In 1950, I visited South India with my Guru, Swami Sivananda Saraswati. That was 32 years ago. Then between 1956 and 1963, I visited the South a second time as a parivrajaka bhikshu, a wandering mendicant, but in 1950 I had come as a secretary to Swami Sivananda.
The South has always inspired me very much for many reasons. When we come from the North to the South, we see the immense wealth of temples in this part of India, and we can never forget it. However, more important for me is that my Guru was from Pattamadai, situated on the banks of the Tamprapani river, in the district of Tirunelveli. My parampara, tradition, begins from the South.
Besides, we belong to the Dashnami sampradaya of Adi Shankaracharya. Every sannyasin has a parampara, and my Guru’s parampara and mine begins from Sringeri. So I have deep links with South India in general, and Tamil Nadu in particular.
When I left my home and wandered in search of a place where I could live as I wanted, I finally came to Rishikesh and discovered my guru in Swami Sivananda. I lived with him for twelve years, which according to shastra and parampara is the period that you must live with the guru. During this period, I was exposed to the way of thinking, the language, culture, art, literature and architecture of the South. I tell people, “Look here, I have an affinity with the South because my guru, my parampara are from the South. The philosophy I represent is Advaita Vedanta. I do not represent yoga; I represent Advaita Vedanta.”
Adi Shankara, the exponent of Advaita-Vedanta philosophy, also came from the South. Not only Adi Shankaracharya but also great acharyas of other systems like Vishishtadvaita and Shuddhadivaita hailed from the South and their philosophy ultimately enriched not only the heritage of Bharat, but also greatly influenced the philosophy of other countries. The Sufis of Islam were greatly influenced by Kevaladvaita Vedanta. I am just trying to introduce who I am and what I represent.
I teach yoga, no doubt, because today people are not in a position to experience advaita anubhuti, aparoksha anubhuti, direct experience. One must have a tool. The tool which we have today is not healthy, it is sick. The chitta, the mind, through which we understand, is full of doshas, avarnamala and vikshepa, humours, veils of impurities and distractions, the three faults of the mind. Even though the Advaita philosophy holds good for all times and for everybody, yet as a sadhaka, an aspirant, you must practise yoga. It is not enough if you say, Brahma satyam jaganmithya jeevo brahmaiva naparaha – Brahma is real, the world is an illusion, jiva is Brahma itself and not different, and meditate only on that.
There is a story. Brahma initiated Indra and Virochana with the statement Tat Twam Asi – Thou Art That. When both shishyas went back, Indra began to doubt, ‘Guruji said that you are that eternal atman and that I am Brahman, the Supreme Self, but how can this be? This body is mortal; it is not eternal. These indriyas have their own limitations, they cannot be Brahman. This mind is full of vikshepa, avarna and mala, so it cannot be Brahman. This naked form is an apparition; it cannot be Brahman. Then who is Brahman?’ He started thinking, and ultimately he entered the state of nididhyasana samadhi, a profound state of continuous meditation on Upanishadic statements.
Virochana also repeated Aham Brahmasmi, and while washing his face in a pond, he saw his big moustache and said, ‘I am Brahman. This is Brahman’s moustache, his biceps, this is Brahman’s curly hair and chest’. He attributed the Supreme Self to the body. Indra and Virochana did not have the same type of antahkarana, mind, and as a result of different minds, they had different concepts of the truth.
Yoga is not my sampradaya, community. In India, it is the sampradaya of the Navanathas, like Gorakhnath, Champanath, Matsyendranath, Pancharinath, who were the propagators of the hatha yoga system. Rishi Kapila, the son of Devahuti, was the propounder of the Samkhya system. Yoga, Samkhya, Tantra, Vedanta, Bhakti marga had different acharyas. Shandilya and Narada were the propagators of the bhakti yoga system. We have the Narada Bhakti Sutras of Narada and the Shandilya Bhakti Sutra, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Uttarmimansa Sutras of Jamini, and the Brahma Sutras by Vasudeva. You may be the followers of Srimat Ramanuj, Adi Shankaracharya, Madhavacharya, Jamunacharya, Buddha or Mahavira, that is your parampara but it is the truth which you have to realize.
Shankara said that there is no duality, no separate existence of jiva and Brahman. The individual soul and cosmic soul are not two, but one and the same. Srimat Ramanuj said clearly that the jiva is immortal, but it is an amsha, a part of Ishwara. The jiva is not Ishwara and cannot become Ishwara. The Upanishads say that the knower of Brahman becomes Brahman. Now this is the truth which every sampradaya has to accept.
If you want to know the relationship between jiva and Brahman, you have to understand for yourself what that could be. The instrument through which you think, the power of concentration, reflection and meditation, should be enlarged. You need an intuitive, precise, calculating mind in your day-to-day business affairs, a sharp brain to get through your studies and examinations. In the same way, for samyama, total understanding of the subject, and nididhyasana, profound, deep meditation, you need a higher quality of mind. You obtain that higher quality of mind through yoga.
I have come to Coimbatore solely for that purpose – not to teach or preach dharma or religion, but to talk about yoga which will help everybody to maintain health, experience peace and the philosophical truths within themselves. Then you will not make a mistake as Virochana did, but know for yourself what is the truth.
Yoga has become a world culture. I am not saying a world religion, and I hope it does not become a religion. Yoga has helped everybody and it has been accepted by everybody – scientists, doctors, film stars, sportsmen, students, leaders, businessmen, shopkeepers, directors, agnostics, astika or believers, nastika or non-believers, sannyasins, hedonists – for all people, yoga has become a way to improve the quality of life. With this yoga we hope that the world will come closer together and that religious and political differences will decrease.
In Coimbatore, people should try their level best to inspire every section of society to practise yoga. Today, India does not need yoga that much. You have fresh air, a relaxed way of living and your own connection with your parampara. However, India is entering a new era of technological modern life, and in another fifty or one hundred years, you will find that if our nation and our people do not revive the culture of yoga, they will follow the same fate and undergo the same psychological and spiritual crisis that some of the affluent countries are facing today.
There are many scholars who have said that as this technological civilization spreads, there will be new types of diseases which cannot be cured unless you have a new approach. A time is going to come when medical science is not going to be able to help you very much. When diseases are born from stress, conflict and psychosomatic factors, medical science can only give a little relief, it cannot completely cure you. I believe that all people will realize this not for themselves, but the coming generation is going to face tensions. If we do not leave any legacy or heritage for the next generation, we do not know what will be their fate. Many of you might know about what is happening in the affluent countries, and those who do not should know what crisis they are heading towards. My visit to Coimbatore should be the beginning of a movement, and the purpose of that movement is to revive yoga as the culture of tomorrow.
29 January 1982, Rama Temple, Ramnagar, Coimbatore