Marriage or Sannyasa
Swami Satyananda speaks on the necessity of accepting one's path in life without suffering from dissatisfaction or guilt. (Medellin 8.10.80)
Sannyasa is a special path in which you must be free from family life. There are many people who think they can be sannyasin and householder at the same time. This is a confused and self-contradictory way of thinking. A householder is no less than a sannyasin, Sannyasa is no less than the life of a householder. They are two distinct paths leading to higher experiences of life. The moment you think of integrating sannyasa with household life, you are suffering from guilt on account of being a householder only.
If you are a householder, that's fine. You don't need to be a sannyasin as a householder. If you are a sannyasin, that's fine. You have to follow your own way as a householder or as a sannyasin. These are the two distinct paths according to the capacity, nature and temperament of the person. There are those who are strong in mind, who can live alone without attachments, no money, property, wife, children, love, emotion, no mine, no thine. They are the sannyasins and this is their path. The householders, on the other hand, live amongst all the turmoil's of life. They are happy one moment and unhappy the next. They have family and social commitments, a lot of money or none. They have to deal with anger, greed, frustration, attraction, repulsion, and still keep on the track. This is the life of a householder.
Household life is the way of external turmoil and sannyasa is the way of internal turmoil. The sannyasin must face everything within him, while the householder faces everything outside. These are the two distinct paths described in Srimat Bhagavad Gita, when Krishna is instructing Arjuna about the path of sannyasa and the path of karma yoga. The householder is primarily a karma yogi and the sannyasin is primarily a raja and gyana yogi. Therefore, please do not suffer from guilt. If you want to take sannyasa, I'm ready to shave your head and give you this robe. If o you don't want it, be whatever you are. But don't say, 'I'm a Sannyasi and householder.' This is the occidental way of confusing capability and guilt.
A householder should be proud of his station in life. A sannyasin must be confirmed in the way he is walking. If either have any inferiority or guilt about their paths in life then they are finished; they can't proceed any further.
These days, I find many householders everywhere who put on the robe of a sannyasin. They are married with children, and they go to the public offices in this robe. In fact, this is not a very healthy psychological approach to life. In my opinion, these people are suffering from some sort of mental imbalance. If you have respect for sannyasa, come out. If you are proud of your station in life, stay there.
As a householder you must respect sannyasins. Learn from them. Find out the depth of their mind and intuition. Get the best out of them. And if you are a sannyasin, teach the householders, love them, serve them, respect them and get your guru dakshina from them.
SANYAS: A WAY OF LIFE
Established in 1963 by Paramahamsa Satyananda, BSY is the headquarters of the International Yoga Fellowship Movement—a philosophical movement aimed at promoting and incorporating yoga in life. Swami Satyananda was initiated into sanyas by his guru, Swami Sivananda Saraswati. In BSY, Swami Satyananda continued this tradition through six of his disciples who were rigorously trained. As Swami Niranjanananda, one of those six and spiritual successor to Swami Satyananda, fondly recalls: "Our only thought was obedience to the mandates of the guru without desiring personal fulfillment." This training laid the foundation of BSY's sanyas tradition.
Gorged with the image of sanyas as a lifelong vacation from labor, the consistent culture of work in the ashram astounds me. From dawn to dusk, sanyasis are busy cooking, sweeping, clearing dustbins or tending the gardens. "The whole ethos of sanyas in BSY is based on karma yoga," says Swami Dharmadeva, an ashramite. "Here sanyas does not mean renunciation. It means a further commitment to work for everybody." And work need not be physical alone; it is also spiritual and intellectual. In 1984, Swami Satyananda established Sivananda Math, dedicated to the memory of his guru, through which BSY sanyasis are regularly sent to villages in and around Munger and other parts of Bihar to help uplift their condition.
Back in the BSY campus, I find saffron mingling with yellow. A matter-of-fact Swami Dharmadeva explains: "While Swami Satyananda reintroduced the concept of karma yoga for householders, Swami Niranjanananda re-created the jigyasu sanyasi, the lay initiate who wants to learn more about sanyas before plunging into it full-time. These jigyasus wear yellow. Usually one year, the jigyasu period can extend according to inclination. Sometimes you even find a better spiritual aspirant in a jigyasu than in a poorna sanyasi, who has cut off all material ties for good." In a significant departure from orthodox tradition, BSY gives sanyas diksha (initiation into monkhood) to foreigners and women as well.
