Sayings of a Paramahamsa

Talk by Swami Satyananda Saraswati on yoga and psychology at the First International Yoga Convention, Bihar School of Yoga, November 4, 1964, originally printed in YOGA, Vol.3, No.2, 1965

The main book on yoga which has been passed down through the ages is Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, but it is one of the smallest books also. All the aphorism's of Patanjali would hardly occupy four pages of printed matter. The reason why there are not many textbooks on yoga is because this science cannot be learned by studying books. It can only be learned by practice. From ancient times the guru has instructed promising disciples by word of mouth, and therefore there are very few textbooks on yoga.

You have probably heard that an individual can attain various siddhis such as clairvoyance, thought transference, levitation, etc. through the practice of yoga. You also know that for the sadhaka, yoga is a means to God-realization. However, you may not know that yoga is a powerful therapy for body and mind and for all round self-development.

In my boyhood days I was abnormal in many ways, but I was not conscious that I was so. At that time I had a strong impulse to learn hypnotism and I did make some progress with it. Then I decided to try vama marga, so I went to the cremation ground and I did a few practices, but my enthusiasm for that path ended there. Then I had the darshan of Ananda Mai. At that time I was unwell and quite unhappy. A relative advised me to learn asanas and I followed his advice. The result was that my mind became very receptive and I became fond of satsang.

After some years it suddenly struck me that there was a considerable change in my outlook on life. Slow but sure transformation had taken place and my thoughts had changed out of recognition. There were no more fears of death or disease, no more ill-will or malice towards others. I was still developing mentally, but the development was now of a different order. My fancy for yoga had transformed my life. This is not an isolated case. I know many people who took to yoga merely to keep good health and were transformed mentally as well as spiritually as a result. Have you ever tried to fathom this mystery?

The blood circulates throughout the body, and if there are impurities in the blood, then the brain centres governing our emotions are affected, so our actions are no longer pure and abnormalities in the behaviour result. By practising asana and pranayama we improve the circulation and purify the blood. Then our actions become pure and we become masters of our circumstances.

People say that yoga is for Sannyasis, but this is not true. A sannyasin has no family, no attachments and few wants. For this reason he does not develop aberrations. But the life of a worldly person is different; it is complex. He is bowed down with the weight of his problems and when he suffers, those who are near and dear to him also suffer. Therefore, he needs yoga. But instead of trying simple and effective yoga practices for self-improvement, he tries to drown his sorrows in clubs, cinema shows and cigarette smoking. The remedy he employs is worse than the disease.

My original leaning was for the path of knowledge and my energies were directed to that end. I learned yoga for a different reason altogether. I soon discovered that it is an immutable law of life that pain is inherent in pleasure. People run after happiness and become full of misery. I know yoga could improve their lot and that is why I learned it.

Today life has become very competitive. This is the age of the survival of the fittest. The Bhagavad Gita tells us that 'efficiency in life is yoga'. A sannyasin is detached from life. He does not need efficiency in action - you need it. But how can you have efficiency in action with a mind that is restless and fluctuates from moment to moment? You are agitated in sorrow and you are agitated in joy. Either way you have no serenity. You should learn the art of remaining steadfast under all circumstances. This art is known as yoga.

Western psychologists learned yoga from the east. They are working on it now and will return it as a therapy. We have had yoga since the time of the Vedas, but we never bothered about its practical use. Psychotherapy, a discovery of medical science, has been hailed by the world. This is based on the removal of latent complexes and fixations formed in early life by psychoanalysis, when these make a person's life miserable. This is not a new discovery for us. What the psychologists call complexes, our ancestors called samskaras. They also knew that as soon as your samskara, or complex, is brought to the surface it vanishes.

In psychology a mentally healthy man is called normal; we call him a yogi, one who is not affected by the good and bad influence of life. In its broad sense, the term yogi does not mean sannyasi; it means a mental condition. Therefore, everyone can become a yogi. Western psychologists have not concerned themselves with man's spiritual salvation. They are content with curing mental disorders. In their study of the human mind, they stumbled on the discovery that man is endowed with extrasensory perception, which is dormant in all of us. Those few fortunate ones in whom this form of perception is awakened are able to perform superhuman tasks.

Again, this is not a new discovery. Our yogis knew about this power all along. They could see with the eyes closed, walk without moving, and hear with the ears plugged. They practised the art of awakening the super- psychic centres by deep meditation. The ESP of modern psychologists was the yoga shakti of our yogis. It is my belief that all of our great scientists were raja yogis. They searched and searched within and gave us their findings in the form of great discoveries.

Psychotherapy is a child before yoga. The author Hans Jacob has written an excellent book called 'Psychology and Hindu Sadhana', in which he recommends the practice of meditation on form. He maintains that when we meditate on form, as the form becomes clearer and clearer, our samskaras which are the root cause of all our troubles, begin to leave us. When this happens, inner purity is established and the individual is able to manifest power.

That is why religions declare that as long as you do not have the vision of God, lust, greed, jealousy etc. will not leave you. When God-realization comes, the lower instincts go. Your actions become pure and unselfish. Thus, when we practise meditation, there occurs a change for the better in our personality, and our gain is ultimately the gain of society.