Swami Satyananda Saraswati
How does one describe the infinite number of facets of a siddha, one who has achieved the highest accomplishments or siddhis of all forms of yoga? The shastras say that such a one’s nature is beyond definition, anakhya, and beyond words and thought.
One way of revealing the nature of Sri Swamiji is by means of his own words and the practical instructions given by him which should be preserved for posterity as accurately as possible so that they may serve to inspire yoga aspirants in the future as they have in the past. This we are trying to do in this series of volumes for that part of his teachings consisting of lectures, satsangs, meditations and practical sessions which were recorded by us in Europe between 1968 and 1983, or made available to us by Swami Pragyamurti in England, Swami Janakananada in Denmark, Swami Devatmananda in France and Swami Atmanandain Northern Ireland and other organizers of programs in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain and Holland. The material in our database and video recordings has been transcribed, entered into the computer and edited, and is presented in theses volumes in their historical order preserving the actual words of Swamiji as far as editing for readability would allow. It is interesting to note that although Sri Swamiji gave many lectures on the same topic in the same year at different places or in subsequent years, no two lectures are identical and each lecture presents the topic from different perspective.
Careful reading and study of theses teachings will reveal many of the facets of Sri Swamiji’s nature and it should be largely left to the readers to discover them for themselves. But nevertheless we will try to indicate what have been the facets of Sri Swamiji’s personality that have impressed us the most over the years of our association with him from 1968 to the present.
Sri Swamiji was someone who had experienced the highest states of consciousness and who at the same time demonstrated supreme mastery of all aspects of practical life, which he viewed as the field of opportunity for furthering the spiritual evolution of mankind, both individually and collectively. One time in the early days of our association with Sri Swamiji, Rishi Vasishtha asked Sri Swamiji, “We have just heard of new terrible wars starting at present, and extreme suffering of the poor and disadvantaged due to this world wide strife amongst nations, religions and commercial concerns; and yet due to the widespread tourism of today one would expect that people of different races, nationalities would get to know each other better and would no longer be swayed by the falsehoods spread by war-mongering politicians and collectively resist participating in war. But the world does not seem to be getting any better, if anything it is becoming worse globally and not just locally as in the past and less technological periods. Why is the world not getting better as we hoped it would after the Second World War?” Sri Swamiji just said, “Vasishtha! Are you trying to deprive those who come after you of spiritual opportunity?” Thereby he clearly expressed his view of ordinary practical and worldly life. He also said in one of the lecture in these volumes. “Difficulties drive evolution!” This was also the sentiment of his guru Swami Sivananda Saraswati who used to say, “Suffering is the crucible in which nature transforms man into super-man.”
From a study of the teachings in these volumes it can also be seen that Sri Swamiji displayed a profound sensitivity to the needs of his audiences and contemporary events in the world at the time, thus presenting yoga and its practices in a manner relevant and acceptable to everybody regardless of station in life or previous exposure to yoga. But at the same time he was driven by the mission given to him by his guru to spread all forms of yoga from shore to shore and door to door in a pure, classical and rigorous form, but elucidated by insights obtained by direct personal experience as a result of his own yoga sadhana. In fact early on in his instructions to us he said that we should immediately begin to teach what we had learned from him and practiced under his guidance, and that we should teach only what we had practiced ourselves with success. He said that we know and have practically experienced enough to lead to success in attaining higher or deeper states of consciousness by persistently improving, increasing and intensifying our actual practice of what he had taught us.
He also stressed that acharyas or teachers in the Satyananda (Bihar Yoga) tradition strive to obtain precise knowledge of the classical Sanskrit works on Yoga, Tantra, Veda, Puranas and Smirtis, etc. Sri Swamiji gave Vasishtha the following advice before he asked him to give short introductory talks preceding some of his lecture just before mounting the podium. He would say, “Vasishtha, ten minutes on pranayama, classical!” Thus he indicated to Vasishtha the precise focus of what he was to say but this depended on his knowing either Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Hatha Yoga Pradipika or Gerandha Samhita, for example.
