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Sivananda Yoga, Talk-I

by Swami Venkatesananda

Gurudev's Yoga was Integral Yoga, represented by the four words "serve, love, meditate, realise". Integral Yoga suggests not a step-by-step progression, but an expansion of integrated consciousness. There is a slight difference. Take for instance the famous word 'Ashtanga' in raja yoga. It is not one step following another, but more like the birth and growth of a baby. On the very first day the baby has all the limbs of the future grown-up. But they are small, undeveloped. As this person grows up, his limbs attain their fullness of perfection. Similarly, in this Integral Yoga, all the limbs of the Integral Yoga are found in the very beginning of the sadhak's career. If that is not there then you are deluding yourself again. You may feel, 'I am progressing in karma yoga,' but then something else is lacking. Your jnana is lacking or your devotion is lacking. Then as you go on you find your karma yoga is no better than social service. Gurudev never tolerated that.

Gurudev was dynamic in comparison to the other "holy men" we found in Rishikesh. Some of us went round and saw swamis sitting under a tree gazing at the sky, or on the Ganges bank, meditating or reading or gossiping. Here was one who was dynamic, constantly engaged in some form of activity, and we young men inferred from this that Gurudev liked activity. When he started doing some work, we could see from Gurudev's behaviour that he was very happy; the only thing that Gurudev would not really tolerate was tamas. You are active; he was thrilled, but not entirely.

About 15 minutes after we walked into the ashram - two of us came together - we were both provided with typewriters. Half an hour later came paper, and another half an hour later some books or manuscripts for us to copy. So the first impression that we gained was that Gurudev liked work and workers. This was true, but not entirely. So we went on working, doing more and more and more - sometimes the best part of the night was spent in work. It was pleasing to Gurudev, no doubt about that. But then one day, very early in 1946, he walked past the mops in the old kitchen that was part of our office. He looked in. "How many malas of japa did you do today? Did you meditate at all? No? Take the typewriter and throw it into the Ganges! Go and do some japa. "So this Swami likes japa more than typewriters? It's not that; it's 'nothing more than anything else.' So you start rolling beads. "Aha, what is this - sitting in the corner rolling beads?" You go this side, there is a kick, go that side, and there is a kick!

And in the same context I'll bring in one other story of our life in the initial stages of the ashram. In those days there were no steps, no ghat, nothing like that on the Ganges banks. There was an enormous rock, with a platform built over it. And there was a young man from Andhra who used to sit very straight, a human rock over a mountain rock. We had a morning meditation session that also included some asanas, some pranayama, some japa and all that. The class used to conclude usually at about six. Everyday Gurudev used to see this young man sitting on the rock, and every day he used to see him sitting there when he went back to his kutir. And occasionally he would just glance at him and walk by. One day it so happened that after the morning class, Gurudev was still sitting on one of those cement benches, discussing something with somebody. This gentleman who had been meditating got up in the meantime and walked into the kitchen. "Aha", Gurudev closed one eye and looked at him. "Hmm, Hmm. Meditation - Ah, samadhi. Ahh." He thought that Gurudev was really admiring him! "Yes Swamiji". "How long did you sit?" "Three hours, Swamiji." "Every day." "Three hours every day, Swamiji." "Ahcha." We were all very happy that this man was being encouraged. "Hmm." Suddenly, within one fifteenth of a second the whole thing changed. "Ah - look at this. Sleepy, drowsy. What kind of meditation are you practising?" He didn't know what to do.

I cannot describe to you the speed with which the expression on Gurudev's face changed in those five minutes - like a baby. Once he seems to be serious, then he seems to be almost cross, next he seems to be compassionate, next he seems to be full of affection and love, and then he seems to be mocking - mischievous. "What you are doing is useless! Meditation is useless? No! Meditation is not useless, what you are doing is useless. It is not meditation." Then Swami Sivananda explained, "Do you know what meditation means?" And now the mood changed again. Those of us who were standing there could see. You have heard about meditation, you have read about meditation, you have thought about meditation. But for those few moments, we saw meditation. "Hah - do you know what meditation means? Touch Brahma - touching the infinite, touching the absolute." When he said that, you could see the touching. "And if you touch this absolute infinite power for even one moment, you leave the energy, the strength, the wisdom to roll up the whole sky and play ball with the whole earth."

