Swamiji, what is the fundamental difference between the Bihar School of Yoga and other schools of yoga?
Fundamentally there is no difference. All schools have been working very hard in their own way to preach and propagate the ideals and the practices of yoga for helping people.
Bihar School of Yoga has become a place of confluence of East and West, North and South. If there are one hundred people in BSY, twenty-five are from East, twenty-five are from West, twenty-five are from North and twenty-five are from South. People from every religion including agnostics, every sect, every tradition and every nation come and live there. These people have some sort of intuition in them about yoga and they have been greatly benefited by yoga. They live there and are trying to formulate a system to suit the modern mind and modern necessities.
Most of the people are very young, they come at the age of nineteen to twenty. I joined when I was nineteen. People of twenty have enormous energy. They give their mind, body, soul and everything else, and we live a life there which is almost the life of the poorest Indian – our food habits, the way of living, the facilities. It is our principle to live the life of a very poor man in the ashram. We read a lot of books on modern psychology of East and West, philosophy, religion, sciences, branches of medicine, chemistry, botany, zoology. There are doctors, engineers, psychiatrists, and we also travel. I keep wandering throughout the year. I am here now and in fifteen days I will be in Switzerland, then in Latin America. I meet doctors, talk to them, try to understand them and try to make them understand. Due to our hard work we are able to give some new ideas and attach some new dimensions to yoga.
How is yoga being applied in society?
First of all, experiments were done to treat diseases and now it is being widely used throughout the world. It has brought good results. In diabetes it is considered to be a cure. There are quite a few important diseases where they do not have a cure in medical science, such as asthma, insomnia, blood pressure, in the rehabilitation of coronary patients, migraine, peptic ulcer, arthritis, and many more. People have been working at it in different parts of the world.
In Denmark you have many mental hospitals, and in some of the hospitals there were inmates who lived there for years. They always behaved the same way and they lived with drugs. Once yoga was introduced, they give them shatkarma, hatha yoga practices. The net result according to their statistics is that the number of rehabilitated patients who can now look after their family and business is many times more than it has been in the past.
In Switzerland, there are many types of sanatoriums where alcoholics are sent, especially when their habit becomes dangerous as cirrhosis of liver develops. In the sanatoriums they are given some sort of pills – in some cases, it did work but in some cases it did not. Then doctors came to know about yoga and had a few yoga classes as an experiment, they said, “All right Swami, you stay here for three days and take classes.” I taught them asana and pranayama, nothing more. They found that it worked. It clicked. Then some people introduced yoga in the sanatorium. The asana classes in the sanatorium were the most frequented classes. People did not really go to other classes because swimming and exercise they could get everywhere. Therefore, we also had very good statistics about the effect of yoga on alcoholics.
America has a very great problem. Just as you have the problem of poverty and unemployment which is our national problem, their national problem is drugs. If you are worried about poverty and other things, there they are worried about drugs. They are tackling it in many ways. They have doctors, psychiatrists, but it is not working. Now in the last ten years they have become serious and yoga teaching has been introduced in drug rehabilitation centres. Our practices are very simple. They are not psychological or philosophical.
Take the person, prepare one litre of salt water, ask him to drink it and then practise kunjal. Then we add breathing with concentration on breath. These fellows who have been using drugs are given exactly the same experiences as when they are using drugs. They say if they can have such experience without a drug, why have a drug? If you can feel high without a bottle, and if you can have a trip without a drug, then why have it? That is what the boys have been telling us and that is one reason why many thousands of boys in America have completely given up drugs and alcohol. Then they tell others, “Hey, you can have a trip without it, I tell you.” That is yoga. It is helping their national problem.
Four years ago we received an invitation from one of the biggest jails in the world, San Quentin. It is in America, it is an island jail. It is considered to be the biggest open air jail. They invited one teacher from Munger and he was sent. When a prisoner is sent to jail for ten years, you can imagine his personal problems. If you are addicted to some items of personal life and if you are sent to jail, my God, I would prefer to commit suicide than to suffer the pang. Particularly kama vasana, passion, is one of the most predominant desires, felt by ordinary men, and such a man is sentenced to jail. How are you going to help him?
Our people, leaders, officers, do not think about it. They just think when you are a criminal you must be sent to jail. But how to solve his problems there? You may give beedi and cigarette, but you do not give him a wife. Nevertheless, the moment yoga was introduced, the inmates felt some peace and calm of mind.
One more thing comes to mind. You can teach in a classroom, but the influence of the ashram atmosphere is also important. Here you criticize the fumes in the air and noise pollution. From time to time, once in a year, expose people to a different environment where there is ecology, beauty and calmness, and where you can appreciate the atmosphere, and fully accept it, where there is nothing to criticize. Such ashrams must be developed where people spend ten to fifteen days and undergo a course of yoga practices properly. When they come back they will be the pillars of a new society.
8 February 1982, School of Social Work, Madras, Tamil Nadu