Keynote talk on “Yoga in the New Millennium”
By Swami NadaBrahmananda, February 19, 2001 in Valencia, Venezueala
(Translation into Spanish concurrently)
Bolo Sat Guru Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaja ki, JAI!
Bolo Sat Guru Sri Swami Chidanandaji Maharaja ki, JAI!
Bolo Sat Guru Sri Swami Krishnanandaji Maharaja ki, JAI!
Dearest brothers and sisters of light,
The subject for tonight's talk is “Yoga in the New Millennium”. Yoga is a very old and respected group of practices and philosophy, designed to help each practitioner realise, through their own direct experience, the true nature of what we call reality. This leads naturally to freedom from suffering and fear, a very profound peace and happiness, good health, love and compassion for all beings and something called enlightenment.
Yoga means to yoke or join. It is usually taken to refer to the joining of a person with his or her creator and therefore to the final fulfillment of the purpose of life itself. However, Yoga is NOT a religion and can usually be practiced by people of any religious persuasion.
There are advantages and disadvantages to an old system of practice like Yoga. An old system has the advantage of having been tested successfully many times with many writings and teachers for the reference of future generations. However, a system which has been around for a long time like Yoga, often gives birth to a variety of practices and paths, which can become quite confusing to a beginner. Such is the case in Yoga.
Unfortunately, the subject has also been made even less clear by certain westerners, who have changed the traditional teachings and started their own organisations with catchy names, such as “Power Yoga” and so on. Many people think that Yoga is only what they see on Television, namely a few asanas and no spirituality at all.
The good news for the new millennium is that slowly these incorrect understandings are changing as more people become interested in spirituality. In North America now, there is a bewildering assortment of spiritual practices, groups, centers, ashrams, Gurus, teachings and books to thoroughly confuse the beginner for years! Many have come from religious backgrounds such as Buddhist practices, Sufis, Christian mysticism and so on. So what to do?
For the record, this speaker's personal definitions of religion and mysticism are: Religion is, “A system of thinking that is based on faith or belief. A system designed to allay fear of the unknown, with no requirement to know anything from personal experience.” Mysticism on the other hand is characterized by “A set of teachings and practices, which lead to direct personal experience of Divine truth. Usually in meditation. As such, by definition, a more scientific approach.” So even where Yoga mentions God, it is closer to a mystical practice than a religious one.
The father of our great spiritual family, Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, UP, India, used to teach what he called “Integral Yoga”, meaning a synthesis of all the various Yogas. Have you ever counted how many there are? Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga, Karma Yoga, Gyana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Surat Shabd Yoga, Nada Yoga, Laya Yoga, Mantra or Japa Yoga, Annutara Yoga, Tantric Yoga and on and on! At our little ashram in Canada we counted fifteen during one discussion!
Yet, they are all really one system and one would get a good all round understanding of Yoga by studying and practicing them all, a little of each at a time. This is very helpful for those amongst you, who one day, will become Yoga teachers.
Each person has a unique background and therefore a unique spiritual path. Some will take to Patanjali’s Raja Yoga and concentrate on meditation from the beginning, others will prefer Gyana Yoga, using the intellect to study in great depth the spiritual path and the teachings of great masters and yogis. Such people are often called Vedantins, since the philosophical basis of Yoga is called Vedanta, meaning the end of the Vedas, the great teachings at the heart of the Hindu religious beliefs. Traditionally, it is taught that the easiest way to God is Bhakti Yoga or the way to God through love and devotion. The latter requires that through love of God, all our actions and the fruits thereof are offered to God continuously and, being in love with God, we lose ourselves in adoration of Him.
So each of us are drawn to continue our spiritual path according to what we did in past lives and also of course being influenced by events around us now. During the last thirty years, I have been privileged to observe and participate in a great explosion of interest in mysticism, the search for spiritual truth and enlightenment in the West. As a percentage of the world's population however, those seekers of light are still not numerous. So all of you here are indeed very special. You may be leading very ordinary lives, yet you are here, why? Instead of watching television or a movie, you have put time aside to listen to stories about spirituality and truth and enlightenment. Que Bueno!
You are the teachers of tomorrow: Those, who will help others in times of difficulty and those times are not finished yet! World war is clearly out of date and unthinkable to intelligent minds, since it would render life impossible here for all beings. The whole world is being required to grow up spiritually and socially in preparation for a future world of great peace, happiness and spiritual knowledge. The current way of thinking of the average person would stop such a beautiful world from happening. So all the disasters and difficulties you hear about have a purpose in the divine scheme of things.