This is important. The other thing is important too, but one is not more important than the other. All of them together have to be done. One goes with the other. It is an integral yoga - ashtanga yoga. The whole thing must be done at the same time, and therefore a little of each -that was his joy. And so even though we may consider these factors one by one, please let us not go away with the impression that they follow in a sequence. We have to print the four words, "serve, love, meditate, realise" one after the other. Is there any way in which these four words can be printed together? You may jumble them, put this before and that after, but the truth is they are integral, together.

That will be immediately clear if we realise that what is called service, or nishkama karma, or what is even more beautifully put in the English language - self-less service, itself involves bhakti yoga and jnana yoga; otherwise it is not possible. Nishkama karma is not selfless service or unselfish service as defined by someone else. How do you know if I am doing it unselfishly or selfishly? You consider it unselfish as long as I don't demand any fees from you. I may not be! I may be looking for something else. I may be more selfish than you think or realise. So what is unselfishness, what is selfless service? This selfless service is not possible without a certain realisation. So serve, love, meditate, realise. Service follows and accompanies realisation - self-realisation. It is only when the self is realised to be non-existent that selfless service is possible.

I don't know if you are interested in playing with words! 'Aham kara and aham bhavana' - very interesting words. Do you know from where the word 'aham' comes? It's quite simple. They picked the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet "a". They picked the last letter of the Sanskrit alphabet "ham". They put them together and one dot on top. So what is 'aham?' 'Aham' is nothing but a word! If you challenge the yogi he says, all right then, show me what this 'aham' is. This is nose, this is right ear, this is lower lip. 'Aham?' It doesn't exist! So he says 'aham' is merely a word. This word as a concept arose or was introduced into our consciousness, which became the mind, the individualised consciousness, at some stage in our life when we were young. That has remained unquestioned and unexamined until today. It has been taken for granted; nobody has bothered to enquire if this 'aham' is a reality. We have taken that for granted and built a whole edifice of avidya (ignorance) around it.

When this 'aham' became a bit more intangible, it became 'aham bhavana.' 'Aham bhavana' means it is an inner feeling of 'aham.' It is an inner feeling: 'I am the body.' There is the mischief. This birth of the word and the corresponding concept gain the stature of a feeling. The feeling being 'aham bhavana' or 'I am the body' - the root cause of all our troubles. This has somehow been introduced into us and it has been left unexamined and therefore it has been taken for granted. Thus comes ahamkara. When it becomes functional, the same bhavana becomes ahamkara! And so we have more or less got trapped into the idea, the feeling, the concept that aham is ego-sense, that it is somehow real.

Selfless service is possible only if this whole drama comes to an end if this myth is exploded. Only when a man realises that the self is not there, it is absent. Not when I think I am selfless, but when I have truly realised that the "I" is non-existent. If I want him to smile, I tickle his foot! Selfless service becomes natural when the self is seen to be non-existent. Therefore selflessness means that in the case of that person the ahamkara does not exist at all! In which case his entire life becomes service. Gurudev used to insist upon this. That service of the poor, the sick, the destitute is important, but you need not go in search of all this. For whatever service you do can be done with this ahamkara bhavana. There is a most inspiring verse in the Bhagavad Gita. "He from whom all the beings have evolved and by whom all this is pervaded - worshipping Him with his own action, man attains perfection. (XVIII-46) Krishna here does not even suggest that this karma should be your dharma. Svakarmana - whatever you are doing, whatever you are made to do, right, wrong, virtue, vice, whatever it is, by treating all those actions as flowers offered at the feet of the Omnipresent Being man attains perfection. This was Gurudev's life's attitude.

If you have read some of the biographies, you may have noticed that we have published instances of what has been described as "self-sacrificing service". I'm sure you've heard this expression before. What does sacrifice mean? Literally it means, "to make sacred". So here self-sacrifice literally and truly means realizing the sacred self, not your assumed self. You realise that what you have been regarding as your self is in fact not that - but something quite different. Jiva, atma, corresponding words do not exist in any other language. We make these subtle distinctions. In the English language they have a thing called soul. I do not know what the soul is. Here 'sacrifice' means to examine what you have been taking for granted: the self. When you look into it, you realise that it was a shadow. And the substance was something entirely different, atma. An attainment of this atma jnana is self-sacrifice. So service that is made possible by the attainment of atma jnana is self-sacrificing service.

