SWAMI SATYANANDA SARASWATI – LA BÚSQUEDA DE LA TOTALIDAD
“The first big step on the spiritual path is realizing that you have a problem.”
Swami Satyananda Saraswati (Barcelona, 1955) is one of those people whose life was changed by a trip. But, it was not just any trip.
One fine day, being young, tired of living without finding much meaning of existence, he decided to leave with nothing, in search of everything.
He found this totality in India, whereby he made the leap towards great detachment, plunging fully into the spiritual path as a “renouncer” next to his beloved Guru, Swami Muktananda.
After entering the path of Yoga, meditation and Hindu Dharma, it was his Guru whom pushed him to coordinate various centres of his lineage in Europe, but the path had only just begun… Far from settling for this occupation, the deepest part of Swami Satyananda’s introspective journey was yet to come.
The physical death of his teacher was the spark that took him back to India to start a pilgrimage to its most sacred places. This phase lasted for more than 20 years, a time that he devoted to the contemplation and detailed study of the holy scriptures alongside direct disciples of Ramana Maharshi, other teachers and mahatmas.
An expert in Hindu tradition, the philosophy of Yoga, Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism, Swamiji has dedicated the last three years of his life, here in Spain, to giving seminars, hosting retreats, performing celebrations of a spiritual nature and guiding groups of contemplation.
He has also taken the opportunity to condense his vast knowledge about Hinduism into a book that under this same title, “Hinduism” (Spanish and Catalan versions), just saw the light.
In the following exclusive interview, Swamiji talks to us carefully and extensively about various aspects of the spiritual tradition that he masters. Whilst also attempting to answer the great questions of all time and share his perspective on this difficult ‘time of crisis’ in which we live.
In short, his testimony is a true source of inspiration, encouraging us to decisively undertake the joyous pursuit of our own Self. All this is brought to us by the same seal that he has admired so much in his teachers; in a humble, close and compassionate way, distilling an unmistakable love for the transmission of the immortal teachings.
“The first big step on the spiritual path is realizing that you have a problem.”
Who is Swami Satyananda?
A person born in Catalonia…
How did your inner call to spirituality come about?
Like many young people, I was looking for a meaning in life and since I was not fulfilled with what society offered me, I left home in search of freedom.
After a few years in Europe, far from Franco’s Spain, I realized that this external freedom did not fulfill me either… It is in this context that I began to have access to Yoga, meditation and the Bhagavad Gita, which had a very strong impact on me. Around the age of 20, meditating, I felt a very clear need to find a guide.
I decided to sell what little I had and that’s how I went to India. I began a search that took me from the Himalayas to Ganeshpuri, a small town near Bombay, where there was the ashram of Swami Muktananda. It was he, whom struck a chord within me and changed my life. From there I embarked upon a path that is still, very much alive…
How would you define spirituality?
As the search process towards joy and fulfillment. Every human being has the need to seek true happiness.
Currently, we live in an evanescent and transitory reality, this means, that everything which has a name and form can only bring us relative happiness.
On this external level we always seem to be missing something… Until the day comes when a certainty, or hopefully the voice of a master, tells us to look within ourselves.
What we then find, is not the fruit of anything, it is what already Is, what we already are, what we have always been. Infinity is in our heart and we want to find it again, but we will never achieve it by searching outside of ourselves. We have to remove the layers of false identifications to reach this recognition.
Is it synonymous with love?
Yes… but not of love towards something, but of Love as a total experience. Ultimately, this essence is Love because it is the Self/Being of all beings. The more we establish ourselves in this Oneness, the more naturally virtues like Love, humility or compassion flourish.
Can you become happy without this awareness?
I think not. There are many levels of existence, and sometimes, when feeling small pleasures, we can believe that we are happy. But, if we talk about true happiness, which has to do with inner freedom, surely what makes you happy in one moment, will not again at another. This relative happiness found in momentary joy has nothing to do with the search for the Self. True happiness is not subject to change, to cause or effect, nor to time and space.
How do you explain why there are people more predisposed to the spiritual path and others less so? Is it a matter of karma?
At a relative level, we are what our past life impressions let us be. Therefore, this aspiration for spirituality may or may not begin to flow… There are people who will not feel this need and will not see why they should embark upon a spiritual path. People who follow this path should not feel different or superior; the Atman – the Self – is in everyone, but each person is at the level of experience where he has to be. Nothing needs to be forced.
