The Spiritual Aspect of Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Today, on Basant Panchami and the Foundation Day of Bihar School of Yoga, the mind is full of memories of the past. In 1964, Sri Swami Satyananda ignited the Akhand Jyoti or the eternal flame at the newly established ashram of the Bihar School of Yoga and from that day onwards, the work of yoga began. We were only little children at that time and had just arrived to live at the ashram. Everyone lived together, had the privilege of regular satsangs with Sri Swamiji, practised yoga and spent our time in great joy. Later, as and when the occasion arose, we also contributed our mite to the propagation of yoga.

In those early days when we went out into the world and taught yoga, we always mentioned that yoga was a spiritual vidya. In all our satsangs and lectures, this aspect was always stressed – whether one practised hatha yoga, raja yoga, karma yoga or bhakti yoga, it was possible to attain spiritual awareness in life. We see that in the current situation prevalent in society and the world, though everyone practises yoga no one has become spiritual. Has anyone attained a vision of the divine or knowledge of the self only through the practices of asana and pranayama? No, nobody has.

Asana and pranayama have an influence on the physical body, they lead to good health and freedom from disease. This is the purely physical aspect of yoga which is only concerned with physical health. There is another component of yoga which is purely mental that is practised to correct the imbalances in life caused by tension, strife and worries which destroy peace of mind, making it hard to even have a good night’s sleep.

Yogic meditation techniques are practised to relieve mental stress, not for of spiritual growth or progress. Bodies and minds can be kept healthy but spiritual progress does not take place. It does not even happen after practising meditation. After all, can the accumulated dross of twenty-four hours be cleared by a fifteen-minute meditation practice and bestow liberation in your life? That is never going to happen. Can one get nirvana with fifteen minutes of meditation? If the mind becomes a little calm, that in itself is a great attainment. This is why it is inappropriate to refer to yoga as a spiritual vidya in today’s times. The question arises: When does yoga become spiritual vidya?

Positivity – the foundation of spirituality

When we had come to live at the ashram, we benefited in two ways. We had not come here to study yoga, we came for sannyasa. Spirituality began in our lives with sannyasa, not through yoga. You also practise yoga, will you become spiritual after just one day’s practice? No. People the world over practise yoga but is any qualitative change seen in their lives? Each one is exactly the way they were.

The same happens in the ashram as well. No one changes. What this indicates is that as long as one is subject to the vagaries of the mind, it is impossible to come anywhere close to spirituality. If one wishes to become spiritual, it is imperative to gain control over the mind. In reality, this is the yoga which Sri Swamiji referred to as yoga vidya. The science of yoga related to physical, mental and emotional health and balance and yoga vidya is concerned with creating positivity in life. When life is full of positivity, that is when spirituality dawns. As long as this is lacking, life cannot become spiritual.

This is the reason why I said that we got two benefits. Firstly, we had come to the ashram for sannyasa and the inclination for sannyasa is in itself spiritual. The second is that we received direct guidance from Guruji every day, each moment. There were never any mistakes because his watchful gaze was always upon us. So from the very beginning, our inclination towards spirituality received an impetus and this is something that society and the world do not have. The inclination which grew by living in proximity with guru and because of sannyasa is a spiritual one. The purpose of yoga vidya is to bring positivity into life and awaken a spiritual inclination.

While lighting the Akhand Jyoti in 1964, Sri Swamiji had declared that the mandate of this institution is the propagation of yoga vidya. Yoga vidya is related to lifestyle and is not limited to merely one hour’s practice, rather it is a constant awareness. When there is constant awareness, there is a union between knowledge and action. When knowledge and action come together, success is achieved whereas as long as actions are performed without knowledge, the only result is that of failure.

Yoga is not seen as a spiritual vidya by society, it is only a practice to keep the body healthy. Whether on TV or YouTube, everyone is teaching yoga – some for becoming slim, others for putting on weight; some for reducing fat or as a cure for some ailment or the other. Today a thousand different forms of yoga have been concocted, yet not a single one has the slightest tinge of spirituality. This is only seen in the effort made by the Bihar School of Yoga and this aspect is connected to Saraswati.