In the case of Gurudev the self-sacrificing service took the initial form of braving danger. What was our original difficulty? It was the overcoming of this notion that "I am the body". In order to overcome this "I am body" feeling you engage yourself in tapas or austerities, or in self-sacrificing service which involves braving danger. Since Gurudev had been trained as a doctor, the service naturally took the form of service of the sick. When he came to Swargashram, he was the one who was constantly on demand whenever there was a serious case of illness. And if you and I were afraid to go near a smallpox patent, it was always Swami Sivananda who went. Gurudev did not even take any antiseptic precautions. He used to attend to some people, rub his hands on his head and walk off. Wash your hands? What are you going to wash off? And he walked away. He had that realisation "I am not the body", that's it.

So the body can be put to any form of service, without fear, without anxiety. The body itself is endowed with what you call karma and it knows when to come to an end, when to stop breathing - you won't have to tell it. If right now you do pranayama and hold your breath for more than one or one and a half minutes, you gasp. You are suffering. One of these days you won't breathe for a long time. And you won't feel any discomfort. That is what prarabdha means. Prarabdha means the body has started to live, breathing has commenced, hunger has commenced, thirst has commenced, sleep has commenced-when you are conceived, when you are born; and that will take its own course. When all these things will come to an end only they know, you and I don't know! This is what prarabdha means. Life has started, so "I am the body" is the wrong idea, and when that goes, the yogi is able to brave danger.

There are a number of stories of how Gurudev served the dangerously sick, with great love and affection. This is part of bhakti yoga. You might want to chop these up into several compartments, this is karma yoga, and love is bhakti yoga, and he has realised the oneness and that is jnana yoga, and so on. But all are integrated; it is integral yoga. There is another risk in regarding these as separate compartments and in regarding service of the sick or of the poor as something of tremendous importance. And that is that you are constantly looking for sick or poor people, almost praying that there may be sick people and poor people. This Gurudev never did, he made everybody happy, he made everybody healthy, he made everybody feel healthy, feel happy; he was not looking for sick people. And therefore when Gurudev did this, no one knew. Later in order that the example might be communicated to others, these incidents were told and allowed to be published. When he did them no one knew. The service has to be an action that has to be done: "kartavya karma", "Kartavya" is one who regards an action as something to be done, without motivation whatsoever.

It is he who performs nishkarma yoga, or what we prefer to call nirahamkara yoga. And this nirahamkara yoga embraces devotion, seeing God in the other person, and jnana, self-realisation - realisation that what has been regarded as "I", aham, does not exist, except as a word in the dictionary. The life of such a person is constant meditation, and therefore in the case of Gurudev we saw that he was constantly in what the Vedantins call sahaja. To him samadhi, meditation was sahaja avastha, 'sahaja' in the sense of, 'natural, easy, spontaneous, continuous.' It is when one is in the sahaja that self-sacrificing, selfless service happens! He didn't have to stop looking at somebody and say, "This young man is having some trouble, headache. No, not young man! He is God, God come to me in the form of this young man with a headache, and now as an instrument in the hands of God, I am going to serve him!" There is too much time wasted in all this! One of the most extraordinary features in the case of Gurudev was that action came at once. Words came much later if at all.

First, do what you have to do! There is no thought, there is nothing involved, there is no consideration. The brain was not working here at all, no motivation. Action was spontaneous; action was instantaneous. It was not even considered service. It has to be done, and what has to be done springs from utter and total selflessness, from the realisation that what has been assumed as the self, as aham, is nonexistent. That was the beautiful selflessness that we saw in the Master. That is extraordinary. Only if we realise this, then we also realise that, once the self is realised to be nonexistent, the yogi does not go on torturing the body. What for? In later years in Gurudev, you saw these two go side-by-side, together. He didn't want you to suffer, and he did not want even that body which was called Swami Sivananda to suffer.

Only if you clearly understand this, is it possible to see why Gurudev massaged himself with oil, why he had all sorts of tonics and drugs and insulin injections - insulin for the body, not "I". This body is sick, put some insulin into it. This body is capable, push it, make it work. Exactly like a car, exactly like another instrument or vehicle. Not "I". The aham bhavana is not there, this "I am body" idea is gone. Then you are neither interested in perpetuating it by feeling "I am doing this," nor interested in torturing the body because "I am not the body." What are you torturing? If someone does that, it is usually in order to show off-which means you are still clinging to the "I am body" idea. Only in the case of such perfected beings, siddhas, is it possible to see that the "I am body" idea is completely non-existent, and whatever they do, that action springs from them spontaneously, instantly. This body is as important, as valuable as the body we call the bodies of others. There is no distinction. And so what started as self-sacrificing service eventually blossoms into totally divine selfless service.


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