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Sivananda's Synthesis of Sadhanas

(Sri K.S. Ramaswami Sastri)

We have had in India many resounding battles about the superior efficacy of Karma or Bhakti or Prapatti or Jnana or Dhyana. The Advaitins exalt Jnana; the Dvaitins exalt Bhakti; the Visishtadvaitins exalt Prapatti over even Bhakti and Jnana; and the Yogins exalt Dhyana and Samadhi. And yet Sri Krishna says that each one of these, leads us to Him, though the late teachers give that power only to one Sadhana and deny it to the others.

Some behold Him by Dhyana, others by Sankhya or Jnana, yet others by Karma Yoga, yet others by Upasana or Bhakti, not knowing Him thus but hearing about Him from others. They, with full faith in Sruti, cross death.-Gita, XIII-24, 25.

The words Kechit, Anye and Apare are decisive and clearly show that each Yoga by itself or in combination with others can lead to Moksha. Though ordinary Karma is connected with a sense of doership and possessiveness (Ahankara and Mamakara) and with a desire for results, i.e., the fruits of Karma are a source of bondage and sure to cause recurrent births and deaths. Karma Yoga in which such elements are absent and Karma is done to carry out God's commands and please Him and offering the fruits of Karma as a dedication to Him and for the welfare of the world, has a powerful Bhakti and Dhyana and Jnana element also. Such Karma Yoga will destroy the binding power of the present and the future Karmas while the Bhakti-Dhyana-Jnana element will destroy the force of Sanchita Karmas (acts to bear fruit in future births) also, leaving the Prarabdha Karmas (acts which have begun to bear fruit in this birth) to be worked out by enjoining the fruits. This truth is clearly stated in the Isavasya Upanishad Verses 9-11:

Mere Karma (Avidya) leads to darkness if it is done with expectation of fruits. Swami Sivananda says: "Avidya means here Karmas or Vedic rites such as Agnihotra, etc., that are performed with expectation of fruits" (Principal Upanishads). So does mere Vidya (i.e. knowledge of the inferior deities or book-knowledge of God divorced from Lokasangraha Karma) lead into even greater darkness and will not lead to the radiance of God-realisation. But when we have Vidya (knowledge and love of God), and do acts to carry out God's commands and without a sense of doership and possessiveness and realising that the Gunas of Prakriti do the actions and offering the fruits to Sri Krishna in a spirit of Asanga (detachment) and Krishnarpana (dedication to Sri Krishna) for the welfare of the world (Lokasangraha), the Karma Yoga prevents the present and future Karmas from leading us into Samsara while the Bhakti-Dhyana-Jnana element in such Karma Yoga destroys the force of past Karmas.

Why then have any battles about the Yogas? In the Karma Yoga we have to obey His orders and offer the fruits to Him and work as His servants. Does not this imply Bhakti and Prapatti and Jnana also? Bhaktas and Jnanis and Dhyanis also have the duty of Lokasangraha laid on them. In the Gita XVIII, 51 to 55, the Lord gives us a complete fusion of the Yogas.

Swami Sivananda's Yoga of Synthesis is a treasure-chest of wisdom. "To behold the one Self in all beings is Jnana, wisdom; to love the Self is Bhakti, devotion; to serve the Self is Karma, action. When the Jnana Yogi attains wisdom, he is endowed with devotion and selfless activity. Karma Yoga is for him a spontaneous expression of his spiritual nature, as he sees the one Self in all. When the devotee attains perfection in devotion, he is possessed of wisdom and activity. For him also Karma Yoga is the spontaneous expression of his divine nature, as he beholds the one Lord everywhere. The Karma Yogi attains wisdom and devotion when his actions are wholly selfless. The three paths are in fact one, in which three different temperaments emphasise one or other of its inseparable constituents. Yoga supplies the method by which the Self can be seen, heard and loved." (Yoga of Synthesis)

"Synthesis is the hallmark of Indian Philosophy. Hinduism is renowned for its universality. You can find a synthesis of all paths in the Upanishads too. The Upanishads are intentional revelations and hence do not fall short of the all-round approach that may be tried by various kinds of men towards the ultimate goal of life." (do)

"The Yoga of synthesis is the most suitable and potent form of Sadhana. The Yoga of synthesis alone will bring about integral development. Just as will, feeling and thought are not distinct and separate, so also work, devotion and knowledge are not exclusive of one another." (do)