Although Yoga is an ancient and respected system, the new millennium or the next thousand years will see some differences. Religious beliefs will evolve. We can expect to see Yoga and spirituality in general become well understood and accepted by the whole world. This will lead to many people becoming Jivan-Muktas” or liberated beings and enlightened masters. Mere regular daily contact or darshan with such beings is known to bring about the making of more enlightened people, leading to a golden age.
There was a time long ago, when India was like that, which established the great spiritual traditions in India. Today however, many people in India seem not to be in contact with that tradition. This speaker is unaware of the cause of such a step backwards, but it does underline the necessity of the people's need to be very aware of any upsurges in the dark side of our nature in every society. The lack of public vigilance could be said to have led to the second world war, where the dark side of our nature was allowed to cause immense suffering to many people and whole countries. Even now, our world is still ruled by elements of the dark side, such as greed, anger, hatred, jealousy. Look at what is offered to us on television every day as entertainment! Intense violence is often proposed as the only solution to each problem. Certain well known countries profess to want peace, yet manufacture weapons of war and export them to other countries for big profits. Amongst such weapons are to be found antipersonnel mines, which usually kill and maim women and children and biological weapons which could destroy all life on this planet. The golden age is not here yet, a fact proved by certain countries who still refuse to ban the manufacture of such weapons, a project which is very close to the heart of Swami Chidananda in Rishikesh and of Canada, from where I began my pilgrimage for peace.
Many of the books written for people who are advanced on their spiritual paths state categorically that this world and universe is not real, but is like a dream. The Buddha himself said that our only responsibility is to wake up and become Buddhas ourselves. The Buddha said “I am only a man” by which he meant that all of us are capable of the same achievement or level of conscious awareness as He. Please realise that it does take time, years, for a person's mind to evolve to the point where the meaning in these advanced books can be grasped in a positive way and thus lead to the reader's enlightenment and freedom from suffering etc. So guidance, time and experience in meditation can be indeed helpful to us all.
As we grow up, we create thousands of attachments, which automatically lead to our own suffering. A beginner would find it impossible to stay detached at the death of a beloved member of his or her family, no? Yet, a Yogi, knowing that no one is ever born or dies, does not grieve and continues to help to reduce the suffering of others due to his or her own compassion. From the Divine point of view, nothing is happening here, just appearances like a film on a screen. Try telling that to a soldier in the middle of a battle! So much study, practice and meditation is required until the truth can be known directly for oneself. An illustration of this is contained in this story about Alexander the Great.
[Alexander the Great meets the Greek philosopher Diogenes
Alexander the Great had conquered the known world and was in his early thirties. He had even been to India. On his return, he heard about a famous Greek philosopher, Diogenes and went to see him. He studied philosophy with him and was so impressed that he offered the philosopher anything he wanted. Alexander was capable of giving just about anything, being the absolute ruler of the then known world. However, the philosopher merely asked him to step aside because Alexander was taking his sunlight! Such an answer we can expect from an enlightened person, who has no need for anything of this world and is completely detached and fearless.]
Many people actually think that Yoga is just getting the body healthy by doing asanas. They don't realise that a healthy body and mind is simply known to be helpful for meditation succeed and the realisation of the nature of Self or God to happen. Patanjali’s famous sutras at the beginning state that Yoga consists of stopping the mind. If you can stop your mind, holding it perfectly still for a while, you will know the meaning of life and all the great secrets in the universe! You will radiate peace and happiness around you and everyone around you will feel it. People will be attracted to you and want to stay with you and not know why.
Even in pranayama, the science of breath control used in Hatha Yoga, there is a simple exercise which is reputed to make you irresistible to others. Would you like a workshop on that? (:-)
The secret truth is that all of us have already reached the goal, we are enlightened and illumined. We just don't know it. The spiritual path really consists of everything we do to eventually cause the realisation of the self and that is eventually instantaneous. It takes no time, no effort and is so easy that most people won't believe it. The good news is that while we struggle on our individual spiritual paths, our lives become more pleasant and easier and more satisfying as we let go of old ideas and embrace new, better, more spiritual ideals and live accordingly. There is actually nothing to do but just be quiet and let it happen. Like the old saying goes, “Be here, Now”. Easy to say, hard to do, because our minds live either in the past with its memories or in imaginings of some future. The only way to live in the moment is to be still and quiet!
Much of what can be experienced in meditation cannot be explained in words, although in the Sanskrit language there are more words for different states of consciousness. Hence the phrase, the more one knows, the less one says. As we progress on our spiritual paths we can expect to be tested. More of what you desire, including casual thoughts, will be given to you. Expect it! So watch your desires carefully, they are likely to be given to you! (:-)
Hari Om Tat Sat