Dogmatism has also created a lot of damage towards the aversion of spirituality…
Dogmatisms have rather been a matter of certain religions and not of the spiritual element itself. The unique truths, the condemnations, the fatwas, the sin, the vengeful Gods, the “chosen people”… have created a lot of damage. Not all religions or all paths are the same, and there are certainly dogmas or even Gods that, using common sense, it is better not to approach.
How do you see then, the relationship of Hinduism with religion?
In Hinduism there is no talk of a single holy book, of a single messiah or of a single prophet, nor of a single path for all, but we find ourselves with a very different and broad vision, which is why it is known as Sanatana Dharma, “the eternal dharma”. For example, in the Rig-veda, perhaps the most sacred text of Hinduism, we find hundreds of sages or rishis who have served as transmitters of the teaching, but none of them are the author. Hinduism is recognizing the cosmic order and harmonizing yourself to live your path with correctness.
Where should we locate the divinities?
In spirituality, as I understand it, divinity must be found in your heart. Of course, there are phases in which the conception of an external divinity helps you, but there comes a point where you have to recognize the divinity as your own essence, beyond names, forms and characters. Transcending any identification that has to do with your own character and its concepts. This is the great challenge, to see what is beyond all this. What you can come to recognize, in your heart, is the essence of everything that exists.
What is the meaning of being a renunciate?
Since ancient times there have been two paths to the Absolute, that of the person with a family whom is involved in the world and society, and that of the renouncer who prefers to remove a whole series of things in order to concentrate more on his task of contemplation. Both ways are perfectly valid; in the first case, what makes you grow is detached action, while in the second, the total concentration of your life in contemplation and spiritual practice.
Do you feel completely free from the ego?
I would answer this with a certain consideration… The ego has its subtle layers and you never know how it can manifest itself, but above all, one must try to remain in the consciousness that is always behind the ego. Mahatmas also get angry and may have certain desires, but behind this functional ego they never lose awareness of what always remains within.
Is the ego the real demon?
It’s hard for me to think in these terms… The ego is nothing but the feeling of the self (ahamkara) with the influence of our past impressions, and at the same time, it is our tool. In Yoga philosophy we see that the mind and the ego are under the influence of the three qualities (gunas) of nature (prakriti): sattvas, rajas and tamas. The yogi tries to make his mental constitution less and less dense and opaque (tamas), and then tries to reduce his dependency and his desires (rajas) to enter a more pure, luminous space, full of peace and joy (sattva) . This is a purification process in which it is much better not to see enemies or demons, and to live it with love.
What would you say to someone who wants to tame their ego and doesn’t know where to start?
It depends on the person, but be that as it may, it is very important to leave the mental field. Therefore, I would recommend starting with the basics. First, purify and feel the body by doing Hatha Yoga. Then, the repetition of a mantra and start meditating to enter spaces of peace and silence beyond the mind.
I would also tell him to try to find a guide, someone who knows more than you on this path, and if it cannot be, then use the book of some respected teacher… The most important thing is to be able to feel a part of something higher and follow certain guidelines. Once you are open, the path ends up taking you where you have to go.
All this with a lot of patience…
Of course. Change is not instantaneous, the spiritual process is for life. The deeper you go, the more you will realize that this is the great journey, with no beginning and no end. We depend so much on immediacy, that this makes us sometimes fall into cathartic experiences, that is, specific practices that make you feel who knows what, but that will be of little use a few months later. It is about gradually changing your internal constitution…
Is it good that meditating is becoming popular?
Meditating is a good tool but it has to be part of a path. And you must know which path you want to follow. In the West we love doing several practices at the same time, but this way it is very difficult to get to experience a real change. If we want to manage ourselves, we won’t see how the ego protects itself. The ego and the mind do not want to self-transcend, so we must focus on certain guidelines to enter the flow and grace of a certain process. The Westerner is so attached to the cult of individuality, that the act of humility, which involves giving himself fully to a path, costs him a lot. When this happens, a miracle occurs, it is a great opportunity. We see it in the Bhagavad Gita…
What have we come to do here?
From the rational, limited and dual mind, all answers will be false… It seems that we are here, right? Well, let’s make the best of our time and go to the light. Above all, focus on where you are going. At a deeper level, we could also inquire “who has come” and what we mean by “here”…
What is the Self?
The Atman is what does not belong to the realm of time or space, it is not the fruit of any cause or effect, it is not existence or non-existence, it does not originate from anything nor is going anywhere, it is at the source of everything and in the end of everything, it cannot be seen or understood, it is not an object of experience and it always is… In short, in the Upanishads it is defined as Absolute Existence (Sat), Consciousness of this Existence (Chit) and Joy (Ananda). But perhaps the best answer of all would be Silence…
And the Supreme Reality?