"The Yoga of synthesis alone is suitable for this modern age. The four Yogas are interdependent and inseparable. Love is endowed in service. Service is love in expression. Knowledge is diffused love and love is concentrated knowledge. Karma Yoga is always combined with Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga. Bhakti Yoga is the fulfilment of Karma Yoga. Raja Yoga is the fulfilment of Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. Jnana Yoga is the fulfilment of Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga." (Do. See also Light Divine)

"There must be integral development. Vedanta without devotion is quite dry. Bhakti without Jnana is not perfect. How can one who has realised his Atman remain without serving the world which is without doubt Atman only? Devotion is not divorced from Jnana, but Jnana is rather exceedingly helpful to its perfect attainment. Para Bhakti and Jnana are one." (Religion and Philosophy)

"These paths are made in accordance with the temperament or tendency that is predominant in the individual. One path does not exclude the others. The path of action is suitable for a man of Karmic tendency. The path of love is adapted for a man of emotional temperament. The path of Raja Yoga is fitted for a man of mystic temperament. The path of Vedanta or Jnana Yoga is suitable for man of will or reason. Each path blends with the others. Ultimately all these paths converge and become one." (do)

"I believe in integral development of synthetic Yoga." (Sure Ways for Success in Life and God-realisation)

This idea has the full support of Sri Krishna in the Bhagavata, XI-20, 7 and 8:

Nay, Sri Krishna says in the Gita, VI, 29-32, that the Jnani who sees his self in all beings and all beings in himself becomes conscious of the Lord in all beings and all beings in the Lord and loves the Lord with the supreme love and shares in the joys and sorrows of all beings.

In his Yoga in Daily Life, Swami Sivananda says: "There are four Yogas, viz., Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga. Karma Yoga is suitable for people of active temperament, Bhakti Yoga for people of devotional temperament, Raja Yoga for men of mystic temperament and Jnana Yoga for people of intellectual temperament with bold understanding and strong will-power. Bhakti Yoga is suitable for the vast majority of persons as they are emotional. Ladies can realise God quickly as their hearts are filled with devotion."

Swami Sivananda has explained each of the four Yogas at great length in various books. In Section IV of Yoga in Daily Life he describes karma Yoga. The Gita is the supreme manual of Nishkama Karma Yoga in the whole world. Swamiji says: "Think that Lord Siva is working through your hands and is eating through your mouth."

"At all times do your duty of fighting, remembering Me." Gita, VIII-7

Swami Sivananda warns us against the Karma Yogi becoming proud of his Nishkama Karma and forging thereby a more powerful means of bondage. He says: "Seva Abhimana is more dangerous than the Abhimana of worldly persons-Seva Abhimana is more difficult to eradicate than the ordinary Abhimana of worldly-minded persons. This is a very subtle Abhimana which lurks in the corners of the mind" (Karma Yoga Is the Best Yoga-Jnana Surya Series No. 5)

Swami Sivananda has boldly declared that Karma Yoga by itself can lead to God-realisation, though Advaitins regard it only as bringing Chittasuddhi and say that Raja Yoga will lead to concentration of mind (Chitta-ekagrata) and that Bhakti Yoga will lead to Jnana and that Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana alone will lead to Jnana and that Jnana alone can bring salvation and though Visishtadvaitins and Dvaitins will give only a subordinate place to Karma and even Jnana and say that Raja Yoga has become non-existent and that Bhakti Yoga alone will give us salvation. He says: "Karma Yoga is not only a means but also the end in itself like Bhakti Yoga. It is quite independent. A Karma Yogi need not study the Upanishads. He need not practise Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana (hearing the Srutis, reflection and meditation). He plunges himself in the service of humanity alone one-pointedly. He is a Karma Yoga Parayana. He has taken sole refuge in this Yoga. When his heart is perfectly purified he gets illumination and Self-Knowledge through Lord's grace just as a devotee gets knowledge through Lord's grace without the practice of Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana. There is a mysterious power or Achintya Sakti in the practice of Karma Yoga which transforms the mind of the aspirant and helps him in the attainment of knowledge of Brahman." Karma Yoga Is the Best Yoga)

"He who attends on a helpless man when he is in a dying condition does more Sadhana than a man who does meditation in a closed room. If he does service for one hour it is equal to meditation for six hours." (do)

He points out also how "those who take to Jnana Yoga without the purification of the heart by Karma Yoga remain as debaters as dry Pandits." (do)

Swami Sivananda's exposition of Raja Yoga has been described by me above. He expounds Bhakti Yoga in various books (Bhakti and Sankirtan, Essence of Bhakti Yoga, Treasure of Teachings, etc.). Bhakti Yoga is the easiest and sweetest of all Yogas and even in its Bhajan and Sankirtan are the sweetest of all. Sri Krishna says in the Gita:

"It is the King of Vidyas. It is the King of secrets. It is pure. It is Supreme. It can be easily known. It is pure Dharma. It is easy to do. It yields perennial results."-Gita, XI-4

"By supreme love alone I can be truly known, seen and realised in union."-Gita, IV-2

The various aspects of Bhakti are clearly enumerated in the Bhagavata, XI-3.

