Swamiji, we have had so many saints and we still have so many saints. How is it that we are still so poor, and that there is so much misery in our country?

Poverty is no sin. Poverty is not because we lack spirituality. In the last 100 or 200 years, there has been a constant attempt to exploit and confuse. Before that, everything was all right. Perhaps you know about the famine of Bengal. It was not because there were no saints.

Another important point is that from the beginning, spirituality has emphasized or rather encouraged simplicity which in the eyes of modern people is poverty. When you are poor, you are creative and you have to work hard. When you are rich, your creativity comes to a standstill. All your creativity and your genius goes towards sensuality. Wherever you find prosperity you find that people seek sensual pleasures. When they follow a life of sensual pleasures, there is a deterioration. Therefore, I think saintliness and spirituality should not be blamed for poverty.

In the last few years, in cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Madras, Kanpur people are becoming more prosperous. Their purchasing capacity has increased. But you know what moral confusion has taken place and what downfall and degeneration has taken place in the values of life and in people’s health. You find that everyone is complaining about blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and many infectious diseases.

It is the tradition in India that mahatmas, swamis and saints ask every householder to live a very simple life. The money which you earn should be properly used, not just for your own self. When you have a lot of money and prosperity, you don’t know what to do. You become self-indulgent, a bhogi. The mind becomes restless, but if you can use your wealth for a better purpose, that is different. So you should spend minimum on your personal comforts.

I lived in Sabarmati and Wardha for some time when Mahatma Gandhi was alive. Simplicity was his greatest virtue. He was very strict about his personal requirements. The length of dhoti, the breadth of dhoti, how it should be made. He did not even allow Kasturba to spend 6 annas. He said, “No, you have to weave your own dhoti.” Vinobha Bhave was also the same and so are the thousands of people in India who live like Gandhi. They live a very simple life, although they are fabulously rich. Mr Birla had his dhoti up to the knees, wearing ordinary shoes and ordinary kurta. If you use the wealth for your own sense gratification, it makes you materialistic and blinds your senses. Spiritual life cannot be perceived. If you study the annals of history anywhere in the world, the greatest sages and saints, the illumined people, the people with spiritual power and resistance were born only in this land.

I do not use the word poverty; I am replacing it with tapasya. Tapasya opens the doors to intuition. Bhoga closes the doors to intuition, you cannot penetrate. Therefore, when the mind is clogged and clouded and you are not able to take any proper decision about your life, even if you are a rich person, you must retire for some time. Go to an ashram or to a pilgrim place. Live on minimum things and you will find that you are developing more and more intuition, and you will be able to tackle the problems of your life.

One last point. India has always played the role of a Guru. Since the vedic period, through the wonderful literature of the Vedas and following them, the Upanishads, Shruti, Smriti, Puranas, Itihasa, Veda, Vedanga, Nigamas and Agamas, India has always played the role of a Guru; and it is the Guruji who is never rich, chelas have to be rich.

Swamiji, why is it that yoga and the yogic culture has not spread in this country, the way it has spread in the West?

In Europe, America, Australia, in Japan, to some extent in countries of South East Asia, and quite a bit in Middle Eastern countries, yoga is well received and well organized. However, it is not right to say that in India it is not known or popular or practised.

I may add something very important here. First of all, Indian culture, society and religion are organized in such a way that many times we do not need yoga at all. Maybe in the last two or three decades with big cities like Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi developing, with technology being introduced and a technological culture being lived in this country, the cultural expression and behaviour is now becoming different. People are developing hypertension and are suffering from diabetes and insomnia. Heart diseases are forever on the increase, and so are cases of cancer. This is particularly due to the impact of the technological culture.

In rural India, people did not suffer from the illnesses which could be cured by the practices of yoga. Of course, in books of ayurveda we have references to madhumeh, diabetes, we have reference to cancer, and we have references to high blood pressure. From all accounts, we know that these were not national or common diseases. In fact, the way in which other diseases have been dealt with so meticulously in ayurveda proves that those diseases were common in this country. Therefore, it was not necessary for those people to practise asana and pranayama or hatha yoga.