In fact, Sri Swamiji consistently used a threefold structure in his approach to teaching any subject matter especially concerning Yoga and Tantra. Basically it involved presenting first a clear statement of the classical view of the matter quoting verbatim where possible. Secondly, he would state what he personally had experienced and reasoned out for himself, that is, he would assume the attitude of, “After I have told you what is the case classically, I will tell you what I think!” Thirdly, he would say, “Now you reason out for yourself what you think!”
Vasishtha tells a funny story where this threefold principle of Sri Swamiji got him out of difficulty in front of a huge Indian audience in Toronto, Canada, where he was present on the speaker’s platform with the spiritual leaders of Sikhs, Jains, Hindus and Moslems. The first question that came from the audience was “What is your opinion of sex before marriage?” At that moment all the dignitaries on the platform turned towards Vasishtha expecting him to be the first to answer since they wanted to see how this European Swami would handle himself in this situation. Well it was easy using Sri Swamiji’s principle. First he told the audience that the shastras say that it is not a good idea for the following reasons, etc. then he said that he, however, personally thought that a person who had had sex before marriage should not therefore be considered to be a bad person, etc. and finally he said, “But of course you must make up your own mind about what you think!”.
The third step in Sri Swamiji’s approach to teaching clearly indicates complete absence of dogmatism in his nature. He never asked us to believe or do anything just because some classical text or he said so but always encouraged us to use our own reasoning or tarka, to come to the same conclusion by ourselves, and only on this basis should we claim knowledge of the matter.
But above all Sri Swamiji stressed practical instruction over too much theorizing or discussing, without neglecting the presentation of a thorough scientific understanding of the practices and their results. Once the practices have been mastered and the resulting experiences are properly understood it is much easier to correctly explain theoretical aspects of yoga. As soon as Rishis Arundhati and Vasishtha met and were taught by Sri Swamiji, they immediately experienced that they needed to consult no further books nor seek any other teacher but that Sri Swamiji would give instructions wherever needed and asked for. Hence, it is a common experience for both Arundhati and Vasishtha that it was sufficient to meditate upon Sri Swamiji preceding any lecture or practical session they were to give and usually clear answers concerning what to do with the students would come to them. This has also been the experience of most of the sannyas disciples of Sri Swamiji throughout the world.
Concerning Sri Swamiji’s personal behavior it can be said that in his public interaction with all he met, whether young or old, rich or poor, he was the epitome of common courtesy. He treated everyone with great and equal respect. He was everyone’s friend. He was totally attuned to and devoted to serving the needs of others, physically, socially and spiritually. This devotion led to the development of the great variety of successful socially uplifting aspects and activities at Ganga Darshan in Munger, Bihar and Rikhia Peeth in Jarkhand, as well as most centers of Satyananda yoga throughout India and the rest of the world. These activities are extensively documented already in many books published by the Yoga Publication Trust in recent years. Two of the most outstanding accomplishments in education and social transformation for the better are the creation of the two great and vivacious youth organizations, the Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal of Munger and the Kanyas and Batuks of Rikhia Peeth whose members number in the hundred thousands.
Sri Swamii’s personal life was the perfect example of simplicity, he kept around himself only a few bare essentials for personal hygiene and wore only two dhotis most of the time even sometimes in the cold climate of Europe as will be obvious from many of the photographs in this volume. However, his life was one of constant self-discipline and sadhana which was unsurpassed by anyone known to us and as confirmed by all his guru bhais in Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, as well as, by Swami Satsanghananda Saraswati, the first Peeth Ishvari of Rikhia Peeth, who attended upon Swamiji throughout much of the period leading up to his mahasamadhi, and who once remarked to Rishi Vasishtha that most people have no idea of the rigorous disciplined life that Sri Swamiji leads when he is not in public.
