Group Dynamics and Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

After establishing the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger, I put myself in touch with scientific experiments being conducted all over the world in relation to the effects of yoga on the human personality. Generations of people in western countries have faced tremendous problems, which have ultimately led them to the great task of investigating a science about which they had been hearing for a long time. Medical doctors and scientists started conducting experiments to ascertain the effects of yoga practices on the mind, body, human behaviour and psychological performance.

A part of the whole

We have collected enough material to show that yoga is not confined to individual personal and spiritual evolution. Yoga has something to contribute to the development of a universal mental atmosphere. We have always thought that an individual is a separate unit and that the mind is an offshoot of the brain. The brain thinks and there is nothing beyond matter. However, yoga definitely knows that the mind is more than physical matter and that the individual mind is part of a great, homogeneous and universal mind. Just as the light burning here is not a separate unit by itself but part of a great complex, directly and indirectly connected with other lights elsewhere, similarly, this human mind, which everyone possesses, is part of the whole. Since we are part of the whole, we can influence the whole, but because we have isolated our consciousness and misinterpreted our minds and personalities, we have been suffering from the experience of isolation and separation.

Beyond isolation

Where there is isolation and separation there cannot be a team, a collectivity or togetherness. This has been the problem in modern western countries. Civilization has undergone a great change. Different types of people have come together in order to fulfil a task for a society as well as a nation. The individual nature, temperament and cultural status come with the people when they come together to fulfil a task. The scientific experiments made on yoga have proved that man can transcend the limitations of his individuality and individual mind and can direct his mind towards homogeneity and universality.

The mind is not an expression of the brain. The mind can exist without the brain, which is only physical matter. In yoga, the mind is known as chitta. Chitta is not only a thinking, feeling or planning instrument, but it is homogeneity of individual consciousness. Chitta can be expanded beyond the borders of this physical body. Experiments in Kirlian photography have proved beyond all expectations that an individual can expand his consciousness and capacities of his mind. When the mind is individualized, then it becomes egocentric. When you make the mind free from egocentricity, then it becomes universal and homogeneous.

Concentration and meditation

The powers of the mind in this respect can be enlarged by the practices of concentration and meditation. In the language of science the practices of concentration and meditation influence the brainwave patterns. At different levels of meditation and concentration, the brainwaves have been seen to undergo a great transformation. It has been observed by doctors, psychologists and neurophysiologists at the University of Barcelona in Spain that during the practice of mantra chanting the brainwaves are transformed to alpha intensity. When the brain undergoes a physical transformation with the help of the yogic practices of concentration and meditation, it can definitely be reflected in a person's behaviour, outlook and reactions. In this way, society, its institutions and groups are affected by the influence of the mind and the brain. The practices of concentration enlarge the mental capacities and the mind becomes capable of connecting itself with various individuals. The mind is capable of inducing one thought in different minds at the same time. A stronger, more capable and focused mind can make people feel, think and act in one direction. This is how our institutions, monasteries and ashrams are conducted throughout the world. Tens of thousands of people can be brought under the influence of one homogeneous concept and one universal contact.

In relation to this, there are two striking definitions of yoga. Firstly, yoga is efficiency in one's own actions and duties. Secondly, yoga is balance of mind while doing one's duty. Therefore, when we talk about yoga we are talking about a science which not only takes care of the physical body and vitality but also of a great potential in this physical structure.

The need for transformation

Sannyasins and yogis in the past, after leaving their homes, went to the Himalayas where they practiced yoga to enlarge their consciousness. Then, with their increased capacity of consciousness, they descended to society to give guidance. In India, we need yoga now more than ever, not because we are a religious people, or the one nation dedicated to a sattwic system of society and living, but also because we have to show the rest of the world that external life and internal life can go hand in hand.

