Over his many years in sharing the yogic teachings, Reverend Jaganath Carerra has taught in universities, prisons, and Yoga centers. He has participated in interfaith programs, and helped to establish many of the Integral Yoga professional trainings.He was a long time administrator at Satchidananda Ashram and he also helped to establish the Integral Yoga Ministry. He is the author of two books: Inside the Yoga Sutras, and, Awaken: Inside Yoga Meditation. He has also published a CD of the Guru Gita. He is the spiritual head of the Yoga Life Society in New Jersey. He gave this talk during celebrations marking the 100th birth anniversary of Swami Satchidananda. (photo: Rev. Jaganath (right) with Swami Satchidananda.
It’s so difficult to know what to say about Swami Satchidananda (Sri Gurudev). When asked to speak about his Guru, Swami Sivananda Maharaj, Sri Gurudev would often say that to speak of him is to belittle him.
That is how I would feel in talking about Sri Gurudev: words do pale in comparison to actually knowing him, being with him, and seeing the amazing glint in those eyes. Or, in picking up the phone and hearing him very softly say, “Hari Om.” Sometimes I would shiver from the excitement, and even from a little bit of fear, because of not knowing what might be coming next!
One of the signs of a truly holy person—a great sage or saint—is that all boundaries melt in their presence. Gurudev didn’t come to the amazing interfaith vision he had by studying lots of books and saying, “Oh look, this religion and that one have so much in common.” It wasn’t an academic exercise. His vision was unity. Sometimes, I thought it was almost an effort for him to see the diversity. If he gazed on any faith tradition, he saw the oneness.
This reminds me of when I was compiling the Integral Yoga Ministry Handbook. In a conversation I had with him on the phone, he told me that he wanted to have the essence of all faith traditions included in the manual. This, by the way, was preceded by him asking me to write something up, which I did. I wrote several magnificent pages that I sent off to him and when we had the conversation about it and I asked him what he thought, his response was, “Hmm, too long. Too many words.” He said, “Write this down.” And then he proceeded to tell me the essence of all faith traditions.
It’s brilliant, and it’s simple: (1) Every Faith tradition says something about your true nature; that you are made in the image and likeness of God. They all say something about your nature being divine; (2) To experience that nature, you need purity of heart. And, (3) to achieve purity of heart, lead a dedicated life. Three little sentences, instead of my several pages. That’s vision!
To be simple, and to see the essence, is not an intellectual exercise. And that vision carries over into Yoga. I remember wondering why he titled his book, Integral Yoga Hatha, and not Integral Hatha Yoga. I always thought it was funny sounding. Then, years and years later, when I was asked to make a certificate for the Raja Yoga Teacher Training, he said it should be called Integral Yoga Raja. And I asked him why he chose that particular order of the words. He said it was because it’s always Integral. We don’t separate out the different branches. It is always Integral Yoga, with an emphasis on Raja or Hatha.
Even if you take an Integral Yoga Hatha class, which is one of the most masterful classes, you are really practicing all the major branches of Yoga. And if you look at his teachings of Raja Yoga, you see all the branches of Yoga represented. If it’s Bhakti Yoga, you see all the branches; if it’s Jnana Yoga, all the branches; Karma Yoga, all the branches. Always, his vision was one of unity—and breaking down barriers.
It’s as if we spend the first part of our lives bringing in barriers. The ego likes to define itself. It looks for things that are right, it looks for support, so more and more, we try to distinguish ourselves in some way from other people. And for some of us, who in a way are the most lucky, we get tired of dividing and separating. Those who are awakening see that, and they see the pain it causes, and they see the alienation and fragmentation. They are looking for something. Something that will heal and bring wholeness.
There’s a quote about the Guru that I love. It says, “Those who accept the teacher and the teachings with their heart find they have a treasure in their hands.” When I first read it I thought, how sweet that is. And then I thought, how odd that quote is. Listen to it. You accept the teacher and the teachings in your heart, but the treasure, is in your hands. It almost doesn’t make sense, unless, you understand what the hands are about. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there’s a word that appears in six different sutras. It’s a word that I’ve fallen in love with because I like the image that it brings to my mind, and word is graha. It means to grasp. And Patanjali uses it to describe the essential, typical everyday nature of the mind. We can’t just sit because the mind is going to be constantly thinking: What’s this, what’s that? Or, I’m interested in this other thing.
