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Sivananda Yoga, Talk-II

by Swami Venkatesananda

Gurudev's Integral Yoga rests on two fundamentally vital factors: one, to see God in every face, and two, to ensure that the body-mind complex, which has somehow been considered an individual personality, becomes a free-flowing channel for the divine will, grace, or power. Therefore the whole thing appears to be one of selfless service, nishkarma seva, and it has to partake of the vital elements of what we usually consider other yogas. In Gurudev's mind there was no 'other yoga.' There was only one yoga, Integral Yoga-yoga means 'integration,' so "Integral Yoga" is already a redundant expression.

Gurudev often used to liken the best devotee and the best yogi to Krishna's flute. The emptier it is, the more divine the music. So, the first part involves what we have come to regard as bhakti yoga, and the second part involves what we leave come to regard as raja yoga - dhyana yoga - jnana yoga. Therefore he included in his sadhana vital elements of the bhakti sadhana. Why do I say vital elements and not just bhakti? When we think ("think" is the most important word in the sentence) of bhakti, we have an image, and the image is made up of largely showy emotionalism. One must wear some kind of a tilak and some kind of a cloth around one's shoulders; whether the man repeats "Om Namah Sivaya" once or twice a day or not, he has a whole shirt and shawl made of Om Namah Sivaya. Or he must sing and shout and do all kinds of things. All these practices may have their own benefits, but these according to Gurudev's life and teachings are of secondary importance.

There were some vital practices in his sadhana. First and foremost of these was Murthi Puja. Amongst Gurudev's initial devotees were great Arya Samajis who don't like Murthi Puja at all. As a matter of fact Gurudev even attended the wedding in the house of one such devotee. He mixed freely with them and even sang the maha mantra. Gurudev himself has said somewhere that when he presided over sankirtan conferences, even Arya Samajis who came to criticise and disrupt the proceedings, later joined in and started dancing! When he performed murthi puja, it was not as many of us do it, regarding the statue as a statue as a stone, but as a living presence. There was this deep-seated realisation, not conviction but realisation, that it is God l am worshipping-not a stone. He did not even use the expression, 'through this I am worshipping God. Through this stone image, which somehow represents Lord Krishna, I am worshipping God.' No. I am worshipping Krishna here. This is Krishna.

I used to be pujari in the temple for quite a number of years, and Gurudev used to come three times a day, and every time with some flowers or bael leaves he entered the temple, it was an unforgettable and indescribable sight. I used to stand with my back towards the window and watch Gurudev's face. He used to look up, and in that look there was definitely the unmistakable look of greeting a friend. During Shivratri particularly there used to be puja in the evening, and after the arati some people used to be given bael leaves. It was customary to drop some leaves on the Nandi, the bull, as a token of seeking the bull's permission for worshipping Siva. Then they used to offer a few bael leaves or flowers on the Siva lingam. I have never seen Gurudev throw a flower or a leaf-he placed it so softly. Why? Because it is a living thing, it is a living divine presence. If I throw flowers at your face, I don't think you will appreciate it very much. When he looked at Krishna, it was friendship, supreme intimate friendship. "Hello, how do you do?" You could almost read it in his eyes. "Ah, how are you, alright today?" Just as he used to ask me and you and everybody, "What would you like to have, some tea or some coffee?" - that same blissful look of intimate friendship.

In the office where he used to sit, a few pictures hung in front of him from the ceiling, and those pictures had to be there in that order. They were not pictures at all. They were living beings, the divine presence. As soon as he walked into the office he tossed a glance at them. If somebody meddled with them, "hmm, what has happened to that!" Because, he thought, my friends have gone, they are my friends and assistants here in my work, and they have been disrupted. In all this there was absolute and total naturalness, there was no showiness at all. We greet each other, laugh at each other, make fun of each other - "Narayana!" He would never do that. And sometimes we shout while stretching or when we hurt ourselves, "Hare Ram, Hare Ram". All that showiness was completely absent, but deep within him he believed, he taught and his life was a continual demonstration of the fact that this bhakti is a totally intimate love affair between your soul and God. No one need know, you don't have to parade it; you don't have to exhibit it to anyone else.

