Not Moksha But Balance – the Yoga of Swami Sivananda

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The Bihar School of Yoga tradition begins about eighty years ago with our grandfather-guru Swami Sivananda, who is one among the great saints of the last century. Swami Sivananda's ashram in Rishikesh is known as the Divine Life Society.

Yoga for all

The kind of yoga that he inspired his disciples to teach had a reason behind it. For sannyasins, the personal philosophy and the principles in their personal lives is that of Vedanta. As sannyasins we belong to the Shankaracharya's tradition, and the philosophy that we follow is Vedanta. This gives a specific direction to the lives we lead, and lays down the lines along which we live.

Swami Sivananda held the belief that sannyasins imbibe and live the philosophy of Vedanta in their own lives; there are also sadhus who disseminate and discuss dharma and philosophy in society. A person's philosophy is part of his private life. At the same time, his behaviour and interactions should be appropriate to and in keeping with the norms of society and family.

When life is well balanced within society and one's family, and alongside one is able to awaken one's spiritual consciousness, then life becomes good and complete.

Swami Sivananda said that yoga brings discipline into one's life. A sannyasin may certainly live the principles of vedantic philosophy, however to purify the body, mind and emotions and to awaken one's creative potential, yoga is necessary. Yoga is not meant for sannyasins only; it is essential for people who are members of society. Through yoga they can awaken their creativity. The purpose of yoga is to give a thrust to awaken one's creative potential.

The real need

Swami Sivananda was a scientist. As a medical doctor he had knowledge of the body and the mind. When he became a sannyasin he also developed a deep understanding of spirituality. In our tradition it is said that as long as one lives in the world, the body is the vehicle and instrument through which one does one's work, fulfils one's responsibilities and lives one's dharma to fulfil one's karmas to the fullest.

This was the view held by Swami Sivananda and which he spoke about almost eighty years ago. He believed that every individual makes an effort to attain spiritual growth and enlightenment. Sadhus and saints have also said that the aim of life is spiritual enlightenment and God-realization, yet it is not really an essential need of one's life.

Swami Sivananda clarifies this point with an illustration: A blind man has a deep desire to see the sun. It is not absolutely necessary for him to see the sun, it is just a desire. The need of the blind man is to have the ability to see, to have vision. When he acquires the ability to see, he is then able to see the entire creation made by the sun.

This is the principle Swami Sivananda talked about. The rishis, munis and mahatmas say that God-realization is the aim of man's existence. This is a delusion like that of the blind man who wants to see the sun.

One's need is not God-realization; the need is to manage one's life well and have the opportunity to express one's creative potential to its maximum in order to experience peace, plenty and prosperity. When the individual arrives at this state of peace and calm where there is no experience of lacking anything, only then does his mind embark on the next journey.

If a person is suffering from asthma and is told, "Look, my friend, you are not this body, you are the immortal soul," he will not pay any attention to what is being said. When a person is suffering from asthma, he does not need to listen to philosophy; he needs a practical method of teaching or instruction so that he can become healthy and well. Once he has attained good health it becomes possible for him to go on a different kind of quest. Hence, yoga is for physical, mental and emotional well being, and for awakening spiritual consciousness.

Need for balance

Swami Sivananda states that each individual is a combination of the faculties of head, heart and hands. These three faculties have to be cultivated, awakened and nurtured. The faculty of the head is intelligence, the ability to think. The faculty of the heart refers to emotional sensitivity, and the faculty of the hands refers to the creative expression of the individual.

If one analyses one's life it will become clear that whenever one has experienced obstacles and difficulties the source of the problem is in one of these three faculties. Either the source is emotional, or to being unable to use one's intelligence correctly. If one does not have intellectual analysis, understanding, appreciation and mental clarity, it is difficult to do work successfully and the mind is always beset by trouble and strife. If one does not have emotional stability, one is immediately affected by any fluctuation in the environment. The debilitating emotions of anger, fear, disappointment, jealousy, repulsion, hatred and competition are experienced, and this cycle becomes endless, creating disturbances in the mind. When there is no clarity or balance in the emotions or intellect, it becomes difficult to carry out any work with even a degree of competence.

If you wish to set off on the path of progress in your life, these three conditions must be well balanced and understood: thoughts, emotions and actions. Swami Sivananda made yoga the medium or support to achieve this state. He did not make moksha the goal of yoga. He saw yoga as the means to attain the fullest possible expression of creativity in your life.

—26 July 2014, Swabhoomi Rangamanch, Kolkata, India