Imagine your grandfather living in a village, going to the bushes every morning, not to the attached bathroom, and then going to the ponds and rivers for a bath. Sleeping outside on the veranda in the night, in the open, with barely one dhurrie and one bedsheet. What pranayama did they need? What yoga did they need? The workers, labourers and farmers working in the fields during the month of May and June, Vaisakh and Jyestha; the owners of the land supervising them only with an umbrella and sometimes without an umbrella. What yoga did they need? They really did not need yoga at all. Their food also was very simple. The food which they took, and with the fasts which they observed from time to time like on Ekadashi, Poornima, Krishna Janmashtami, Sivaratri, hundreds of fasts in one year, the digestive functions were not sluggish; the liver was not sluggish. The intestines were functioning properly.

In this age we are not suffering from malnutrition, we are suffering from over-nutrition. You take a lot of fat, protein, vitamins, fruit, milk, curd, rasgulla, meat, eggs, honey, so you need yoga to digest those things. In the cultural climate of India and in the set-up of Indian society, particularly Hindu society, the practices of yoga were more or less applied. You should also understand what applied yoga is: Get up in the morning latest by 5 a.m. and do surya pranam by offering water to tulsi and arghya, oblations to the sun. That is more or less surya namaskara or surya pranam.

Now Indians have started to learn and need yoga. During earlier periods, the economic and other conditions in India were such that yoga had to be practised because India was very wealthy. It used to be known as Sone ki chidiya, the ‘Golden Bird’. Now America is known as the Golden Bird. Today most Indians dream of going to America for a job, a career and to make their fortune. Earlier there was a time when people from the West and the Middle East used to come to India for opportunities.

The area of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal was known as the country of Doab. Anyone from the Middle East would say, “We should go to Doab” just as we now go to Gulf countries for opportunities. That was the wealth and prosperity of this country. From the dances, the drama, music and art, you can see that these things were developed in a country which was very prosperous. From this you can understand that society and the social, political and religious culture was very great in this country. As a result of that, people were given to indulgences. They were prone to bhoga and so yogic sciences were preached by different gurus from time to time.

During the period of Guru Gorakhnath and his Guru, Matsyendranath, there are stories of them only initiating rajas and maharajas into yoga, like Raja Gopichand and Raja Bharata. This means that these rajas or kings were so sensual and given to bhoga. They were indulging so much in sensual pleasures that it became necessary that they, including their ministers, chief ministers and officers, were taught yoga.

Today yoga is not popular in the same way in India as it is in Europe. The social, economic and political culture are the same in the West as they were in India about 2,000 or 2,500 years ago. You have to remain locked in your flat all the time with central heating. In the car you are closed, in the office you are closed, in the restaurant you are closed, everywhere you are closed. As a result of that, you get a sort of stuffy atmosphere inside your body. Consequently, you suffer from lethargy, indolence, nervous depression, migraine, cough and so on.

Yoga is the only thing that you can practise. In the West, you can’t go to the field in the hot sun and work for eight to ten hours a day. Yoga is the only thing that you can practise, in order to improve the quality, behaviour and responses within your body. The same thing will happen and is happening in India. Now in Calcutta, what can you do? Even if I ask you to practise some physical exercises, for how long? Eight hours, ten hours and where will you practise? It’s not practical. The only practical thing now is to devote about one hour in the morning to the practice of hatha yoga, to the practice of raja yoga and other yogic sciences.

This is not the situation everywhere. If you go about a hundred miles out of Calcutta, you are in a different culture. One hundred miles out of Calcutta there is a different India, and inside Calcutta it is a different India. If you go to Bihar, Santhal areas, 24 Parganas and Singhbhum District, it is an absolutely different India. You can’t imagine what it is like and you can’t compare it with anything like Kanpur, Madras, Agra, Trivandrum, Bombay or Delhi. There the peoples’ mode of life, drinking and eating habits, their beliefs, philosophy and their responses to the events of life are entirely different.

The second point is that the West has a religion. I am not trying to criticize, but it is necessary to make a balanced reference to it. This religion is more or less an institutionalized religion. We call it organized religion. Just like I am a member of the Lion’s Club and you are a member of the Rotary Club, the people who believe in religion are members of a great fraternity. The philosophy of that religion is preached in such a way that the majority of people following that religion have no base for hidden insecurities. As a result, there is a philosophical vacuum which creates mental diseases, and therefore psychological problems are very much present there and much less in India.

