Introducing the Convention

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

This World Yoga Convention is going to be an important event in the history of yoga, as it will give a new approach, direction and understanding of how we can incorporate yogic principles and practices in our life at this time, to really try to develop our nature and personality.

First World Yoga Convention

In 1953 in Rishikesh, Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati held the first convention which he called Parliament of Yoga and World Religions. For the first time, the concept, practices and principles of yoga were made publicly available. At that time, the vision of Swami Sivananda was that each person can lead a divine life. Each person can be engrossed, involved and entangled in material life, yet make the effort to realize the higher nature, to develop the hidden potentials and to lead a divine life. It was with this sankalpa that Swami Sivananda conducted the first yoga convention. In 1953, yoga was an unknown subject in India, as well as the world. Yoga was primarily seen as a practice that yogis and recluses who were cloistered away from society would adopt to gain enlightenment. That was the concept of yoga. Swami Sivananda was the first one who proclaimed yoga for the development of human nature and for the cultivation of the qualities of the head, heart and hands. His ideas became the foundation stones for the development of the Satyananda Yoga-Bihar Yoga Tradition.

Thus, the focus of the convention at the time of Swami Sivananda was to realize the different dimensions of existence that one lives in. One does not live in the physical dimension and sensorial dimension only, although one identifies with them. These are not the only dimensions in which one interacts using the mind, senses, emotions and spirit. To lead the divine life, while continuing to live in the material world, is made the effort to cultivate the spiritual nature to live a qualitative, sattwic life and to sublimate the gross human tendencies. That was the thrust of the first yoga convention.

Second World Yoga Convention

Sri Swamiji held the second yoga convention in 1973, in Munger. At that time, the focus of the World Yoga Convention became the global propagation of yoga. Sri Swamiji always had the thought and vision that yoga should be taught by people who have perfected yoga in their life, and not by common yoga teachers. He was able to foresee that in the future there would be hundreds and thousands of 'book yoga teachers', who would just pick up a book, look at a few postures, start teaching people and claim that they know yoga. Today, one sees that happening in practically every part of the country and every part of the world. Therefore, envisaging that this would happen in the future, he started the training of yoga to sannyasins.

Sri Swamiji combined sannyasa and yoga together; prior to that, yoga and sannyasa were different. Nevertheless, his aspirations were that the selfless and dedicated people who sincerely take up yoga as sadhana, who live according to the principles of yoga with commitment, and who are not just flirting on the fringes like many people do, they would become the messengers of yoga. Keeping this in mind, in order to sustain the tradition of yoga into the future as well, Sri Swamiji started training sannyasins in yoga, and training people in sannyasa.

After the 1973 convention, the yoga movement around the world took a giant leap, and many centres, ashrams and teachers were created around the world, who continued to propagate the system of yoga that Sri Swamiji had envisioned: propagation of yoga, research into yoga, discovering yoga, and learning ways to apply yoga in our life and in society.

Third World Yoga Convention

The third World Yoga Convention was held in 1993, in Munger. Swami Sivananda conducted one, Sri Swamiji conducted one, and I conducted one. In the 1993 convention, the emphasis was on the creation of a global yoga charter; which was accomplished. According to the charter, projects were implemented to help social development, individual development, and the generation and attainment of human creativity. After this convention, yoga went into the professional fields: to industries, to various sectors and strata of society, to government departments, the army, to organizations, to doctors in the medical field and to other professionals. The practices of yoga were applied to give benefit to people who were suffering from specific needs and problems, across the board.

Yoga gained stability and status, and a glimpse of yoga's potential was seen at the third World Yoga Convention.

Focus of the WYC

In one month's time, we shall be hosting the fourth World Yoga Convention. I have been thinking about what the focus of the convention should be. For this, I have been observing everyone: the sannyasins, students, visitors, guests and even those living yoga outside, who I do not see or meet on a regular basis. Each and every one has been under my scanner. I have been observing how people are living yoga, how much they have attained, how much progress they have made. Based on this picture, I feel we have to refocus our energies, our intentions and our commitment to the cultivation of spiritual awareness and the development of the spiritual qualities within us. In this refocusing, three qualities are necessary: one has to be sincere; one has to be serious in what one does; and one should be committed. I am using these three ideas for this convention.