Western nations have been facing great difficulties in their individual and social lives and have been trying every possible method, from medical science to psychology, from acupuncture to Zen Buddhism. They have been trying everything to correct this situation. Ultimately, they have come to the conclusion that unless transformation of the individual mind takes place, nothing can be achieved in one's personal and social life. We can talk about thousands of people coming together and working for a cause. It is an attractive idea and a tempting slogan. As a nation we can always think, that we are working to build up the nation. But is this the spirit speaking or is this only a slogan? I think it is only a slogan.

The real spirit can never come unless expansion of consciousness takes place. A mother can never feel the sufferings of her child unless her consciousness is expanded and united with that of the child. Two people who love each other can never feel the happiness and the sufferings of one another on the spiritual plane unless there is union. This union is not an intellectual or hypothetical affair, but an actual fusion of two, three or hundreds of temperaments.

Let us work together

In an institution, in an industry and also in society, hundreds of people come together to work. Maybe they do so because we use persuasion or give them a slogan or make them more conscious of their duty. This is how we can lead them to perform their duties in a better way. However, it may be possible to give them an opportunity to expand their consciousness beyond the frontiers of their own minds and bodies, so that union and homogeneity takes place between the two or three thousand people who are working in that institution. This spiritual union occurs even without the individual knowing the details and the importance of group performance.

In my opinion, an organization is nothing but a total fusion of this spiritual possibility. If this spiritual evolution of the mind is realized by the society and its organizations, then we can definitely assure not only the generations of today, but also of posterity, that our performances and our achievements will be more spontaneous. There will be less fluctuation, less compulsion and also less philosophical interpretation of the meaning of union.

Yoga means union. If thousands of people all over the world can be influenced by one thought, one philosophy, then we will have a different society altogether. I have been visualizing in my mind ever since 1956 that yoga is emerging as a very powerful way of life which is going to influence and alter the events of the world. I am not talking in the sense of a political power to come, but in the sense of a descent of a new form of consciousness. It is said in the mantra of the Rig Veda, "Let us go together, speak together, think together, let our mantra be the same, our institutions, our deliberations be the same."

We are forever talking about a community where people live, work, enjoy and suffer together, but we have never as yet formulated the warp and means for creating such a community. For centuries and centuries, we have always tried to brainwash the intellect of man. Today we know what we would like, but we cannot accomplish it practically, because all of us are intellectually divorced. We have not been tackled emotionally and spiritually. Intellectually I know everything and I know that you too know everything. However, it must be possible to feel it on an emotional plane, because in order to develop such a society, we have to work on spiritual and emotional planes.

The ashram

All over the world, I have been experimenting with certain pilot projects on the basis of our ancient ashram systems, which have unfortunately undergone a period of decline. In our communities hundreds of boys and girls are working. They work with a spirit. We have printing presses, agricultural lands, dairy farms, yoga classes, libraries and seminars. Gradually, we are going to add many more activities. It is necessary for all these boys and girls to develop mentally to a particular point of homogeneity. Sometimes I find that one of the members of a community is out of the group homogeneity. He has difficulties with the community and the community has difficulties with him. Therefore, we have made it very simple for them. In the morning, when we begin work, all the people from the community join together, We hold their minds together for twenty minutes, either by mantra chanting or by the practice of asanas or meditation, and we find that those communities work better in every way.

I have a very big band of sannyasins and most of them are young. Quite a few joined me at the age of four, five and six, and most have joined me at the age of eighteen or nineteen. They are boys and girls of tender age, who have kept up their promises, who remembered the words they uttered at the time of dedication and at the time of sannyasa. Their dedication has not been intellectual and I tell all of them that even if they are absolutely dedicated to me and to yoga, they will be able to do nothing unless they spend sometime every day in the practice of dhyana yoga. Therefore, all of them are expected to practice dhyana yoga for the expansion of their consciousness and for the fusion of the different minds of the community into one mesh. In this way, in an organization of hundreds of sannyasins we work as one mind. The creation of one mind is possible through the practice of meditation, not by slogans or intellectual brainwashing.

