Seva, Samarpan, Karuna - Evolving Back to Basics

Sannyasi Atmatattwananda, UK

In the 1970s and 1980s, the techniques and teachings of Swami Satyananda were predominantly focused towards raising the kundalini and achieving personal enlightenment, and some are still teaching with these aims in mind. However, in 2005, we need to consider whether a different type of focus is now required, or indeed is more appropriate. Let us take an average yoga student, who starts perhaps by going to some weekly classes. They then attend a few weekend seminars, or a retreat, and decide to get into it a little more deeply and apply to attend one of the more intensive introductory immersions, in the form of one of the residential academic yogic studies courses currently on offer in India, USA or Australia. This is a big step up from the original weekly ‘feel good’ class and usually indicates a certain desire for a deeper or different understanding of one’s self and the meaning of life.

In the BYB prospectus it is mentioned that a student who comes to study yoga will, during their residential stay, imbibe the spirit of seva (selfless service), samarpan (dedication) and karuna (compassion) for human kind. How do these qualities apply when we finish the course? If we read, listen to and look at the present teachings of Swami Satyananda, the original proponent of this wonderful, holistic, evolving system called Satyananda Yoga, we can see a marked change over the years in focus, reflecting, as always, his own personal experience and applied wisdom. The techniques of asana, pranayama, pratyahara etc. are a useful means to maintain body and mind in a good balanced, dynamic state of health. Why? In order to meditate for hours and hours in seclusion and try to attain samadhi? No! This does not fulfil the current needs of society. Rather it is so that one can become a super efficient, well functioning being capable of practising seva, or in other words, in order to be able to serve others.

Sri Swamiji has stated this so many times in his satsangs of recent years, printed in the Bhakti Yoga Sagar series. You can do all the yoga practices, well and good, but without serving others, which he clearly implies is serving God, they will be a waste of time. Nowadays he says, “My only craving is to serve those who are deprived and in need.” “Let everyone be kind and caring to one another and may no one ever experience any distress in their life,” has been the dedication for the Sat Chandi yajnas.

So how, as householders, sannyasins, teachers or practitioners of yoga, can we spend hours and hours striving to attain some personal satisfaction and to what end when all around us there are people suffering and in great need? How can we maintain the peace from our meditations if we walk out onto the streets of our village, town or city and see people starving, homeless, sleeping on the roadside, children with no clothes or shoes, mentally disturbed, lonely, rejected, old people. How many people do we know of who are on antidepressants, who are alcoholics or drug addicts? Do we turn a blind eye as we walk home from our nice yoga nidra, before going home to ponder our yoga philosophy texts and practise japa? If we do, then we are not listening; we have not heard the teachings of Sri Swamiji. If we have learnt or gained anything from coming into contact with him or Satyananda Yoga, if we have achieved better health, more strength and vitality, learned how to manage our minds and emotions, cleared our heads, awakened our hearts, then we must understand that we have a duty to show our gratitude and to share this with others.

Although the thrust is to take yoga into different areas of society, with some excellent work being undertaken in rehabilitation centres, prisons, hospitals and so forth, yoga teaching is not necessarily for everyone. However, there are so many opportunities to put into practice all the fine yogic principles we learn in the centres, ashrams and academies of working with head, heart and hands. To develop bhakti (which Sri Swamiji has said IS the yoga of this millennium) and to perform seva in the ashram without walls . . . the ashram of life.

Imagine for a moment, if every single one of the thousands of yoga students or devotees world-wide, who have personally benefited from the practices of or contact with Satyananda Yoga, were to dedicate even a token one or two hours a week, to start with, to performing some type of seva in their local community. Just think of the ricochet effect this would have across the planet. “I don’t have time,” is a common cry. A friend said recently that the only thing that we all have exactly equal amounts of is time. A week has 168 hours available to us all. If we used our yogic understanding of good time management, perhaps we could even find an hour a day to avail of the opportunity to come out of our own self-obsessed bubbles, to forget our own problems and possibly to make a small difference to somebody else’s life. What more can we ask for?

“What can I do?” It could just be making some extra food whilst cooking for yourself or the family, to give to the hungry old man or woman nearby, who can’t afford to eat properly. Going to serve soup with a smile for the homeless once a week, arranging to collect warm clothes and blankets for them in the winter. Volunteering to spend time with the dying in a hospice, using your car to pick up an old person and take them to an appointment. Getting involved with an orphanage, sponsoring a child in another part of the world, translating for refugees, becoming a pen pal to a prisoner, training to become a Samaritan. Dedicating a few hours to talking on a telephone help line. Doing the shopping or household chores for somebody ill, digging or weeding their garden, becoming a friend to someone in need, which might just mean simply having a chat, a laugh and a cup of tea together on a regular basis; anything that can be of practical help and uplift the spirit. These are just the first few examples that spring to mind, but there are many, many, many more that exist, according to your own region, capacity and interest.

We’ve heard this message before: from our paramguru Swami Sivananda, whose first three maxims are “Serve, Love, Give”; from Christ who said, “Love thy neighbour as thyself”; and from Swami Satyananda, who year after year demonstrates “Give, Give, Give” so graphically for us. It does not matter whether it is your spare money, your time, your energy, your creativity, your skills, your care, your love or your sense of humour. Yet somehow we seem to forget this as we forge ahead on our yogic or spiritual quest, thinking or deluding ourselves that we are moving beyond worldly matters, into so-called spiritual life. So instead of aiming for samadhi, lets shift the goalposts and the ultimate focus of our yoga practice and let the teachings evolve back to basics. Start by looking around today, and see where and how you can make a small difference within your neighbourhood. Who knows where it might take you!