Another important point is that Christianity is mainly a puritanical religion where certain behaviours in life are considered sin. According to that understanding, everyone has committed a sin. My father has done that and your father has done that. Therefore, I am born and you are born out of sin. It means that any relationship between opposite sexes, whether approved by society, by law, or by religion is a sin. This has been taught for about eighteen hundred or nineteen hundred years. It is so ingrained in the brain, yet in the last hundred years modern psychology has been teaching them something totally different.

What their religion calls sin, psychology calls a process of health. What their religion calls sin, modern science says, “No, no, you do it and it will give you good health.” I am talking about the sexual behaviour of each and everybody, consciously, subconsciously or even unconsciously. I am referring to the psychological philosophy of Doctor Sigmund Freud and his followers. Prior to them, there have also been others but they have not been important.

As a result of that, the man in European countries has a split personality. Basically he is a Christian and culturally he is a Freudian. He believes in this life and he lives that life. What effect will it have on your mind when you live in one life but you practise another life? It is called schizophrenia. For example, you believe that drinking is bad, a sin. At the same time, your doctor tells you that you should drink because it is necessary for your health. So you drink. Now you have two ideas in your mind: I am bad, I should not drink; but I drink because it is necessary for my health.

It is the same with sexual behaviour. It is a sin but I have to do it because it is a natural urge, it is a compulsion of nature, it is the compulsion of my body and it is also said by the doctor that free sexual life confers good health. This is how they are torn into two and suffer from schizophrenia.

Therefore, yoga and tantra, particularly tantra, have come to the western society as a very consoling message. People have received new hope from the message of yoga and tantra, in which all those things which are considered evil in their society and religion are taken care of. So as a result of this philosophy of yoga and tantra, the gap between the ego and the super-ego is cemented and that is why it is very popular.

Another important factor is that western society in Europe and America is going through a period that I call anti-climax. When you climb a mountain and you go up to the top, that is one event. Then from the top, you have to return and come down, that is called anti-climax. That is what they are facing now in the field of prosperity and education, everywhere. It is exactly at this time that yoga has come to them.

Now with regard to India, the Government and the states do not patronize yoga very much. In Maharashtra, yoga is taught in every school, not on behalf of the Government, but by private teachers. Most of the doctors in Maharashtra teach yoga. Similarly, in Chandigarh, Kerala and Madras, yoga is very popular and is taught in many schools and colleges. The picture of yoga in India is statistically not very clear. When the time comes and if accurate statistics are taken, it will be much brighter than the picture in Europe. I can assure you about it.

Swamiji, are natural attachments in life obstacles to spiritual growth?

Attachments do not create any block in spiritual life or spiritual growth. In the Yoga Vasishtha and the Ramayana a lot of discussion has taken place on attachment and it is found that there is a particular stage of evolution. In that stage of evolution, attachment develops inner faculties, but when you want to lead a life of nivritti, aloofness, and follow spiritual life and meditation, then of course attachment becomes a very serious impediment. For a normal human being, attachment is an indication of growth and inner development.

How can yoga be integrated through schools within the present structure of the education system? What is its application for delinquents and those who are unable to adjust in society?

In order to introduce yoga into education you have to put forth private efforts. You should not wait for the government to do it, or the education department. Private teachers must go to schools or school authorities must engage these private teachers. Children who are interested in practising yoga should be given the proper opportunity and facility to learn.

In India, there are many institutions, even private schools and Catholic convents, that have yoga as a subject. Teaching is given and examinations are held. In the same way, yoga teaching can be introduced with the help of private teachers, provided the school authorities or the members of the governing body, the head of the institution or the head of a particular department are interested.

The practices of yoga definitely improve the quality of brain, mind and emotions. So far as delinquents are concerned, there should be institutions where all delinquents are kept together. If you teach them privately, it will not work very much. It is not only hatha yoga, but they have to be taught many other forms of yoga during the day. At times the practices of shatkarmas, then the practices of inner visualization called dharana, and side by side they should be exposed to karma yoga. This is very important. In your family structure, it is very difficult to provide them with the opportunity of karma yoga. In India, you don’t have many ashrams and institutions that can provide you with the opportunity to do karma yoga. I have seen many orphanages and many other social institutions for children. There is always teaching and more teaching, academic teaching or religious teaching.