In the context of our present society, where affairs are becoming more and more complex, where we face problems in our personal, family and professional lives, it is necessary for everybody to pick up one set of yoga practices suitable for the body and mind. The purpose of picking up those practices is to expand your consciousness and to become part of the whole institution. Then thousands of people belonging to an organization will be unified by one universality. When this universality and homogeneity come then the mantra of the Rig Veda will become a truth. This is the truth of living, working, achieving, suffering and enjoying together.

Yoga needs a teacher or guide and it needs a special place as well. Your house is a nice place to practice yoga, but it is not the right place to learn yoga. A place is required where you can learn properly and that is called an ashram. A teacher is required for the transformation of the human personality, the evolution of the human mind and the betterment of our individual circumstances. It is even more important that we know the theories and ideas of yoga.

Purpose of yoga

We have forgotten the soul of our nation and existence for which our ancestors strived so earnestly _ yoga. We have forgotten that yoga is a therapy and a way of making peace and becoming free from tensions. Perhaps this does not matter, but we have even forgotten the part which yoga can play in our national resurgence. We have forgotten that yoga can weave a new fabric into our lives. Yoga can give a new personality to the world. At the moment, there are many gurus worldwide, not in the spiritual but in the technological ranks. Today, the social thinkers, philosophers and even the churches of the world are looking towards yoga. Thousands of boys and girls are looking to yoga. They know it is the true vision of reality in relation to the flow of life.

For centuries our ancestors have fulfilled the task of upholding yoga, and now it is up to us. This is possible, if all of us can see just one thing _ that yoga can expand the individual mind to bring about a fusion, a union, a merger of millions and millions of circuits together into one. This is how yoga thinks of fulfilling the stupendous task that is before us, and the system of yoga which I teach is dedicated to this particular ideal.

—Ranchi, India, 7 January 1979

Yoga ashram

Yoga schools and centres must have the opportunity to experience ashram life. Ashram life is another yoga. Just as we have bhakti yoga, karma yoga and jnana yoga, we also have ashram life yoga. Many people come to the ashram and, without practicing any specific yoga, find great transformations taking place in their awareness and personality. With that transformed state of mind, when they return to their home, their performances and the quality of their contribution are greatly improved.

We have yoga schools where students come to take lessons on yoga. They derive great benefits from these practices. However, it is possible that the benefits derived from the practice of yoga are weakened through the experiences of day-to-day life. The effects of yoga become stable only when we develop a new way of thinking and interacting. When we are exposing students to the ashram life of sadhana, karma yoga and community living, we are exposing them to a new outlook, which they will then be able to develop and apply in relation to their family and community.

An ashram should accommodate comfortably thirty to forty people at a time. Teachers can bring their students from time to time and use the ashram as a sort of retreat. The garden should be big, because, if there is no garden in the ashram, there is no karma yoga, except in the kitchen. Karma yoga is an inseparable part of an ashram and also the most important part of yoga.

The house, castle or mansion may be beautiful, but if the foundations are not laid properly, they will collapse sooner or later. Raja yoga, bhakti yoga and all other forms of yoga, including kriya yoga, are founded on the bedrock of karma yoga. Karma yoga is selfless service and an act which gives a direction to the mind without any selfishness.

In the science and practice of karma yoga, we create an act which does not create another act but eliminates, counterbalances or annihilates a previous act. By karma yoga we become free from the chain of karma. On the other hand, by karma we create a chain of karma and, if the chain is continued by selfish actions, and at the same time we are trying to practice yoga and experience deeper and greater awareness, we will find great difficulties. Not only in yoga but also in religions, selfless service has its own important place.

Ashram life balances the emotions, pacifies the mental nuisances and improves the qualities of inner experience. From time to time, everyone should live a life of karma yoga.

Other practices or sadhanas like mouna, fasting, satsang, keeping an all night vigil or kirtan improve the quality of awareness and the state of mind. They can only be done in the ashram, not because of a guru, but because the ashram atmosphere gives guidance and acts as a lighthouse.

—London, England, 10 February 1983