A Great Guru and A Good Friend of All Living Beings

Upendra Baxi, New Delhi

I know that a classical distinction between Guru and Govind has always been maintained; but those who adore both Guru and Gobind also, as bhaktas, often blur this distinction, and even often, repudiate the distinction. Wham is ‘blasphemy’ in theory and theology, is often assimilated to bhakti, devotion, in bhakti yoga. With this in view, it is true to say that Beloved Satyam has appeared in various personae to a wide variety of peoples. He knew the infinite variety of leela, like Krishna; like Lord Rama, he also proclaimed himself as an ‘Emperor’, at an extraordinary event, attended by a large gathering of thousands of disciples and followers from all over the world at Rikhiapeeth, on 14 December 2007, marking the completion of the 12th annual rajsooya yajna. With this, the Paramhamsa also became a Chakravartin. Viveka, prudence of discretion, and marayada, a sense of spiritual responsibility and resposeability, marked both leela and purusharatha.

Not being a disciple or devotee, although I called him often ‘Swamiji’ and bowed to him, I rarely saw him in his nirakara ways, nudging one to higher realms of spirituality. Satyam mandated our being together in marriage, and Vishwaprem, Satyam’s early prime disciple, often tells me how much I have missed by way of the riches of initiation and constant companionship of a Guru. She is right but I knew that I was not blessed to tread that path and was content to remain his friend.

How may we engage our labours of acknowledging our endless debt to Beloved Satyam? To strike a personal note, I had the privilege of communion with him from the very first days in Mumbai in December l961, and Vishwaprem still earlier in 1954 when Swamiji was in Sivananda Ashram. Later in Rajnandgaon in 1962, with Satyabrat and Ma Dharmashakti in their house, we were also further privileged even to play with a naughty infant named Niranjan. Satyam, an extraordinary yogic persona, emerged as a deeply caring soul sensitive to the amelioration of the here and now suffering peoples.

Satyam’s kinships included equal affection for all living beings – human animal persons as well as non-human animal persons, the HAP and NHAP, as I call them. Satyam respected all forms of life. I was privileged to witness his great evolving fondness for a loyal Alsatian whom he named Bholenath. He treated him as a complete sadhaka – a soul in search of salvation, and as a prime member of Rikhiapeeth. I was then in Australia teaching at Sydney Law School, and on my sojourns to India, I invariably asked him what I may bring him; he said, probably with twinkle in his eye, that I should bring a Red Label for Bholenath; he and I became good friends, although I rarely caught what spiritual whispers Sri Swamiji uttered in his ears! He always regarded Bholenath as an evolved soul in search of further spiritual enlightenment.

For Satyam, and this needs a full reiteration indeed, the renunciate life was never merely any itinerary of individualistic spiritual journey for personal salvation or moksha. It was also a mode of accomplishing redemption from collective inhuman social suffering.

This is what for Satyam constituted the signature tune of becoming and being a Guru. For beloved Satyam, Guruness remained always a work in progress – points of departure rather the final points of arrival—that summoned a constant companionship towards the suffering and vulnerability of others. What always attracted me to Satyam was his infinite karuna, compassion and care, for the ‘living dead’, millions of humans who in their lifetimes remain exposed to countless social and political death. His true message for all is just this: Help the living dead to live a life of spiritual dignity.

The sakara, embodied, Satyam reminds us that a Guru always becomes so and remains worthy of this status only because she or he remains forever a shishya, a true disciple. Thus, the Rikhia Ashram and the Bihar School of Yoga also become a Sivananda centre, a tirthasthan, the site of spiritual journey or the place of pilgrimage, reuniting forever the past Gurus and their spiritual successors and continuing sites of a renaissance of yoga as an endless continuation of the Guru-Shishya Paramapara, a tradition of continuity amidst changes in which ‘death’ and ‘dying’ signify acts and feats of continuation and renewal of the life of the Spirit.

