Living Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Welcome to all the new students who have come to Ganga Darshan with the idea of learning yoga. What makes us happy is the knowledge that when you leave, you will take with you not only an understanding of yoga but yoga as part of yourself. This is the real Bihar Yoga or Satyananda Yoga.

The roots of yoga are ancient, but the history of yoga is less than half a century old. Swami Sivananda was one of the first sannyasins to recognize the potential divinity of individuals. He trained his disciples in the systems of yoga and vedanta, and most became luminaries who have inspired people to rediscover themselves and adopt yoga.

There have been many thousands of teachers who have picked up one component of the yogic system and propagated it as their belief, philosophy and livelihood. Some adopted the system of hatha yoga, harsh physical discipline; some the reclusiveness of raja yoga, intense meditation, tapasya and self-control; some the path of bhakti. Whatever the path, it was adopted more as a belief and as something to be experimented with rather than as something that could become part of one’s life, something that had the power to transform human nature from the external, mundane and gross to something much deeper, higher and transcendental.

In the last half of the 20th century, the individual branches of yoga, such as hatha yoga, jnana yoga, raja yoga, kriya yoga, mantra yoga, etc. were developed rather than the main trunk and the root of yoga. Developing the main trunk and the root means incorporating the yogic principles not only as ideology but also into one’s life. Experiencing that lifestyle in which yoga becomes a part of oneself is identified either as classical yoga or the Bihar Yoga system, the Satyananda Yoga system.

At Ganga Darshan you are taught not only the practices but how to live yoga. There is a difference between learning the practices and living the system, living the philosophy, living yoga as a lifestyle, because ultimately that is the main component which will make a difference to all of us and through us to the greater mass of society.

Worldwide there has been an enormous growth of interest in and acceptance of yoga. Yoga is a system that incorporates a lifestyle, a practice, an idea. For example, both karma yoga and bhakti yoga are ideas that you can incorporate into your life. For a karma yogi, selfless service does not remain only an idea, but you become someone who expresses and experiences selflessness through action. A bhakti yogi can experience such intense emotion that eventually the emotion burns the body completely, like Mirabai whose physical body disintegrated into the image of Krishna. For Kabir, the power of the emotion of bhakti was such that his physical body became transformed into flowers. These people lived that component in their lives. Today, of course, there are too many things distracting us and stopping us from becoming bhakti yogis, but there have been many hatha yogis, raja yogis, karma yogis and jnana yogis who have lived that particular yoga.

A yogi is one who is able to live and experience yoga every day. The ashram environment teaches one to live yoga every moment. To have that deep experience of yoga certain preparations have to be made and certain understandings need to be developed. You have to belong to the ashram, just like you have a feeling for your home, which is yours in pleasure and pain, joy and suffering. When you have this feeling of belonging, your involvement – head, heart and soul – will cultivate the potential of the environment for you, both personal and outer.

Experiencing the yamas and niyamas

At Ganga Darshan living the yogic principles is emphasized. The activities of the ashram or gurukul or Bihar Yoga Bharati are established so that each step is an understanding of the yamas and niyamas. For example, in karma yoga satya is to be lived. Satya does not mean truth; it is knowing yourself, unveiling yourself, recognizing the role of the ego, recognizing the role of aversion, the role of desperation, the role of aggression. It is recognizing your own role and how you can find your balance. You have to find your own solution, because no one can do it for you. Even if somebody had that ability, you would only accept the solution you had discovered yourself.

In karma yoga, when you adhere to satya, you see yourself in your true colours, not as a victim and someone else as the manipulator, or as the manipulator and someone else as the victim. That is a power game and it has its role, but in the context of yogic life you have to understand yourself responding to the demands of the present. When you respond to the demands of the present, that reaction will carry a colour which needs to be identified. The colour might be compassion, or affection, or love, or hatred, or dislike, it could be anything. The purpose of karma yoga for oneself is identifying that colour. Service is something else. The purity it provides you with has to be understood. Karma yoga leads to the attainment of shaucha, purity, one of the niyamas. You aspire and strive for shaucha and while pursuing that road, you develop ahimsa, the non-violent nature.

The yamas and niyamas complement each other in the process of karma yoga, in the path of bhakti yoga, in the systems of raja yoga and in the perfection of kriya yoga and the process of awakening through kundalini yoga. For example, take mouna. If you can’t stop the external chattering with words, how can you stop the internal chattering with the unconscious and the subconscious? If you are happy about failing in sanyam, balanced restraint, outside, how can you expect to have sanyam inside? Your drive and motivation is to fail in sanyam and to inspire others to fail as well. Attainment of failure becomes your right. But you are free to leave that mind outside the walls of Ganga Darshan.

By experimenting with and experiencing the yamas and niyamas and their role in one’s life, in meditation, in pratyahara and dharana, in the course of time you become like someone writing with an eraser. The impressions remain inside but the darkness goes away; the individual identity remains but the tamas goes away. That is the statement of the Yoga Sutras. From being a ‘buddhu’, one becomes a ‘buddha’.