In his Treasure of Teachings Swami Sivananda says:

"Sankirtan Yoga is the easiest, surest, quickest and safest path to attain God-realisation."

"In this iron age Japa is the easiest way of God-realisation."

"Bhava is the main basis of Rasa. Rasa is the nectarine transcendental bliss."

"Sankirtan is an exact science. The harmonious vibrations produced by singing the Name of the Lord help the devotee to control his mind easily." (Akhanda Kirtan)

In Bhakti and Sankirtan he expounds elaborately Sandilya's wonderful Bhakti Sutras. He has expouded Narada's Bhakti Sutras also. To be with him is to be immersed in Bhajan and Kirtan, in Prema and Om. He says: "Prayer has tremendous influence. I have many experiences." He emphasises also worship or Upasana. All Puja (worship) is holy but Manasika Puja (mental worship) is the holiest of all. Faith, Love and Bliss are inseparable. At the same time Swamiji has warned us against the devotee becoming proud of his devotion and against Bhakti leading to any moral corruptions. The crown of Bhakti is Prema. A very faithful idea of Swami Sivananda on Bhakti is found in his Essence of Bhakti Yoga. It is in fact an exposition of Vyasa's exposition of the philosophy of Bhakti in the Gopi episode in Skanda X of the Bhagavata. There Vyasa equates Bhakti and Jnana and says that as Atma Jnana burns up all Punya (religious merit) and all Papa (sin), the supreme Bhakti of the Gopis had a like effect.

(Their sins were burnt away in the fire of the grief of their unbearable separation from Krishna. Their religious merits were overborne by the supreme bliss of their embrace of Krishna in meditation.)

Swami Sivananda says: "The illustration of the two varieties of Samadhi is found in the Rasa Lila of Sri Krishna. At first the Gopis perceive that all is Sri Krishna alone. This is equal to Savikalpa Samadhi. Afterwards they feel that even they themselves are Krishna only. This is equal to Nirvikalpa Samadhi where sense of ego is absent. The Srimad Bhagavata is the Bible of the devotees. It illustrates the various kinds of Rasas and modes of developing Bhakti." (Essence of Bhakti Yoga) Swamiji describes elsewhere in the same work the five kinds of Bhakti Bhavas, viz., Santa, Dasya, Sakhya, Vatsalya and Madhurya, the Madhura Bhava of the Gopis and especially of Radha Devi being the highest Summit of Bhakti Rasa. Swamiji also gives an exalted description of Sri Ramanuja's eleven suggestions for developing and intensifying Bhakti, viz., Abhyasa (repeated Bhakti), Viveka (discrimination), Satya (truth), Arjava (straightforwardness), Kriya (doing good to others), Kalyana (wishing the well-being of all), Daya (compassion), Ahimsa (non-injury), Dana (charity) and Anavasada (cheerfulness).

(Ahimsa, Indriyanigraha (sense-control), Sarvabhoota-Daya (compassion to all beings), Kshama (forgiveness), Dhyana (meditation), Tapas (austerity), Jnana (wisdom) and Satya (truth) are the eight flowers which are dear to Lord Vishnu.)

Swami Sivananda has expounded Jnana Yoga with great elaboration in many of his writings. In Yoga in Daily Life he gives a list of the books which a beginner in Vedanta and an advanced student should study. he gives a clear enunciation of Vedanta formulae and especially Soham Dhyana for meditation. His books Vedanta for Beginners, First Lessons in Vedanta, Philosophy and Meditation on Om, Secret of Self-realisation, How to Get Vairagya, First Lessons in Vedanta, Vedanta in Daily Life, Jnana Yoga, etc., are the books which must be studied by us to realise the glory of Jnana Yoga. In the Voice of the Himalayas he says: "The Upanishads constitute the life-breath of India....... Vedanta is a system of life itself. It represents the fundamental basis on which alone a universal religion, or a 'Universal Congress of Faiths' can be built." In regard to Jnana Yoga Swami Sivananda warns us against our becoming proud of our Knowledge and vain about our intellect and contemptuous and contentious in our dealings with others. (First Lessons in Vedanta)

Hari Om Tat Sat


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