Swami Satyananda Saraswati: Life-enriching Potentialities of Yoga
The other great teacher of Yoga who belongs to the category of “evolving traditionalist” is Swami Satyananda, the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga. While Swami Vivekananda brought-forward the fundamental psychological and spiritual insights of Yoga from the obscurities of religion and the hidden sanctuaries of mysticism to the clear light of reason, Swami Satyananda brought to light the practical implications of Yoga for enhancing the quality of human life. Rejecting most of the orthodox traditional and life-negating view on Yoga, Swami Satyananda wrote:
“Firstly it is not necessary to leave one’s house or go into oblivion to practice Yoga. It is about time we discarded the belief that only renunciate or monks are fit to practice Yoga. Secondly marital relations do not present any obstacle in the practice of Yoga. Thirdly non-vegetarians need not give up their food habits just because they have taken to Yoga. The real aim of Yoga is indeed to attain peace and tranquility within. For attaining this, you need not give up any of your normal way of living. Running away from the difficulties of life is not the way to deliverance. The battlefield of life is not illusory. It may be illusory to the philosopher; his world is one of imagination and his feet are not firmly planted on the ground. Yoga is practical and has nothing to do with philosophical flights of fancy.“
But the most important feature of Satyananda’s teachings on Yoga is the strong emphasis on its life-enriching potentialities. Here are a few illustrative excerpts from the writings of Swami Satyananda:
“Yoga has a special role to play in the world of today. Its practice alone can remove mental and physical afflictions.”
“Those who sincerely practice Yoga remain undisturbed like an ocean which receives the turbulent waters of inrushing life. While enjoying sense-gratifications a Yogi is careful not to allow them to overpower him.”
“—Yoga can benefit all people under all circumstances of life. After the daily round, ceaseless activity in the turmoil of life takes its own toll. Anxieties, frustrations, exhaustion of mind and body all these increase the turmoil. The process Yoga is a powerful remedy against these distractions.”
“Do you enjoy a happy and harmonious life? Are you afire with enthusiasm in your day-to-day activities? When adverse circumstances try to crush you, do you raise above them with a cool head and an easy assurance. If not take Yoga.”
“Life itself is Yoga. Our day to day work is Yoga. The field is vast and inviting, let the thrill and quiver of Yoga transform all our activities of life.”
But this emphasis on the life-enriching potentialities of Yoga is not entirely absent in the ancient tradition; it is there in Gita’s Yoga and much more strongly in Tantra Yoga. And also, among modern Yogis, it was Sri Aurobindo, who was the first to give a clear vision of the life-transforming power of Yoga. But at a certain stage in the spiritual history of India, the integral life-affirming spiritual vision of Gita and Tantra was overshadowed by the life-denying illusionist philosophies. As a result most of the traditional spiritual philosophies and Yogis and seekers belonging to these schools tend to give the impression or view of Yoga as a means of escape from or renunciation of life and merging into a life-negating Reality beyond space and time and the world. Satyananda Saraswati’s teachings on Yoga represent a shift or a change in this traditional view of Yoga.
Satyananda is a traditionalist, who took to the traditional path of renunciation, sanyasa as it is called in India, at a very young age. But he never preached the path of sanyasa to all. On the contrary, as we have seen, the primary emphasis of his teachings is on the power of Yoga for ennobling and uplifting the quality of life of the common man. In fact he goes to the extent of telling that, “Yoga does not lay down extraordinary conditions of self-discipline and behaviour patterns. You can continue enjoying the good things of life and still be a Yogi; not indeed, is it necessary to give up worldly ambitions and material aspirations to take up to the Yogic life. One need not however be a slave of desire.” This liberal view of Yoga may appear to some of the traditional Yogis as a considerable dilution of the high and austere discipline and aim of Yoga. But Satyananda’s view on Yoga does not go against the traditional spiritual vision of Hinduism which is life-embracing and holistic. This traditional Indian view holds a hierarchy of values before the individual and the collectivity. In this Indian systems of values, material interests, ambitions and desires and the desire for the enjoyment of life are viewed as legitimate needs of the individual. But the pursuit of these physical and vital needs has to be governed and guided by some mental and moral ideals, keeping constantly in the back of the mind the spiritual ideal as the highest aim of life. This holistic vision of life is exemplified in the way of life prescribed for a householder in an ancient tantric text.
This tantric text says categorically that a householder who remains lazy and who did not make any effort to earn wealth is a sinner. But the text also says that a householder who didn’t distribute his wealth to help the needy and the poor in the society is also a sinner. Here the material desire for wealth is given a restraining moral impulse. This may not be unique to the Indian view of life but somewhat similar to the protestant ethic of the West. But the unique Indian element in the text is that it imposes on the householder a lofty mental and spiritual discipline. The tantric text says further that the householder should dedicate all his actions to the Eternal and constantly in pursuit of knowledge into the deeper truth of things tatwa gnana. Similarly, Madhavacharya a well-known spiritual teacher of ancient India said to his householder disciples, “Do your duty honestly. Enjoy whatever fruits that comes to you as a result of the honest performance of your duties. But dedicate all your work, the result and the enjoyment to God”. Thus, in this way, if the hierarchy of material, moral and spiritual values can be lived consciously and simultaneously – with an emphasis on specific aims at each stage of evolution – then that is Yoga. So Satyananda Saraswati’s vision of Yoga is, in a way, rediscovery of the ancient holistic spiritual vision of life.
to be continued…