Swami Satyananda Saraswati: “The guidelines of yoga recognize sacredness in one’s life, in one’s neighbour, in every act”
(Barcelona, 1955) He has lived three decades in India and knows the Hindu tradition in depth, especially the philosophy of Yoga, Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism.
We visit Swami Satyananda Saraswati, founder of the Hindu Advaitavidya association, in Kailash Ashram, in Ametlla del Vallès, where, in the true name of Hinduism, he has a refined collection of more than twelve thousand volumes on Sanatana Dharma and space for the activities of his followers. His mastership is also highly recognized in Mexico and Argentina. He has published an introduction on Hinduism in Fragmenta Editorial (2012).
Text: Juan Gómez y Segalà
Permit me to start with the question that must have been asked many times. How does a Catalan end up getting interested in Hinduism?
Indeed, it is the question I have been asked the most. Everything started as a young man and, specifically, in a religion class at school. My religious studies teacher spoke about various religions, Hinduism and the Bhagavad Gita. He had a copy of this book and I asked him for it. I was fifteen years old and reading that text moved me. I found a metaphysical depth so great that it captivated me and led me to start meditating and doing yoga.
At that time, it could not be easy to find reference materials or people.
There were almost none, and therefore in the first phase of youth, I spent time reading books on yoga and Buddhism, which there were more of. In contract, there was very little on the philosophy of Hinduism.
When was your first trip to India?
Five years passed, I went further, I did yoga, I became a vegetarian, and at twenty I had a strong desire to have a master to guide me on this path. In 1975, after a few months of traveling in India, I met a teacher, Swami Muktananda, in a small town in North Mumbai. I was full, satisfied, with clear guidelines and my inner path seriously began.
How is a master found?
A master is found the moment when there is a desire to change, to transcend, to not remain trapped in one’s own concepts. You notice that you find in a person, a complicity that makes his words resonate within you. Their expression and teaching correspond to your deepest feeling. And you notice this curious internal union that you trust completely. We find people who teach very interesting things, but finding a master is something different because it requires this heart-to-heart union.
How are linguistic difficulties overcome, considering the entire cultural substratum that a language carries?
Each language is a universe. So, one has to contemplate the teachings, to understand that new way of seeing things. In the case of Hinduism, there is a more exoteric or external religious form (names, forms, rituals, deities, curious sometimes with western eyes). But beyond you can find the profound and simple metaphysics of the Upanishads, where a master teaches how to quieten the mind in order to recognize the light of the heart.
In this, there are very few cultural overtones. They would be very close to the old pre-Socratic masters, and even the Neoplatonists. We are not so far from the essence of Indo-Aryan metaphysics. Even so, this very pure essence is surrounded by a cultural context that should be known to understand these forms and the symbolism of cults and deities. If one accepts a doctrine, as we can find it in Hinduism, one must be rigorous and responsible to know the texts and sources, the why of things, not be afraid to question. Everything has a wisdom behind it, but this requires an effort of inquiry.
Does it have any advantage to approach Hinduism being European and alien to Indian culture?
I think so. It has the disadvantage of language or information that a Hindu child has learned since childhood. But sometimes what is close to you, is not valued. And in India we find people looking towards the United States, devaluing what’s near. The fact of coming from outside and evaluating everything with your reasoning, with this change of life or religion, has helped me a lot. It is an option that you take and value more intensely. Gulabrao Maharaj, a contemporary teacher, said that one can be a Hindu in two ways: by Janma (birth) or by diksha (initiation). If there are two, the better. But if you can only access it by one, it is much more relevant the one that is of personal choice.
Were you your masters first European disciple?
No, Swami Muktananda already had western disciples, and for him it was also a challenge. He had to present a teaching in which many things were taken for granted by people who had another cultural background. I think he had the ability to give us the guidelines, the discipline, and the essence of Hindu metaphysics very clearly.
Both in the time of hippies, and now, with the proliferation of holi parties and bollywood workshops, are these fads to be understood as signs of the Hindu culture influence or as a degeneration that folklorizes and trivializes their roots?
