Role of Yoga Teachers in the 21st Century

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, talk given at Manchester, England, on 16 April, 1982

Today I will talk to you about the new role of yoga teachers, the role of yoga teachers in the changed environments of the world.

When, at the beginning of this century, yoga was revived all over the world, it was very vaguely understood. Swami Vivekananda brought yoga to the West, but he spoke in general terms, providing a philosophy of karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga and raja yoga. He was followed by many yoga teachers. Ram Charak taught hatha yoga and pranayama. There were people like Yogi Vitthal, Siddha Baba, Dr Rammurti Mishra. Then came Paramahamsa Yogananda who taught kriya yoga. By then things became clearer, the science of hatha yoga was accepted by and large in the world as a science of healing, therapy, physical and mental balance.

Initially, the yoga teachers only taught hatha yoga. They did not even think of teaching meditation because it was thought that meditation had more to do with God than with man, and was not necessary for those concerned only with material life, not a higher life. As scientific studies were conducted, it was found that meditation could be a path to higher realization, but that it was more important and necessary for mind and body balance.

That mode of thinking is also over now. The idea of importance of meditation in terms of physical and mental balance and therapy has been transcended. Research and practical experiments have been conducted on disabled people, mentally challenged children, drug addicts, prisoners, criminals, etc. and things are becoming clearer. People are convinced that yoga has some role to play in effectively dealing with such situations.

New role of yoga

The question that the coming generation will ask of yoga teachers is: “How can yoga transform the quality of human personality?” That will be the most important and crucial challenge that yoga and yoga teachers will have to meet.

Hatha yoga and raja yoga will continue to be the science of therapy, concentration, relaxation and physical health. We are now about to enter the twenty-first century. The problems are going to be more acute. Governments are well organized and education systems are in place. We are making law after law to maintain a balance in society, between society and the human, personal element. Religions are also being revived in various ways in order to maintain this relationship: a better relationship between society and the individual. Still, it is certain that they will not be able to accomplish the task that the next century will require: a higher quality of human being. Such a quality of human being cannot be produced unless some metamorphic change takes place within us. The question that will be asked is, can yoga can help in changing the human personality?

Yoga teachers throughout the world have to think about this and adjust their teachings and knowledge for the fulfilment of this task. Of course, people live in different countries, have different cultures, food habits, living habits, social customs and religions. These are different and they should be different. There cannot be one culture, one civilization, one government or one religion. It is neither possible nor good. But there are certain basic elements in the personality of the human being which are the same everywhere. They influence our judgements, behaviours, passions, ambitions, likes and dislikes. Cultural, social, religious and other differences have no influence on this structure. The complexities are the same. And it is in this regard that the science of yoga has something to contribute.

Beyond morality and law

In order to influence the quality of a person, we have all along been trying religious principles, social laws, ethics and morality. We have gone on the lines of: “This is bad, do not do it,” “If you do it, you will go to jail,” “It is bad for health,” “You will be condemned to hell.” These are the methods that have been adopted so far: the religious and the legal. However, in the twenty-first century, man is not going to heed to these things. He will become too arrogant and impatient to do so. The attitude of the coming century is going to be: “I do not believe that there is anyone who can put me to heel. You may control innocent children that way, but not me. I can do whatever I like. There is no one who can punish me.” Therefore, a different approach will have to be found to influence the human personality.

Tantra talks about samskaras and karma. This refers to archetypes: the thoughts that exist within the deepest sphere of our personality, not in the conscious or unconscious sphere, but even deeper. Those are the seeds from which our behaviour and attitudes spring, both good and bad. That is the bed, the very bottom. If you cannot change the bed, but only change the external, socially imposed behaviour – “I am good because I am taught to be good” – it is of no use. The base is no good, it is full of things. We may try to be good because we have been trained, forced or indoctrinated to be good. But when we become aware of this, we no longer want to be good because we do not care for social laws. Therefore, we have to send the influence to the basis of human nature, what yoga calls prakriti, samskaras. The internal range of the human personality has to be influenced.

Work with archetypes

Some years ago, a Swiss teacher, Zoe Durf, experimented with children to improve their faculties and quality of the mind. He used the methods of yantra and mandala. And he succeeded. He found that yantras and mandalas are such symbols that have the capacity to influence the unconscious, the deepest beliefs of man’s nature, its bottom most layer. The change in the intellectual personality of the children was clearly evident. Therefore, yoga teachers of the coming century should equip themselves with knowledge of the human personality. They should know how to deal with samskaras, archetypes, with the nature of man.

Just as there is physical disability, there is also mental disability. The billions of people around us are mentally all the same, more or less. You do not realize that yet, but by the coming century you will. The thinkers are coming to that point. We are all ill, physically and mentally. Why do you say that man is a sinner? Why do you not say that he is sick? It is a better definition of his personality. If someone is debauched or a criminal, don’t call him a sinner. Call him sick. That is a much better and truer definition of such a personality. Just as we have physical sicknesses, the mind is also sick. That is why we fight and steal. Mental sickness is not merely worry, anxiety or fear. There are many forms of mental sicknesses and they have to be treated systematically. It is then that the human personality will become healthy.

In order to treat the real human sickness, the methods of psychology will not help much. We have to instead use methods with which we can go deep inside the mind. We have to teach this to our students. So, alongside the teaching that you provide according to the rules and regulations of the organization to which you are affiliated, it will be necessary for you to realize the vital issue, which I call mental disability, mental illness, and adjust your teachings and knowledge. Use the methods of yoga that you know to fulfil this aspect of human life.

Healing the whole personality

People come to you now to get relaxation, or they do not get good sleep or have bad digestion so they come to you. However, a time should come when people come to you to heal their mind and personality. Someone gets angry and depressed. He beats his wife and children. What yoga will such a person practise? This is the question that students will have to ask yoga teachers. Sometimes, they do ask, but usually they don’t. They feel that yoga teachers are just teaching them a bit of relaxation and a few other things.

To equip yourself with the basic knowledge in order to handle the human personality, it will be necessary for all of you to study tantra and of course, yoga. Tantra has been misunderstood not only in the West, but everywhere. There are sects that have related tantra to sexual life. Tantra is not against sexual life, but to interpret it solely on that line is an insult to the science. Tantra does not say that you should refrain from the sensual act. It has been very liberal in this respect, but it does not say that this is the path. There are also people who practise tantra using human skulls and such things. All these unnecessary things that have entered into the body of tantra have to be removed and its basic philosophy of Purusha and Prakriti, matter and consciousness, Shiva and Shakti, has to be understood. The methods of expanding the mind and liberating the energy have to be studied. A study into the tantric system will reveal to us the nature of the man behind the man, the one who is directing all karmas, all our behaviours. Therefore, I want to tell all teachers all over the world that they should enlarge the scope of their activities.