In 1956 when we started the yoga fellowship, there was ignorance and misunderstanding of yoga everywhere. When I was on my first world tour in 1968-1969, I found that it was very difficult for people to understand what exactly yoga meant. Some had vague and incomplete information and thought yoga was a kind of magic or psychic feat. They were not able to understand or place yoga in the scheme of their lives. So we started working in Monghyr, training sannyasins and sending them all over the world in order to show people what yoga meant. Today the work is going on and we have centres in Australia, Europe, America and the South American countries.
More interesting, however, are the series of scientific criticisms and evaluations of yoga which have developed in recent years. Scientists and doctors all over the world are now trying to understand how and why yoga has such a great influence on the human body and mind. Researches conducted in the USSR, Poland, France, England, America, Australia and also in India have proved beyond any doubt that the practices of yoga are a scientific process by which physical and mental diseases can be overcome. Yoga is not merely to tone up the body or reduce fat. Now scientists are conducting research into the influence of yogic practices on the brain wave patterns of individuals.
These alpha, gamma, beta, delta and theta waves control human behaviour. Whether you are angry or pleased, full of compassion or anxious and afraid, you are under the influence of these waves. However, by creating particular waves you can influence the brain. Yoga practices enable us to control the behaviour of these brain wave patterns. In addition to the scientific experiments, which have been made in many countries on brain wave therapy, medical experts have been talking about the scientific effects of yoga practices on the nervous system.
The sympathetic, parasympathetic and central nervous systems control our sense activity, emotions, thoughts and fears. We are what our motor and sensory cortex tell us to be. We are controlled by the nervous system. If it fails to carry the impulses or is unable to control the impulses, then mental and physical problems arise. Scientists today have come to the conclusion that most of the diseases that are in the body have their origin in the mind via the emotions. An emotional situation causes a mental vibration, a mental wave, and through body-mind relationship this influence is transferred to the body in the form of a disease, like asthma, diabetes or insomnia. People who want to get rid of fat and have a beautiful figure must remember that the metabolism in the body is controlled by the mind, which is influenced by the emotions. When you are in the grip of fear, the adrenal glands secrete adrenaline directly into the blood stream. This immediately affects the coronary artery and therefore the heart. This can cause the anginal disease called heart pain.
Some of my disciples are now working on Kirlian photography. The Kirlians were electronic engineers who came to the conclusion that this physical body, which we see through our naked eye, has radiations which we cannot see. These invisible radiations are the electrical charges that are conducted by the body. The Kirlians discovered how to photograph these radiations in a high voltage, high frequency field.
When we define yoga, we have to be very careful. Some people say that hatha yoga- the physical part of yoga- is the definition. Others say no, meditation is yoga. For some people hatha yoga, the physical part of yoga, is more important; for others, meditation. But the effect of both is the same on the human body and mind. What is achieved by meditation can also be achieved by hatha yoga and vice versa. Hatha yoga is not only physical in nature. The practices of asana and pranayama have immediate influence on the body, the endocrine glands and the nervous system. Pranayama affects the psychic centres of the body. When the body is purified, free from toxins, and your nervous system is capable of carrying all the impulses throughout the body, the psychic centres awaken. So even by practising hatha yoga a spiritual or semi-spiritual state can be achieved. Others feel that the same thing can be accomplished by simple meditation, and I agree. Meditation affects the whole metabolism. It can control all the electrical impulses, the prana or the magnetism in the body by which you live, talk, think and participate in all kinds of activities. So meditation, raja yoga, is a very important part of yoga, and scientists have conducted many experiments on people in meditation.
How does meditation affect the rate of oxygen consumption and respiration? What happens to skin resistance? Yoga is not merely a set of exercises, it is more than that. One who practises yoga systematically can accelerate his spiritual evolution.
Q. I thought that hatha yoga led to raja yoga, yet you say that they are equal?
A. Hatha yoga is a part of raja yoga. Now, let me explain the term hatha yoga. Hatha means 'vital' referring both to prana and mind (manas). Yoga means union and harmony. Hatha yoga means mind and vital energy. This body is composed of physical energy or prana and mental energy or mind. There must be a complete balance and harmony between these twin forces within the body. In hatha yoga balance is maintained between the vital and mental forces. If the vital forces supersede the mental forces, one becomes very aggressive and violent, but if the mental forces supersede the vital forces, then there is a lot of impractical thinking, a lot of day dreaming, and people go crazy. They become loony. The balance between the two is very important; therefore I personally do not consider hatha yoga to be merely physical.
