Why is it that from the beginning of time so many of the great saints and sages have been born in India?

This question is put to me many times. Right from the beginning of spiritual awareness in every part of the world, mankind has been trying to manage the affairs of his spiritual life. But he has been finding it difficult, either due to political situations, culture, food, climate, the forests, rivers or the quality of the soil. All these things have been obstacles in man’s spiritual advancement from time to time. Therefore, in other parts of the world man could not make progress.

Benevolent environment

If you want to practise austerity and penance or follow something in Norway or Denmark, snow will pose a problem. whereas in the Himalayas, if you wanted to perform penance you found a hot spring in the vicinity of your kutir. In the course of time, people began to think, ‘Let us have at least one place in this world where we can organize a culture, a society, a political creed to suit our spiritual advancement’. I think it must have taken them many centuries.

Finally, most of the spiritually-minded people from all parts of the world came to the conclusion that those who were sincere, highly spiritual and totally dedicated to spiritual life and who could not manage their affairs under the given situations in their part of the world, should have a place where they could live together. A particular social system should be created for them with minimum possible political structure, bureaucracy, and benevolent rulers and protection, if necessary, should be given to them. Such people would engage themselves in agriculture, cattle breeding, forestry and so on to occupy their mind.

I have been to most parts of the world and I am particularly fascinated by rivers. If I come across any river, I stop the car and take a bath. Rivers can also be very dangerous. Either the fish in it are dangerous or you cannot drink the water. Somehow or the other, nature in other parts of the world has not been like it is in India. If you want, you can drink the water of Ganga, Yamuna or Narmada as it is naturally pure. The routes through which the rivers emerge and flow seem to be free and healthy.

In other parts of the world rivers do not pass through clean fields. In South American countries, there are rivers into which it is risky to even put your foot because there are very small fish, little bit bigger than mosquitoes, billions and trillions in number. If you have a mosquito bite and you scratch it, if there is a little spot of blood, they will smell it and within a moment, you will be reduced to a skeleton. Animals cannot cross the river. I have not found a single river like this in India.

If you want spiritual illumination, you must remember that you have a body with its limitations. The body is a very complex system: nervous system, respiratory and circulatory systems. So, when you want to go into spiritual life, merely abstract idealism will not do except in a few cases like Shankaracharya and others like him. For the majority, you have to go through a systematic process of evolution that involves the body, mind and soul, either at the same time or one after the other.

If you are going to practise hatha yoga, in the present century you have got centrally heated rooms in Norway and Denmark. But 5,000 years ago, 4,000 years ago or even 1,000 years ago how could they practise shankhaprakshalana, or even neti or pranayama? Whereas in India, a swami who stays in Haridwar in winter from November to January goes higher up into the Himalayas in summer from March to June. Then he comes down again. So the spiritually-minded people from all over the world created a community that is called India, Bharat, the land of light.

Spiritual communities overseas

Today in America, Europe, Israel and in other parts of the world, young boys and girls are not satisfied with the type of life their parents are living. They find it very difficult to practise yoga, Zen Buddhism or any other sadhana at home because in the society that they live in, their mother and father do not understand. So they have started spiritual communities. There are more than 30,000 such spiritual communities all over the world. Some are small, some are big and in the course of a few years, some may die out but some of them are really thriving.

These spiritual communities function like ashrams and can be found in practically every part of the world. What do these boys and girls do there? They go to the newspaper office or the shop where they work as a sales clerk, and in the evening they come with their earnings. They have twenty, thirty acres of land and on Saturdays people work there. They get up early in the morning and practise asana, pranayama and dhyana, they chant the Gita, Upanishads and from the Puranas, they try all kinds of things. Sometimes they collect money and invite a swami to give satsang.

Not only in India but everywhere in the world, people have this faith that India is a land with spirituality in its environment and atmosphere. The ecology of India is spirituality conducive where you can roam freely. If you read the Vedas, smritis like Manusmriti or Yajnavalkyasmriti, Upanishads, ayurvedic books or books on astrology and poetry, you will understand how old that civilization was, how enlightened the people were and what concepts they had.

They were prepared to accept free discussions on the nature of reality, although the Vedas had already declared their conclusiveness. They said, “No, in spite of the declaration, let us discuss.” In one of the ten major Upanishads, there is a discussion where Brahmavadins, those discussing the nature of reality, sat down to discuss these questions: ‘What is the source of the universe? What is the cause? Then what is the purpose? What is the process? Which way is it going?’ They had to table their arguments.

This particular process, responsible for creating the Vedas, Upanishads, smritis, books on the medical system and so on, shows that they must have been a very spiritual race. How many centuries must that civilization have existed to come to such a point of development and write medical books on the properties of a substance or fever, on itching, eczema and other subjects?

