My Biggest Learning: The Yoga of Compassion

Sannyasi Vishalakshi, Bangalore

As a student of yoga, a question often comes to mind – what is the most important aspect of all that we are learning and practising? Is it really important to be able to do a complex asana for an extended period of time, to be able to have a high breath count for pranayama practice, to be able to practise uninterrupted concentration for over an hour, to be able to work 15-hour days, tirelessly, at the ashram, to be able to sing kirtan, in a melodious voice, or to be able to chant the Bhagavad Gita by rote, from beginning to end.

Of course, all these evolve within us over a period of time, after a consistent period of sadhana. But one thing that Sri Swami Satyananda talks about, and we pay little attention to, is the aspect of atmabhava – to love your neighbour as yourself.

It is written that Swami Sivananda would interrupt his meditation to attend to a sick person at his door. And it is not just the sick or the downtrodden towards who we can extend this warmth. It is each person around us. Swami Niranjan often remarks, “You all love me, but don’t love each other!” Can we see every single creation on this planet as a manifestation of that divinity, and seek to serve all with love and compassion? This is a question we need to ask ourselves.

Sri Swamiji says, “When you buy a dress for your child, buy another set for the child that does not have one.” And it is not only when we come to the ashram for seva that these principles can be enforced. Our guru’s teachings can be carried forward into the world outside. Looking for opportunities every day to help – maybe a friend who needs a shoulder to cry on, or an elderly relative who could do with some love and caring, or a child who could benefit from some encouragement, or our own parents who might be growing old and need attention. When atmabhava starts to be the perspective from which we operate, guru’s energy and grace seem to flow freely and strongly.

An interesting incident happened some months ago. A few of us teach yoga in a municipal school in Bangalore to young girls from the lower strata of society. On their Annual Day, the girls were to lead the chanting and kirtan, very much like the kanyas of Rikhiapeeth. A thought came, “Wouldn’t it be nice if they were given new clothes like the kanyas?” And miraculously, a donor appeared, who sponsored new outfits for the occasion for all the children – it was as if Sri Swamiji had arranged for it all!

So my key learning and practice today is the yoga of compassion. Not that I have stopped practising asana or pranayama, kirtan or japa, but more and more I feel that these are just tools to make the instrument finely tuned, as only when that happens can the most melodious music be produced. As St Francis has said,

Lord – make me an instrument of thy peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy
Oh Divine Master! Grant that I may not seek to be
Consoled as to console
Understood as to understand
Loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.