Living with Nature

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Charamande, France, 1981

In recent years we have been talking about ecology, but in the past we were taught that the birds, trees and the whole vegetable kingdom contain the same consciousness as we do. Trees are witnesses to everything, and there is a great spirituality in their existence. Even now, the most sincere yogis retire into the forest and live amidst trees, plants, birds and animals, because in essence there is complete unity in this creation. The names and forms differ but the essence of everything, including humans, animals, vegetables and the mineral kingdom, is the same. Yet, humans in their arrogance have considered themselves to be the most superior being in creation.

In the Bhagavad Gita, there is a declaration that the supreme essence pervades every speck of creation. Just as the thread passes through all the beads in your mala, in the same way one consciousness penetrates everything. When we live in the world of the senses and mind, we perceive duality and multiplicity. When we withdraw from the sensory world, we see only unity and one essence.

In the Upanishads it is declared that when you transcend matter, you see yourself in all, and you see everything within you. This is called the adwaita or non-dual experience. We live in a world of duality; saints live in a world of non-duality. We see multiplicity; they see unity. This unity should not only be realised in your own kith and kin and relatives, or in your own country and fellow beings, it should also be realised in other kingdoms in creation.

Just as a scientist realises the unity behind all matter, in the same way, the yogi realises the unity behind all creation. It is for this reason that it is necessary for everyone to retire from the hustle and bustle of life. In our ignorance we have created hustle and bustle which is not necessary for our existence. It has been our greatest folly and we will have to pay the penalty for it. Behind every home there should be a little forest and a little pond. Around your house the birds must sing and the tall trees must grow. Keep the motor car far away. You can create your own utopia, and automatically realise this unity.

Many years ago, I went to a place in the Himalayas called Kedarnath, where there was a solitary temple built by Shankaracharya. There was snow everywhere, it was freezing cold and extremely quiet. Just as you have subzero temperatures, I think there were subzero vibrations, and my mind began to freeze. Something happened to my mind and I lost myself. I did not do anything; the atmosphere was such because there had never been sound vibration there. The only people who go there are a few hundred devoted pilgrims during the summer who offer worship to Lord Shiva.

When I was in Rishikesh, I visited Mount Kailash. Mount Kailash is now under China but at that time it was in Tibet, and Tibet was an independent country. It was a very difficult terrain, yet I managed to reach Mount Kailash. At the foot of Mount Kailash is a lake called Mansarovar. At Mansarovar, there was no sign of habitation, no temple, no priest, no chanting or prayers, only total silence. I think it had been silent there since eternity.

I was the sole pilgrim on that day. The only life was myself, my pony and a guide. After arriving, I took my bath, and wanted to know what I should do, but by the time I decided, my mind had jammed, it stopped. A picture of Shiva arose in my vision, seated at the top of the mountain in padmasana, with tigers, the crescent moon on the right side of his head and cobras hissing around his neck and arms. His whole body was beautifully smeared with ashes from the burial ground. His three eyes were all closed. I thought I had seen him for hours, but in fact it must have been like a flash of lightning. How did this experience come to me? It came because I was in touch with the unity and essence of creation. This unity is not an intellectual concept; it happens when your circumstances become congenial.

St Bernard, a great mystic of the twelfth century, used to walk in a forest of oak trees to recharge his energy. For many people he was a crazy heretic. But he lived with nature, which is silent all the time, and the quality of his consciousness transformed, and when the quality of mind changes, the experiences also change.

You should first change your circumstances, your surroundings and your environment. The total setting around you must change. You must even change the quality of your wife or husband, the quality of your bathroom, toilet and bedroom. It is not a joke, it is a reality, because these settings affect your mind. The mind is constantly under the influence of things in us and around us. Therefore, we should ask ourselves how we are going to reset our own surroundings in order to realise the one unity or one essence?

When I lived in Rishikesh with Swami Sivananda, there was a great forest behind the ashram. In the depths of the forest you would sometimes see wild animals, or find a cowherd boy playing a flute or singing a wild song in the wilderness. The whistling carpenter bird and many other types of birds could be heard chirping away. Sometimes, when the wind passed through the trees, there was a whistling sound, and the whole of nature began to sing.

We used to leave the ashram, enter the depths of the forest. The deeper you went, the lonelier you were, far away from everybody. It happened one day that on my way back to the ashram I lost the way. I tried every possible way but simply got more lost. At that time the ashram was very small, there was no electricity, not even little lamps, so I couldn’t see which way the ashram was. I climbed a tree, but I saw nothing. It began to drizzle and rain. I could hear the ferocious sounds of tigers, panthers and other wild animals.

While up in the tree I experienced a great miracle. In spite of the ferocious sounds, in about an hour or so I lost contact with everything. It seemed that the whole setting around me jammed my brain, and my mind completely slowed down and ultimately the vibrations ceased. I could not understand those sounds at all, there was total ananda or bliss. I forgot the ashram and the animals and birds singing around me, and thus a new day dawned. In the morning I found I was only about two hundred yards away from the ashram. This is a very important reminiscence from my life.

I have taken tours of the Himalayas many times, to Gangotri, where the Ganga originates, to Amarnath in Kashmir, and I visited many other places as a wandering mendicant. I can assure you that it is a very powerful sadhana.

When you live with nature and realise unity with it, then nature helps you to change the conditions of your mind. It is a very simple experience of everyday life. Maybe you are unhappy, you may have a quarrel in your family, or other troubles, but if you just go into a beautiful garden, you feel better. Why? Because the setting has changed the quality of your mind, and the moment the quality of the mind changes, the experience also changes.

It is said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Therefore, one must live a very simple life. Poverty is paradise.