The Yoga of Helping Others

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Under the guidance of Paramahamsaji and the auspices of Sivananda Math, efforts are being made for the all-round development of the people in Rikhia. What are the implications of the efforts and activities for our yoga movement?

Firstly, you have to understand that the yoga movement is not for your own personal, selfish growth, although yoga begins with a very selfish attitude. If somebody is sick, they come to yoga in order to become healthy, to help overcome the sickness. If somebody is mentally disturbed they come to yoga to overcome their mental disturbance, whether it is for release of tension, to find peace, or to have some extraordinary spiritual enlightenment. Whatever the purpose, we come to yoga because of a selfish need, desire and reason.

The selfish nature represents 'me', the individual, and the unselfish nature represents others. So we have to work with the selfish nature to harmonize it and to begin to connect with the fragmented aspects of our personality and make them whole. Once they are made whole then that wholesome attitude is projected out into society. Then yoga is an expression not of an individual sadhana but of helping others.

There are two aspects to yoga – the personal sadhana aspect and the external aspect. The personal sadhana aspect has been defined in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras as yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. These are the eight stages of yoga as defined by Patanjali for self-development, for personal development.

Swami Sivananda defined another eight stages of yoga beyond Patanjali. He said that Patanjali's yoga is for personal purification and personal development, to realize one's nature. But after you have realized your nature, after you have come to terms with yourself, you have to move to help others, following the simple logic that a tree doesn't eat its own fruit and a plant doesn't smell the scent of its own flowers. The fruits of the tree are meant for the pleasure of others, the smell of the flowers is meant for the pleasure of others. Anything that radiates and contains beauty is not to please ourselves but to please others. Therefore, even in yoga, once you have experienced the beauty of yoga, that beauty pleases others. If you attain samadhi, then your behaviour, attitude, actions and thoughts beautify the lives of others. It allows other people who are not exposed to yoga or to spiritual life to have that experience of the beauty and tranquillity that is being expressed in the lives of those who have experienced yoga and attained yoga in their lives.

Swami Sivananda described the eightfold path of yoga beyond Patanjali as serve, love, give, purify, be good, do good, meditate, realize. These are the external expressions of yoga. After samadhi what happens naturally and spontaneously? You begin to connect with other people and the moment you connect with other people seva begins because of love, compassion and connection. When seva is happening then you begin to expand and develop the love which you have confined to a few to greater areas. You begin to perceive the world as one family, as one nation, not as a group of nations divided by political and ideological belief systems.

This is the social dimension of yoga being presented by Sivananda Math through the example of Swami Satyananda. If we are able to understand that, then we will see that yoga begins with the body, travels through the mind, travels through the emotions, travels through the spirit reaching out to humanity, the public at large, and then goes beyond humanity into the dimension of Godhood. That has been the training and the system of yoga as we have been taught by our guru, Swami Satyananda.

—Ganga Darshan, July 25, 2001