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Sivananda Yoga, Talk-III

by Swami Venkatesananda

We have been considering the principal aspects of sadhana as expounded by Gurudev and illustrated in his life. I think we should remind ourselves once again that neither the teachings nor the illustrations in his life could be positively described as "this is it". Then you miss it-it is neither/nor; it is the extremely subtle middle path. What is considered the middle path is imperceptible and, if we invent a new word, 'inconceptable.' Not only imperceptible but it is inconceptable. You cannot form a concept with it. Gurudev had supreme renunciation but not as a concept. Gurudev had the highest form of karma yoga, but not as a concept, not limited to it, not only this.

Why do we slip into specialisation instead of following the subtle middle path, the path of neither/nor? Because in this neither/nor yoga, in pursuing this subtle middle path, one has to be constantly vigilant. One little wink or nod and you slip on one side or the other. Of course by God's grace you wake up and go on, because the subtle middle path is neither this nor that, but something which partakes of both. That is what we have to bear in mind throughout our study of the life as well as teachings of Shri Gurudev. If we forget this, then we become fanatic, and that is almost contrary to what Gurudev was.

So far we have gone over his teachings concerning what we call karma yoga and what we call bhakti. And it was pointed out that even the essential raja yoga sadhana of meditation was made to flow on from the bhakti practice of japa. 'Flow on' reminds me of a beautiful thought which I would like to share with you. These yogas - karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, and hatha yoga and what have you-these are not separate watertight compartments, but can be compared to the seasons. This is an example which is given in the Yoga Vasishtha. One season flows into the other, it is not as though one fine morning winter comes to an end and spring commences. One season flows, it is an unceasing flow; in the same way one yoga blends into another.

Karma yoga blends with bhakti yoga etc. If it does not, there is something wrong somewhere. You are chewing the words, hoping that you might get enlightened or illumined. Gurudev's as well as Krishna's is an intelligent practice of yoga, not a bland ritual, not a superstitious, repetitive, mechanical set of practices, nor a set of dogmas to which we could give our intellectual assent-it is intelligence in operation, it is intelligence alive. Previously jnana yoga was isolated from the rest on the understanding that first we practise karma yoga, and once our heart becomes purified, then we go to the temple, and once we develop a little devotion, then we sit down and practise a little raja yoga. All this may take some two hundred years. Never mind, we come back again and again and pursue, and then we will go to the forest, go to a guru and learn the Upanishads from him.

The sanyasins in Rishikesh sit and listen to the Upanishads at the feet of Swami Krishnanandaji Maharaj, because Shri Gurudev insisted that these too shall form part of our daily sadhana. This aspect of jnana yoga was introduced into our life as swadhyaya. I don't know what this word swadhyaya literally means, but to me the first two syllables suggest something. 'Swa' means self, 'dhya'-dhyana or meditation. Maybe it is swadhyaya - someone sitting alone and reading a scripture-I don't know. It is also possible to see that while I am reading it, there is contemplation. It is not a mechanical reading of the scripture but an intelligent reading of the scripture. Gurudev often repeated, "Study daily a chapter of the Gita". Why must I go on studying this? We ask this question only when it comes to the Bhagavad Gita or the Upanishads. You do not ask this question when it comes to a physics textbook or Shakespearean drama. We read these again and again; we even memorize them. Why? In order that the message may be inscribed on the tablet of one's heart. These words are also Gurudev's. This swadhyaya or daily reading (I'm deliberately avoiding the use of the word study) of the Gita, Ramayana, Upanishads or other scriptures, the Bible or the Koran, is like the continuous flow of a river.

You have heard it said that you cannot take a bath in the same water twice. Every moment the water is flowing, as you dip and come up and dip again, it's fresh water-not the water in which you had your previous dip. Something has happened. Here it's the other way round. The scripture seems to be the same, but you who read the scripture-you are not the same. You are not the same as you were last year. Something has happened, and therefore keep on reading this and it is possible you will discover that newer and newer facets of meaning are revealed to you. That is the beauty of swadhyaya. That sounds mechanical, perhaps and therefore Gurudev said, swadhyaya is important, but not the mechanical type. Keep your heart open, keep your mind open, be alert and vigilant as you read this, whether you understand the meaning or not. Let your heart be open.

How did he achieve that? I was particularly interested in this because as Vaishnava Brahmins of South India we had become accustomed to this routine, mechanical reading of at least Valmiki's Ramayana. We didn't read the Gita or the Upanishads. But we were asked to recite at least one chapter of Valmiki's Ramayana before breakfast, otherwise we wouldn't get our coffee. I still remember the delightfully jet-age speed with which we read the Ramayana! Why? The mind was on the coffee, not on the Ramayana. We weren't interested in the Rama story and we didn't even bother to look up the story, we just read it in Sanskrit, it was considered a ritual. That was not enough. Swadhyaya is necessary, but not that.

