by Swami Krishnananda
Though the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy was inaugurated by H.H. Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj on the 3rd of July 1948, the construction of the premises for conducting regular and systematic courses of studies was commenced in September 1976 and the Academy now conducts 3 months' courses from July 1979. Hence this talk of Swamiji on the 3rd of July 1977, while the building was under construction, and the thought bestowed on the regular functioning of the Academy after its construction reveal his ideas of the aims and ideals before the Academy, its method of functioning, etc. as distinguished from similar other institutions.
If our search is for freedom, knowledge is regarded as an endeavour towards the achievement of this freedom. The institutions of the world, whether they are educational, social or political, are instruments for the implementation of this endeavour towards the attainment of human freedom. From this point of view, it is difficult to believe that mankind has different ideals before itself. There seems to be a convergence of ideals, in spite of the diversity of approaches which appear to characterise the efforts of people. An investigative analysis into the structure of the human mind and its longings would certainly reveal that there is a basic similarity of character in the needs of people and the effort on their part to gain greater and greater mastery over the techniques of the achievement of this freedom. This may be also regarded as an advancement in knowledge. So, the increase in knowledge is, in a way, equivalent to the increase in the capacity of a person to achieve freedom. But freedom from what, is the basic question. If this question cannot be answered, we cannot also know what knowledge is, and impliedly what education is, because education is the process of the acquisition of knowledge. So, one thing hangs on the other. If we cannot know what we are asking for, what we are in search of and what is the sort of freedom that we expect in our lives, we cannot also know what is the knowledge that we seek in life. Consequently, we cannot know what should be the educational process. Everything will topple down if the central aim is not clear to our minds. If we have a concept of an Academy in this Ashram, it is certainly not going to be an institution of a social kind, because we have many of such institutions in the world. It is not going to be a series of studies in the fashion of the age-old system of the several branches of learning. While all these learnings, arts and sciences, which we gain in the educational institutions of the world, are good in themselves and necessary as far as they go, since they help us to get on in life in some way or the other, we must know that the intention of mankind is not merely to get on in life, because many can get on beautifully in life on the surface level and yet be very unhappy at the core of their hearts.
Our intention, in consonance with the intention of Sri Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj and masters of that calibre, has certainly not been to tread the beaten track of social tradition or even personal idiosyncrasy or sentiment, but to find out some ways and means of unfolding the mysteries that seem to be at the background of the longings of mankind, and to provide them with a true enlightenment, which is perhaps a better word than knowledge. For this purpose, we may have to proceed from one degree of reality to another degree, gradually. It has to be reiterated, at the outset, that we are not to interpret knowledge as information about some particular subject. Truly speaking, knowledge is a percentage or degree of absorption of one's life into the character of one's knowledge. Knowledge is valuable to that extent alone to which it can be accommodated in one's personal life and remains as a basic foundation for one's search for the ultimate purpose which one is apparently longing for. It is very easy to be comfortable in life. But it is difficult to be happy in life. Society can deceive us into the notion that we are well off. When we conform to the standards of social ethics and idiosyncrasies, naturally we are supported by society. But society is only one segment in the vast circle of human endeavour. It is not the whole of the reality that is pictured before our minds.
What we call institutions, academies, societies, universities, colleges, etc., are certain convenient forms introduced to educate people to acquire the true knowledge of life which will make them really free and happy even when they are absolutely alone. These institutions have utterly failed to achieve this purpose. It is no use being free to move in society with the help of an army or a band of policemen. That is not freedom. Freedom is a kind of fearlessness that comes out of the acquisition of the wisdom of life, which again is identical with the reality of life. Thus, whatever groups we form in the social pattern such as institutions, academies or universities, they are not going to serve their purpose as long as they satisfy only the instincts and the sentiments of the groups of people we call society, but do not cater to the needs of the soul.