You have a very rich inheritance, tradition and collection of teachings given by Swami Sivananda and Sri Swamiji. Yet, how much of those teachings do you follow? Think about it. Many people will say they regularly practise yoga, however, asana, pranayama, kundalini or kriya yoga is not necessarily yoga. People mostly practise asana and pranayama for physical reasons and purposes: to gain flexibility or to feel light, yet beyond that, what is the purpose of asana in your life? It is the same with meditation. People practise meditation to stop the chatter of their agitated mind; that is all. Meditation is not practised to cultivate the inherent strength of character, or mental clarity, wisdom and understanding. So where is the sincerity, seriousness or commitment in this approach to yoga?

Coming to the ashram to have a good time is not enough. You can have a better time in Disneyland. The ashram is not Disneyland. The ashram is a place where you try to live and experience the teachings of the masters. The ashram is the place where you learn to observe and overcome, transform and transcend your weaknesses, negative traits and shortcomings. It is a place where you can become aware of the inner strength that can be cultivated to improve life; yet you are entangled with your own minds. You become so entangled with likes and dislikes, ambitions, needs and desires, that the focus on the aim is lost.

Therefore, along with yoga, the theme of the convention will be the qualities that allow the individual to grow in spiritual life, the qualities of sincerity, seriousness and commitment. Place a tick in your mind if you are serious; or a cross in your mind if you are not. Do the same with sincerity and commitment. How many crosses and how many ticks do you have? For most people, the crosses will be more and the ticks will be less.

New direction

In participating and helping out, be aware of this direction of the convention. After all, what is yoga? Hatha yoga will not necessarily transform your mind. Similarly, you may have practised raja yoga with yoga nidra, ajapa japa, antar mouna, or chidakasha dharana, yet you have not been able to pacify your mind. The flaw is in the personal understanding and approach to yoga. You think that meditation should be practised in the morning and forgotten during the day. With this attitude, meditation only becomes a twenty-minute practice that you sit down, close your eyes, and do. The meditative awareness, however, is never maintained during the course of the day.

If you can maintain one positive mood and state of mind for twenty-four hours, without fluctuating, then you will qualify to become a yogi. If your mood fluctuates, hour to hour, moment to moment, you can be staying in the ashram or practising yoga for a lifetime, it does not matter, you will still not be considered a yogi, rather, you will be considered a bhogi, one who is going through the enjoyment and suffering of the mind. A bhogi is one who goes through the enjoyments of suffering and pleasure. People derive enjoyment in suffering too. They have more enjoyment in suffering than they have in pleasure, which they share freely with everyone around them, while happiness becomes a more personal experience.

If you can maintain one mood, one state of mind for twenty-four hours – happiness, contentment, shanti, fulfillment – then you will qualify to be a yogi. However, if you change from hour to hour because somebody says something to you and you react, either happily or unhappily, then do not put yourself in the category of a yogi; instead, put yourself in the category of a bhogi who fluctuates and who has not yet found the point of balance and equilibrium. Analyse yourself, gauge yourself. Are you a bhogi or are you are a yogi? That is the Niranjan challenge. Smile for twenty-four hours, not only with your mouth, but also with your mind and heart.

Re-creating oneself for a beautiful world

Understand one thing: rather than the practices of yoga, it is how you gain the ability to restructure yourself that is the main theme of yoga: re-creation of the human nature. When you go to school, you write your homework or whatever task you are given in notebooks, and that is given to the teacher. The teacher checks the essay that you have written. With red ink, he makes corrections and at the end he writes the score that you have attained, indicating whether you have passed or failed. You get your notebook back and look at all the corrections the teacher has made. The sincere student analyses why something has been crossed, and why something has been okayed. Using this, the sincere and committed student tries to rectify his train of thought and understanding, and in the next exam tries to perform better.

Since 1953, your gurus have given you a task. Some people have the courage and the guts to show what they have written; and other people do not have the courage or the guts to show what they have written and they hide the book. They do not want the teacher to see what they have written and they do not want the teacher to use the red ink to cross out their pages. However, those few who dare and who want to educate themselves, they overcome their fear and they go with their notebook to the teacher. The teacher can cross out pages and pages; nonetheless, the sincere student observes why the teacher is crossing out their pages and what they need to do. Those students are very few.

Do not expect too much of yoga if you are not in that boat. However, if you want to develop yourself, then commit yourself, be sincere and be serious. Only then will you be able to gain something, otherwise, spending your time in spiritual pursuits will be a total waste of time.

I now feel the urgency for people to understand this aspect of yoga, where personal commitment has to be highlighted. That will be the aspiration of this convention. If you can improve your commitment, I can assure you that in the course of time, you shall be ready to contribute to the growth and development of human life on this beautiful planet.

—22 September 2013, Ganga Darshan, Munger