Don't however come up with the other extreme, saying, I must understand every word of it, every syllable. Neither total ignorance nor complete understanding, somewhere in the middle. Read it, try to understand it, open your heart. If you don't understand something, leave it. That was done miraculously and most beautifully in the satsanga. Gurudev combined these two so beautifully, the satsanga and the swadhyaya. What is satsanga? I think most of you know. I was exposed as a young boy to the satsanga of the South Indian variety. You know how it is spelt - satsang - that is precisely what happened. They sat and they sang. And it used to be glorious, beautiful, classical. I must explain this too. Often classical means not musical. If you don't want to hear it, it is called classical music! They were supposed to be singing God's names, but where is your attention? Your attention is on what raga he is singing in, what tala he is singing in, who is making a mistake, who is singing a wrong note, the attention is not on God. So there was "sat" and "sang", but no bhavana. Gurudev liked kirtan, but it had to be full of bhav, as his whole mission had started with sankirtan conferences. But not that type of emotionalism; it had to be sankirtan, but not emotional, not demonstrative, not showy, and he used to insist that when you sing kirtan, feel that God himself is sitting in front of you, listening.

Now to combine all of these: Swadhyaya had to be a 'combined' reading, not a blind reading, nor an insistance upon understanding the entire philosophy. "I must become enlightened tomorrow morning," and "I must not read anything which I do not understand". Neither of these two extremes. Sankirtan must be done without any emotionalism, but with some bhavana. Neither this nor that. And he beautifully combined all this in the satsanga we had in the ashram in those days, especially before 1950, 1951. The satsanga as it was in those days had an extraordinary quality of being integral yoga in itself, being an immediate combination of sankirtan, contemplation or dhyana and swadhyay-devotion all together. (Devotion being an exercise in contemplation and also an exercise in dhyana yoga.)

What Gurudev did was an extraordinary and beautiful thing. Obviously there were not so many people in those days-hardly about fifteen or twenty. In summer, satsang used to be held on the veranda of Gurudev's kutir and in winter it was held in the Bhajan Hall. In the Bhajan Hall he sat next to the door. In his kutir he sat at the north end of the main veranda. There used to be a small thin piece of folded cloth that was merely to indicate where Gurudev was to sit. Right on time he would come out of his kutir and sit there. There was no electricity, no light, except for a wicklamp at the altar and a hurricane lamp to read by. Gurudev hid a flashlight that was half a walking stick long. He would put it next to him and look at the person who sat at his right. That's all, then he closed his eyes.

Immediately, when he opened his eyes, the swami who was sitting to his left would start the "Jaya Ganesha". It was routine, then the next person would read one chapter of the Gita, sometimes with meaning, sometimes without. Once his reading, was over he would lead with a kirtan, and then the lamp was passed on to the next person. He would probably read a few mantras from the Upanishads, with or without meaning, and follow it with a kirtan. The lamp was passed on to the next one -- Bhagavatam. Then somebody might even have to read an article by Gurudev if it was topical and useful. Then the hurricane lantern was put out and discarded, from there on, everyone had to lead, not merely follow in chorus, but leading singing a kirtan. No, it was not a one-man performance that others enjoyed; everybody had to play a part.

Two very interesting incidents I might narrate here. One was when a girl had come from South India. She said, "I do not know how to sing kirtan, what you call kirtan. I could sing bhajan but my throat is hoarse, I have a little cold." Swamiji said, "Ah, go and get some medicine". This poor girl had to swallow this bitter medicine because she said she had a sore throat. Gurudev always took everyone seriously. He was not going to be taken for a ride. The routine always had to be continued. One person had finished his reading and the lantern had been passed on, which meant that the next person had to lead in a kirtan.

When there was a silence, it meant that somebody was evading. It was then that this flashlight was used. He would pick up the flashlight, shine it right on his face. "Ahh, ohji, sing!" "Ah, no Swamiji. I don't know how to sing!" "Sing!" "I'm not used to singing in this manner."

"Sing!" Unless he at least said, "Ram Nam" twice he, wouldn't be excused, he could be the Maharaja of Mysore, it didn't matter. No one was excused.

We have a gurubhai, who's now in Gangotri, Swami Sharadananda, a wonderful man. When he came the first night Gurudev said, "Come on", "I don't know any kirtans, Swamiji." "No, no, Ram Nam." He was quiet for one moment, then suddenly he remembered the

"Raghupatiragava raja ram patita pavana sita ram". He had heard it whenever the Congress had a procession in his local town. Of course I remember it. So all of us had to repeat it in the sane tune. You dared not change his tune. He was the leader. So all of us followed in chorus. He was thrilled, he enjoyed it. Such a wonderful innocent childlike person, Swami Sharadananda... Swamiji said "Sing!" so he went on singing without changing the tune or changing the tone, without changing the words - nothing! He went on six times, seven times. Swamiji asked me to sing, he didn't ask me to stop! Then Gurudev cut in, "Jai Ramachandra ki jai".

So everyone had to sing. When Gurudev heard the last person sitting on his right lead the kirtan in this manner, then he brought the satsang to a close, sometimes he would merely sing the maha mantra kirtan, or on rare occasions some of his own poems and things like that. This was the pattern of the satsang. Later Hareshwaranandaji came and a few nice little stories were introduced now and then. Then came musicians and physicians and what have you, so the satsang took all sorts of forms.