It is this profound bonding that singularly marks out the figuration that we name Satyam. Satyam is thus both an individual name and a process of spiritual regeneration that remains uninterrupted by the forms of biological and social death. Satyam thus lives on within each one of the lives that he touched, nurtured and spiritually caressed, while constantly provoking us all, and each our own way, to endeavour to continue on the path of our infinite ‘spiritual journey’.

He descended thus from the lofty heights of Sivananda Ashram to the flood-ridden and ravaged plains of Bihar. For Satyam, helping suffering people everywhere constituted the event of that something that we commonly name as ‘spirituality.’ His was a notion of ‘applied’ or rather ‘lived’ spirituality; he believed profoundly that swamis and sadhus should be always amidst the suffering and vulnerable people as healing hands. He would have endorsed Rabbi Yisrael Salanter saying in 1850, ‘The material needs of my neighbour are my spiritual need.’

Satyam renovated the classical yoga traditions in terms of a Buddhist virtue of karuna, the compassion for the disadvantaged, dispossessed and deprived humanity everywhere in the world. In this sense, Satyam, for me, constitutes the energy of the principle of cosmic Bodhisattva.

This marks the enormity of his achievement now further fully manifest on the Sita Kalynam events at Rikhiapeeth. He gave a spiritual kiss of life to India’s eternally suffering humanity. No one may fail to return from these and related events such as the anna-danam (gift of food), vastra danam (the gift of clothing), vidya-danam – not just akshara-pradnam, endowment of literacy especially to indigenous girls and women – but learning and education for life in various precious ways – and the gifs of swalamban shakti (powers of self reliance in the pursuit of life and livelihood, including for those living with disability.)

To put plainly and rather poorly, but without the least bit of an overstatement, Satyam constituted for the suffering and vulnerable people a single person spiritual equivalent of the Planning Commission of India, or now the Niti Aayog. He did not plan pyramids of paper but by achieving human development in everyday performances of sacrificial living. This is the significance of his enormous achievement, which now fully lives on through Paramhamsa Swami Niranjan and Paramhamsa Swami Satsangi, a duo enormously blest with the task and mission to keep this great heritage alive and not just for India but worldwide.

This is why Satyam emerges as a much larger spiritual figuration than a Swami or even as a Paramhamsa. In so doing, he truly inaugurates a momentously welcome lead in the customary Indian traditions of spiritual leadership. Indeed, he was at one with the Great Kabir for whom a spiritual being was a servant and the savant of the suffering humanity. When Satyam soulfully sang Man Lago mero Ram Fakiri Mein, I always wondered what ‘fakiri’ signified. Now, I fully understand the meaning of his mission with the help of the Great Kabir who said:

Haad Tappe So Aulyia,

Behaad Tappe so Pir,

Had-Anhad Do no Tappe,

Wako Nam Fakir.

One who transcends limits is a protector.

One who transcends the limitless is a spiritual guide.

One who transcends both

Is called Fakir.

Translated rather poorly, this suggests that while important yet relatively ‘minor’ spiritual figurations like Aulyia overstep some worldly thresholds, and the more spiritually refined persona or Pir may navigate several thresholds, it is only the Fakir who puts to question any sense of limits; it is only this transcendent figure who may help us all to overcome the very idea of limits or haad-behad dono tappe.

I can never forget the excitement during our stay in Rajnandgaon with which he greeted my proposal to name his movement International Yoga Fellowship and his blessed request for an apt motto, which I found in the Srimad Bhagavat Gita (2:3):

Which is mostly translated as, ‘It does not befit you to yield to this unmanliness. Give up such petty weakness of heart and arise, O vanquisher of enemies.’

What appealed most to Satyam was the notion of , overcoming the weakness of will; this overcoming is just another name for emancipation. But what makes Arjuna into a Parantapa is not just overcoming of the weaknesses of will but acts of up-rising. For Satyam, normative insurgency was an integral aspect of peaceful change in individuals, societies, and cultures. It is then in this sense that he thought of yoga as a universal ‘culture of tomorrow’ and showed that a global network of yoga institutions may alone achieve the new five ‘Ps’ now proclaimed by the United Nations Organization: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership. To these five Ps, we must add two more – offering our conscientious Pranams to all Paramhamsas.