Today in Hinduism, there are well-versed Westerners who are becoming masters for their erudition, for their inner state, with years of asceticism in India. At the same time, we are immersed in a world that trivializes everything, and we can see it especially in hatha yoga, with thousands of people who take courses and workshops, often with a very poor knowledge of the philosophy that supports it. And now the trivialization with mindfulness is repeated, which in some cases departs from the spiritual context of meditative practice, giving it a character of self-help. The modern world is like this: a machine that must trade with one thing and another, with ideas, that takes things out of context to use and abuse them. We can do nothing more than try to maintain tradition with its purity, showing its roots.
Catalans who approach Hinduism, what do they seek?
They seek meaning in their existence, the reason for their life. They seek to answer that great question of who am I? There is an inner call, and certain people are drawn to Hindu metaphysics.
And what do they find?
What everyone finds is different. Normally they find the inspiration to lead a more harmonious and orderly life internally. If you follow certain yogic guidelines, you will recognize the sacredness within you, in your neighbor, in your own life, in every act. A reunion of sacred life. One must be responsible in everything, in every way. They find a personal harmonization. They also discover a corpus of ancient wisdom that can always be a practical reference of great help. They can encounter an immense space of peace inside.
Hinduism is very diverse, even in Catalonia. How does Catalonia enrich the nurtured Hindu presence?
The diverse currents contribute to the richness that spirituality can bring. It’s fortunate that there is this diversity of cults and different schools, whereby a person whom wants to enter one of them, has the opportunity to delve deeper. On a spiritual level, Catalonia has no borders, it has this openness. A Catalonia that only had a single denomination would be a more limited country. Fortunately we have a very open Catalonia, one which corresponds greatly to the spirit that identifies us. And these schools are one more petal in this flower that is the opening to the spiritual world.
When speaking of sacredness and metaphysics, it’s done in very similar terms to what a Christian or a Muslim would employ. What relationship is established between the people who share this transcendent experience that they extract in different traditions? A dialogue? A communion?
It is about reaching that point where sacredness is shared within the experience of each religion and at the same time also sharing full respect for the other. Hinduism has always respected the conscience of the other, yet India has suffered invasions with destruction of temples that have been rebuilt over and over again, and Brahmans killed on mass. Both Islam and Christianity have invested many resources for the conversion of India and fortunately they have not succeeded. As a Hindu, I have no intention of converting any Muslim or Christian. I will be happy that each one follows his path. Monotheistic religions sometimes have the urge to want the other to be what they want. This is the most important point of interreligious dialogue.
India suffered the inquisition from San Francisco Javier for almost 300 years. What need was there to impose on them a religion, with guidelines they neither sought nor asked for? This is not the case now, but there are still Protestant churches that say that India is a land of demons and that there should be a church in every town, expressed in a language that becomes unpleasant. I believe that this is the challenge of dialogue; let’s love each other, let’s respect each other. Let us value religious diversity with its different ways of arriving, and then, we will see the beauty of sacredness.
One of the most visible facets of religions are their celebrations: for exteriorization and because they are easy to share. What are the main Hindu festivals?
One of the main festivals for Hinduism is Diwali, which is very colourful: many lamps are lit. It has to do with the light of consciousness, the inner light. Recently we also celebrated the navaratri, nine days dedicated to the goddess, where the cosmic mother is fostered in different aspects. The Hindu calendar is very rich in festivities: the birth of Rama, the birth of Krishna, the night of Shiva. According to the school, one or the other is emphasized more. Many festivals are linked to the cycle of the year, by the solstices and the equinoxes, or the full moons. Diwali is certainly the festival represented the most.
What other practices do you follow apart from yoga?
In our teaching we do work on the philosophy of raja yoga, but we put the emphasis on the Upanishads, which are the final part of the Veda, which speaks of the knowledge of one’s own being. The school that develops from here is called Advaita Vedanta, the path of non-duality, which conceives that there is an essence, beyond name and form, that exists in everything and always, and that can be recognized as one and the same. It is the way of jñana, knowledge.
What challenge do you personally have? Where do you place your effort?
The great challenge is to be faithful to this ancient tradition and to be able to expose this wisdom in Catalonia and the West with the maximum possible purity. Don’t invent anything. To be one more link in the millennial chain of knowledge, where you simply expose that truth which so many sages have lived.
Interview of Bulletin 2017 # 57 of the Secretary General for Religious Affairs of the Government of Catalonia, conducted by Joan Gómez and Segalà