This particular race is called Hindu. The word came from the Sanskrit word ‘sapta sindu’ which means seven rivers. According to Sanskrit grammar, ‘sa’ can also be pronounced as ‘ha’, so you can say ‘sapta’ or ‘hapta’, ‘sindu’ or ‘hindu’. The Sindhu valley appears to have been the cradle of a great civilization. In the way we talk about Atlantis, we also talk about the Sindhu valley as being the cradle of civilization. Then there was a very big natural catastrophe and great changes took place. There were great monsoons, there were floods and there was a great migration. The people of the Sindhu valley started migrating, not to the east but to the north-west. One of the tribes went to Germany, another tribe went to Siberia, yet another tribe went to Iran who are the Parsis.

I have read some of the Zoroastrian Gathas and other scriptures where it is mentioned that people were going from one place to another. From that we understand how they were migrating and that there was an exodus. Most people migrated from the Indus valley civilization in a north-westerly direction during a period of constant and continuous flooding. These people went I think as far as Europe and as far as Siberia and, of course, to Iran.

When I was in Ireland I met someone who was an insurance agent and was also a research scholar in history. He said that either after the political exodus that began after the Mahabharata war or during this Indus valley mass transmigration, the people from Hindustan, or what is now India, came to Ireland. Even now in the north and south of Ireland you have traces of the Sindhu race. Even in the Caribbean islands like Aruba, there are dark-skinned people, not Africans, and when I teach them yoga they just accept it. They see me as a swami and they just accept it. They don’t have any difficulty and they greet me with ‘Hari Om’. They will never say ‘Hello’, they will only say ‘Hari Om’. Sometimes in Europe people find it difficult but in these countries where there is a continuity of the Hindu race, if you say ‘Hari Om’ once, they can easily follow it.

Now we come to the conclusion. India was created in order to provide spiritual facilities to spiritually-minded aspirants so that they could make further discoveries in spiritual life. Therefore, an ashrama dharma was created for householders. There is no ashrama dharma outside of India, you only find it among Hindus in India.

You have to design or plan your life in such a way that you will not only follow spiritual life but you will take care of your material requirements as well. For twenty-five years, children were educated, after twenty-five, they entered into married life. After fifty, what should they do? This was how the whole life was planned. Temples were built, ashrams were created, saints, sadhus, mahatmas and paramahamsas were allowed to live outside of society. They were told very clearly, “You have no social obligations” like attending births, weddings or even funeral ceremonies. From the thousands and thousands of sannyasins who renounced and lived separately, some started making experiments on spiritual life in their own personal ways. A few people were very brilliant like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharishi, Sukhdeva, Mahatma Gandhi and a few more.

Another point is that western countries are not ‘un-spiritual’, they are spiritual and they are aware of this. They know that there is a higher reality. Today they are not satisfied with the explanation or definition given to them by their religions. They say, “We don’t understand all this. We want an answer.” The answer is very clear. They say, “It is an experience. We have come to this point.” But they have no facilities. They have to work in a particular way which society wants them to work and that is why these boys and girls who are spiritually minded just leave. You will find thousands of them in India, not just a few hundreds. Our main ashram is full, the Ramakrishna Mission is full, Sivananda ashram is full, everyone’s ashrams are full of them. They are not dedicated to any purpose except one: they want to live in a particular way where they can carry on their spiritual experiences and spiritual practices. This is how India was made.

Why are people attracted to the Himalayas? What makes them go there?

The Himalaya provided a spiritual base for the spiritually- inclined people in India. You can go to the Alps, you can go any place, they are gigantic, majestic, beautiful but not holy. You go to Gangotri, just sit down and you are off on a spiritual journey. You go to Badrinath and just close your eyes, you have experiences. That is why people go there.

It is the atmosphere. The influences are interpenetrating, the outer atmosphere influences the inner atmosphere and the inner atmosphere influences the outer atmosphere. There is a spiritual magnetism and an external magnetism as well. High up in the Himalayas you just imagine the ions per cubic foot in comparison to ions existing here at this place, or the purity in the air which you inhale during pranayama and what you inhale in Bhilai or Danapur. The Himalayas still have got herbs and minerals which create a magnetic atmosphere wherever you go.

You do not find these dangerous fish there. When I went to Colombia I wanted to take a bath, but Mr Fernandez said, “Don’t take bath.” I said, “How is it possible? I’ll take bath and I’ll drink water.” “If you remain there you will die,” he said. “Our Colombian rivers are not meant for anything.” When the rivers are not meant for anything what are they good for? After all the most beautiful creation of nature is a river. When you look at a river, the expanse just gives the idea of majestic and glory. If that river is polluted by virtue of nature, then what is the point of having it?

