The Role of Bihar Yoga Bharati

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Today is the first anniversary of Bihar Yoga Bharati which is the academic wing of Bihar School of Yoga. It is also the 109th birthday of our Paramguru, Swami Sivananandaji. What should the role of Bihar Yoga Bharati be for future generations? Previous speakers who have worked during the past year for the growth and development of yoga on an external, social level have presented three main ideas. Firstly, yoga should be taught in a more experiential way than occurs in a classroom situation. Secondly, the education which is given to everyone should have the purpose of developing humbleness, faith and compassion. Thirdly, there should be a recognition of the needs and requirements of every individual who comes here for personal reasons, whether their purpose is to obtain another qualification which could help them socially and financially, or whether they have come with the purpose of learning yoga for their own personal use and sadhana.

Balancing the academic and personal aspects

My ideas are slightly different. We all have different aspirations towards something we wish to do, perfect and achieve. People come to yoga for different reasons, with different aims, whether it is for health or mental peace or the desire to awaken kundalini or to attain samadhi. We are talking about two different things: the aim of the institution and the aim of yoga. The aim of yoga is both personal and universal, but the aim of the institution is social and academic. Therefore, at least in our case, the academic and the social aspect has to be balanced with the personal and the universal.

The modern trend of education in society is to educate a person in a skill which provides a qualification to get a job; and to use the skills in the job – whether it is maths, chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, science, arts, commerce – all the different subjects which are at present taught uniformly across the globe. This is job-oriented education. It is not a form of education which enhances the mental completeness, fulfilment and achievement of an individual.

The existing system of education is geared to providing status and stability in material life in the form that you choose to live yet there is an absence of basic discipline. When achieved, this discipline brings a sense of inner fulfilment, happiness, peace and contentment. Without discipline we do not feel these things in our lives, and when we do feel them they are circumstantial and not permanent.

Yogic discipline

The aim of yoga, being both individual and universal at the same time, is to provide an experience of perfection. It does not matter how you express that perfection. You can express it while studying, while serving others, while laughing, crying, sleeping, drinking, enjoying life, denying life. Why not? After all, the entire gamut of our experience must have a meaning behind it. Some people say evolution, some say enlightenment and some say perfection.

Patanjali has described the practical process of yoga. He says that it should begin with discipline – “Atha yogaanushasanam”. Cessation of the activities of the mind, the chittavrittis, will be the result of this discipline. Once the chittavrittis stop, you can attain samadhi. But in order to develop the ability to stop the vrittis of chitta, you have to follow the process of yoga, you have to discipline yourself through the process of yoga. The way to discipline yourself is through the yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, ultimately leading to samadhi. Patanjali has been very clear in saying that in order to experience perfection in your life, in order to have a glimpse of perfection in your life, you should discipline yourself, and through discipline experience the perfection of each quality which you may have, and express that. At Bihar School of Yoga and at Bihar Yoga Bharati this is the purpose which we believe in. As a disciple of Paramahamsaji this is the purpose I believe in.

Providing a samskara of yogic life

The same awareness has to exist also at an institutional level. Bihar Yoga Bharati aims at providing the right samskara for imbibing education. Education has to be imbibed. It cannot be learnt through books. It cannot be learnt from a teacher in a one-hour lecture. It cannot be learnt in a one-hour practical session of yoga. It can be learnt by each one of us making an effort to be open in our interactions, and also by applying what we have learnt in a classroom environment and believe in, in practical life.

One should not have a dual life. One life which can be lived fully, optimally, constructively, creatively and simply is more than enough. The aim of Bihar Yoga Bharati is to provide a samskara, an impression, of what a yogic life is and how it can be led. For that, close interaction is necessary through the various departments which we hope to open eventually – Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Psychology, Applied Yogic Science, Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Languages, and Indological Studies. In the future with these six departments, we hope to provide a sense of appreciation of nature, a sense of protecting the environment in which we live, a sense of interacting with the various communities, both local and global, a sense of communicating with them and a sense of leading a happy, tranquil, peaceful and simple life. This is the thrust of Bihar Yoga Bharati.