Saraswati – the goddess of positivity

Saraswati is considered to be the shakti of Brahma. Brahma is the creator and Saraswati is the power who bestows knowledge. In the absence of knowledge, creation is not possible. From drawing a line to constructing a building, no matter what attempts you do, nothing is possible without knowledge. There is an indestructible, intrinsic relationship between knowledge and creation and that is why Brahma and Saraswati are completely complementary to each other.

When the element of ahamkara is seen in either knowledge or creativity, it brings about negativity. If someone is highly educated, they can also be extremely arrogant. Though it is said, Vidya dadaati vinayam – knowledge bestows humility, instead of humility it makes a person arrogant. ‘I am much more knowledgeable than you are, who are you to tell me anything?’ – this is the voice of arrogance.

This is the mundane expression of Brahma and Saraswati, whereas the spiritual aspect reflects experiential wisdom. The learning gleaned from experience is the practical aspect of knowledge. One may read a hundred books but practical experience is sadly lacking. There should be a constant attempt to enter into the world of experience so that whatever one has read in books can be put into practice; this is when knowledge transforms into vidya and only then can the grace of Saraswati descend upon us, making yoga a living reality in our daily lives.

Bihar School of Yoga is an institution dedicated to yoga, however it is the constant effort of this institution to help people imbibe yogic practices into their lives in small doses. Many such programs have been initiated which offer an opportunity to know, understand and implement the principles and practices of yoga in our lives. This has been a big achievement in the field of yoga and continues to be carried out each month. Along with this, it is also important to learn about the spirituality of life. There is much more to spirituality than rituals, religion or worship. In reality, spirituality in life is connecting with positive qualities, becoming one with the goodness in life.

Positivity and seva

Whenever people are in need of help and assistance, one must come forward and offer help. There is no harm in even selling off one’s wealth in order to be of help to someone in need. Our Guruji gave us a precise instruction, “If necessary, sell off the ashram and distribute the money to those in need because you are capable of creating another Ganga Darshan.”

Sri Swamiji used to say that he is not attached to anything because he was sure that if he needed to do something, the One who makes all things possible would make it happen. This is the sentiment which flows throughout this ashram. When the municipal administration expressed a request for assistance in preparing the Corona centres saying that they needed one thousand beds, we said, ‘Yes!’ Mattresses and bedding were sent from the ashram, the stores were emptied and if required, even rooms were cleaned out. There is a need in society today, they have asked for help and there is absolutely no harm in responding to their call. We are certain that even if we give away everything, we have the unshakeable confidence in ourselves to build an even better ashram tomorrow.

The institution belongs to society. I am here to ensure that the institution is not misused by society either. If we realize that the institution is being misused by society in any way, that very day it will be sold off and the money given to the government, whether they use it in the defence of the country or for progress or any other purpose. We will pick up our jhola, go to some other place and develop another ashram there. This is the teaching we have received. Sri Swamiji used to say that he had received a boon from Lakshmiji, a blank cheque had been given to him on the condition that he would not spend a single paisa on himself. The day he would do that, the cheque would bounce immediately. These are our guru’s words and he lived by them.

Basant Panchami is not only the occasion to offer vidya, it is also an opportunity to develop the qualities of positivity, compassion and cooperation in life. It is through buddhi and viveka, intelligence and discrimination, that these qualities are developed. If one does not feel compassion on seeing a sick and suffering person, it indicates that the doors to intelligence or compassion are closed and there is no sensitivity. On the other hand, as soon as you see a sick person and the feeling of compassion springs up within you, this is the grace of Saraswati.

This is why Saraswati is not only the goddess of knowledge, she is the goddess of all that is good and positive in life. The supports of Saraswati are understanding and a feeling of belonging, a connection or relationship with others where everything is always auspicious and good. This was Sri Swamiji’s sankalpa and has been manifesting here all along. This institution has always benefited everyone, it has brought auspiciousness and well being to all and will continue doing so in future as well. This is our heartfelt wish and prayer.

16 February 2021, Basant Panchami, Ganga Darshan