The Legacy of a Saint

Rishi Nityabodhananda Saraswati, Australia

What can you say about a person who has been in the centre of your mind for your whole life! Sri Swami Satyananda was a guru, a father, and a totally loyal friend. Many times I failed him, but he never failed me. He had the sweetness to melt any heart and the sternness to evoke fear and obedience. Sri Swamiji gave my life meaning, purpose and direction. Often life has led me away from my purpose, so that I would have to deal with the mundane necessities, yet the purpose was always calling.

Sri Swamiji’s personality was a combination of poise, intelligence, humour, love and genius, and this marked his dynamic work ethic. He never tired. All his work was done with others, by others, through others and for others, and he always inspired effort beyond our limits. He started with a briefcase inscribed ‘International Yoga Fellowship Movement’ and within a year had established Bihar School of Yoga (BSY). The rest is history.

When he left Munger, Sri Swamiji said, “My duty is over.” All the Ganga Darshan buildings were empty with just a few swamis’ footsteps echoing in the vacant halls as they worked to keep everything clean. A few ignorant skeptics used to say he had created a white elephant. Within a few years, the entire complex was at full capacity with waiting lists for all courses, and the institution is the pride of Munger and Bihar.

Life with Sri Swamiji was simply, great. We learned to think in uncomplicated ways, we loved each other and all the people we were involved with. And he was always at the hub, everything went through him, all authority rested with him. Through him we learned to ask for a pencil, a key, a piece of paper, or a huge amount of money for a major project. It is not easy to express in words the depths of our feeling for him, but it was through him that we awoke to those feelings within us. Sri Swamiji was original; his own experience of yoga was based on the expansion of awareness through purification. While all the books and teachers of the past based their teachings on being good and kind and observation of various ethics, Sri Swamiji never imposed these messages in his life or teachings. He used to say that purification was not a moral or ethical issue to be superimposed on an impure mind. While the yoga world was busy practicing pranayama and meditation, he knew that the ultimate experience could not be reached without purification. The test for a purified mind is to be able to live naturally with the five yamas of Patanjali, or Bhagavad Gita’s Amritashtakam.

Sri Swamiji knew these verses not as a practice, but as an experience. He used to say that elimination of karmas, both good and bad, is done through working for the needs of others – through karma yoga. It is Sri Swamiji’s legacy that we know and attempt to practice this attitude.

Sri Swamiji has left us with the knowledge that rather than strut around the world stage as yoga teachers, we are on duty to serve the needs of others. The difference is immense: the teacher is only aware of his own ability to string words together and make people listen to him, while the server relates his own deep feelings for the subject and to others’ thirst for an inner connection with the sacred and divine.

In the early days at BSY, Sri Swamiji never mentioned God. Our ashram never hung an image of any god or guru except Swami Sivananda’s. Sri Swamiji used to say that atman resides in the heart. He was quite strict about it and never liked us having his image in our rooms, but we loved him so much we secretly did have them.

Later, in Rikhia, Sri Swamiji became less accessible; indeed, we were lucky to see him for a few minutes when we went to Rikhia, but he did not leave us with a void. He gave us gods to worship. We began to love chanting the Ramayana, to visit Christ in his kutir, to be with Devi and participate in her poojas, and recently Lord Shiva was introduced in the Mahamrityunjaya yajna. Sri Swamiji came out less and less and left us with God and more forms of God.

Sri Swamiji was a sannyasin in every sense of the word. He had control of vast wealth and thousands of devotees, yet he never kept it for himself; everything was for others. He was truly a great human being, and I am so fortunate to have been under his influence for so long in this life. Yet, his influence has not passed with his passing. When a parent dies, we experience a kind of liberation from their requests, but with Sri Swamiji his spirit lives on within us as if he has never gone.