Religious teaching does not work in so far as delinquents are concerned. They don’t accept it and they don’t like it. The religious teachings which are imparted either in the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist or Muslim fashion are very artificial. They are far from reality. To expect a child, and especially if he is a delinquent, to behave like a Pope, is suggesting an impractical thing. Or to expect from a very young delinquent child, the behaviour which you expect from a swami or from a grown- up person is very impractical, and that is why religions fail.

Religions will fail. Religions will not succeed, because in religion the do’s and don’ts are very difficult. Either you have to become a hypocrite or you have to be a delinquent. You can be nothing beyond this. The way the religious do’s and don’ts are propagated and taught, the follower has to be a hypocrite because he can’t fulfil it. Impossible. He doesn’t have sufficient willpower and most people that you find around you, including yourself, are suffering from infirmity of willpower. When we are suffering from this infirmity, how do you expect to follow all those do’s and don’ts. That is precisely the reason why religions have failed. They have only succeeded in creating wars and genocides, as has happened in the past and is happening in the present.

Religions have not created a healthy citizen or a healthy individual. If there is hypocrisy in this world today and if anyone is responsible for that hypocrisy, it is religion. So either you have to be a hypocrite or you have to be a delinquent.

Delinquent children cannot understand these do’s and don’ts and the structure of your lessons. The structure of your instructions is quite beyond their comprehension and quite beyond their reach. These children will have to be exposed to a secular environment in which karma yoga is practised and when you give the practice of karma yoga, though it takes quite some time, they do improve.

I will give you a very small example. Three years ago a girl was brought to Munger. I think she was about eight years old. She was a terror. She would spare none excepting me. You had to go out carefully because she would just take your dhoti; she used obscene language and abused people, she did not care for anyone. The swamis started beating her and one day I came to know about it. At first I thought they might be exaggerating, and then I heard myself.

They wanted me to give her dharma upadesh, good instructions. You know me very well; I don’t believe in all this. So, what happened? I issued a written instruction in the ashram: Anyone who misbehaves with her will be expelled from the ashram immediately. This is an order. And I signed it myself. I did expel one of the swamis for beating and abusing her. Today she has improved tremendously.

Delinquency or whatever you might call it has nothing to do with man’s personal nature. It has more to do with the behaviour of a society. Society produces delinquents. Parents are responsible, religion is responsible, education is responsible. These grey-haired teachers are responsible because they do not understand that a child of eight is not a man of fifty. At fifty, my thinking is different and yet I want the child of eight to behave like me. It is unnatural. We want them to smile artificially, behave artificially, sit down artificially. We are always telling them what to do and what not to do. This produces delinquency in children.

Parents produce delinquent children and therefore it is not the children who should be taught yoga, it is the parents who should be taught yoga. They are the manufacturing plants for these delinquents. I have given you just one example of a girl who has been living in the ashram for the last three years. She is getting better and better. One day I asked her, “Do swamis beat you now?’ She said, “No.” I said, “Why?” She said, “Because you have put a note there.” I said, “Why have I put a note there?” She said, “That is the way you are trying to make me more conscious of myself.” I said, “Will you become conscious?” She said, “I hope I can.”

Besides her there are many more people I have encountered in my career as a sannyasin. I have failed many times, because I have tried to correct them, and I have succeeded many times, because I have more or less seemingly ignored them. Of course I don’t ignore, but I put up a show that I am ignoring them.

It is important that delinquent children should be taught yoga in a very non-religious style. There is no use trying to give them the examples of Sri Rama. There is no use trying to give them the examples of Mahatma Gandhi. Why don’t you give them the example of Krishna? Krishna himself, I think, he was a juvenile delinquent, if you study the Srimad Bhagavat. Forget that Sri Krishna was an incarnation of Vishnu as an ordinary baby, he was a perfect example of a juvenile delinquent. He was a headache for society. What a headache he used to create for Yashoda. What a headache he used to create for everybody, he even had enmity with Kamsa. Kamsa was angry with Gokul because of the misbehaviour of Krishna with Kamsa’s messengers and emissaries. It made Kamsa full of wrath and anger. That is why he tried to put an end to Krishna’s career. But of course Krishna was strong, a very powerful figure from childhood. Ultimately, he managed to kill Kamsa.

Swamiji in practising meditation or concentration, I not only get dullness, lethargy and sleepiness, but the joints of the body become very stiff. What can be done about this?

