Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Sannyasi Vigyanamurti (Danny Hawley), USA

Modern authority on and exponent of yoga and tantra, founder of the International Yoga Fellowship, Bihar School of Yoga, Sivananda Math, Yoga Research Foundation and Paramahamsa Alakh Bara, and author of over eighty books on yoga, tantra and spirituality, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, disciple of Swami Sivananda Saraswati, undertook the mission of spreading yoga throughout the world to people regardless of their race, nationality, religion, caste, gender, age, or type of personality.

Early life and founding of mission

Swami Satyananda was born on July 26th, 1923, near Almora, Uttar Pradesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas. As a youth he was classically educated and studied Sanskrit, the Vedas and the Upanishads. After several spontaneous spiritual experiences, which began at age five, and an initiation by a tantric guru at age eighteen, he decided to leave home in 1943 in order to seek a spiritual master. He met his yogic guru, Swami Sivananda Saraswati, at Rishikesh in 1943, and lived with him for twelve years. Swami Sivananda described him as a ‘versatile genius’ who ‘did the work of four people’. Swami Sivananda gave him the name Satyananda and initiated him as a sannyasin (renunciant) of the Dashnama sannyasa order, on the banks of the river Ganga on September 12, 1947.

Swami Sivananda gave Swami Satyananda a twofold mission in life: (i) to become the means of elevating the deeply rooted sufferings of mankind by spreading yoga ‘from door to door and shore to shore’, and (ii) to become one with the highest reality. In one of his letters Swami Sivananda referred to Swami Satyananda as ‘a pillar of his mission’.

Swami Sivananda foresaw that Swami Satyananda’s life would involve twenty year cycles. Swami Satyananda was born in 1923 and for twenty years he was a student and seeker. He met Swami Sivananda in 1943 and for twenty years he lived as a disciple and a mendicant. He founded the Bihar School of Yoga in 1963 and for twenty years he was a teacher and administrator. He resigned as administrator in 1983, renouncing all that he had built and went on to the cosmic level.

Swami Satyananda left Rishikesh in 1956 and lived as a wandering mendicant (parivrajaka) for eight years. Travelling throughout South Asia, he met with saints, yogis and tantrics, and formulated and adapted yogic techniques for modern lifestyles. In 1963, while visiting Munger, Bihar, on the banks of the Ganga, he experienced the supreme bliss of the highest state of consciousness and had the revelation that he should create a global fraternity of yoga. He realized his mission to be the elevation of human consciousness by bringing to light and disseminating the science of yoga.

The teachings of Swami Satyananda

Swami Satyananda taught that the attainment of the state of enlightenment is the goal of human existence, and that the most direct path to this goal is yoga and meditation. He emphasized an integral system of yoga, incorporating components of all the yogas, but giving more importance to tantric yoga. He defined tantra as the science of expansion of consciousness and liberation of energy. His system of tantric yoga involved the practices of hatha yoga, kundalini yoga, kriya yoga, mantra yoga, laya yoga and the meditative stages of raja yoga, namely pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

Swami Satyananda discerned in the ancient tantras the powerful techniques of nyasa, which he then decoded, translated and adapted to suit the needs of the modern individual. This became the practice of Yoga Nidra, a core teaching of the Bihar School of Yoga since the 1960s, and now readily accessible to all. From the vedic tradition he adapted the components of bhakti yoga, karma yoga and jnana yoga, and developed a comprehensive system of meditation in order to make it easily understood and practised by all types of people. He was the first person to bring the yogic side of tantra to the forefront and to explain the concepts of tantra so as to be applicable to the needs of modern society.

Swami Satyananda devised two yogic approaches to help people to attain total health and to develop balanced integrated personalities. The first approach involved understanding the mind, psyche and spirit through the practices of raja yoga, overcoming obstacles in life through jnana yoga, and going deeper into spiritual practices through kriya yoga, kundalini yoga, nada yoga, swara yoga, mantra yoga and other yogas.