Because our awareness lives in the physical body, we are aware of the physical body first. Therefore we have to start with physical awareness. But if you are not particularly aware of the physical body, if you have evolved to the mental body, you must start from there. Hatha yoga concerns itself with the perfection or the purification of the different portions of the physical body, while raja yoga pertains to the mind. But remember that if you just sit for meditation with an impure body, a vacillating mind and an unbalanced nervous system, you will not really progress spiritually. So hatha yoga is a part of raja yoga.
Q. What is tantra?
A. Actually tantra is the aum of yoga. From tantra yoga has emerged. Tantra and yoga are inseparable. Tantra goes side by side with the yogic practices. What we want in life can be achieved by tantra and also by yoga. Tantra awakens the psychic body, the kundalini shakti. Tantra is the system by which you liberate or separate the two aspects of matter and consciousness, purusha and prakriti, or Shiva and Shakti. Sometimes matter rules over consciousness and sometimes consciousness rules over matter. When consciousness rules over matter, there is spiritual vision. When matter rules over consciousness, there is creation. These twin energies live and work together in total agreement with each other. As long as matter and consciousness are united, existence continues in a set pattern. But by the practice of tantra, you can separate matter from consciousness, prakriti from purusha or Shakti from Shiva; then the awakening takes place. What we are aware of within us is a combination of the two. We are aware of matter, the material body, and mind, the 'I', the senses and the objects of perception. We are aware of all these sections at the same time. By the practice of tantra the awareness is withdrawn from all sections and centred on one point- I. That is the separation of prakriti (matter) from purusha (spirit) and that is tantra. How do you practise it? There are many ways. The most important part of tantra is mantra and next comes kriya. With the help of mantra and kriya yoga you can awaken the dormant potential power known as kundalini shakti. This is the prime purpose, the ultimate reality in tantra and in human evolution.
Q. Do you practise yoga all day long?
A. Yoga is a part of life. Swamis live a yogic life for the evolution of body, mind and consciousness. We do not practise yoga all day long. The hatha yoga and raja yoga sciences are meant for householders, and not for renunciates. We do not need to practise them. Yoga practices are for people who are under stress and strain, who are facing emotional, psychological and physical problems in their lives. Yoga practices are mainly for people who live and move in the world, who have a worldly mind. They accumulate a lot of problems within themselves and when they are unable to eliminate all those problems, they take the help of yoga asanas, pranayama, meditation, etc. For swamis, yoga is not a practice. We live a very natural life within ourselves and for us life is all fullness. In the ashram we work, perhaps more than a householder does. Most of us get up at three o'clock in the morning, and by four o'clock we are on duty. Those sannyasins who work in the office, the printing press, the kitchen, report for work at four a.m. For us, work is the most important thing in life, and the work we do brings us great peace and pleasure. We don't study or practise yoga for ourselves. Yoga practices are unnecessary for those who have accepted and understood the mind. Householders and people who live in the world have to practise yoga as a part of their daily routine in order to be able to face the situations of life, but once you are free from those situations, you don't really need yoga.
Q. What is the goal of a sannyasin?
A. We have only one goal- to serve the guru, to live for the guru, to work for the guru in a peaceful and correct way with an unfettered mind. We don't create psychotic and neurotic mental cobwebs around us. What we think, the pain and pleasure in life, weren't there until we created them for ourselves. There are many mental conditions that a human being creates for himself. Sannyasins have become aware of this so they don't condition themselves. All the swamis live in a community and work plenty, sometimes eighteen to twenty hours a day. The ultimate goal which we know is the awareness of a greater reality beyond the body, beyond this world. The dimensions are infinite, but we don't worry. We know that the way we are going we will reach it; we are not neurotic about it. The evolution of this self to the point of cosmic vision is our ultimate goal. For that it is important that we live in a community with the guru, do a lot of karma yoga and purify the mind. When the mind is purified, there is a spontaneous awakening, a great unfolding of our vast dormant potential.
In an ashram karma yoga is given very much importance. We work so hard that karma yoga becomes our life. Only by making yoga part of one's life or one's whole life can the maximum results be derived.