In raja yoga, concentration or dharana is the sixth step after yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, and before dhyana and samadhi. Sometimes we are not prepared for the sixth step. We listen to others who say that concentration is very good and we must do it, so we jump immediately to the sixth step, without preparing our mind, body, philosophy and lifestyle. Concentration is not an abstract practice. When you concentrate, biochemical changes also happen in the physical body.

It has been found by scientists that during any practice of yoga, and especially during concentration practices, biochemical changes take place in the body. This means that prior to concentration you must fulfil other requirements, like pranayama and pratyahara.

There is invariably depression in the nervous system. On account of this depression, when you concentrate sometimes you get pain in your spine. This depression can take place sometimes in the sympathetic nervous system and sometimes in the parasympathetic nervous system. So before you attempt to practise concentration, you must purify your body with the help of pranayama. I mean to say hatha yoga.

Of the eight steps of raja yoga, the first two steps are yama and niyama. Yama means discipline. Niyama means routine. What is discipline? Satya, ahimsa, brahmacharya, asteya, aparingraha are five disciplines according to your grihastha ashrama or according to your sannyasa ashram. If you are a householder, a sannyasin, a student or a vanaprastha ashrami you have to practise these five yamas accordingly.

Then come the five niyamas. Shaucha, purification, means hatha yoga. Neti, dhauti, basti, kapalbhati, trataka, nauli have to be practised. So one should not be in a hurry to earn the benefits of concentration. Nowadays many books are published on concentration, we do it and we praise concentration very much. And though it is right, preparations have to be made. Shaucha is from hatha yoga. These six kriyas of hatha yoga are purificatory practices. So yama and niyama must be practised according to your ashrama. If you are a sannyasin, you must practise it accordingly. Or if you are a householder, you must practise it accordingly.

When you sit for the practices of concentration, the swara changes. The breath which flows through the left nostril and the right nostril alternately changes. Sometimes when you are practising concentration, if the ida nadi is flowing you will get a lot of pain in the body and sleep. You feel dullness, because ida nadi creates depression in the system. It has a tendency to cause depression and as a result you get a lot of pain. If you are practising concentration when the pingala nadi is flowing, you will find no matter what you do, your mind will continue to jump. Pingala nadi is surya nadi and ida nadi is chandra nadi. Pingala nadi has vitality, prana. Ida nadi has mental energy. Actually before you practise concentration, you should try to awaken your sushumna by practices of pranayama. It is does not all happen at once, it takes quite some time, quite a few years.

If you are practising advanced concentration, say for half an hour or one hour, you must also look after your diet. If you take any item of food which is difficult to digest, it will cause lethargy, indolence and sleep. It will create tamasic vrittis. If you take onions, they will deposit uric acid in the joints. During concentration, this uric acid is deposited in the joints and you get pain. So you should keep all these things properly in mind.

Can a person who is preoccupied with household life spend time in the pursuit of yoga? Is it worth his while?

There is no such thing as a ‘householder’. You must use the proper term, called pravritti and nivritti. Pravritti means involvement, nivritti means retirement from involvement. All of you are on the pravritti marga, you are involved in responsibilities, duties and there are many sannyasins at the Ramakrishna Mission, Sivanandashram, who are also on the pravritti marga. They are not nivritta, they have not become free from involvement. That is also pravritti. This pravritti marga is explained in the Bhagavad Gita. Pravritti with nivritti – there are people who are involved, but they are detached. That is the life of a householder, a grihastha, whereas nivritti with pravritti is the life of a sannyasin.

Many times the disciples of Buddha, Shankaracharya, Swami Sivananda, Swami Vivekananda, and many others lead a life of nivritti with pravritti, and householders lead a life of pravritti with nirvritti. Therefore, the life of a householder should not be underestimated. Many times there are certain affairs in the life of a householder on account of which he feels that a householder may not be fit for yoga because he marries, has relationships with the family, wife or husband. He has children, goes to work, and tells lies. Sometimes he is dishonest, sometimes he is selfish.

You see these are the things which many householders encounter during their life and as a result of this many feel that such a householder may not be fit to start yoga or to practise yoga. But in my opinion, this is the view of puritans.

Yoga is for householders. Just as medicine is for sick people, medicine is not for healthy people. Yoga is not for yogis, for yogis it is jnana, knowledge. For householders, it is yoga. Therefore, the path of yoga is especially designed for the people who are following the path of pravritti.

18 July 1983, Calcutta Ashram