Silence again, beyond any concept… Every idea is false because language by itself is dual.
Is everything okay as it is?
From the Absolute point of view yes. From a relative point of view, things are very improvable… We have an oppressive world economy with bankers whom should all be in prison, yet have our wealth and that of our grandchildren, with complicit politicians. We accept absolutely ignoble ways of living as normal and this is very serious…
How do you think this happened?
At this relative level of reality there is always conflict between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. In this plane of karma, conflict is something natural and the precious utopia does not exist. This does not mean that the spiritual person must be passive in the face of this type of unjust situation and does not get involved. One of the dangers of spirituality is that it can create weak people… One must find the Higher principle within himself and at the same time create an inner strength that allows him to launch into battle, just as Arjuna does in the Bhagavad Gita. The great struggle of every day is to act with nobility, strength and making the smallest concessions in the face of various ignoble situations that we may encounter.
Without practice and discipline, we cannot get anywhere?
It is very difficult. If the spiritual concepts only remain on the mental plane, we will not get very far… It requires a long and constant practice, of months, years, decades… A lifetime.
Is a lack of devotion a major impediment to deepening self-knowledge?
It will depend on each person. The spiritual path has many facets and one has to see which vibrates the most. There are those who seek devotion in themselves and cannot find it… However, I believe that being able to channel this devotion towards a divinity, a teacher, our own Being or the Universe itself, is very important because Love and emotions are an important part of our constitution, and as we elevate them towards something higher, we free them from relativity. Emotions can cause suffering to many people… The path known as Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of love towards divinity, is very powerful.
Why is it so difficult for us to remember that we are Consciousness?
Because we are obsessed with our character and we do not put it aside for a moment to see what is behind, where full Consciousness is hidden. In this sense, the concept of detachment is key. Detachment from many things, but especially from oneself.
Realizing your own attachment is an important step…
Without a doubt. The first big step on this path is realizing that you have a problem. Realize that you are in a limitation and you can be in a much more unlimited space. The driving force should be the aspiration to reach joy, which is basically what everyone seeks; who buys a new car, who wants to go out with their partner… On the path of Yoga, let us therefore look for joy in capital letters, that which no one can take from you because it is yourself.
Is it when we stop searching that we find ourselves?
Usually yes. The desire for liberation (mumukshutva) is something that we must cherish and maintain, but there comes a point on the path when even this disappears. When we enter the great Silence, the seeker also disappears. We don’t need to keep searching once we truly realize that we already are That. The That which we have been seeking, has always been Here.
Advaita Vedanta philosophy holds that the external reality is nothing more than an illusion. Could you explain that a little better?
This must be understood in the proper context. Advaita Vedanta considers that there are three levels of reality: The Supreme Reality (paramartha) beyond duality and which always is, the reality of the dream (pratibhashika) and the reality of the waking state in which you are asking me these questions (vyavahara). Both the reality of the dream and the reality of the waking state are relative, dual, causal realities, temporal, subject to change, that appear and disappear. However, these states of consciousness (both waking, sleep and deep sleep) are the object of experience of the Subject, Consciousness Always Free, what We Are, the Atman.
We must seek transcendence towards the Real but from the world of name and form. Basically, it is a process of detachment from our false dual projection that causes us suffering, from everything that is not Brahman, to come to recognize the pure Consciousness that is everywhere. In reality, this method wants to lead us to the recognition that the Supreme Reality is the essence of everything and is always there. Advaita Vedanta tells us; “All that exists is Brahman” (Sarvam Kalvidam Brahma).
Do most of our occupations make sense or should we be more devoted to contemplation?
We should integrate contemplation and maintain during any day-to-day activity. Yoga is to be practiced 24 hours a day. Attention must always be present and if we do not incorporate it beyond classes or punctual practices, it does not make much sense.
Is it really possible to become enlightened at this very moment, as one of the masters of Advaita Vedanta claimed?
Of course it is possible, but in the same way, at this very moment we are all already Brahman… Now, how many people are capable of achieving it? It seems now, that it is fashionable to believe that if you understand what this philosophy consists of, you have already done everything. If you stay in this entelechy you will feel good, but you will miss the most important thing, the experiential part. Advaita Vedanta requires a whole path of preparation and this is recognized by the great teachers since ancient times. The constant discernment (viveka) between what is Real and what is unreal cannot be achieved all at once; it takes a quiet mind and senses, perseverance, strength, total conviction and equanimity… If one does not have these qualities to be able to truly inquire what is behind the thought, perhaps it is better to practice Yoga or repeat a mantra, practices that will help you purify yourself first, before entering Advaita Vedanta. This has never been a discipline for the masses.