I mentioned a minute ago that he used to look at those pictures. Even that was done in a very subtle almost imperceptible way. Unless you were very carefully watching, you couldn't have noticed it. Sometimes he would close his eyes, and just with one eye, lift it up and take a look and close the eyes again. In those five seconds some magic thread was re-established. Very often we think that we are so highly advanced that worship is unnecessary. He never forgot his worship. Only when he could not come to the temple did he confine himself to the worship in his own room.

He was very fond of sankirtan, the use of mantra in several different forms. In sankirtan again there was no ostentation. If sankirtan has to be sung aloud, sing it aloud, but without ostentation, not doing it for the sake of showing others. There was no demonstration in his case. Do you know what demonstration means? Spell the word and count the first five letters! He was not interested in demonstration-it was within him. Bhakti is an affair of the heart, and nobody need know.

Perhaps the less known your love for God is, the more powerful, the more sincere it is likely to be. One has to see this. He was thrilled when someone sang God's names with bhav and devotion. And that is the characteristic of a devotee. He was so full of divine love that he was delighted even if others sang God's names. And the externalisation of this devotion was adapted to suit the context. If there was a big audience, such as the birthday celebration, we used to have a big satsang. Gurudev would stand up and start singing and dancing maybe about 1 o'clock at night on the 31st of December. He had a powerful voice; it could ring throughout the Himalayas. When he sang people would shed tears. If he did Om chanting before an audience of a couple of thousand people, it was ringing loud, for the occasion demanded it. But when during satsang he sang kirtan, it was only meant for the few that were around him, so it was in a subdued, mellow, beautiful voice.

Gurudev used to say, in the beginning when there were not even musicians present in the ashram, "You should sit in a meditative posture and sing kirtan as if you are meditating, and while you are singing kirtan, feel within yourself that the Lord himself is seated in front of you listening to your kirtan. That's a very different spirit altogether! That is a different quality. You have seen the picture of birds singing and little Krishna sitting and listening. That is what Gurudev wanted; otherwise it becomes a totally externalised affair. When the affairs of the heart are externalised they lose their value completely. They become useless; they become showy, spiritless, and essenceless. Devotion or bhakti, being an affair of the heart, must be felt there, experienced there. So we experience the welling up of devotion and the divine presence itself. God himself is sitting close to you, listening, so no need to shout. So during satsang it was very soft, but inspiring and devotional.

During akhanda kirtan-we used to have akhanda kirtan a few times a year-the whole night we used to sit in the temple singing Om Namah Sivaya. Once Gurudev was sitting leaning against the left side pillar of the temple, with closed eyes, and since nobody was leading the Om Namah Sivaya chant, one half would repeat once and the other half would repeat the next time. He was also part of one group and he was chanting the Om Namah Sivaya in such low tones right at the back of his throat. I happened to be near him and heard this. I thought, 'Aha, if you repeat it like that maybe you enter into samadhi more easily, and maybe you don't get tired or sleepy.' So sitting right behind him, I also started. I was asleep in one minute! And yet he was sitting there unmoved, without even changing his seat for the whole night, repeating this Om Namah Sivaya in a very low tone. There it is a totally and completely meditative mood.

When he saw others dozing he would say, "Oh, get up, get up and sing or clap". That was the one occasion when we were allowed to clap our hands while singing kirtan, or to use cymbals, or the clappers or even the harmonium or tabla. There the important thing was to keep awake. If you are awake, it is enough. What happens in your heart, we will see later. But in his own case, it was deep, deep within him! In the case of japa also, when he used to conduct meditation classes, he used to start the class with "Om", and the Om sound came from his navel. He also used to go to his kutir and pace the veranda up and down, very deeply uttering the Omkara. What it is to see God in every face might come later.

What is the inner experience when you are face to face with God? If you know that experience, then you can ensure that the same experience is had when you see this little boy (sitting in front of him at the talk). First you must acquire that experience wherever you like, maybe in a temple, maybe in front of a great swami or holy man or yogi, maybe in front of your guru. The experience has to manifest in your heart. And once that experience is manifest and you have tasted it, watch and see if the same experience arises in you when you meet every person. Then you can really say, "I see God in every face". That was one vital aspect of his sadhana, whatever there was, puja, worship, and the celebration of holy days like Durga Puja and sankirtan. Through all this he sustained this peace of divine love. Constantly he sustained this attitude of seeing God, and seeing God in every face.

