Swami Satyananda Saraswati was one of the foremost yogis of contemporary India. He attained Mahasamadhi on 5th December 2009 and the events leading up to it are vividly described in Yoga magazine (January–February 2010). There are lessons in his death for all of us, as much as there are lessons from his life.
Swami Satyananda left the world in the manner, place and time of his own choosing, what our scriptures describe as iccha mrityu. He simply inhaled and with a deep breath withdrew his pranas from his body, seated in padmasana and in meditation. No wonder there was no mourning following his death because even in death he had achieved perfection.
Through his death he has given us what can best be described as a ‘doctrine for death’, and thereby also a doctrine for living. The message is clear: if you want to die well, then you must live in accordance with certain principles. Consequently, this implies that if you know how to die, then you also know how to live.
What are these principles that gave the Mahayogi iccha mrityu, and which we all need to inculcate in our daily life? First, is nishkama karma, perfect action by dedicating the outcome to God and without taking credit for it. For over half a century Swami Satyananda worked quietly in Munger, Bihar, and Rikhia village, Jharkhand, and created two of the finest temples: Bihar School of Yoga, a yoga institute dedicated to acquiring wisdom, and Rikhiapeeth, a medium for connecting with other people through service, love and sharing.
For over two decades before his death, Swami Satyananda worked relentlessly with the tribal population in Rikhia panchayat empowering the kanyas and batuks, the young girls and boys, with the tools that would help them build their lives and also serve society. He was always humble about these sterling achievements; no pomp, no show. It recalls the famous quote of former US President Harry Truman: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
This brings us to the second principle: seva. If we only focus on gaining wisdom and do not let it flow into our actions, then that wisdom is of no use. Wisdom is enhanced and grows by sharing. This was the main teaching of Sri Swamiji and he was eminently able to walk his talk.
The third lesson is leadership. Swami Satyananda not only created two world-class institutions, but also groomed the next generation of leaders to take forward the good work. His successor, Swami Niranjanananda, has already been freed from his social and institutional obligations so that he can concentrate full time on sadhanas and carrying the legacy forward. Swami Satyasangananda is the peethadishwari of Rikhiapeeth and Swami Suryaprakash, who has been groomed by Swami Niranjanananda, is the president of Bihar School of Yoga. There is no parallel for such leadership planning in the world today.
Last but not least, Swami Satyananda taught us how to be fearless by developing the right attitude towards death. According to him, death is not the culmination of life. In fact he wrote: “The steps of life begin at the threshold of death. Death is the river that unites two streams of life. O priests of death! Through the voice of the funeral fires, through the melody of the funeral pyres, sing the sweet song of the union of life.”
In Kali Yuga, when all of us are getting more and more cynical and desperate, the life and death of the Mahayogi Sri Swami Satyananda shines like a beacon of hope and a source of inspiration. His biggest legacy for us householders is his doctrine for death. All we have to do is to cull our strategy for living from this. Do we have the humility and the wisdom to understand and more importantly implement this? Well, nothing stops us.