Broadly speaking, what differences and similarities are there between Yoga, Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir Shivaism?
Very briefly, Raja Yoga is the path that seeks to quiet the mind through meditation, which allows us to recognize the Consciousness beyond thoughts. The path of Advaita Vedanta requires an already stilled mind and above all a subtle intellect, in order to grow a discernment of who we are, the Atman, it is the path of Jñana Yoga. Kashmir Shaivism is a tantric and non-dual system, metaphysically very deep, which also leads us to the recognition of oneness in everything.
What is your consideration of Tantrism?
The word tantra means doctrine, teaching. Tantras are revealed scriptures that expose various practices for achieving liberation. Hinduism, from the 5th or 6th century, is impregnated with tantric elements… Some of the indispensable bases of the tantric tradition are the guru, the initiation, the mantra, upasana (meditation), devata (the worshiped divinity)… The supposed Tantrism that has spread throughout the West often has nothing to do with true Tantra. In the West there is a lot of talk about “tantric sexuality”, which has nothing in common with real Tantra, and this term is distorted… It is true that in Tantra there is the so-called left hand path (Dakshina marga), secret and difficult access. Schools like Kaula expose certain minority rituals in which ritualized sexual union occurs, but these schools and rites are traditionally secret and never open. On the path of Tantra, the guru is the one who can recognize the adept suitable for certain practices which require great inner preparation and great detachment that is difficult to achieve. The announcements of “secret practices” is a contradiction, since they are secret and not to be announced to the general public.
Thus, the spirituality that exists in the West leaves much to be desired…
As presented here, there are practices that often leave much to be desired. We cannot detach a practice from its roots if we do not want it to lose its deep meaning. The process of “commercialization” that both Tantra and Hatha Yoga undergo often means that they have practically nothing to do with their original tradition and meaning.
What’s the need for so many spiritual practices, if in the end they all seem to point towards the same thing?
The Universe has given us multiple ways because human beings are not the same. We all have different potentials and predispositions, and therefore, depending on the moment, each one can find affinity with a certain path to grow.
Do we waste too much energy?
The great waste of energy occurs with thought. We must learn to think less or only when really necessary. We have many misconceptions of ourselves that exhaust us. We also lose a lot of energy with speech, we normally speak compulsively, it seems that silence scares us.
How is the energy of a yogi different?
The yogi is a person who lives against the current because he bases his happiness on his inner essence, he does not depend so much on external things and this allows him to be freer. A yogi is one who knows how to constantly take care of, conserve and raise his energy. Apart from our own conditioning, we must also be very attentive to everything that is spat out through various devices… A yogi would prefer the television to be turned off or much better, to not have it. Although he does not remain oblivious to the guidelines that govern day to day, he knows that plenitude is found in his heart.
It is sad to see how the desire for competition and separation sometimes also affects certain areas, such as the schools of Yoga…
Yoga centres or ashrams are also part of the world, and therefore it cannot be avoided that people’s weaknesses or certain tendencies do not manifest themselves. What’s more, it can happen with greater force. This is the human factor and I think it is much better to see good intentions than obstacles, everyone does what they can, with their limitations… My teacher insisted greatly on not wasting energy seeing the faults and mistakes of others, instead, firmly continue on the path.
What should be the balance between spirituality and money?
This occurs when you realize that money is a power. Accept it if you are lucky to have it, and above all, make good use of it. Share it also to support good ideas or projects… In India, for example, although it may seem invisible, there is tremendous charity, it gives cohesion to society. Even the poorest person tries to give some of what little they have.
Should we be wary of gurus who teach at a high price?
One can ask himself this question and then observe what they teach, how they live, if some institution depends on them or if they only want rich people… One must be cautious with teachers and check if harmony is behind them.
It is true, that sometimes there are amounts which are mysterious… Traditionally, education is not for sale. Formerly, voluntary contributions (dakshina) were made according to the possibilities of each one, aimed at supporting the teacher and transmitting the teachings. In the West it seems that this is not integrated. If it is about covering certain expenses, as long as they have a noble purpose, the price should be reasonable.
Do you read the press? What do you feel when you do it?
I follow the news a bit through online newspapers or by listening to short news bulletins on the radio. What I feel is that there is no information, but mental manipulation and conditioning. You have to keep a certain distance to always see where they want to take us. Normally, I just observe.