As I move on, I meet a saffron-donned figure wearing all the accouterment of marriage. Sanyas and marriage? Truth is predictably stranger than rumor. "Of course, I am a sanyasi!" the lady smilingly says, assiduously sweeping the stairs. "My husband and I have taken karma sanyas." Further on, I meet journalists, admen, doctors, lecturers, lawyers—all working, all sanyasis, all wearing saffron. So much for the picture of sanyas as the path chosen by frustrated and unemployed bachelors!
THE YOGIC RENAISSANCE
In 1971, Swami Satyananda started a three-year sanyas training course with 108 aspirants. His aim: to create sanyasis adept in yoga who would spread its teaching and philosophy throughout the world. In the '70s, recognizing the global resurgence of yoga, BSY extended its mandate to training yoga teachers, organizing yoga courses for interested people and for specific health problems. The BSY health management courses initiated various yogic techniques and dietary regulations to manage, not cure, ailments. "I have never understood the term therapy. And I cannot use cure. Hence the term management," explains Swami Niranjanananda.
Specialized yoga training for industrial and corporate houses also became part of BSY's regular activities. The clients included various Indian blue-chip companies like ITC, Indian Oil Ltd, and Coal India. From a gurukul (traditional Indian educational institution) of six students, BSY soon became an international hub of yoga with branches in countries as disparate as Argentina and Australia. The evolution had begun.
"In order to systematize practices of yoga," says Swami Niranjanananda, "Swamiji (Satyananda) brought in new combinations of yogic techniques. He also incorporated various components of tantra in the yogic system. Even the sequences of pranayama taught today by most schools was propagated in Munger." Swami Satyananda's contributions include Yoga Nidra, the revised version of the tantric system of nyasa meditation that helps energize various parts of the body by specific mantras (chants), and the pawana-muktasana series—part one for rheumatic problems, part two for gastric problems and part three for shakti bandha or postures to release energies within the body.
At 4 a.m., I wake up, bleary-eyed, and begin my tour of the campus. My destination: early morning outdoor yoga classes where I can catch unsuspecting students for an interview. The BSY campus is based on a hill, with the main building towering over and above the rest of the campus. I skip up stone-hewn steps, breathing in the fresh unpolluted air and reach the building's lawns—to find no yoga classes, no upside-down sanyasis, nothing! In fact, I see no yoga happening anywhere at all. Frantic, I seek an explanation.
"Yoga is not mere asana," says Swami Niranjanananda. "Yoga is also not mere meditation. Yoga is a philosophy." But is asana nonexistent in the curriculum? "Not at all," says Swami Suryamani, an adman turned sanyasi. "We do practice asanas, but only when we feel the need. Rest of the time we devote to work and meditation." Moreover, I am further informed, all sanyasis practice their own yoga sadhana (devotional practice), which involves pranayama, meditation and asanas, as part of their spiritual progress. My vocabulary that once put yoga at par with contortions suddenly goes through a drastic overhaul.
In 1988, Swami Satyananda retired from the mainstage, and his closest disciple, Swami Niranjanananda, took over formal administrative and spiritual charges. Arguably one of the youngest spiritual gurus in India, Swami Niranjanananda gradually began shifting the focus of BSY from providing spiritual and philosophical training to a more yoga-oriented education. He was also exposed to the modern world through exhaustive travels to South America, Australia, Southeast Asia and Europe. "Swami Niranjanananda realized the changing pattern of the society," says Swami Dharmadeva, "and brought about changes in the administrative structure."
"When I came here initially," says a visibly pepped-up Swami Gautam, a journalist who has withdrawn from the deadline race, "I used to smoke quite heavily. I told this to Swamiji and he merely said: 'Go ahead, but not in the ashram. And stop only when you want to.' I was floored. Here was a swami who was not bound by the rigors of orthodoxy. Soon, I stopped smoking."
In 1994, Swami Niranjanananda founded the Bihar Yoga Bharati (BYB), the world's first institution for higher yogic studies which is presently affiliated to Bhagalpur University, Bihar. "You might say," he remarks with an amused air, "that BSY is gradually giving way to BYB." The same year, he retired from administration of BSY and became the institution's spiritual guide. The BSY administration is handled by a governing board comprising a president, a secretary and other members.
