Antaranga Yoga for Harmony

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

We need harmony in the family, in our community, society and nation. This harmony can be achieved if we are able to develop an understanding of the correct action in the present circumstances. With that understanding we are able to adjust and adapt to the environment. Loss of harmony is when we are not able to adjust and adapt with our environment, or with another person. Why do we get into strife with other people?

Why do we get into a fight? Why do we feel frustration, anger and dejection? We are unable to maintain our own harmonious nature.

The way to maintain the harmonious nature is by practising yoga in the morning, learning to smile and incorporating kartavyaparayanta. Kartavyaparayanta means to be always ready to preform our duties and obligations. No expression of laziness, no lethargy, but always on the move to fulfil and accomplish our obligations, duties and work. This has to be done with the attitude of karma yoga. What is karma yoga? The word karma is a common word. Karma means action, performance, and we are all performing our karma from the time we take birth until our last breath. Our senses are performing karmas, our mind is performing karma, life is performing karma.

Karma yoga

When we add the word yoga to karma, then we have karma yoga and a different meaning altogether – harmony in karma. How do you attain harmony in karma? Having the correctness of action, and performing it without any expectation as the fulfilment of our obligation and duty, leads to enhanced awareness. According to Sri Krishna, this enhanced awareness while performing karma leads to inner purification, atmashuddhi. When people come to the ashram they are not used to cleaning their room, washing their plates and clothes as outside everything is being done for them. In the ashram they come and clean their room and wash their clothes. They clean their breakfast, lunch and dinner plates, mugs and glasses. They maintain cleanliness of the ashram and when they go back home, this culture goes back with them. The people who were too lazy to even take their teacup to the kitchen, or too lazy to make their own bed after waking up, are now able to take responsibility for their life and their wellbeing. That is karma yoga.

People ask me, ‘Swamiji don’t you ever get tired from doing the things that you do all the time?’ I say, “No, I don’t get tired. For me every day is a new beginning. What I lived yesterday is not carried forward today. If I have to clean my room today, I will do it as if I am doing it for the first time in my life and try to do it in the most excellent manner possible. So, for me my karma yoga begins every day. It is a new beginning; it is not a continuation of something which I have been doing for a long time. No!”

That is the attitude of a karma yogi. Engage and involve yourself with your whole creativity, and accomplish what you set out to do with clarity of mind, without any expectation of the outcome, yet with the intention to express your excellence, poornata or completeness, paripakvata or maturity. That is real karma yoga. Even in the office, when you are sitting, finish your job before you get up from the table. At home when you are working, finish your job before you take up something different. When you complete one job, be happy that you have done it to the best of your ability, expressed your entire creativity and efficiency in performing that particular job, and be happy about it and rest happily at night. Karma yoga becomes an important aspect of creating harmony in your family, home and community.

Another aspect of karma yoga is to always try to extend a helping hand to people who need that helping hand. You are not only living for yourself, that is not the Indian vision. The Indian vision is that you live for the upliftment of the entire community: vasudhaiva kutumbakam, the whole world is my family. You are part of the entire global community, and your obligation is the upliftment of the total community. Therefore, always be ready to give a helping hand to those in need, and that will also be your contribution for the betterment of your neighbourhood and your society. In this manner, if you are able to live the simple components of karma yoga in your day-to-day life, it will be a big achievement.

Jnana yoga

Then incorporate some jnana yoga in your life. People think of jnana yoga as questioning, “Who am I?” I don’t subscribe to that belief or philosophy. Even if I think, “Who am I?”, and answer myself, “I am Brahman!” how does that help me at all? In my daily life, it does not help me in any manner. So my understanding of jnana yoga is not an abstract enquiry of, “Who am I? I am Brahman!” My jnana yoga is knowing myself, my own limitations, my own strengths and how I can manage my limitations and build up on my strengths. That is my jnana yoga.

For this practice of jnana yoga, take four sheets of paper. On one sheet, not instantly but over a period of one week, think again, then write. Over a period of one week, identify what your weaknesses, your shortcomings and limitations are. Think about them again. Cross them out. Add a new one. In one week, you will have a complete list of the shortcomings, weaknesses and limitations that you experience in your life, your profession, in the management of your own psychology and family.

Similarly, make a list on a separate sheet of all your strengths, abilities and qualities. Make another list of your ambitions, and a fourth list of all your needs, for the self, the family and for everything that is required, for which you need to be active right now.