Applying yoga in society

An awareness is slowly developing throughout the world that there are methods of self-help which we can adopt according to our need, our personality, our cultural demand and so forth. One method of self-help is yoga. There is a demand for bringing yoga closer to the social structures. Since 1994 we have seen many things happen with the application of yoga at various social levels. We have taught yoga in the army to the troops in Siachin glacier, in Ladakh, for the management of high altitude problems. We have also taught yoga to desert divisions so that they can learn to manage the problems of heat better. It seems to have worked because the army is adopting yoga, choosing what they feel is necessary for their survival in extreme climatic conditions. Yoga is available, anybody can do it.

We are teaching yoga in prisons. We have just completed teacher training courses in the eight central prisons in Bihar, and we have taught yoga in twenty-four district level prisons in Bihar. The group of prisoners who underwent the yoga teacher training course have, voluntarily, all expressed a desire to be yoga teachers. They also noticed certain changes within themselves: an increase in feelings of joy and peace, a decrease in feelings of anger and revenge, sleep and digestion improved. Many parameters were covered.

We are not seeking to reform a criminal mentality into a socially acceptable mentality. We are there to help prisoners maintain their sanity, health and peace. If, as a result, the revenge mentality diminishes, so much the better. If they decide to become honourable citizens of society, so much the better. However, we are not aiming for that, we are aiming for their welfare. The other things can be a by-product, the result of our providing them with a good service.

We have taught yoga in medical institutions, in medical colleges, in medical wings of the universities in Bihar, in hospitals, teaching the students and doctors the principles of yoga therapy. We have been teaching yoga in industry – in the coal sector, natural gas sector, the paper sector, the steel sector – how to improve one’s creativity at work. As a result, labourers become more efficient, administrators feel relaxed and more in command of their decision-making ability, and achievements are improved.

I am telling you this to give you an insight into how society is bringing yoga closer within its fold; and of course, not to mention the thousands of students like us in different countries throughout the world studying yoga for their own personal reasons. So the aim of the BYB institute is to make yoga available for such applications in society, wherever they may be.

Combining yoga with a sannyasa lifestyle

Although Bihar School of Yoga conducts yoga training, yoga seminars, yoga conferences and conventions in different parts of Bihar, India and the world, and Bihar Yoga Bharati is bringing yoga to the academic level, there is a third aspect of this yoga institute – the lifestyle. The lifestyle is based on the ideal, the concept of sannyasa. The majority of the residents here are sannyasins, karma sannyasins or householder sannyasins, and jignasu sannyasins who are just testing the water before jumping in. Then there are the well-wishers. But the entire system, the discipline, the lifestyle, is based on the principles of sannyasa.

In an institute such as BYB, I feel that the structure of sannyasa should also be maintained. Why? Because sannyasa seems to be a lifestyle which is much closer to the yogic concept of lifestyle. The yogic concept of lifestyle does not say that you have to be a renunciate or a householder; it says that there has to be discipline in life, and that discipline can also be communal.

Now, it becomes difficult for householders to maintain such disciplines. Imagine practising mouna from six pm to six a.m. in your own home. After a week you would be put in a mental asylum for not speaking between six and six! Imagine not speaking during meals in your home. People would think you had gone into a state of depression. There are many other items such as discipline at mealtimes – breakfast at 6.30 a.m., lunch at 10.00 a.m., afternoon tea at 1.30 p.m., and dinner at 5.00 p.m., nothing in between and nothing after. Yoga says that if you can practise these disciplines, so much the better.

Such disciplines seem to mix very well with the discipline of sannyasa. That tradition has to be kept alive and therefore we are teachers of yoga although, as sannyasins of Shankaracharya, yoga is not our path. Our path is Vedanta, jnana. However, we have made jnana into our personal pursuit in life, and yoga as the main pursuit in life, in order to contribute to society. Therefore, combining yoga with sannyasa life will be and should be encouraged.

8 September 1996, on the occasion of the first anniversary of Bihar Yoga Bharati, printed in YOGA, Vol. 7, Issue 6 (November 1996)