Q. What are the stages of sannyas?
A. When we become sannyasins, for the first few years we live with a guru and try to imbibe the best from him. We seek his guidance for a particular period, which is traditionally twelve years, and after this we become mendicants. We leave the ashram and then we are on our own. Having been trained by the guru for a period of twelve years, we have become very responsible thinkers. We know how to live without being caught up in the maya or the temptations. For some period we keep on walking just like beggars. I have been to Kathmandu a number of times just like a beggar, sleeping somewhere in a tent, on a lawn or in some wayside hut. I've gone to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon- walking, by train, by bullock cart. So by living with many people and having a lot of experiences, we come to understand the way people think, how and why they suffer, the purpose of life and what exactly evolution means. By meeting thousands of people for a number of years, we come to a conclusion as to what should be done. Then we establish ourselves at one particular place and the disciples gather around.
At that point I had a vision and in my mind came yoga. I was never a yoga fanatic. My personal spiritual life consisted of total surrender. This is my nature and right from childhood I had always envisioned surrender as the higher reality. But still when I was moving all over India, Ceylon, Afghanistan, Nepal and Burma, I realised that yoga was the need of the people. So I started teaching yoga. Now everybody is doing it. There are many swamis, however, who do not involve themselves with establishments or organisations. They just want to live an independent life. That's another way.
Q. What does God mean to sannyasins?
A. We feel that God is within us; God is the subtle or spirit body in everyone. When you have illumination within you, you don't seek it any more. God is a symbol for the beginner, but one who is illumined has found God within. When you start school, you begin with A B C D, however, an older student who already knows the alphabet shouldn't be put into kindergarten. For a beginner the symbol, a cross, flower, lingam, etc. is necessary. But when awareness is deep, grand and magnificent, then what need is there for symbols?
Everything depends upon one's own awareness. If you want to enter into the temple of God, in the beginning, of course, you can do it externally, but that alone will not bring you to God. Visiting temples is like going to kindergarten. The high temple, Shiva's real dwelling, is only found within. The outer temples only symbolise what is found inside. The external holy places and shrines are built of brick and mortar on the basis of the envisioned model that people have experienced within themselves. A Shiva temple or any outer shrine is only an expression of what is found within.
So it is very important to know the way to the inner shrine. Only by entering the inner shrine can you know the God, the deity dwelling there. Once you have had a vision of the deity within your temple, which is not material, not brick and mortar, then why go to outer shrines? Temples and shrines are necessary in the beginning, but there is a period when one has to transcend them because they are symbols. As long as you are aware of them you are within the boundaries of the mind. In order to experience reality one has to transcend these boundaries, because God is beyond the limited, finite mind. In order to know him, you have to transcend the mind. There are many techniques, which lead to the point or brink where you have to jump over the mind, but I don't think that anyone can teach us how to make this jump. Up to this point your yoga practices, the practices your guru has given you, kriya yoga, singing or any spiritual practice, can help you. But beyond this point there is no spiritual practice, no yoga practice that can help you, and no book has been written on it.
People have tried using LSD and ganja, but that's not transcending the mind, not jumping over the mind, not spiritual evolution. That's just escaping the mind for the time being. These drugs dull the mind, and that's all. Most of the people who come to me have had LSD and so many things, but their minds are very dull.
Only one thing can help- grace. But what is grace? Nobody knows. It is like a helicopter. So all our spiritual pursuits and religious practices only take us to the edge of this boundary of material consciousness. Up to that point everybody can teach you but to take you beyond surpasses all human power. You alone must find the way.
Q. What is the difference between states of consciousness caused by drugs and meditation?
A. It is a fact that drug-induced experience totally deprives one of any control- one is helplessly tossed about by the emotions. Meditation, however, is a creative process, which converts the chaos of uncontrolled feelings, thoughts and volitions into a centre of integrated psychic faculties in the depth of consciousness.
Moreover, the deleterious effects of drugs, physiologically and psychologically, result in deterioration of mental powers. Meditation is impossible unless you are ready for an expansion of consciousness, and not every person is ready. Drugs, however, can take one to an experience for which he is not ready. The experience depends on the contents of the individual mind. The same drug may give one person a wonderful new experience, and another a very frightening experience which overwhelms him.
Yoga is the safe and sure method of attaining mystical experiences, for it initially cleans out and remolds the whole mind and the personality. It is based on the rich experiences of yogis throughout the ages, as well as modern scientific research.