Yoga and Universal Brotherhood

Swami Shivadhyanam Saraswati

The ancient spiritual and cultural traditions of India have always believed in the idea of unity in diversity. The different yogic traditions and schools of this land are no exception. The ideals of universal amity, fraternity and unity have always been upheld by the yoga shastras, whether it is the Yoga Sutras of Sage Patanjali where the importance of goodwill and compassion towards others has been emphasized (1:33):

Maitreekarunaamuditopekshaanaam sukhaduhkha - punyaapunyavishayaanaam bhaavanaatashchittaprasaadanam

In relation to happiness, misery, virtue and vice, by cultivating the attitudes of friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference respectively, the mind becomes purified and peaceful.

Be friendly with those who are content. Be compassionate towards those who are in pain. Be happy for those who are virtuous. Practise indifference to the crooked. Cultivate these attitudes and the mind becomes purified and peaceful.

Or the Narada Bhakti Sutras of Sage Narada where aspirants have been exhorted to rise above petty divisions of caste and creed, wealth and knowledge (sutra 72):

Naasti teshu jaati-vidyaa-roopa-kula-dhana-kriyaabhedah

Among them (the devotees) there is no distinction based on caste, learning, beauty, family or birth, wealth, observance or profession and the like.

Or the Bhagavad Gita where Sri Krishna extols the attitude of seeing oneself in others (6:32):

Aatmaupamyena sarvatra samam pashyati yo’rjuna Sukham vaa yadi vaa dukham sa yogee paramo matah.

He who, through the likeness of the Self, O Arjuna, sees equality everywhere, be it pleasure or pain, he is regarded as the highest yogi.

In recent times, the true intent and purpose of these values seem to have been ignored by sadhaks and scholars alike and relegated to the background.

It is in this context that one must see the evolution and propagation of these ideals in the Bihar Yoga tradition. This tradition begins with Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati of Rishikesh, who established the Divine Life Society in 1936 and started disseminating his yogic message from thereon.

In the backdrop of two devastating World Wars, it is no wonder that the eightfold yogic path he espoused began with the three cardinal principles of Serve, Love and Give.

Swami Sivananda earnestly believed that man should honour, help and love his fellow men, and therein lay the path to his own evolution and salvation. “Develop universal love,” he declared emphatically, “This will help you to live peacefully with all men and all creatures. Send out a steady stream of thought and goodwill to all creation. The energizing motive behind every thought should be service and friendliness.”

Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati, one of the foremost disciples of Swami Sivananda, established the Bihar School of Yoga in 1963 to fulfil the mandate that his guru had given him: ‘to spread the message of yoga from door to door and shore to shore’. What happened in the next twenty years was nothing short of a yogic renaissance. The message of yoga spread throughout India and the world. It brought people of different nationalities, cultures, religions, races, castes and creeds under the shade of the kalpataru, the wish-fulfilling tree, of yoga where everyone could find succour, shelter and support.

In 2014, when the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to celebrate 21st June as the International Day of Yoga, it was a recognition of the universal, all embracing scope of yoga and its role in promoting international harmony and brotherhood.

After fulfilling his guru’s mandate, Swami Satyananda renounced all his accomplishments and retired into seclusion to perform higher vedic sadhanas and perfect the cardinal ideals of Serve, Love and Give that his guru had preached. Through unswerving commitment and dedication, he reached the state of perfect atmabhava, the pinnacle of yogic and spiritual life, where one truly feels for others as one would feel for oneself. Then the concept of vasudhaiva kutumbakam, the whole world being one’s family, does not remain a mere ideal, but manifests in a very spontaneous and natural manner in one’s life.

A few words of Swami Satyananda should suffice to high-light the importance of this dictum of vasudhaiva kutumbakam: “My philosophy is very simple. The entire panchayat is my ashram. Every house here is my house. Their pains and pleasures are my own. Their poverty is my own poverty and their happiness is my happiness.” What a poignant yet down-to-earth description of the state of atmabhava, and a practical realization of Christ’s message to ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’.

In recent years, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, spiritual successor of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, has embarked upon the task of guiding the Bihar School of Yoga into the next phase of its yogic journey. The goal of this second phase is to inspire people towards sadachar, righteous conduct and a positive, uplifting yogic lifestyle. In present times, the quality of lifestyle is deteriorating across the globe. The stressors of life are reducing the physical and psychological capabilities of every individual. If this is not rectified humanity will definitely face a crisis. Negativity will become rampant; violence, anger, jealousy, hatred and intolerance will become like raging wildfires; and the ideal of universal brotherhood will remain a distant dream.

According to Swami Niranjanananda, the yogic journey towards positivity is aided by the practice of yama and niyama. They are the eternal principles that define the uplifting traits in life, representing a culmination of the human effort to experience the beauty, peace, bliss, truth and expansiveness of life. A conscious and sincere effort to practise these will transform the state of one’s own mind as well as the environment around oneself, leading to more harmonious interactions and relationships with fellow human beings.

For instance, the niyama of namaskara, greeting others with the attitude of acknowledging the divinity in them, develops humility in oneself and a sense of respect for others. The yama of kshama, forgiveness, allows one to set aside the emotional baggage from previous unpleasant interactions with others and re-develop a positive connection with them. Similarly the niyama of maitri, goodwill, enables one to drop the self-erected barriers of hostility and indifference, and adopt an attitude of goodwill and friendliness towards all.

As Bihar School of Yoga embarks on the second phase of its yogic mandate, it aims to fulfil the prophetic words of its founder and inspirer, Sri Swami Satyananda, “Like the rays of the moon, the light of yoga is expanding. All religions, beliefs and sects are receiving shelter under the kalpataru of yoga. Towards the evolution of man’s consciousness, yoga has done unforgettable work. Yoga will become tomorrow’s culture, and will show a new way of life for mankind.”