The Yoga of Swami Sivananda

From the teachings of Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

When one turns a self-oriented karma into a selfless karma, it becomes seva. If the harmonium had a mind of its own, it may think, "Oh, I play really well." However, the harmonium cannot play itself. If an adept player plays it, the melody will be harmonious. If a first-timer tries to play, the melody will be disharmonious. Therefore, it is the player who is important.

When the aspirant understands that he is only a medium to fulfil a destiny, but something else is playing him, the first level of surrender comes. He says to himself, "I am not the doer. I am not the performer; I am only a box like a harmonium. Somebody is playing me, sometimes in accord, sometimes not, and with each melody, one part of my destiny is being fulfilled." The final commandment of yoga is ishwara pranidhana, complete dedication to the indestructible reality. It is the first stage in transforming self-oriented karma into selfless karma and leads to purification of the emotions.

Start with service

Swami Sivananda, in his practical eightfold path of yoga, has placed service on the first rung. Service or connecting with those in need helps to purify oneself. He says, "Do not fight attachments as they are a part of every individual." He gives the example of drops of black ink put in a cup of water. Does the water turn black or does the ink turn watery? If one wants to clear the water of the dark ink of selfish attachments, more water or selfless attachment has to be added. When the selfishness of attachment is diluted and one's attachment is directed not to one but to ten, not to ten but to a hundred, not to a hundred but to a thousand, the selfishness of one's attachment is divided by a thousand. The selfishness of attachments is reduced by including more people in the fold of one's life.

When more people are included, one experiences the eternal human connection that transcends intellect and feelings. It shows that one is a part of that unified field known as G-O-D, the source of Generation, Organization and Destruction. It is consciousness which creates, sustains and destroys. It is also the concept of ishwara pranidhana, leading to purification of the heart, due to expansion of one's perceptions and awareness.

Transformation and reconnection

Sage Patanjali teaches the yoga of personal transformation, which is the first stage. Swami Sivananda teaches the yoga of reconnecting with the world after having transformed oneself. That is the last stage. After the samadhi of Sage Patanjali, one starts with service, becoming active again in the world, but this time as an enlightened being, not as an ignorant fool who only cares for himself. For an enlightened being everyone's needs become one's own needs.

Just as Sage Patanjali speaks of ‘yama', Swami Sivananda speaks of ‘seva'. Sage Patanjali speaks of ‘niyama'; Swami Sivananda speaks of ‘love'. Through service, one embraces the whole world into the love and sentiment of oneness. There is no isolation from anybody, but connection with everybody, bringing light into the life of everyone. Sage Patanjali speaks of ‘asana'; Swami Sivananda says ‘give'. Sage Patanjali speaks of ‘pranayama'; Swami Sivananda says ‘purify'. Through giving, one is able to remove every remnant of the dross from life and purify oneself. Sage Patanjali speaks of ‘pratyahara'; Swami Sivananda says ‘do good'. The responses are now conscious and appropriate; the understanding is based on dharma and nyaya, the spiritually correct way. Therefore, one does good, whereas previously one did not have that understanding. When one does good, one is good. The goodness flowering within illuminates one from inside. When Sage Patanjali speaks of ‘dhyana', Swami Sivananda says ‘meditate'. Meditation comes forth once again; however, this time it is not for a selfish purpose, but with the realization that God pervades the entire nature. Finally, Sage Patanjali speaks of ‘samadhi' and Swami Sivananda says ‘realize'. Here they speak of the same.

Sage Patanjali's ashtanga yoga represents the personal aspect of self-transformation, and Swami Sivananda's yoga represents the expression of that yogic attainment in practical life.

The quality of humanity

Living the principles of Sivananda yoga brings people together; it binds them and develops a force of conviction, faith and a belief, not in God alone, but in the quality of humanity. This belief in the quality of humanity is higher and more satisfying than a belief in God. God is always there as the last resource. Whenever one wants to see God, one only has to open the door of the heart. Therefore, it is not too difficult, but to see the qualitative goodness in humanity is difficult. By living these principles it was found through the ages that a qualitative life can be lived, which Swami Sivananda called the ‘divine life'.