That is the beginning of my jnana yoga. The moment I am able to understand what my limitations are that restrict me, I can begin to work on them, modify them, correct them and convert my weaknesses into a positive strength and quality. I look at the list of strengths and see that this strength can balance this weakness, so focus on that strength to cultivate it more and more, to balance the particular weakness. I look at the list of ambitions and develop a priority: this is my ambition, and I will achieve it, I will work for it when I have the time, after one month, after six months, after one year, after ten years. Then think: today, I need to focus on the needs, which are my own, which are of my family and community. In this manner bring in the component of jnana yoga to cultivate your own clarity, wisdom and awareness of the right and the wrong.

The most important contribution of jnana yoga is not knowing ‘Who I am’. Duryodhana said once, Janami dharmam, nachame pravritti – I know what is right, correct and just, but I am not gravitating, inclined or attracted towards it. Janami adharmam, nachame nivritti – I know what is incorrect, improper, unjust, but I cannot liberate myself from it. When we practise jnana yoga, we identify with dharma, and we express dharma; this is the main focus of jnana yoga, not to question ‘Who am I’, because you will never get an answer to that and you will never be able to experience that answer.

There are two aspects of life: experience and expression. You can experience something nice, yet can you express it in the same manner, in the same spirit? Experience and expression support each other. To say, ‘I have the experience, but I cannot express it’ indicates that it is not a complete experience. In yoga, whether it be karma yoga, jnana yoga, hatha yoga, or raja yoga, first you have to experience it and then you have to express the experience in your thought, behaviour and performance. Therefore, rather than thinking of yoga as an abstract subject, something that deals with self-realization or God-awareness, it is time that we begin to understand our own body, our own mind, nature, behaviour and thoughts, improve them and build on them. That will be our yoga.

Bhakti yoga

The third aspect for attaining a harmonious life is bhakti yoga. For a harmonious life, we are looking into the components of karma yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga, in a practical manner which we can apply today to live these principles of yoga. Bhakti yoga is something which indicates purity of intention and thought, purity in behaviour and performance. There are many paths of bhakti. Mantra is one path; devotion, worship is another path; aradhana, upasana is another path; kirtan, bhajan is another path and meditation also becomes another path.

In meditation you are able to connect with the pure sentiments of your life, and if you can cultivate those pure sentiments, bhakti becomes effulgent. What are the pure sentiments? Three instructions have been given in our tradition to develop the pure sentiment. The first instruction is daya, compassion, to develop sympathy, to develop kindness and, generosity. The second instruction is dama, restraint. Restraint of the wild running senses and mind happens with the practice of yoga, with the entire science and the subject of yoga. Bhakti yoga in its practical form is expressing compassion, kindness and love towards other beings.

Bhakti as taught by my Guru, Sri Swami Satyananda, is not devotion to God, but awareness of the divine existence in every being, the spirit that is in you. You are able to experience your body because it is material, you are able to experience your mind because of thoughts, desires, expectations, fears and insecurities. Are you able to experience your own spirit? The experience of spirit happens when you are able to connect with the soft and the positive qualities of life. Love is an expression of spirit, compassion is an expression of spirit. Just as frustration and tension is an expression of mind, and pain is an expression of body, love, compassion, kindness are the expressions of spirit. It is this love which is awakened in bhakti yoga through the cultivation of atmabhava, as my Guruji instructed and guided – the ability to see yourself in others. If you are able to see that divine spark in others, then you will always be willing to help the other person, no matter what dire situation they may be in.

Sant Eknath, one of the great poet saints of India, took water from Gangotri and walked to Rameshwaram to offer it to the Shivalinga there. Just as he was about to enter the Rameshwaram temple he saw outside a donkey dying of thirst. Sant Eknath smiled and said to God, “You know how to take pariksha, exams, of your devotees! I had come with water to give to you in the temple, but you are demanding water in the garb of a donkey outside the temple. It is my honour to give you this water.” He gave the Ganges water to the donkey to drink and quench his thirst. If it had been you or me in his place, we would not have even looked at the donkey. We would have straight away gone into the temple and poured the water on top of the Shivalinga.

A person who has realized atmabhava sees that divine spark in animals, birds, insects, humans, and everywhere. Seva or service is to satisfy that divinity, the spirit within. Therefore, my Guru, Sri Swami Satyanandaji, says that bhakti is the expression of love during service, nothing more than that.

22 August 2021, Online Message delivered to the Forest Department, Bihar, India (Extracts)