In the Himalayas, if you sit down, you are in peace, even if you don’t care for God, nature is enough to withdraw your mind. You don’t have to go to God, nature itself will switch it off. You haven’t been to Lompas, you haven’t been to Hemkund. Hemkund is the place where Guru Nanak performed tapasya in his previous birth. About fifteen miles to Parchatti and across the Ganga to Hemkund, 14,000 feet from sea level is a place called Joshimath, a beautiful place with a beautiful dharamshala. They have built a heaven on earth there.

Lompas is known as the Valley of Flowers. When you go in the month of September, there is no colour which you cannot see and maybe there is something more which you have never seen. It is not just a patch of forest, the whole valley is blooming with beauty and colour.

At Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar there is no priest, no temple, no idol, but it seems everything is there. You do not feel that it is desolate. You feel an invisible presence though you know that nobody is there. It is a big beautiful lake with swans or ducks, crystal clear water and Mount Kailash reflected in Mansarovar. When there is no wind when everything is clear, you need not look at Kailash, you can see its reflection. There will be hardly ten or fifteen people, no more than that. A few Tibetans and a few Hindus here and there, but the whole place feels as if it is filled with a divine presence. You know very well that there is nobody here but this is your feeling. That is peculiar. Even the intellectual I was, used to think, “There is nobody here, but what am I feeling?” Then I came to find out what I was feeling, ‘I am feeling as if I am not the only person here, but this place seems to be full’.

When you go to a particular town, city or a house, you know if the house is full or the house is completely desolate without anybody. There I did not feel that I was only with myself. and with ten or fifteen other people. I found the place was full. Then I thought in my mind, “It is all a game, it is just me who is thinking.” But I couldn’t get rid of that idea, of that invisible presence. Just like a child who goes at night to the bathroom and thinks a ghost is there, I could not get out of that idea. All the time, I was aware that there was some presence at work though what exactly it was I didn’t know. I asked other people also. They said, “Yes, it seems a beautiful place. All the devis and devatas are here.” They were innocent people. They were more innocent than myself. They could feel a little more reality than I could.

What are the different types of samadhi?

There are different stages of samadhi, not different types of samadhi. The ultimate samadhi is nirvikalpa. The state of samadhi is divided into two, savikalpa and nirvikalpa. In savikalpa, there is vibration and counter vibration, movement. In nirvikalpa, everything is still and there is no movement.

Vikalpa means vibration, a process of thinking. Before you come to savikalpa samadhi, you have one-pointedness of mind. The mind is capable of visualizing only one object at a time. The awareness of one object is not interpreted by another idea. If I am talking to you, one idea is flashing across your mind, intercepting it. The state of meditation is of one idea, one-pointed awareness where there is awareness of one point, one item, one person or form which becomes totally and absolutely continuous without any other thought interception. This ultimately leads to savikalpa samadhi.

In meditation you have one object as the centre or the stuff of your awareness. In samadhi that does not happen, the stuff drops and there is only awareness. In that awareness, there are certain motions and movements that go on. I am talking about a very deep thing that is going on.

Those who have attained the second stage of transcendence, nirvikalpa, are like Ramana Maharishi, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Sivananda, Swami Nityananda of Ganeshpuri and Mahavir, the prophet of the Jains.

What is the experience of nirvikalpa samadhi?

It is written about in the Taittiriya Upanishad, Ashtavakra Gita and Avadhuta Gita. It is wonderful, and the experience is explained. If I drink too much wine and I do not know I am drunk, I am intoxicated, I am not in a position to give an intellectual detail of the state. But at the time when the bliss takes place, it is written down. You have that in the Avadhuta Gita. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has written about it, Ramana Maharishi from time to time used to speak about some things, not many things; he was a man of very few words. Swami Sivananda in the last three or four years of his life hardly spoke a sentence.

What is dhyana?

If you enter into dhyana, the mind becomes dynamic, very creative. It is not hypnosis. Meditation is not a negative nor a passive state of mind. It is like a tree which has flowers and a lot of seeds. It is capable of creating many more plants. It has powerful seeds. In the same way, in meditation your personality becomes like a flower. It is not a negative state where you don’t know anything or you don’t know time and space; that is a hypnotic space.

Many people do enter into the state of hypnosis where there is a regression of mind. They lose the powers of mind, memory fails, they make mistakes in decisions, in behaviour, they are very awkward. It means they are losing something mentally and they are not progressing. Dharana, concentration, dhyana, meditation, and samadhi, transcendence, are the three stages in which the mind must develop. It must bloom and bloom and bloom.

20 February 1980, Bombay, Maharashtra