Swami Satyananda Saraswati

What is the dividing line between yogasanas and spirituality?

If you take yoga postures as merely physical exercises, then I think they do not at all relate to spirituality. If you carefully study the significance of yogic postures according to the science of tantra and hatha yoga, then yoga postures are aids to spiritual life.

Yoga postures improve the chakras in the body. They purify the energy centres throughout the body. Six chakras are located in the framework of the spine and these chakras have to be purified. In order to purify and awaken the chakras, yoga postures are helpful. In the awakening of transcendental consciousness or kundalini, first, you have to awaken the chakras, then sushumna nadi and finally kundalini. They are three different things, not the same.

Many times we misunderstand these awakenings for kundalini awakening. Kundalini awakening is a very important event in man’s life, it is not merely an experiment that is taking place in the body. First of all, you have to purify the nadis and tattwas in the body, then you have to purify prana. Then you have to purify the chakras, then sushumna. Only then should you venture to awaken kundalini and not before that.

Yoga postures clear the energy blocks in the body and create a balance in the hormonal processes. They help to distribute the pranic energy throughout. This body, mind and soul are not free. At the gross level, it is body, at a subtler level, it is the mind, and at the subtlest level it is the atman or Paramatman.

Curd is the subtler form of milk, butter is subtler than that and ghee is the subtlest of them. In the same way, the body, mind and soul complex is one. Now you are rooted in body, so you have the body idea. When you are deep in meditation, you do not have the body idea, you have the mind idea. When you lose consciousness of ego in dhyana, you have the atman idea, not even mind idea.

By the practice of yogasana you gain a lot of benefits which you cannot imagine. Therefore, do not equate yoga postures with yoga exercises. I travel all over the world and I never say yoga exercises, I say yogasana or yoga postures. You have to assume the postures; you do not have to do all sorts of exercises. Even for therapy it is not necessary.

When you go to spiritual life, you are not going through an abstract passage, it is a reality. How long can you sit in one asana? One hour, two or three hours? This capacity of sitting in one posture for three hours can only come to you if your body is purified through yogasana. Otherwise you have a stiff body. If you are not able to sit for two or three hours in a yoga posture, you cannot create desired changes in the body, because the soul, atman anubhuti, is the essence of the body. From the body the mind, from the mind the vijnanam, from vijnanam comes the atman that is the innermost essence.

There are many people who feel that yoga postures cannot be linked with spiritual life. I also thought so, but I am convinced that it is necessary to hold concentration on one point for one hour at least. Do not talk of spirituality, talk of mantra anushthana. If by God’s grace, you get an inspiration to do anushthana, what will you do. Anushthana will require you to sit for fifteen days, nine days, at least for a maximum of eight to nine hours a day and you cannot even sit for half an hour. How will you manage?

Anushthana is practising your guru mantra without concentrating, allowing your mind to flow, but with a will to repeat it. Your mind may go elsewhere but you do not care about it. You are seated in padmasana for one hour, repeating, Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya and your mind goes out. Eight hours today, eight hours tomorrow, nine days, seventy two hours, after that, on the tenth day you sit for meditation and you will see how calm and quiet your mind is. If you want to concentrate on the Shivalinga, you can do it; if you want to concentrate on Shaligram, you can do it; if you want to concentrate on nirguna Brahman you can do it.

Yoga posture should not at all be underestimated. Nowadays we are using yoga postures for therapy, but that is not the main objective of yogasana. That is a by-product.

What are siddhis?

Siddhi means perfection. When the mind is under control having been trained through the practice of samyama, then your mind can produce results. It can produce things and it can go beyond the limitations of a normal buddhi. It depends on how much control you have over the mind, some have ashta siddhi, eight siddhis, like Hanumanji. Some have one siddhi, two or three. They all belong to the area of the mind, and depend on how much you can properly control your mind.