Sri Swamiji also had a profound and spontaneous sense of humor which would constantly lead to explosions of laugher amongst his audience resulting in a relaxed atmosphere which would allow him to prepare the ground for the acceptance of difficult or controversial points he had to make to rectify misconceptions about Yoga and Tantra, as well as, making embarrassing revelations about the character of society in general or yoga practitioners in particular more acceptable to those concerned. His mastery of his affairs of ordinary life were only short of miraculous. Everything he initiated bloomed into the great and effective intuitions and organizations promoting yoga and well-conceived social service tithe wider community which we can see today in India, Australia, Italy, Greece, Scandinavia, and throughout North and South America and most countries in the rest of the world.
Sri Swamiji personally designed most of the buildings at the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger and at Rikhia Peeth. These building are designed to attain maximum ease of cleaning and repairing, as well as, providing space for huge and varying numbers of residents, students, and visitors constituting an almost daily influx and change in such a way that housing can be reconfigured at a moment’s notice and in a most flexible and efficient manner.
Another aspect of Sri Swamiji’s nature was his perfect ability to be accepted and respected in all levels of society and all walks of life from the rich and powerful to the poorest most disadvantaged, from intellectuals to those driven mostly by instinct, no matter what the level he would fit in while at the same time enhancing and raising the level of interaction and conversation of the present company. This demonstrated by example the nature of a true swami whose role in life is in Sri Swamiji’s words, “To always be only uplifting at all times and all places and with every being you encounter in life.” Furthermore, another of Sri Swamiji’s definitions of the nature of a true swami was, “We swamis are caretakers and distributors of wealth and resources given to us by the affluent in society due to their devotion to spiritual life, to those who are poor, destitute and neglected in society in such a way that it is uplifting in the sense of inducing lasting self-dependence and economic independence while preserving self-respect and respect for the time-tested ways and customs of their own which they have pragmatically absorbed in their daily life and which give dignity to their existence even though they are the poorest of the poor. One can clearly see how his presence in Rikhia brought prosperity to that whole area consisting of poor indigenous villages and even to the neighboring town of Deoghar.
In so many ways Sri Swamiji displayed perfect wisdom in action. If wisdom means the ability to bring knowledge and skill to bear on life in a manner that is conducive to the welfare and spiritual evolution of the individual and society as a whole, then this type of wisdom on the part of Sri Swamiji is amply demonstrated by the effective functioning of the different types of educational and uplifting institutions established by him over the years, as is well documented in existing publications of these institutions.
Sri Swamiji ensured permanence and excellence in these institutions in two ways. To insure excellence he initiated a very effective way of choosing a successor who can by his example inspire aspirants to the highest-level of their spiritual evolution which is operative even now in preparing further successors. To ensure permanence he fully involved the local population in the building, maintenance and modification of the ashrams, as well as, having both adults and particularly large numbers of children involved in the daily activities of the ashram and even more so during the large ceremonial occasions where they participate fully. The people feel that it is their ashram and therefore it will exist permanently if it continues to provide excellence of inspiration, guidance, medical aid and education to the people.
In spite of the overwhelming powers of his nature Sri Swamiji always displayed humility. He always said that he was not a guru, but only the disciple of his guru Swami Sivananda. He said that we his disciples insisted on making him guru and that he never wanted it. He was also very open when required knowledge from anyone who had expertise in some special area, especially in science. He constantly wanted to know what the latest theories and experimental results of science were. He was able to absorb even the most technical details very quickly and arrive at the basic principles involved, and he would then use this information in his next lecture. On the other hand if you spoke about something without proper knowledge or personal experience of the matter he would swiftly censure you for pretending to know more than you do and wasting everybody’s time.
Finally, we can only say that we could go on for many pages and never run out of ways to describe the many facets of the jewel, Sri Swamiji Satyananda. Everyone we interacted with living at Ganga Darshan and Rikhia Peeth and who have served Sri Swamiji for many years say that to this day, every day, they discover another way in which Sri Swamiji displayed his spiritual genius and organizational skills in even the smallest aspect of the overall functioning of the legacy we call Satyananda Yoga or Bihar Yoga.
Hari Om Tat Sat