BYB provides, according to its prospectus, "a complete, academic, yogic education and training, in the gurukul environment of BSY". On offer are a four-month certificate course for non-graduates in yogic studies, a yearlong diploma in yogic studies for graduates and undergraduates, and two-year postgraduate courses conducted by three faculties of the BYB. The faculty of humanities provides an M.A. in yoga philosophy; the social science faculty gives M.A./M.Sc in yoga psychology; and the faculty of science gives an M.Sc in applied yogic sciences.
Although the enrollment for degree or diploma courses has not really picked up, faculty members and Swami Niranjanananda himself have full faith in BYB. "Yoga is definitely going to be the science of the future," states Swami Gyan Bhikshu, a former professor who heads the humanities section of BYB. "And BYB is providing a complete and holistic dimension to yogic sciences."
But mere belief does not a university make. Students do. On my way to breakfast at 6.30 in the morning, I see a bespectacled young girl helping diabetes patients do jal neti (cleansing the nose and mouth with water).
Does she study here, I ask. "Yes," says Supriya Avadesh, "I'm doing my M.Sc in applied yogic sciences." But does she hope to get any job through this degree? Her confidence rattles me: "The scope is tremendous. In India as well as abroad. Especially abroad." But what about money? Would she earn in keeping with the present market conditions? "I see no reason why not," says Supriya and adds thoughtfully, "I am not studying to earn but to learn and give my learning to humankind." Yet another conditioned view of a learn-to-earn education system flies out of the window.
CHILD: THE TEACHER OF MAN
The main BSY building interior echoes with silence. Suddenly, the calm is broken by a reverential but loudly synchronized chant of 'Om'. I turn back towards the second floor main hall and hesitantly peep in... to see about a hundred children sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, repeating the Word. On the dais facing them is another child sitting beside a sanyasi, leading the chant. Minutes after it is over, a small boy holding a register shuffles up to the front and begins roll-call. Occasionally, he raises a tousled head from the depths of the register to sharply interrogate former absentees. The adult sanyasi on the dais never interferes. Must be a pet of the sanyasi, who I immediately assume to be the teacher.
"Oh, no!" exclaims Vikas Kumar, a young psychology undergraduate at Bhagalpur University who spends most of his spare time with the BSY children. "The boy, not the sanyasi, is the teacher. And all the children attending are being groomed to be yoga teachers."
"Children have a native sense of personality," states Swami Niranjanananda. "Grown-ups can't understand this nature and try to mold the child in their own image. But children are not conditioned beings. They have their own ways of recognizing, understanding and learning information, situations, subjects."
Yoga This thought led to the development of Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal (BYMM)—an organization for children, by children and of children (see box). "The aim of BYMM," explains Vikas, who is the director of the organization but who insists that all decisions are taken by the kids themselves, "is to propagate the philosophy of yoga to children in a way that is not scholastic. If a child is taught by his friend, probabilities are, he will pick up the subject faster. For there is no barrier of age between the two and hence no formal regimen of authority."
Not quite satisfied, I collar one of the children as she moves towards the kitchen-cum-dining area for the 10:30 a.m. lunch-hour. I ask her what's so great about yoga when time can be spent watching TV at home? An unruffled 11-year-old Pushpa replies: "Yoga teaches me how to live a more disciplined life." By this time more members of BYMM have stopped to listen. One of them pipes in: "I find yoga a lot of fun!" Another girl beside me quietly states: "Practicing and teaching yoga to other friends has made me sure of myself." "These children," says Vikas, "are now so confident that they can walk into the office of any school's principal and discuss the logistics of holding yoga classes for students there."
It is evening. Dinner, over by 6:30 p.m., is followed by an open-air kirtan session in the lawns facing the BSY building. As devotees, children and sanyasis gather in the lawns for spiritual singing, I look up at the seven-story mammoth towering above us. A building where each floor symbolizes one of the seven primal chakras of the human psyche. My eyes wander up to the ajna chakra or the third-eye chakra, emblazoned in defiant saffron atop the building—the chakra that denotes knowledge. Gautam, a young saffron-clad BYMM member, picks up a drum and strikes the opening note of the kirtan. Tradition and evolution integrate under a full-moon night. Another dawn awaits these committed yogis. Another dawn of furthering the message of yoga. Till then, silence will reign.