We all worship Krishna in the temple, we offer flowers and fruits in front of Krishna and sweets at his feet. "Oh Krishna I love you, please accept this, I have brought it specially far you from Delhi." And that Krishna doesn't smile, that Krishna doesn't nod, that Krishna doesn't say, "Thank you." He says nothing, and yet you feel quite happy within yourself that the Lord has accepted your service, and you go away fully satisfied. Wouldn't you do the same if you saw God in the face of the person whom you are serving? Yet you take some flowers and fruits when you meet a swami, put them at his feet, "Namaskara Swami", and if he doesn't care to nod, or smile you are offended!

So here again if you are able to feel the divine presence in the temple, then it is possible that by and by you will see God in every face. The next is to ensure that the body-mind complex is an egoless, free-flowing channel for the divine grace, which is meditation. And Gurudev's meditation was continuous. Whenever he mentioned meditation, what he really meant was japa. It is through mantra japa you enter into no, you don't even enter into meditation. You go on doing japa and meditation supervenes; meditation takes hold of you. Meditation is like sleep, which cannot be practised. You cannot practise sleep. Your consciousness can be led towards it, but then it has to come. You can invite it, you can do all manner of things, but sleep has to come, and if it has to come, it will come here right now! So when Gurudev used the word 'meditation' in personal conversation, it always meant japa. When a new aspirant came and asked for instruction, he always said, "Do japa! Take a mantra." Sometimes he would give a mantra; any mantra is as good as any other mantra. It depends entirely upon your appreciation; your faith, upon your sincerity and dedication. Having given the mantra Gurudev would instruct aspirant how to use it.

As soon as you wake up - not get up - as soon as you open your eyes in the morning, start repeating the mantra. If you are alone in the room you can say it aloud or whisper it or if you are not alone you may do it mentally. After a few minutes when you are fully awake, get out of bed, wash your face quickly and come back and sit in your asana for more japa. This time you can use a mala. And then synchronize the mantra with the breath, this is the trick: then the breathing itself becomes the japa mala. Repeat the mantra once while inhaling, repeat the mantra once while exhaling, and form this habit. Once the habit is formed this mantra repetition or japa will become natural, second nature to you. Then, to make it even more firmly grounded, devote a few seconds to it every hour or every two hours.

p That is what Gurudev used to do in the office. He would be signing letters or talking to people or examining addresses on parcels, and he would lean back and close his eyes. You think he is fatigued, you think he is resting-he is not resting. No one knew what he was doing. Sometimes I noticed when he was in the office, one eye would be half-closed only. The right eye was completely closed, the left eye only half closed. I have never dared to ask him what it meant. There was a completely blank expression there. My first impression was that something had happened. Then I saw he was deliberately doing it. There he was for a few moments. Nobody knew what he did, but for a few moments he had reestablished that link with the mantra. That can be done: just synchronize the mantra with the breath and listen to it. And at the end of the day, before you go to bed, the mantra can be repeated properly, sitting in your meditation room in your meditation posture. Gurudev used to insist that before you go to bed you should spend half an hour at least in japa. It is not a waste of time. You will have a better sleep and a more restful, more blissful, more fruitful sleep. And if his sleep was disturbed, the disturbed period of his sleep was also spent in japa.

p This japa mantra itself will lead you to meditation if you have faith and dedication, if you are cautious and careful. Because one day or the other you are bound to question what it is that is repeating this mantra "I". Who is this 'I?' Where does the sound come from? From me. Who is 'me?' When that quest arises, there is meditation. You are not meditating; you are merely entering into this quest. Who is repeating this mantra? From where does it come? I hear the sound of the mantra within without vocalizing it. How is it possible to have a sound without making a sound? When such inquiry arises from within, the mantra japa goes on, and it merges into meditation. When it is realised that this meditation is happening, this mantra japa is happening without my volition, without my will, without my individuality participating in it, then all actions in life happen without the "me".

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