Swami Satyananda – Yogic Researcher

Swami Satyadharma Saraswati

Swami Satyananda is one of the greatest yoga researchers ever to have been born. He always lived his life in the spirit of a researcher. We think of research as something that takes place in the sterile confines of a laboratory with expensive hi-tech equipment, but Sri Swamiji always thought of research as a part of his everyday life.

The trend towards research started at a very early age when he began to have spontaneous out-of-body experiences, which would leave everyone flabbergasted. He began to think, “What is happening to me? Other people don’t have this experience. What is the mental state I am entering? What is it all about?” This continued throughout his childhood and ultimately his parents sought the advice of eminent sages and saints.

As a child, therefore, Sri Swamiji developed a very deep interest in the inner dimensions of the mind. How to know the mind and where to find the mind became a quest for him, something to be realized, something he would have to search for within himself. When his friends were getting married and studying for degrees at university, he was thinking about the inner search. So, he left home at the age of eighteen in order to complete this quest and discover what was happening at the deepest levels of consciousness.

After travelling in India for some time, he went to Rishikesh and there he met his guru, Swami Sivananda. He said to Swami Sivananda, “I have had a lot of experiences spontaneously, not just in meditation. But I always come to a point where there is a block, and I can’t go any further. Why does this happen? How can I overcome this block?” Swami Sivananda said, “You have to work for some years and then the veil will lift.” So the young man said, “Okay, I will stay here and work. I will be your disciple and serve you. I will do whatever you say.”

For twelve years Sri Swamiji stayed in his guru’s ashram in Rishikesh, and his inner research deepened under the guidance of Swami Sivananda. Sri Swamiji also guided external research in Rishikesh. He worked with invalids and patients who came to the ashram for treatment, and tried out various yoga therapies on them. He kept a careful record of everyone he taught or worked on in some way in order to establish which techniques worked with which personalities and diseases.

Eventually, he left Rishikesh and travelled all over the world, meeting people from diverse backgrounds. He found that every single person had different problems, and he set to work to see how he could help them. He soon discovered that yoga was the one thing that worked best. Therefore, when he started his mission, it was yoga that he decided to focus upon. He founded the Bihar School of Yoga, and continued his experiments. Everyone who came to him, whether a devotee, a student, or a young person coming to dedicate his or her life became another experiment for him. He tried to work out how he would help them through his knowledge of the different yogic practices.

Swami Niranjan was a special subject for Sri Swamiji’s research right from his birth. He came to live in the ashram at the age of five or six. He was a very intelligent, precocious and gifted boy. Sri Swamiji used to say to him, “Niranjan, you have to go to school,” and Swami Niranjan would reply, “No, Swamiji, I’m not going to school.” The next day Sri Swamiji would again say, “Niranjan, you must go to school, you have to learn.” Swami Niranjan would reply, “No, I am going to learn in the ashram. You know everything. You will teach me everything I need to know.” So Sri Swamiji said, “Okay, I’m going to try an experiment on you.” And so he did. He tried the experiment of yoga nidra on Swami Niranjan when he was a little boy.

Swami Niranjan used to sleep very deeply. Sri Swamiji kept a small cot for him in his room, and when Swami Niranjan was deeply asleep, Sri Swamiji would start reading to him. He read everything: history, mathematics, physics, geography, languages, Upanishads, Gita. Whatever he could lay his hands upon, he would read to Swami Niranjan at night. This went on for two to three years. Today we can see that the experiment was very successful, because Swami Niranjan has become very learned and wise. True to his word, Swami Niranjan was not educated by the ordinary school system, instead Sri Swamiji taught him everything he needed to know.

Similarly, everyone became an experimental subject for Sri Swamiji. I was also a subject. When I first came to the ashram, I was in a very deep state of introversion. I did not want to communicate. I was not interested in anything or anybody in the external world. When people spoke to me, I would turn around and walk away. Sri Swamiji said to me, “I am going to bring you out. Do you want me to do that?” I said, “No.” He said, “Yes.” I said, “No.” He took a stick and said, “See this stick? Every time I see you introverting, I am going to beat you.” I looked at the stick, looked at him, and said, “Okay,” because nobody had ever spoken to me like that in my life. I thought, “Yes, this is a person who is going to give me my answer.”

So, Sri Swamiji began his research work on me. The first thing he made me do was shankhaprakshalana, and I had to drink not fifteen or eighteen glasses of saline water, but fifty glasses, and then fifty more. When he asked me to drink another fifty glasses for the third time, I said “No.” He said, “Okay, but you have to work very hard.” He decided that he was going to cure me of my introversion through karma yoga.

He started me off with physical work. I would be woken up by a swami at three in the morning, take a cold shower and be ready for work by four. I used to clean all the drains, sweep the paths and then clean all the buildings from top to bottom. I had to carry the bricks, the buckets of water, and anything else he could think of. He kept me busy all day, every day, and also made small children tease me, pinch me and laugh at me till I cried – just to bring me out. And slowly, the treatment worked.

A couple of years later, he said to me, “Now I am going to sharpen your mind.” He gave me some written work to do. This involved reading, typing and editing his satsangs from his trips to Europe and other places. Once I came across a satsang in which he was explaining an experiment he had done on a lady from America who had come with some mental problems and had been cured. As I was typing, I realized that I was reading my own experimental results. In this way, over the years, many people came and went, and Sri Swamiji took each one on as a subject for research. We always thought that he made us his disciples because he loved us, but actually he was trying out different things on us to see how they worked.

One day I was standing on the roof of the old ashram. Sri Swamiji was there and he pointed up to the hill where Ganga Darshan now stands and said, “See that hill? One day we are going to have an international yoga research foundation there. Researchers and scholars will come from all over the world to do important research work there.” At that time it was just an dilapidated, old fort, and I thought to myself, “How will that ever become an international yoga research foundation?” But just as he said, it is becoming one. In 1980, we all moved up there. Sri Swamiji built the whole infrastructure, and in 1984 inaugurated the Yoga Research Foundation. A few years later he left the place totally in the capable hands of Swami Niranjan and went out in order to further his inner research. He travelled all over India to find the ideal climate in which his research could expand further.

Finally he went to Rikhia, where he began the inner research that he had started as a small child and which he wanted to complete in his old age. The different sadhanas he has been doing since then were all forms of internal research. This also led him to some external ideas. He set up the village research, which he is still doing, where he finds different ways to help the rural people. With each project, he experiments to find out what will work and what won’t. He thinks about the mentality of the people: will they go for this, or will they go for that.

So, I feel that Sri Swamiji is one of the world’s greatest researchers, and has been a researcher throughout his life. We are his disciples, but we are also his subjects. Even when he leaves his body, he will go out as a researcher. He will be researching every dimension of the way.