The second approach was the development of a lifestyle in which people could attain the ability to observe and to live life differently by incorporating yoga. Swami Satyananda also revived the ashram and sannyasa traditions in order to provide proper teaching and training in the yogic lifestyle, emphasizing that everyone had the spiritual right to become a sannyasin at some period in his or her life. Through sannyasa he inspired many people to integrate yoga into their lifestyles. He developed and propagated the yogic lifestyle as a form of therapy, a way to achieve a balanced expression in life, and a means to attain inner peace.

Since, in Swami Satyananda’s view, yoga was applicable to everyone, he represented it in a practical, scientific way in order to make it universally accessible. To help people according to their individual needs and to enable them to gain a personal experience of the yogic process, he gave individualized sets of yogic practices (sadhanas) to different people. To help people to develop and to integrate their understanding and experience of the human body, mind and spirit, he taught all three dimensions of yoga: physiological, psychological and spiritual. In the words of a disciple, “Due to his inspired teachings, the depth and the power of the yogic practices became known.”

The Satyananda Yoga/Bihar Yoga movement

Swami Satyananda set out to make yoga available to all categories of people everywhere. He prophesized, “Yoga is going to emerge as a mighty world culture. It will change the course of world events.” As first steps in his mission, he founded the International Yoga Fellowship Movement in 1956, established the Bihar School of Yoga in 1963, and began the publication of Yoga magazine in English and Yoga Vidya in Hindi in 1964. At the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger, he began systematic yogic training of sannyasins and lay people, accepting both males and females of all ages, nationalities and beliefs. As the school and its programs outgrew its original location due to increasing demands for yogic training, a larger site, on a nearby hill overlooking the Ganga, was acquired in 1978. Naming this place Ganga Darshan, Swami Satyananda developed it over the next ten years into a large yoga complex with extensive residential and teaching facilities for the propagation of yoga internationally.

From 1963 to 1983, Swami Satyananda worked tirelessly. He regularly sponsored and conducted national and international yoga conventions, and toured extensively throughout India and the world to popularize yoga. Conducting regular yoga teacher training courses beginning in 1968, he trained an international core of sannyasins to translate and transmit the techniques of yoga for different cultures. He sent them to teach yoga classes and to conduct seminars and conventions throughout India, Australia, Europe, Africa, South Asia, and North and South America. They established many Satyananda Yoga ashrams, schools, and centres around the world. In 1984 Swami Satyananda founded Sivananda Math, a charitable organization, to uplift the underprivileged and downtrodden rural sectors. In 1987 the Bihar School of Yoga undertook a project through the Department of Education to train government schoolteachers to teach yoga in public schools. In the following years, the Bihar School of Yoga organized yoga programs for soldiers in the Indian army, for Indian Railway workers and for prisoners in jails throughout the state of Bihar.

Swami Satyananda sought the integration of yoga with other disciplines, including science, medicine and the arts. In 1970 he opened the International Yoga Research Library at Munger, and in 1973 began to initiate medical doctors into sannyasa. In 1984 he founded the Yoga Research Foundation to work with doctors, scientists, hospitals and medical colleges in order to carry out and to correlate scientific research world-wide. The aim of this research was to investigate scientifically and to document the therapeutic and mind-expanding benefits of yoga techniques. Research was planned and undertaken on common disorders such as asthma, diabetes, digestive ailments, obesity, arthritis, hypertension and cardiovascular management. By 1986 medical doctor sannyasins had opened yoga therapy centres in Australia. In 1994 the Bihar government sponsored the Yoga Research Foundation to work on the integration of yogic techniques into the syllabus for all the medical colleges in the state.

In 1995 Bihar Yoga Bharati was founded at Ganga Darshan as an Institute for Advanced Studies in Yogic Science. In 2000 Bihar Yoga Bharati was recognized by the government of India as a deemed university, and became the first yoga university in the world, offering post-graduate degrees in the faculties of Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Psychology and Applied Yogic Science. By 2000 Bihar Yoga Bharati had established the first Satyananda Yoga Academy in Australia, and the European Satyananda Yoga Academy was created in May 2004.