But let's go back to the original satsang. In it was a combination of bhakti, which is sankirtan. The sankirtan was not for show, and in it was contemplation. When you are listening to the scriptural readings you are watching your mind, you are listening to the scripture with your heart open, your mind silent. In it was most valuable study. What happens when we say, "I am a scholar, I will study the Bhagavad Gita"? I don't think you watch yourself. What happens when you say, "I've got the Bible; I've learned it at Sunday school"? You tend to take the same passage or chapter again and again and again. Your own favourite chapter becomes your continued favourite. There are some unpleasant truths in the Bible; there are some unpleasant truths in the Bhagavad Gita. There are some unpleasant truths in other scriptures. 'I don't want to look at them at all; I am very happy with all this.' That means once again your ego is very cosily asleep, never exposed to the truth. One had to read from cover to cover. One day or another your heart will also be exposed to the truth that you have been shying away from. Then it hits you. By God, I never read this chapter! I never saw this.

Once we were discussing the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Bible, when I mentioned the expression, "Resist not evil". Somebody who was supposed to be a scholar jumped up and said, "I have never heard that in the bible". He had been reading all the other chapters very religiously but avoiding this, it didn't suit him. In that satsang that simple thing was combined, bhakti, jnana and dhyana. That was not all. After all, if the message of the scripture enters our heart, it will come alive, and it must become active. Gurudev often reminded us that the scripture must come alive in you-that the truths of the Upanishads must come from your heart. I have heard the words, and now in my daily life, during my activities, I am watching to see if the truths of the Upanishads are coming from my heart or not. So it is not enough to study or listen to the scriptures, but the truths must also come from the heart. This is true-now what do you think! The moment one hears the reaction of one's own mind, "Ah, you know I am not yet ready for the Upanishads, so you know..."

Neither this nor that. Neither must the Upanishads or the scriptures be confined to your mind, nor should the consideration, 'I'm not yet mature enough for the study of the scripture,' be the reason for not studying it. So I must study it, and I must try my best to live up to it, but without the anxiety that accompanies this kind of trying. I must honestly imbibe the teachings of the scriptures and follow them, but not with the sense of anxiety, 'Oh what am I going to do? I'm not able to practise this, oh what must I do?' Without this anxiety, can I listen to the scriptures, inscribe the teachings on the tablet of my heart, keep my heart open to the light, without anxiety and without ego participation? I am not saying I am enlightened; I am not saying I am anxious that I may not become enlightened. Without anxiety and without hypocrisy, let the heart be open to the reception of this light, and the magic will happen.

I'm sure those of you who have been to Gurudev's satsang know that this magic happens. It's a very subtle magic-spiritual growth is not a very dramatic growth. We have all grown. I can even picture Gita playing the Krishna Lila outside my old kutir. Gurudev used to preside over it. She was a little girl then, now she has grown, but if I ask her, "When did you grow from three feet to four feet," she will answer that it didn't happen in one day, and she has been looking into the mirror every morning. I am sure it is impossible for her to say, "I looked at the mirror this morning; my nose is half an inch longer than it was last night". It doesn't happen that way. Real growth is imperceptible. I look at my shaven head; it's the same every day. If one morning I look and find a real growth here, then I will probably run panic stricken to the nearest doctor. It may be a tumour, it may be a cancer. A growth that is noticeable is often cancerous. Spiritual growth is so subtle and beautiful. And that subtle and beautiful spiritual growth is effectively brought about by this satsanga, if it is conducted in the way in which Gurudev taught us. Without anxiety and without hypocrisy.

One beautiful incident I might narrate is an illustration of this last thing. Gurudev was not anxious at all when it came to putting the scripture into practice. Once a few of us were there on Gurudev's veranda. It was winter and he was in his big overcoat and had a nice shawl as a scarf around his neck and I think stockings too. The refrain of his talk that evening was, "They are truly blessed who are quite content with loin cloth, who roam free clad in the loin cloth." And the person who says this is clad in an overcoat and scarves and so on! Sometimes you and I feel self-conscious, anxious, afraid of criticism-look at him! He is saying something and doing something else. Truth is truth, and that is always truth, whether you are able to practise it or not. It is still truth, and truth is unchangeable, and that is why it is called truth. "He who is contented with the loin cloth and owns nothing in this world, he is a blessed man." This is the truth. That Gurudev had to wear an overcoat on that occasion may be due to something else, but that does not detract from the strength and power in his voice, in his words.

So without any anxiety whatsoever, and without making it a mere ritual of listening, one should listen to the scriptures, study the scriptures, and if it is done in satsang in this manner it becomes extremely effective. The scriptures studied are read, and then, while the person is leading the kirtan, all the others have an opportunity of letting the message soak through the heart of their being. At the end of the satsang we had two or three minutes of silent meditation and the arati, and then as soon as the satsang was over, especially when it was in his kutir, he would say, "Om Namah Sivaaya." Then he would quietly walk into his room; he wouldn't even look at anybody. He used to ask others also to do so; without disturbing the satsang mood, go to your room and sleep

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