The Message of Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, Interview by Afternoon Despatch and Courier, Mumbai

You are spreading the message of yoga in different countries and cultures. How is it being received?

It has been received in a different way to India because the mentality abroad is that of investigation and research. People want to know, “If I do yoga what will I gain from it? Will it affect my health, my attitude, my stress level or will it enhance my inherent capabilities?” They have a scientific bent towards yoga whereas in India it is a spiritual or a religious concept. There are more misconceptions about yoga in India than outside and this is an issue which needs to be addressed. Yoga is for physical health, mental well-being and spiritual development – that is the complete picture of yoga. A lot of research has been done in different countries in the West into yoga for physical, mental and emotional health, with very good results. Therefore, there is a wider acceptance of yoga as a science of life abroad. However, now in India certain ideas are changing. People are facing similar stress-related problems to people abroad and resorting to yoga.

Twenty years ago people had the idea that yoga was something spiritual, but now more people come for therapy than for spiritual reasons. We are at present in the process of establishing the first Yoga University in the world in Munger, Bihar, so, in a few years there will be a further shift in our own ideas in relation to yoga.

Do you believe in the soul? Do you think that the soul comes with a certain store of energy and a certain store of knowledge?

The soul has every kind of knowledge. After all, where has everything that you study today come from? It is the creation of human wisdom and intellect, it has come through experimentation, rationalization, and this is what we are teaching to others. So it is an expression of our personality. Whether it is an analysis of history or an understanding of chemistry, mathematics or geophysics, it is an expression of our experience. It is the conclusion of thinkers and different people over a period of time. So a knowledge bank is definitely in sight, but we are not stimulating it. That bank of knowledge is in our unconscious and in our subconscious mind. There are yoga practices which can stimulate the awakening of the subconscious and bring to the surface of our mind the images and impressions of knowledge which are already stored in our deep unconscious. You may call this the level of the soul or spirit, and that is known as experiential wisdom. When that experiential wisdom is written down and taught to others it becomes bookish knowledge.

Do you think that each one of us comes into the world with a predetermined destiny or can we change the circumstances of our life entirely through yoga?

We come with a definite direction in life, but we can alter that to a certain degree. It is like a builder erecting a house for you. The basic structure is created but when you actually go inside the house, it is up to you how to decorate it, where to place your furniture, photographs, where you want your kitchen, your bedroom, where you want this and that. So you have both destiny and free will. Free will is within the parameters of destiny.

Destiny superimposes itself on your life and your free will?

Yes, destiny is like the basic structure of this room. You can't shift the wall without breaking it down. You can't change the basic design of the house without actually destroying it. But inside the room you can place the furniture wherever you like, according to your convenience. That is the difference between destiny and free will.

What about death? Is it a finality or do you believe that there is reincarnation, life after death?

Let me die first then I can tell you.

No. How will we get any answers?

There is no answer. There are certain mysteries in life which cannot be answered – death is one, God is another. You can search the entire cosmos, travel light years and never see the face of God, only dead planets, galaxies, gaseous planets, stars, supernovas, black holes. But we believe there is a God so when we don't find it outside we search inside. Then we realize that the spark of life is God. In the same way, death is a reality, it is inevitable, yet everyone is fearful of it. In our present life and in the course of evolution we cannot know what lies beyond death. These are mysteries which will never be solved. Many people have tried to solve them in the past as well as in the present age. The Indian scriptures, the Vedas, have contained so much information that ultimately they say: “It is neither this, neither that. We have presented our view and it is up to you to discover it.” Buddha, Mahavir, Ramana Maharshi – all the realized beings have said the same thing.

Does prayer come close to meditation? What is the purpose of prayer in one's life?

The purpose of prayer is to find the source of strength inside you, to reconnect you with your concept of a higher force guiding your life. Meditation helps you first to manage stress, tension and anxiety, to provide a better focus for the mind so that your mental sensitivity increases to a degree where you can educate yourself to realize and experience knowledge which transcends the materialistic approach in life.

But is materialism wrong?

No, it is not wrong, but there has to come a time when you adjust and use it for your benefit and growth in life. There are two aspects of materialism. One is negative in which you get caught up, you begin to desire and the negative aspect of your nature comes out as greed, jealousy, competitiveness and anxiety. That aspect of materialism is not conducive to the growth of your mind and consciousness. The positive side of materialism liberates you from expectations and desires so that you concentrate less on yourself and more on others. The skills, the strengths and the qualities which you have are used for the benefit of the whole of humanity.

Is your order open to all religions?

Oh yes. In my personal life I am a sannyasin.

Do you believe in God?

In my personal life I believe in God, but not in any form of established religion, and in my professional life I teach yoga. We are propagators and promoters of yoga.

What is your daily routine?

We have a different routine in the ashram where we live, and a different routine when we travel outside, depending on the programs. Basically our routine begins at 4 a.m. when we do our spiritual practices, yoga meditation practices or asana and pranayama. After that we participate in different activities. We run different institutions which are managed by sannyasins, students and well-wishers. One institution is the Bihar School of Yoga which is devoted to the propagation of yoga. It conducts therapy courses for the management of different physical and mental disorders, as well as sadhana courses to introduce the concept of balanced and natural living to people. So it is a yoga teaching institution.

Another institution is Sivananda Math which is dedicated to my grand guru Swami Sivananda. It is an institution for social work where we provide shelter and medical aid to the needy, the unemployed, the deprived and weaker sections of the community. We give them rickshaws, thelas and three-wheelers as a means to be self-employed. We help people with agriculture and farming. We give training in the maintenance of cows. We make our own bricks and construct houses for people. There is a wide variety of activities.

We are also attempting to establish the Yoga University so that yoga can become an academic subject and be incorporated into society. We also conduct research into cancer, AIDS, diabetes, asthma, etc. in liaison with medical institutes and research centres in different parts of the world. We also conduct seminars, workshops and conventions to introduce people to yoga.

There is no religious affiliation or attachment with any set form of belief. We are concerned with the welfare of humanity, and with preserving the tradition for future generations, not with any personal beliefs. That is why yoga is accepted by different communities, by different creeds. There are no restrictions. The sannyasins are all well-qualified. There are computer scientists, electrical engineers and medical professionals. I am the only person in the entire institution who has never been to school.

The sannyasins have all given up a normal life to live in the ashram?

Well, from their perspective they are living a normal life.There are no restrictions. If they want to leave and lead a so-called normal life they can do so. If I want to leave and raise a family I can do so because it is my personal choice. Just as some people become doctors, some scientists, some engineers, it is our free choice to become sannyasins. We are aware of the other realities, we know that they are there and are accessible. There is no denial or rejection. We use material things when we need them, but we are not obsessed by them.