New mission and message

In 1983 Swami Satyananda appointed Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati as his spiritual successor and president of Bihar School of Yoga, and then began a gradual withdrawal from the teaching and administering of his international yoga movement. In 1988 he left the ashram at Munger to follow the path of renunciation of mission, disciples, and establishment (kshetra sannyasa). He undertook a walking pilgrimage to the spiritual places of power (siddha tirthas) of India, taking with him no personal belongings and accepting no assistance from any of the ashrams or institutions he had founded. In 1989, at Trayambakeshwar, he received from God a mandate for a new mission, to progress toward the cosmic dimension by means of unbroken remembrance and repetition of the Lord’s name with every breath. In 1990 he proceeded to the location which the Lord had revealed to him and began a life of seclusion and intensive spiritual practice. He established the Sri Panch Dashnam Paramahamsa Alakh Bara for this purpose at Rikhiadham, in Deoghar, Bihar. For twelve years he remained in isolation, constantly performing his spiritual practice. During this period he also performed the ‘five-fire’ rite of purification (panchagni tapasya) from the ancient Vedic tradition.

In 1991, Swami Satyananda received another divine mandate, regarding which he said, “I have heard the voice of God and he said: Love your neighbours. Help them as I have helped you. Christ heard it; I also hear it. I am not a second Christ, nor a pontiff or preacher. I am a servant of God.” Seeking to strike a balance between the personal aspect of spiritual liberation and the social aspect of helping others, he gave Swami Niranjanananda a new task for Sivananda Math: service to and improvement of the living conditions of the tribal people in thousands of villages surrounding Rikhiadham. This included financing and constructing homes for the homeless, providing means of employment, education and medical treatment, and teaching yogic practices, meditation, truth, non-violence, and values in order to raise the spiritual consciousness of the people.

In 1994 Swami Satyananda gave his followers a new message, of love and devotion to God (bhakti yoga). He taught that the purpose of human life is to realize God through love and to serve God by helping humanity. The first way to achieve this purpose is to remember God’s name through mantra repetition or singing (kirtan), and the second way is through giving help and support to others. He asserted that the ultimate yoga is recognition of the divine in everyone, seeing others in oneself and oneself in others. A natural expression of dedication to God is service to the poor and removal of distress from the lives of others. Swami Satyananda’s prophesy was that while hatha yoga and raja yoga were the panacea of the twentieth century, devotion to God and bhakti yoga would be the panacea of the twenty-first. He declared that in the twenty-first century, yoga must expand beyond the limits of personal practice to a path of giving and sharing, encompassing devotion, dedication and participation in human emancipation.

In 2001, Swami Satyananda inaugurated the great coronation sacrifice (Rajasooya Yajna), which would allow for the presence and participation of his followers. This sacrifice is to be conducted only by a conqueror (chakravartin), who by custom must declare what he has conquered. Swami Satyananda described his conquest as ‘fixing the flag of yoga in all corners of the world’. The speciality of the Rajasooya Yajna is perfection in the art of giving, on both the material and spiritual levels. Swami Satyananda’s message for his followers in 2002 echoes the main motto of his own guru, Swami Sivananda: ”Give, give, give, as much as you can.” He advised, “Rather than trying to purify yourself by doing this and that, say, ‘God, what do you want me to do?’ And do it. You leave it to Him and He will do it. Try this trick and everything will change in your life.”


Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, 3rd revised edn, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, 2002.

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Bhakti Yoga Sagar, Volume Two, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, 2001.

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Kundalini Tantra, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, 2002.

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Teachings of Swami Satyananda, Volume V, Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar, 1986.

Swami Yogakanti Saraswati, ed, Past, Present, and Future, a Consolidated History of the Bihar School of Yoga, Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar, 1995.

Yoga, January-February 2002, April-May 2002, September-October 2002, Sivananda Math, Ganga Darshan, Munger, Bihar.