One very important point is that control of the mind is not by suppressions. If you repress the mind you will not become a siddha, you will go to a mental asylum. You will become a mental patient. No suppression, no repression. You must practise satya, ahimsa, brahmacharya and this and that and you will get better results.

If I speak a lie, I will get a watch; if I speak the truth I will get a big property. If I do not observe brahmacharya, I will get momentary pleasure, but if I observe brahmacharya, I will get a lot more pleasures. If this idea becomes clear in your mind, there is no repression. Whether it is satya, ahimsa, brahmacharya, asteya or aparigraha, you must understand that while fulfilling and accomplishing these qualities your gains are going to be much greater than if you violate them. People often think by telling a lie they are going to get a property and by telling the truth, they are going to get a watch, that’s all. And that is why people tell lies.

Of course it is true that the fruits of satya, ahimsa do not come to you at once. If you tell a lie, maybe you will get a result the next day or immediately. But if you are going to stick to the truth at any cost, like Satya Harichandra and many other people, first of all there is a little testing and difficulty, but later on it will bear fruits.

How can we achieve absolute control over the mind?

Absolute control over the mind is known as samyama. I am not using the word samyama in the ethical and moral sense. It is a very technical term used by Patanajali in his Raja Yoga Sutras. When you close your eyes and you are able to visualize a lotus flower as clearly or nearly as clearly as you see it outside, that is called samyama. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi when they happen in quick succession is called samyama. When these three events take place in quick succession or at the same time, they are called samyama.

The sutra used by Patanjali is (Vibhooti Pada, 4): Trayamekatra samyamah – all the three together is samyama. Samyama is to be attained by gradual practice. How do you attain samyama? In raja yoga there are eight steps: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

If you practise yama, niyama, asana and pranayama, then pratyahara will become successful. If you do not practise them properly and you go on sitting, trying to concentrate your mind, for one month it is okay, two months it is okay, but the third month the mind will give you a kick. That happens to most of us. Yama and niyama must be practised because that is mental control.

It is very difficult. You want to concentrate on your guru – oh, it is very easy. Put a photo in front of you, look at him for five to twenty minutes. But what about yama and niyama? You put the water on the stove and it becomes hot; remove it, it becomes cold. In the same way, this mind which you concentrate through dharana and dhyana loses its immunity because you have not established any preliminary controls – yama and niyama.

What are yama and niyama? Satya, ahimsa, brahmacharya, asteya, aparigraha are the yama, for preliminary control. Asteya means no stealing, aparigraha means not accumulating many things like twenty pairs of shoes, fifteen saris. What is niyama? Saucha, santosha, swadhyaya, tapasya, ishwara pranidhana. The shatkriyas of hatha yoga come into saucha. Niyama means observances. Five disciplines and five observances are primary controls. When you can accomplish these, you find no difficulty in concentration, because after all, what disturbs your mind? Passions.

If I light a candle here the wick will flicker because the fans are on. There is no use crying or complaining, ‘Hey, my wick is flickering.’ Your wick is flickering, the fan is disturbing it, switch it off and the candle will not flicker. When the emotional or psychological tempest – complexes of the mind, all the dirt that is hidden in the mind, comes up during japa, dhyana and kirtan, it disturbs the consistency of the mind.

There is no use trying to concentrate unless you are able to get out of it. That is what Tulsidas has said in the Ramayana: Soham asmi vritti akhanda – Your mind must assume the vritti of So Ham in an unbroken way. How to do it? He said, close all your windows because through them the wind is coming in and every now and then, it blows out the candle of your consciousness.

So yama and niyama, asana, pranayama and pratyahara must be accomplished first. Then you will be able to gain control over the mind. When you gain control over the mind you can concentrate on the human mind and read all the thoughts as though you were reading a file.

Mind, when concentrated and controlled, is the most powerful element in your hands. All the great people who have changed the history of the world were people of mind, not of opportunities. I have not become great or you have not become great because there are good opportunities. In the lives of all people many great opportunities come, but the people who do not have control of mind lose all those opportunities.

12 October 1982, Munger