Thoughts on Culture

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Sri Swami Satyananda said that ‘yoga will become the culture of tomorrow’. What did he mean when he used the word ‘culture’? How do you define culture? Do you have culture in you? Are you cultured? If you are cultured then what is that culture? If you are not cultured then what is lacking in you? What is the meaning, what is the definition of the word culture?

Long journey

Culture is something that you adopt to live a better life, to have a better expression, a better mind, a better understanding, a better response. The positive, creative and constructive expressions of your life become the culture. If through the practice of yoga you are able to confront the destructive, distorted and negative and are able to cultivate the positive, constructive and creative, then yoga will become the human culture in the course of time.

For this an appropriate understanding of yoga has to develop. Just through the practice of asana and pranayama you cannot expect to have a yogic culture. There are nine million people who play golf every day and there are six million people who practise yoga every day. Does that mean that all six million people are cultured, does that mean that the nine million people who play golf are masters? No.

Culture is an awareness to improve one’s expressions, qualities and performances in life. It is an awareness which is attainable with antaranga yoga, the inner yoga. The inner yoga is a long journey as each civilization develops a mind set which is unique to the ideas of that civilization. Western civilization has its own ideas, eastern civilizations have their own ideas, and many times they are not compatible as each civilization has given birth to a particular idea or belief which has become part of the human expression and culture.

Yoga has to be seen in a pragmatic way as to how it can help smoothen the spikes of the mind which are not uniform in each individual throughout the world. Therefore, it is a long journey in which you try to discover yourself.


One of the major difficulties which I have encountered between the east and the west is the concept of meditation. I have seen people in the west meditate and I have seen people in the east meditate. The experiences are different in both groups. In the west, when people meditate they tend to encounter more of what they have suppressed. The emotional and mental stuff comes up because in the west the trend is ‘Control your emotion, don’t show them, don’t project them’. Children are told, “Don’t cry, you are a man, you are a boy, boys don’t cry.” Emotions are blocked and suppression takes place right from day one when children are told that people don’t cry. A simple statement creates a state of suppression in the mind.

In the east, people cry as much as they want, let there be river of tears but that expression is permitted. There is less emotional suppression in the east. If these two people meditate who will have a better experience and who will have a bad experience.

If you analyse the traits of the mind which is the gift of every civilization, you will discover that certain traits are difficult to deal with and you have to struggle and work hard to break the barrier. Certain people can easily overcome, bypass, transcend and change their mind set for there is nothing suppressed and covered by layers and layers of imposed ideas. There is a big difference between how Asians and westerners adhere to the spiritual concepts and ideas. There is a clear distinction which I have observed over the last fifty years.

Sometimes I wonder whether meditation is the right technique to be taught in the west. Maybe it should not be taught. Maybe some other form has to develop which can allow the emotions to open up without creating a crisis in one’s life. There are many things that should not be practised by westerners until they come to a point where they are clear inside. There are many things which should not be practised by easterners until they come to a point of clarity and understanding within themselves.

The challenge

There are many millions of practitioners of yoga around the world yet there are few people who have actually experienced the benefits of yoga in the east as well as in the west. There are few people who have had the complete perspective of what yoga has to offer and this is something that we need to be aware of. To practise meditation for relaxation and developing spiritual awareness is only an idea not a reality.

The reality is confronting the distorted and disturbed states that manifests from time to time with conviction, strength, optimism and hope. The reality is not allowing oneself to be swayed by the powers of negativity. That is where the challenge lies, that is where the challenge lies.

17 May 2015, Ganga Darshan, Munger