Instead of feeling powerless in times of turmoilaround the world, we will achieve more - and gain innerpeace - by looking into our own hearts. That's the inspirationalmessage of Swamiji, founder of the world's largest yogaschool. He spoke to Sydney writer Rosamund Burton.
Swami Paramhans Maheshwarananda (known as Swamiji)is a Hindu monk whose power to bridge East and Westhas opened a pathway to self healing for many thousandsof followers around the world. He is recognised in Indiaand in the West as an incarnation of one of the sevenRishis, the ancient prophets who realised and wrotethe original yoga scriptures. In 1972 he founded YogaIn Daily Life, and today it is the largest yoga schoolin the world, practising in over 3000 locations, includingmore than 50 in Australia.
He describes the organisation as "a way to the self.A way of life that incorporates physical health, mentalhealth, social health, spiritual health and God realisation".
"Most people who come to yoga classes think they wantgood health or relaxation. They want to get rid of stress.But when they come and relax and go within themselves,they discover what kind of suffering exists in themwhich they have actually been trying to suppress," hesays.
This April Swamiji is touring Australia, and the themeof his talks and seminars is 'World Peace is in YourHands'. He is indisputably qualified to speak on thistopic, as he is one of only three people in the world-another is the Dalai Lama - to have received an awardfrom the World Development Parliament in recognitionof his humanitarian and peace work internationally.
After the bombing of the twin towers in New York lastSeptember 11, millions of people around the world feltvery frightened, and incredibly powerless in the wakeof world events. Swamiji's message on this tour aroundAustralia is that we all have the power to change theworld.
"Peace begins from your own heart," he says. "If youwant peace in the world, you must first have peace within."
A striking figure with his mane of black hair, longgreying beard, and orange robes, Swamiji describes howevery one of our thoughts and actions manifests in someway in the world. He calls this the law of karma. Itis often easy to put on a bright smile as we walk intothe office in the morning, but we also have to kissand make up with the person with whom we had the argumentat home last night. He talks about negative moods andemotions, including anger, depression and fear, andhow yoga can help overcome them.
According to the teachings of his school, differenthuman qualities are held in different energy centresof the body, the eight chakras, seven located alongthe line of the spine, and the eighth, the crown centreor Saharara chakra, on top of the head. The second chakra,in the lower abdominal centre, is called the Svadhishthanachakra. It is "the seat of the subconscious mind whereall life experiences and impressions since the beginningof our existence in the womb are stored", writes Swamijiin his new book on the chakras. The Svadhishthana chakrais illustrated by a lotus flower with six petals. Eachpetal represents a negative quality to be overcome -anger, hatred, jealousy, cruelty, desire and pride.Other base states held in this chakra are lethargy,fear, doubt, revenge, envy and greed.
Swamiji describes anger as "a great devil in our body.""The real devil drinks the blood of others only, butthe devil of anger drinks the blood of others and oneself.Anger is a great thief, who will take away everything,all the valuable things you have. Anger is the kindof thief who will come to your door, and take everythingfrom you. You collect some good thing, you carry ithome, and even on the doorstep, he will take it away.You will enter the house again, as poor as you were."
When a person lashes out in anger it is usually aspontaneous reaction, and Swamiji says that to controlnegative emotions, a conscious response needs to bedeveloped. He gives an example of being the owner ofa beautiful china vase, which someone has broken:
"Think it could be you that let the vase drop, andthe owner would be angry with you, and how would youfeel? Always put yourself in that position. If you shoutat your wife, then put yourself in her position. Andhow do you feel when she shouts at you? So use yourwisdom. You are a good adviser if someone else has aproblem. But when it happens to you, your wisdom isblocked. You know so much. You have so many beautifulthings in your life, but this little anger, it destroyseverything."
Swamiji's ready ability to give practical advice allowshis many thousands of followers to apply his wisdomin their everyday lives: "Drink a glass of cold water,or jump into a cold swimming pool. When you are veryangry, drink cold water, eventually you will becomecalm. Then sit down, wherever you are, close your eyesand see your anger. You will be ashamed of yourself,how very selfish you can be."
A problem that is very prevalent in the West is depression.Swamiji describes it as "a kind of pain, a feeling ofloss and loneliness." He explains how depression occurs:"We are so disappointed in every aspect of life. Ourbusiness life, education, profession, family life, friends,colleagues. Always you try your best and put your confidencethere and suddenly there is nothing any more. You triedso hard, and so often, and slowly experienced more andmore disappointment. These impressions that you getfrom the outer world go to your subconscious, and thesubconscious cannot master them all."
He counsels that when someone is depressed, they needto realise the feelings they are experiencing are notthe totality of their personality, and it is importantnot to identify with that particular emotional state.If the person constantly thinks about the mistakes theyhave made, or the problem, it only worsens the stateof depression. "It is best just to let time pass notto act on what your inner feeling is."
Swamiji and all his followers are vegetarian. He believesthat eating meat creates fear in a person:
"On a psychological level, the animal knows it willbe killed and it is afraid. All creatures have a fearof death, no one likes to die. So when an animal iskilled, the vibration of their fear remains in the flesh.When people eat that flesh, they may feel physicallystronger, but inwardly they have absorbed great fear.This manifests in the human mind as a fear of death,of God, of religion. These people act with aggressionand project their mistakes onto others. If they meditateand move beyond the physical level, then that fear,absorbed by eating animal flesh, will rise into theirconsciousness."
The chakra that can help us overcome these negativestates of anger, depression and fear, is the Anahatchakra, the heart centre. It is through this chakrathat we experience joy, calmness, serenity, gratefulness,compassion and love. It helps us to see another person'spoint of view and why they might be behaving in a destructiveand harmful way. Also, it is from the heart that weare able to forgive another person. "The world comesto us in the form our mind shapes it, but the essentialthing is to observe what we think and consider whetherour thoughts could be any better," says Swamiji. "Whenyou observe negativity within you or around you, dissolveit with tolerance and compassionate thoughts."
Attributes of the Anahat chakra include sensitivity,the desire to gather, to unite, to share and to preserve,which are so different from the impulses that arisewhen someone is angry, frightened or depressed.
A yoga exercise that is recommended for both the Svadhishthanachakra, where the negative emotions are held, and theAnahat chakra, the heart centre, is a series of posturescalled Khatu Pranam. It is similar to what is calledin other types of yoga, Salute to the Sun. It is goodfor the immune system and is a great energy giver, butit also regulates the entire nervous system, calmingthe mind, giving mental clarity and a sense of selfcontrol.
Another way to overcome negative emotions, Swamijisuggests, is deep breathing: "Consider a child crying.As soon as its mother takes the child into her arms,the crying stops and the child breathes in deeply. Breathingis a therapy. If you are angry or anxious just breathedeeply and you will be happy. People who are nervousneed only one therapy - to breathe correctly."
His message to us this April is that how we each liveevery moment of every day affects world peace and thefuture of our planet. When Swamiji spoke at Earth Dialogues2002 in France in February, an event initiated by MikhailGorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, hesaid:
"The main commitment of all humankind on this Earthis to protect life in all forms and manifestations ofexistence. To realise this, it is necessary to adopta different way of thinking and acting in everyday life,not only between individuals, but among all nations,cultures, and religions, as well as respect for thelife of all creatures."
Swamiji will be in Perth in late April, giving a lecture,holding a weekend retreat and evening satsang on thebeach. He will also speak at a range of events in Sydneyfrom April 20-24.