Atmabhava Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

I believe that two people in the world have contributed immensely to realize yoga and the purpose of yoga. One was Patanjali, who described the sadhanatmak approach to yoga, the sequential approach to yoga. Then, after a gap of many hundreds of years, Swami Sivananda was the person who took the philosophy of yoga one step beyond Patanjali.

Patanjali confined himself to the sadhanatmak, the practical aspect, and Swami Sivananda brought in the component of vyavaharatmak, the applied, expressive aspect. Just as there are eight limbs of yoga according to Patanjali, there are eight limbs of yoga according to Sivananda. And Sivananda yoga begins where Patanjali yoga stops. You go through the practice and perfection of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana and get established in the state of dhyana.

When you are established in the meditative state, have acquired wisdom and that wisdom has become stable, sthitaprajna, then you may live your life like a normal person, but your intentions and motivations, the direction of the flow of your energies have changed. Previously they were selfish, now they have become selfless, previously they were self-oriented and self-centred, now they have become universal and expansive. Previously you would only think of your own pleasure and happiness, now you begin to think of the pleasure and happiness of others. The eight-fold path of Sivananda yoga is: serve, love, give, purify, be good, do good, meditate, realize.

After dhyana and samadhi, an expression of the balanced and harmonious nature is seen in service. What is service? It is involving oneself with karma, action, but there is a difference. Initially, karmas were performed to satisfy your own self, now they are intended to help uplift another person. Initially there was an expectation in the service provided by you to others, now there is no expectation, but only kartavya, inherent duty. Previously you would serve those you considered your own, now your actions reach out to everyone. And that is atmabhava. Meditation has to eventually give birth to atmabhava.

Atmabhava is the ability to see oneself reflected in another person. You see your reflection in your offspring and are connected with him, sympathize with him, love him and believe that the child is yours because it is born of your womb. You are able to see a reflection of the nature of your soul in that child. However, when you are able to see your own reflection in everyone, that is called atmabhava. And service happens most efficiently when there is atmabhava.

There was an incident in Swami Sivananda’s life. One day a pilgrim on his way to Badrinath came to him. In those days there were no roads or cars, only bullock-carts and one’s two legs. The pilgrim was sick. He came to Swami Sivananda’s dispensary, described his problem and Sivanandaji gave him some medicine. The pilgrim went on his way. Three hours later, Swami Sivananda felt that the medicine was not the appropriate one, a better one could have been given instead. He called Swami Satyananda and said, “Locate that pilgrim and give him this medicine because it is the right one. I have given him the wrong medicine.” Imagine what Swami Satyananda had to do to accomplish this task!

This is a story of atmabhava. It was not necessary for Swami Sivananda to go through this motion of over-compassion. If you were the doctor, what would you have done? Nothing. But not Swami Sivananda. He did not ignore the suffering of any individual or his responsibility, his commitment, dharma or kartavya. That was because he was able to see the divine presence in everyone.

Who will go through such pains to provide this kind of service today? Nobody. However, service is the only way that God has given to us to ensure that others are helped. Service means co-operation. In nature everything exists for others. The human being is the only creature who lives for himself alone. And this selfish, self-centred human being wants to achieve the divine and the transcendental without any effort! Until and unless we are convinced and have the strength of character to walk the path, we will not be able to achieve anything.

Service is the first expression of Sivananda yoga after having come to the state of meditation and atmabhava. As you serve more and more, as you connect yourself with people more and more, you purify yourself internally and an unconditioned love emanates from your being touching everyone. The love of an enlightened being is universal and unconditional. Just as the rays of the sun shine equally on all, the love that radiates from the personality of an enlightened being embraces all.

Bangalore, 24 February, 2007