Do you feel compassion for our politicians?
In truth, not that much… Brahman is also in them, but the way they act doesn’t arouse sympathy in me. Many of them are not very noble and are part of the problem. Globalization does not work, but no politician seems willing to admit it… In general, it seems that politicians eager to bring new ideas and change the system do not exist. It seems that the current policy wants to just perpetuate the same system that destroys us. Surely, the major financial lobbies, loan sharks and large-scale manipulation would give them no choice, but they accept it. If they do not know what they are doing, it is serious, and if they know it, it is even more…
What is your opinion about the independence of Catalonia?
I think it is an interesting and necessary fact. We need to recover our deep and noble spirit, preserve our language and our culture. At a relative level, nature is differentiation and each town or culture has its particularities. If we don’t pay attention to this, globalization can end up taking everything away. With that being said, we will still need a second independence; to free ourselves from the prison and delusion of globalism and return to our firm and simple roots.
How can the Unity of Consciousness be permanently assimilated living in such a fragmented society?
We just have to remember, once again, that fragmentation is always something mental… We perceive reality according to the state of our mind.
Can anything be done to find harmony until the mind is surrendered?
The Reality that we want to achieve is not conceptual, it is beyond ideas, concepts, intellect and the ego. The mind cannot access the Consciousness that is in everyone’s heart.
How do you view this change of Era that we are supposed to have entered?
Frankly, I don’t know… How things can suddenly changed from a cosmic-planetary level is something that escapes me. It is obvious that any change in the stars can affect us… Be that as it may, we should not expect everything to come to us from the outside. As a yogi, I believe in the change that occurs within as we bring it about with practice, contemplation and grace. Through firm determination and inquiry (vichara) we can go beyond the character to reach what Is… We must never forget the need for daily transformation on a personal level. The Universe changes as I have changed. We will always see things according to our projection and our own degree of purity.
What can you tell us about the spiritual ego?
We must be clear that we are all divine insofar as we are not “characters”. Once we separate the ego, divinity shines. Considering ourselves divine should not be a medal, but a blow to the ego. The spiritual character can be very dangerous. Authentic spirituality is found in humility and non-identification.
Is the accompaniment of a guru essential to walk the path of Truth?
At the very least, it can be of great help and is highly recommended. A good teacher is a great medium because he will teach you appropriately based on your constitution and will act as a mirror to show things, that perhaps alone, you would never see. According to Hinduism, all paths start from a teacher. It is when you connect with its energy flow and with its grace that you then grow… It is a union that cannot be forced and will come when it has to, when one is sufficiently open and willing. However, any time is a good time to delve into any tradition, even, if it only starts with readings.
What surprised you the most in your encounters with other swamis and mahatmas?
Their absolute naturalness and spontaneity, like wise children… And also, their compassion, closeness and dedication. I especially remember the great dedication of my teacher, who travelled tirelessly out of love for his own teacher, to be the transmitter of his teachings so that they could reach many people. This is how tradition is kept alive.
What do you think Swami Muktananda’s message would be for today’s times?
I think it would be the same message that he always transmitted to us until the last day of his physical life: “Honour your own Self. Respect your own Self. Meditate on your Self. Brahman, the Absolute, the divinity, is within you as your own Essence ”. He always told us: “Search within yourself. You are not missing anything, you are already complete, realize it ”. If you realize that you are already complete, perfect. If not, then meditate, contemplate, do Hatha Yoga, chant mantras…
Why did you decide to return to the West?
I did not decide… I came to spend a season and since then three years have passed by very quickly. After years in India I felt complete and satisfied, and once here, a series of activities have been linked together which allowed me to share teachings and have led me to write the book which is now published. Being able to share this path towards plenitude fills me with joy.
What can we find in this book?
It is an introduction to Hinduism in Catalan, which I don’t think existed until now. It is based on traditional texts, and among others, we can find chapters dedicated to the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the sacredness of life, the different paths within Yoga, to worship, temples and pilgrimage, to Hinduism and the modern world… It is a brief introduction to Hindu Dharma based on genuine sources. I have really enjoyed the whole creation process and hope it can be useful.
To finish, a closing prayer for 2013…
May the maximum number of people find plenitude in their hearts. May all beings, humans, animals, plants… be happy and enjoy well-being. As the mantras of the Upanishads say:
Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
May all beings be happy!
Interview: Daniel Gomis for the Kalma Magazine (Catalan version)
Photos: Anna Moya
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