Living With Nature

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

It is said that St Bernard, a great mystic of the twelfth century, recharged himself with energy while walking through a forest of oak trees. What do you think of the possibility of human communion with nature, of psyche of animal psyche and vegetable kingdom?

In recent years we have been talking about ecology, but in the past we have been taught that the birds and the trees and the whole vegetable kingdom contain the same consciousness we do. The trees, they witness everything, and there is a great spirituality in their existence. But man in his arrogance has considered himself most superior in this creation.

Even now, the most sincere yogis retire into the forest, and live amongst trees, plants, birds and animals because in essence there is complete unity in this creation. The names and forms differ but the essence of everything, including men and animals, the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, is the same.

In the Bhagavad Gita, there is an explanation that the supreme essence pervades every speck of creation. Just as the thread passes through all the beads in your mala, in the same way the one consciousness penetrates through and through everything. When we live in the world of the senses and the mind, then we perceive duality and multiplicity. But, when we have withdrawn from the sensory world, then we see just unity and one essence. And that is the concept of the Upanishads.

In the Upanishads it is declared that when you have transcended matter you see yourself in all, you see everything within you. This is called the advaita experience, non-dual experience. We live in a world of duality; saints live in a world of non-duality. We see multiplicity; they see unity. And this unity should not only be realized in your own kith and kin, your own relatives, this unity should not only be realized in your own countrymen and fellow men, it should also be realized with other kingdoms in creation.

Just as science realizes the energy behind the essence of all matter, just as a scientist realizes the unity behind all matter, in the same way, the yogi realizes the unity behind all creation. And for this purpose it is necessary that one should retire from the hustle and bustle of life. It is something that is not necessary for our existence. We have created it in our ignorance, it has been man’s greatest folly and man will have to pay a penalty for it.

Behind every home there has to be a little forest, behind every house there has to be a little pond, around a house the birds must sing, the tall trees must grow, keep the motor cars far and far away. So far it seems to be a utopia, yet that is the way you can automatically realize the unity.

Many, many years ago, when I went to a place in the Himalayas called Kedarnath, there was a solitary temple built by Shankaracharya. There was snow and snow everywhere. It was very cold, but it was so quiet, I can’t describe it. It was so quiet, just as here you have sub-zero temperature, I think there was sub-zero vibrations, and my mind began freezing. I am using the word freezing. Something happened to it. And I lost myself. You see, I did not do anything. The atmosphere was such – there have never been sound vibrations there.

A few hundred persons go during summer, they go with all their devotedness, and then offer the worship to Lord Shiva. Before that, when I was in Rishikesh, I visited Mount Kailash. Mount Kailash is under China. At that time it was in Tibet, and Tibet was an independent country. It was a very different terrain. But I could manage to reach Mount Kailash. At the foot of Mount Kailash is a very big lake. Its name is Mansarovara. There is no temple there. There is no truck, there is no sign of living habitation. There is no priest, there is no chanting, no prayers, no carols, total silence. I think since eternity it has been silent there.

I was the sole person present on that day, usually many people never went there. Myself and my pony and one Tibetan guide. That’s all the life that was there. I took my bath, and after that I wanted to know what I should do. But by the time I wanted to decide what I should do, my mind got jammed, stopped. And when the mind stopped a picture arose in my vision. And that was the picture of Shiva seated at the top of the mount in padmasana, with tigers around and the crescent moon on the right side of his head, cobras hissing around his neck and arms, the whole body beautifully smeared with the ashes of the burial ground. Eyes closed, even the third eye was closed.

I thought that I saw him for hours together, but in fact this must have been like lightening. How did this experience come to me? Because I could get into the unity and essence of creation. This unity of creation which I am talking about, is not an intellectual concept, it is a happening, it happens when you keep yourself in certain congenial circumstances.

Saint Bernard used to walk in the forest of oak trees. For many people he must have been a crazy heretic. But no, when he lived with nature, and when he lived with that nature, which is silent all the time, then the quality of his consciousness got transformed. When the quality of mind changes, the experiences also change. Now, you should first change the circumstances, surroundings, environment and the total setting around you. You must even change the quality of wife and husband around you. You have to change even the quality of your bathroom and toilet and bedroom. It is not a joke; it is reality, because these settings also affect your mind.

The mind is under the constant influence of the things with us, in us and around us. Therefore we should learn from this question: How are we going to reset our own surroundings in order to realize the one unity of one essence?

When I lived in Rishikesh with Swami Sivananda, behind the ashram there is a great forest. You go miles deep into it. You get only wild animals, sometimes somewhere you find one cowherd boy or a grass cutter. He is playing the flute, or is singing a wild song in the wilderness. Or the carpenter bird is making whistles and you hear many types of birds chirping in their own way. That becomes an antar mouna. And sometimes when the gale of wind passes through the breast of the trees, there is a whistling sound, and the whole nature begins to sing.

What we used to do was very funny – to get out of the ashram, we kept on entering into the forest. And the deeper you go, the lonelier you are. The further you go, you are far from everybody. And once it so happened that on my way back I lost my way. I went on trying every way but I was lost more and more. At that time the ashram was very small, there was no electricity, there were not even little lamps, so I could not see which way the ashram was. I did try to climb up a tree and see all around, but nothing. And it began to drizzle and rain. There were wild animals, the tigers and the panthers. Every now and then I used to listen to all those ferocious sounds.

I climbed up a tree, and at that time, I remember very well, I understood how man lives in this world. When I climbed up the tree, I thought, ‘This is how a man feels secure when he is at home with his wife and children’. But there was a great miracle, in spite of the ferocious sounds, and I must have been hearing a lot of them, I could recognize every sound. That was a tiger, that was a panther, that was a leopard, that was a hyena, and that was the stag and that was the antelope – because it was a very rich forest, with all kinds of wildlife. But in about an hour or so, I lost contact with everything. It seemed that the whole setting around me jammed my brain. And the mind completely slowed down, and ultimately the vibrations were seized. I could not understand those sounds at all. There was total ananda. I forgot the ashram and also these animals singing around me, and thus came the dawn of the day. I found that I was very close to the ashram, about two hundred yards.

So this is a very important reminiscence of my life. Many times I have taken tours of the Himalayas, the place where Jamuna originates, the place from where Ganga originates, the places called Badrinath and Kedarnath. Also a place in Kashmir called Amarnath. Many more places I visited during my life as a mendicant. I can assure you that is a very powerful sadhana. When you live with nature and realize unity with it, then nature helps you to reset the conditions of your mind.

It is a very simple experience of everyday life. Maybe you are unhappy, you may have quarrels in your family or a lot of other troubles – you just go into a beautiful garden, what do you feel? You feel better, don’t you? Why do you feel better, tell me? Because the setting has changed the quality of your mind. The moment the quality of mind changes, the experience also changes. So let us try sometime in our life.

It is said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to reach heaven. Therefore, one must live a very simple life. Poverty is paradise.

August 1981, Chamarande, France