My picture of what all that restlessness looks like is an octopus with ten thousand arms, constantly grasping. You get tense and it’s like the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes. He spins around and you can see the hands sticking out. That’s what the mind does because of vritti activity, the whirlpool. Why is it continuously reaching for all these things? Because it just wants to be happy. So, it grasps. But one day, if you let the teacher into your heart, you don’t have to grasp because you look and in your hands is the treasure. You stop grasping. and when you stop, there is only one other place to go, and that’s within. That is what so many, on this planet, have found in Swami Satchidananda.
That, is really the beginning of spiritual life. It’s not even in the doing. It’s in the transformations that happen. And that transformation is based on love; not like sentimental, greeting card love. This love is the most powerful force. It is a love which breaks down all barriers; the love in us which is longing to break out and express itself. That’s, what Gurudev was, here on the earth. I know that many of us who have seen him walk across the lawn, could not believe, that not even the blades of grass became crushed under his feet. That was his energy. From those who had just a moment with him, to those that spent decades with him, that energy transformed so many of their lives.
When we think and talk about such an illuminated being, we might wonder what he would think of himself. How would he describe himself? We can never really know what he thought of himself. But I once had an experience with him that related to this. It was just a little flash; a little spark. It happened years ago. We were having a month-long teacher training. The ashram was in Connecticut and for this particular training, I was the administrator. I don’t know where Gurudev was the rest of the month, but he was only going to be at the ashram the final weekend of this training. Part of my job to prepare for his coming, was to have the schedule of all that was happening typed out, so that he decide what he would like to participate in. There was a nice schedule and letter typed out and it was put in an envelope and given to me to sign. I looked at it and everything looked fine, I signed it, and then, I paused.
I reflected on how the entire month had been an extraordinary one. You could see people turning into yogis right in front of your eyes, in a matter of just a few weeks. The things that happened were miraculous. Then I thought, This is amazing; I’m just a schlump from New Jersey and all these amazing things are happening, how could they be happening? I’m thinking of myself, not in a way that I’m putting myself down, and I didn’t say this to anyone, but not knowing any other word, I kept thinking to myself, I’m just a fool. I don’t know about anything in particular, and I don’t have any special skills. I’m not that intelligent, and all these wonderful things are happening. Those were my thoughts for most of the month, and they recurred, day in and day out. It wasn’t a negative thought, but more of being wonderstruck. How could this be happening?
So, after I put my letter in the envelope, I just had the impulse to pull my letter out and write: Your greatest miracle is to get some use, even from a fool like me. On the day of the teacher training graduation, I was sitting on the floor at Gurudev’s feet. During a break in which the photographers were changing the film in their cameras, he leaned over and said, “It takes a fool to catch a fool.”
I had completely forgotten what I had said that in the letter, so I didn’t know what Gurudev was talking about. I looked at him and said, I’m sorry Gurudev, but I don’t understand. Again, he said, “It takes a fool, to catch a fool,” and I’m thinking: Why is he saying that? I’m struggling and thinking, is this a Yoga sutra or something? Is he having a stroke? I had a little panic because he was very intense. And again, he leans over close to me and says in a deep voice, “It takes a fool, to catch a fool.” I said, Gurudev, I have no idea what you are talking about. Then one more time, with that same intensity but somehow with this incredible tenderness, he says, “Jaganath, it takes a fool, to catch a fool. So, who’s the bigger fool then, you or me?” Then, I realized he was talking about my note. I was stunned. Not just by the words, but what I saw in his face—the simplicity. For a moment, it was like, that’s how he thinks of himself?!
I’ve come these days to call it being a zero. He himself has said, that a zero can be everything, or nothing. He didn’t think of himself as big, holy, or anything like that. He thought of himself as a pure, open vessel; a fool for God. So, whatever else, and however else you see, who or what he was, it wasn’t just that. It was the something that I saw that day, and something I still cherish. And to this day it is one of the most important teachings I ever received from him: to be a zero. There is nothing bigger than that.
I’d like to close with one of my favorite quotes about the Guru, from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It’s a scripture called, “Words of my Perfect Teacher.” You have to know a little bit of math to understand this quote. First, we get to think about the number 40 billion. I’m challenged by anything over 25! Can any of us get any sense of 40 billion of anything? Even 40 of something is a lot, or 400, 4,000, or 40,000, is so much. How many people are on the planet now? Seven Billion. Six times that is 40 billion. The quote says: 1 million times 40 billion years.
Here’s the quote:
“One moment of fond remembrance of the Guru brings more benefit that 1 million times 40 billion years of practice.”
Fond remembrance means connection—connection to the divine guidance that comes through the Guru. It’s invaluable. The last thing I’ll share, is my favorite Gurudev quote, “Spend a little time every day for you own health and peace and share that health and peace with everyone.”