Ultimate aim of yoga

In the last 40 years, because the development of yoga was confined to a particular branch of learning and practice, no attempt was made to pursue the ultimate aim of yoga. The ‘little’ known yogas were seen as ‘esoteric’. The common yogas were those to achieve physical fitness, or to sit and meditate for extended periods of time, trying to hypnotize oneself into a positive and uplifting experience. Even today people think that the ultimate aim of yoga is God-realization, meditation and samadhi, discovering sat-chit-ananda, the truth, the inner nature, the bliss.

However, more than samadhi or God-realization, the aim of yoga is to become part of human life. Until yoga is part of your life, you cannot experience samadhi. It is like the digestive process. You eat something, digest and eliminate it, and feel hungry again. Again you eat something and the process is repeated. Eating fulfils specific needs during specific periods of time. In the same manner, all these drives to experience God or to have an understanding and experience of samadhi are not real needs. If you want to become a musician, it is no good knowing the theory; you have to practise and make music a part of your life. If you want to become a scientist, you have to become a scientist outside as well as inside the laboratory, because many scientific breakthroughs have taken place in the relaxed environment of the home, or the meadow or the forest. Newton was fast asleep when the apple fell on his head. Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity while flying a kite. Archimedes was in the bathtub when suddenly inspiration hit him and he ran naked through the streets crying out, “Eureka! Eureka!”

In the same manner, if you want to experience any of the states of yoga, you have to live yoga. If you want to experience meditation, it is not good enough just to meditate for one or two or three hours every day. It is also important to live it, to understand what meditation is and what you are experiencing. It has to become a spontaneous part of one’s natural expression.

That is the vision of Swami Sivananda. He always had a vision that a person could be divine and that life could be divine. But the life that becomes divine is the life that lives yoga moment to moment, a life that is initially guided by sanyam, balanced action. Sanyam is not our nature and has to become our nature. We are destructive rather than creative by nature. We try to learn how to develop our creativity, but we rarely have to learn how to be destructive. Goodness cannot be acquired through theory. Most spiritual seekers in the world seek the ultimate through theory and logic and are therefore utter fools. Instead of becoming buddhas they remain buddhus! How can one seek the ultimate truth through theory and logic? To say, on the one hand, that reality is beyond the senses and, on the other, try to grab at that reality with the senses is self-contradictory. If it is beyond the senses, it cannot be attained. If it is beyond the mind, it cannot be attained.

So what can be attained? Opening the mind to become a receptacle of that truth, that consciousness – that is your effort. You can only open the mind. You cannot acquire that peace, that expression of self, that samadhi through will alone. You cannot acquire it through logic alone, nor through sitting in meditation for six hours a day. The Satyananda system of yoga, now developed and propagated by Bihar Yoga Bharati, aims to fill this gap. The thrust of the Bihar school is understanding yoga as a way of life rather than as a practice or as an intellectual concept.

Anushasan – governing the subtle dimension

To aid in the process of attaining our aspirations, a condition has to be created where one is able to become self-observant, where one can improve the quality of performance, thinking, speech and behaviour. The creation of these conditions is called anushasan. The word anushasan is generally translated as ‘discipline’, but the real meaning is governing the subtle dimensions, the subtle aspect, the subtle behaviour, which is the fertile ground from which all manifestations take place. Their seed is hidden in the subtle dimension.

Normally we are not responsive to systems and disciplines. We think of them as restrictions, as bondage, as limitations, but these are all our own projections. If we go to the crux of it, anushasan is a condition that aids in the development of something different within us. But our own ego does not allow us to see that. Our ego only shows it as something that inhibits or curtails our freedom. The moment we identify with such an idea, we become slaves to the mental whims, the vrittis. Viparyaya, misconception, comes in; vikalpa, doubt, comes in. When we become slaves to our vrittis, we move away from the path of yoga.

If followed properly with the right attitude, anushasans, systems and disciplines, can bring life to the spiritual energy dormant within. But because our ego doesn’t allow us to understand, there is a mental barrier, and, despite appreciating the truth, we side with the untruth. That is our weakness created by the ego. If the truth hurts you, you will never see it. That is the projection of the ego.

People respond differently to the concept of anushasan. Those who feel it is impeding their growth and limiting their creativity will always be apologetic for the system and discipline. Those who recognize it as a condition that can lead to the development of something positive within will always inspire you to follow it more and more.

If you want to live yoga, you have to sacrifice whatever is a barrier to spiritual life. If you want to live in a room that has been closed for years, you have to open the doors and windows, clean out all the grime and dust which has accumulated, light some incense and make it a pleasant room to live in. You have to allow the fresh air in. If you don’t like it, then change your apartment, change your city, change your association, but be sincere to yourself.

This message is applicable to everyone – to the sannyasins, to the new students and the old students, because only when you experience this principle of yoga will you know what yoga truly stands for. You have to make the effort to become the self-observer, to become somebody who experiences yoga. The possibilities are endless and the mind has to be open.

This is the journey of yoga that has received the blessings of Swami Sivananda and Swami Satyananda, two great sages of our time. Yoga will become the world culture one day, and the acceptance of yoga throughout the world is proving it. As you begin to experiment with the wholeness of yoga and look upon it as something that can bring out the potential inside, rather than as something you do externally to feel good and relieve your stress, it will provide you with something deeper than you bargained for.

Ganga Darshan, July 2003