"Tis a Gift"
"Tis a gift to be simple, Tis a gift to be free. Tis a gift to be where you ought to be." – one of the English devotional songs in the Sivananda Chant Book
The Secret of Meditation: Finding God Within
Q&A with Swami Swaroopananda
Swami Swaroopananda is the Acharya (spiritual director) of Sivananda Yoga Centers and Ashrams on the West Coast of the United States, in the Middle East, and in the Bahamas, and is one of the foremost disciples of Swami Vishnudevananda. He is renowned for his spontaneous yet clear, concise, and complete answers to every question. This Q&A is from a Satsang at the Yoga Retreat during the April 2011 Yoga Teachers' Training Course.
How do you know that God exists?
God is a name that we give to a certain reality, so there is a more important question that should come first, which is, "How do I know that I exist?" In the same manner that I know I exist, I can know that God exists, not just as a theory but as a reality.
If we are going to find God we are first of all going to find God within, so it is very important that we learn how to meditate. God is the indweller of our being. He is the indweller of the innermost recesses of our heart. He is our innermost reality and dwells within us in the form of the Atman or the Supreme Self, the One Self that dwells equally in the hearts of all beings. In our tradition, God is called the One That Rules from Within. He rules the whole creation from within and in order to find God we have to go within. And to find God within we have to learn how to purify our minds and how to make our minds completely still. We have to learn how to meditate to the point where we have direct God-vision or God-realization as our innermost self. This is the birthright of every person.
Swami Sivananda says God is closer to us than the jugular vein because he is our own Supreme Self and that Supreme Self is not many, it is one. It dwells equally in the hearts of all beings, not just of human beings. It permeates all creation and transcends all creation. So the only way to know whether God exists or not is to learn how to meditate. Meditation is the key and through meditation we have the vehicle by which we can find out without any preconceived notion the truth about God. Before that happens we may have an intuition about the existence of God, we may have faith, we may have a belief, we may have devotion before we know directly. All these things are there.
You might ask, "How do you know that there is such a thing as the color red?" The answer is, "I know that there is such a thing as the color red because I have consciousness, I have a mind and I have senses that function. Specifically I have eyes. When I have all of these -- consciousness, mind and senses -- I can know directly that there is such a thing as the color red. If the color red is present I will know it and every person who has functioning consciousness, mind and senses will know that the color red is present when it is there.
On the other hand, the color red may be present but if the eyes are not functioning, or if the mind is not functioning, or if we are unconscious, we will not know that there is a color red there. It will be just a word, a name. Similarly, if God is always present within our heart, how can we know God? The answer to this question is to develop the eye of wisdom or the eye of meditation. In this regard, meditation serves the purpose of our eyes when we perceive color, although meditation is done with the mind.
When the divine eye of meditation is developed, and then directed within the still mind, it is possible to have a direct experience of God as the Self or the Atman. This is the yogis' answer to the question. Once we are able to see God within then we also will be able to see God without. God is not just within; He is all around us, but we are not able to behold it because we have not seen God within. Once we see God within we will also be able to see God without. The key is meditation and the secret is meditation and it is not a matter of belief. It is a matter of faith, proper guidance, practice and divine grace, which is primary. This is what is needed, practice of meditation.
Yogis Without Borders Course Reaches Out to Nassau Inmates
The teachers and students of April's Yogis Without Borders training course put theory into practice last month by starting yoga classes for prisoners at Nassau's Fox Hill Prison.
"We want to teach the prisoners techniques to find inner peace." -- Satyadev
The Yogis Without Borders course was taught by Elaine Valdov, a peace and human rights activist and founder of the movement, and Satyadev and Nirmala, who are co-directors of Atman Yoga, the Sivananda Center in Medellin, Colombia. The course is meant to encourage yoga teachers to travel to post-conflict areas or places that have suffered from natural disasters, and help people by giving them yogic tools for spiritual growth. In the spirit of Swami Vishnudevananda, emphasis is also placed on breaking down all kinds of barriers by taking yoga to places where it might not ordinarily be available. To accomplish this, Satyadev made repeated phone calls to the prison, as well as to orphanages and other local social institutions. His persistence paid off when they received approval to teach two groups of women in the Fox Hill Prison.
"We want to teach the prisoners techniques to find inner peace," says Satyadev, who with Nirmala founded the Yoga for Peace movement in Medellin, once known as one of the most violent cities in the world.
Nirmala taught the first class and Elaine, Satyadev and the students in the course took the class alongside the participating prisoners. The guards who were present did not officially take the class, but apparently could not resist participating in some of the neck rolls and other warmups. Afterwards the students participated in a Q&A session and a talk about the five points of yoga. Satyadev said that the prisoners were receptive and joyful about the yoga practice. When asked if they had any questions one of them said, "When are you coming back?"
Since the first class, Nirmala, Satyadev and other yoga teachers from the ashram have returned to the prison three more times. Satyadev says that the students as well as the teachers have been deeply moved by the experience and that they are working to help the ashram to continue this project after he and Nirmala return to Colombia.
"Hopefully, these kinds of efforts will contribute to world peace and ultimately transform the planet," says Nirmala.
Rockin' the Temple
Nassau's Bishop Elkin Symonette and Bishop Trevor Williamson (shown above with the Ebenezer Baptist Church Choir) joined Swami Swaroopananda and Father John Rossner to lead the ashram in a beautiful Easter Sunrise Service with inspirational readings, stories and devotional gospel singing. The Easter celebration followed a joyful Passover Seder during which the ashram staff, guests, and a group of special guests from the Jewish community in Nassau all enjoyed teachings on Passover and its relationship to yogic principles, along with traditional Hebrew songs and a delicious Kosher feast. You can view a video of the Passover celebration by going to www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wx3ODaXKJSY on our YouTube web channel.