Sivananda Yoga FAQ
Q 1: In all matters with which it is connected, science gives us a precise account of how a particular thing is constructed and how it grows. We are also given the successive signs that mark the growth. Are there, in the practice of Yoga, any definite indication to measure the aspirant’s progress–for instance, some experiences that he would have after, say, three months of practice, others which he would come upon after a year, and so on?
A: Various Yogas give various experiences. The practice of Pranayama and Hatha Yogic Kriyas, for instance, would give a graded series of psychic experiences. Seeing all kinds of ethereal lights and hearing certain Anahata sounds belong to this category. Here, the sages who have propounded these Yogas have given very definite stages of spiritual experience. As the Kundalini passes from Chakra to Chakra, the Yogi has certain definite, verifiable experiences. That is because each Chakra governs a particular Tattva, and its mastery, therefore, gives specific experiences. Similarly, in Tantrik Sadhana also, they have been able to give a definite chart of spiritual experiences. Each Sadhana has its own particular Siddhi; and therefore, the experiences of all Sadhaks following a particular Sadhana are invariably the same. But, these are all lower experiences of an inferior type. They are psychic experiences which need not necessarily denote the aspirant’s spiritual progress. Even the Bhakta’s experiences of horripilation, shedding of tears, etc., though they are not so perfectly graded as those of the Hatha Yoga practitioner, do not necessarily indicate spiritual progress. When you enter the domain of the Spirit, you come into the sphere of the Infinite. Infinite are the Yogas and infinite are the experiences too. Each man’s Yoga is his own. For, he has brought his own Samskaras and Vasanas and he strives in his own way to reach the goal. These two, interacting on each other, give him his various experiences. For instance, as he approaches the transcendental, infinite, immortal Self, the aspirant would enjoy great inner peace and indescribable happiness. He is not easily affected by what goes on around him. Not only this, he is able to radiate peace and happiness to all those who come into contact with him. He becomes good and radiates goodness. This is the most important sign of spiritual progress. God is perfect goodness. The aspirant who progresses towards the realization of God, therefore, grows in goodness. His evil qualities slowly vanish and are replaced by sublime virtues. If this most essential element is not there, then all other visions and sounds are practically useless. By his mere presence the advanced Yogi is able to inspire people to lead a good life, free from hatred and malice. His heart is filled with cosmic love, and therefore, he serves all spontaneously and selflessly. These are all real signs of spiritual progress. But, beyond all these, is the ultimate experience. That is indescribable. Peace and happiness, undisturbed tranquillity of mind– these are all great signs of progress, but they do not constitute the goal. The goal is to become God. You must become one with God. This is achieved through ceaseless practice of meditation after establishing oneself in virtue and goodness. That supreme experience, when the Yogi feels he is one with God, no words can describe.
Q 2: You have said in one of your lessons that the aspirant should fast only once a month, but Gandhiji and others have stressed the importance of fasting. They say that one should fast at least three or four times in a month. Moreover, they point out that fasting helps self-control.
A: Fasting does help in self-control. But, too much fasting weakens the body and the mind and retards spiritual Sadhana. I am also a strong votary of fasting. Fasting is a great Prayaschitta. It expiates any kind of sin quickly. It has got a tremendous purifying influence on the heart. Read Manu Smriti. As the vast majority are afraid of fasting too much, I have prescribed only a day of fasting in a month. Young, robust, plethoric people can fast twice or thrice in a month if passion troubles them much.
Q 3: I understand the Atman is different from the body and is not affected by the latter’s doings. The body is reborn a number of times according to its Karma and goes through life and death as per the Supreme Will. If this is so, then who goes to hell or heaven?
A: The real experiencer of anything, in an individualistic way, is neither the Self nor the physical body. It is the mind that is the Centre of individuality, that individualizes and imprisons a ray of the Atman in what is called the individual soul. And it is this mind, as embodied in the subtle body, that undergoes the pleasure of heaven or the pains of hell, or for that matter, any experience through a gross or a subtle body. The mind appears to have consciousness on account of there being a ray of the Atman in it, in the form of a reflection, very much limited by its own constitution. Hence it will be clear that the individuality of a person is as much real or unreal as a reflection of a real object. Though everything happens according to the Supreme Will, the Karma of the individual determines the form or shape of the experience that is to be had under the dispensation of this Will. It is not the Atman or the body that has any type of relative experience, though the body is a gross means of experience; it is the mind that has all this.
Always adapt yourself to all surroundings and environments. – Swami Sivananda
During meditation you are in the presence of the Supreme Being. – Sri Swami Sivananda
PRAYASCHITTA [Sanskrit]: Atonement; Penance; Expiation.
Prayaschitta is of two kinds, viz., 1. Extraordinary (Asaadharana) and 2. Ordinary (Saadharana). Extraordinary penances are those which are prescribed in the Code of Manu for the destruction of particular sins. In doing Prayaschitta the offender actually suffers, he punishes himself by long fasting and other ordeals.
Action and reaction are equal and opposite. Complete fasting on Ekadasi and Pradosha days destroys many sins. Everyone should practice this. Bathing in the Ganga, Japa and ordinary pilgrimage constitute ordinary Prayaschitta for the destruction of small sins.
If you want vigour and vitality, become a true Brahmachari from this very moment. – Sri Swami Sivananda