experience and perception which ultimately benefit us. It brings about learning which is not only an intellectual concept or idea but something which becomes part of life, and which we call applied wisdom. Application of wisdom is the learning which comes through yoga. When yoga becomes part of your life, each expression, each thought, each sentiment conveys that quality of applied wisdom. This is the aim of yoga which we try to pursue here.
For the Bihar Yoga tradition, perfection of a posture is necessary, but at the same time equal focus has to be given to the perfection of mental attitudes in the perception of and adherence to human values. If this can't be lived, then you can't say you are a part of the Bihar Yoga tradition. The presentation of yoga devised by our guru, Swami Satyananda, and developed as the Bihar Yoga tradition is one of the most comprehensive, complete and holistic approaches to yoga in the world - treating the needs of the body, the mind and also the spirit but adopting the path of discipline.
Yoga is discipline. The opening statement of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is, "Yoga is a form of discipline". But Patanjali's discipline is not an imposed discipline, rather it is a subtle transformation of which you become a witness, which changes your nature, your attitude, your perception, which allows you more freedom in your personal expressions, which allows you to have continuous experience of control, harmony, peace and bliss.
If one can follow yogic discipline, then all these can be experienced, because discipline in its true sense means a process of transformation which eventually touches your expressions at all levels. Your eyes speak of that. Your smile speaks of that. Your actions speak of that. Your thoughts speak of that. It expresses the balance, the control, the samyam, the harmony which you experience through yoga. Discipline is the prime factor in the tradition and in today's attempt to understand yoga. Yoga is a process of education leading to inner discipline, inner clarity and inner strength.
After all, you have come to Ganga Darshan to learn something different from what you are used to. So while you are here make an attempt to experience that something different. If it helps you, you are the winner. If it doesn't help you, it is no skin off your back. You are still the winner because you had a relaxed time for four months before going back to so-called normal human civilization.
The third environment is spiritual. What is spirituality? Is thinking about God spiritual? Is thinking about the scriptures spiritual? Is adherence to some form of ritual spiritual? Is a belief in a particular thought form spiritual? How do we define spirituality? If our attempt is to bring a balance between spiritual values and the modern, material lifestyle, then what is the concept of spiritual in this framework? In my understanding, spirituality is a state which you come to by going through certain changes and transformations within.
Previously we were not aware of our mind, we were only aware of our body. But when we became aware of the mind, it gave us new insight and a new understanding of human life, existence, performance and interaction. Then when we discovered what the emotions were, it gave a different meaning to the life we were living. When we discovered what the conscious, subconscious and unconscious were within the mind, then we were able to place certain concepts, ideas, events or happenings which we could not explain logically. We placed them in the realm of the subconscious and the unconscious, and we discovered that to be true later on.
So each discovery, each transformation that has come about has opened up new venues of how to live more happily, in a better way and with greater adjustment. Similarly, when we reach that level of spirituality then again there will be a change in how we live our lives. Spirituality is a state. It is an expression of the deeper self, when the deeper inner self becomes aware of its existence.
To reach this point the process of spirituality is nothing but anushasana (inner discipline) and the yamas and niyamas. Just a few of the yamas and niyamas should be enough in the present state of life and society. Once we begin to apply the yamas and niyamas and begin the process of discovering their effects on our behaviour, on our being, then this is the beginning of the spiritual journey.
Spirituality does not advocate high flying beliefs and philosophy which sound good. Rather it is a process of making the present the most fulfilled present by creating this awakening within. This awakening happens when you have mastered the basic instincts of life. If there is no control over anger, if you are the same reactive person you always have been, then what was the use of practising meditation for twenty years? It means you were on the wrong path.
Yoga is very clear in saying that spiritual life is a life of attainment only. It is a process which nobody can stop, just as the body grows from the day it is conceived; there is no control over it. You can't stop physical growth. You can't say, "I don't want to be size eleven, I prefer to be size four." You can't do that to your spiritual growth either. Once it begins, it keeps on going - and once it keeps on going you start feeling better with each step. There are low peaks when we begin to question and doubt, but there are moments of inspiration too, moments of happiness which can inspire us to come out of the doubts as well. That is the spiritual environment which one learns to adopt in life.
—Ganga Darshan, September 20, 2000