The soul is not a department of the body. Likewise, I should say, the Academy here is not a department of the Divine Life Society, but it is the soul that works as the incentive behind every kind of activity, which we call a department, and is the vitality which supports the entire structure. It is not one branch of learning. It is here that we have to draw a distinction between the concept of an academy here and similar concepts that may be elsewhere. We are not going to teach physics, chemistry, mathematics or any particular branch of approach in the line of education, though these branches can be accommodated into the curriculum, provided they are conducive to the development of its ideal – the wholeness which we call Knowledge. From this point of view, it will be difficult to find either teachers or students, because the whole approach is quite novel and unique. If this approach is not going to be understood and implemented, it would be of no use; for, we would then be starting another high school or college, as anyone else may start. Well-to-do people start high schools and colleges. It is not a great asset to mankind, because they are going to teach the same stereotyped humdrum of the branches of studies which we have anywhere in the world. If what we learn cannot make us free and confident in our own self, that knowledge of ours is worthless. Let anyone touch one's own heart and say one is free – free from anxiety, free from harassment from the atmosphere in which one is living and free from suspicions and doubts as to the capacity of one's own self in the achievement of one's purpose. No one can be confident about these things. It means to say that our learning has not been up to the mark. They are only convenient contrivances to live a comfortable life in society. We can be rich in mind and also rich in reputation. We can be the centre or target of the applause of society, which is another way of being deceivedby society. But all this is not going to help us when the last call comes.
The whole purpose of the establishment of the Divine Life Society, and incidentally of the Academy that is in our minds, is not to play a joke with life or become important in human society. It is not that we boost up one more institution among the many others in the world, but to provide an atmosphere or an environment or a suitable set of circumstances which will enable us to proceed further in the art and science of contacting Reality.
Here we come to a very important question: What is Reality? If the art of contacting this ideal of Reality is the great science of life and if that is what we call Yoga, how many of us can have a clear-cut conception of the ideal which we call the Reality? It tantalises us like a mirage and recedes from us like the horizon as we try to approach it. As we grow, our ideas of the very ideal change in our minds and we have doubts as to what it could be. So, naturally, we are unable to adjust ourselves and adapt our personal lives to the ideal that we are holding before us. It is the first and foremost duty of every seeker who regards himself or herself as a student of the Academy here, to see that his or her mind is very clear about the ideal. As I underline this very purpose of the Academy, I cannot believe that Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj has had any other idea in his mind, ultimately, except the liberation of the Spirit – Moksha, as he would call it.
There are many great things in this world which are wonderful from their own point of view and necessary in their own station. But, they are all preparatory and contributory processes to the great achievement and attainment which we call Freedom, Moksha, which is the aim of spiritual life. The Divine Life Society or the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy is nothing, if it is not a centre for providing facilities for the enlightenment of the spirit or the human soul. Naturally, when it is concerned with the human soul, it is not concerned with male and female, east and west, north and south, etc., but it is concerned only with the spirit of aspiration, genuineness of approach and sympathy with the nature of Truth. All these are difficult things even to comprehend, apart from their being practised or put into our own daily experiences in life. The conception of Reality, as I mentioned, is the rock-bottom of the very endeavours of knowledge, which again is the process of the achievement of Freedom.
There are different degrees of the one Reality, which we will recognise as we proceed further and further and examine our experiences of life. When we were asleep, it was one kind of reality; and when we were dreaming, it was another kind of reality. When we are awake now, this is also another, different kind of reality. So, which one are we going to regard as the Reality? Anything that we come into contact with or anything that gets absorbed into our consciousness as a part of our experience, goes by the name of reality. So the wisdom of a teacher and the shrewdness or the tact of a disciple lie in the acceptance of the degrees of reality, by which it is meant that we have to move from stage to stage. We should never imagine that we are in a level higher than the one in which we really are. Pride is of no use here, and any kind of self-complacency has to be ruled out. We are before God, as it were, and not before any man. We can deceive man, but we cannot deceive God. We cannot deceive even our own selves. So it is no use believing that we are something other than what we really are. Whatever be our learning, it stands not before the eye of God. We know it very well that it will also not stand the trials of life, which is also one of the ways we can test the efficacy of our knowledge. When we are in great trouble, in hot water, our present knowledge is not going to help us, which means to say that we have learnt nothing, ultimately. It has been a self-deception throughout, for we have been under the notion that there has been a gradual increase in the content of knowledge.