Center for Soft Power interviewed HH Sat Guru Amrita Súryánanda Mahá Rája on the occasion of International Yoga Day. Before the rest of the world, Portugal celebrated Yoga Day in Portugal for the first time on June 21, 2002. Swamiji says India holds the Yoga bija sown around the world.
In this interview he shares the vision he had of the entire world celebrating Yoga on the chosen date of June 21 - celebrating the relationship between the Earth and the Sun, and the Galaxy and the Universe. The Solstice of June 21st was pointed out to him - the Day of Light, the longest day of the year (in the Northern hemisphere); and he was shown a vision of “the whole Planet practicing Yoga on that Day, in lawns, outdoors, in a Great and Powerful image, that never left my being,” says Swamiji.
At Dal Lake during Kashmir Yatra
You celebrated Yoga Day in Portugal for the first time on June 21, 2002. Why did you select the Summer Solstice for this day?
At the end of the 1990s, I began to have concerns and started receiving inspirations from Lord Shiva, who told me that a Yoga Day should be created, that it should be a Global Day in which: 1. All Humanity would practice Yoga; 2. and where no one killed anyone during that day, nor in wars, neither in disputes, nor in traffic, 24 hours without any blood-shedding; 3. Where we could highlight what we have in common, which is more than 99%, it is what Unites us, and it is the Only Language of the Future, the rest are the countless small differences that have always promoted wars, and which is the language from the past - diversity is a Cosmic Richness.
That Day should not celebrate anyone's birthday, no matter how powerful they might be, whether living, historical or mythical, nor should it mark any victory of one people over another, or any type of human date. The chosen date should celebrate the relationship between the Earth and the Sun, and the Galaxy and the Universe. And the Solstice of June 21st was pointed out to me, the Day of Light, the longest day of the year (in the Northern hemisphere); and I was shown, the whole Planet practicing Yoga on that Day, in lawns, outdoors, in a Great and Powerful image, that never left my being.
Of course, I immediately refused, in my smallness, as if afraid of such a Great task to me. This resistance of mine lasted for some time, but Lord Shiva gave me no chance. I then I said to the Mahá Guru "I am nothing but dust", and He answered me, "yes, it is true, but from now on you will be golden dust, because you will be directly at my service". And I accepted.
From that time on, I also wrote, inspired by Ádi Guru, the Manifesto of 30 Principles of the International Day of Yoga, June 21st, having proposed this Manifesto to the World in 2001; and immediately started preparing the 1st Celebration of this Global Day.
Thus, on June 21, 2002, in the City of Setúbal, Portugal (which is about 50 km south of Lisbon, the Capital), we celebrated the International Day of Yoga for the first time in the World, with the presence of about 650 Yoga Teachers and practitioners.
In 2003, it was celebrated in Lisbon, with more than 800 participants. In 2004, the Celebrations took place in the City of Porto. And in 2005, they returned to Lisbon, with more than 1,000 participants.
We decided that in the odd years, the Celebrations would be held in the Capital, Lisbon; and in the even years, the celebrations would be held in other cities, in order to decentralize and promote Yoga throughout Portugal.
In 2006 the Celebrations were held in the City of Faro, the Capital of the famous province of the Algarve, and from then on we continued to celebrate every year until today. So this year we celebrated our 19th International Day of Yoga Celebration.
Also from the beginning, we decided to start inviting Masters of India to be present at these Celebrations, making Portugal, during that Day, the Yoga Capital of the World. We then decided to start also inviting Yoga Institutions not only from India, but also from all over the world - from Europe and the Americas, etc. to be present in Portugal on that International Day, taking this message to not only to India, but to the entire Planet. And of course, from the beginning, I started a gigantic Yátrá to the main Áshramas from all over India to obtain the support of their important and influential President Guru Jí, so that the International Day of Yoga, June, 21st, became supported by all, because Bhárata is the Motherland of Yoga.
This culminated with the Bengaluru Summit, organized by us, in 2011, December, at the Art of Living Headquarters, of Srí Srí Ravi Shankar, and co-organized by them. A Summit that was attended by the Mahá Guru of the main Lineages in India, culminating in the proclamation by Shrí Iyengar Jí, who said “As President of the Indian Yoga Association, and as the oldest Yoga Guru in India, and of the World, I declare the 21st of June, the International Day of Yoga”. And so, this International Day was philosophically approved.
At the Bangalore Summit
Later, during the V Magna Assembly of the Hindu Dharma Achárya Sabhá, held in 2012, November, in Ahmedabad, and chaired by HH Param Pujyá Swami Dáyananda Jí Mahá Rája, assisted by Swami Parmatmánanda Jí, and attended by all Holy beings from India, including Swami Avadeshánanda Jí, Swami Átmápriyánanda Jí (leader of the Gurukulam), as well by all the others; there Swami Vishveshvaránanda Jí (from Mumbai) introduced me to the, at the time, Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shrí Narendra Modi, so that I could present him the proposal for the Global Day of Yoga, which I did, and which caused great joy and acceptance.
In 2013, June, the Portuguese Parliament was the First official Institution in all the World to support the officialization of the International Day of Yoga, and to Salute the role that the Portuguese Yoga Confederation has always had in this process.
In addition to having travelled across India and the Planet to obtain support for the officialization of the International Day of Yoga, June, 21st, we also promoted World Yoga Meetings around the World to not only ventilate this idea, but to encourage the practice of Yoga (such as Stonehenge / UK, Great Pyramid / Egypt, Machu Picchu / Peru, etc., and more recently Easter Island).
Although Yoga is a Darshana, we have also made a point, during these years, to invite the Leaders of the main existing Religions, both from Portugal and the World, so that they can show to their devotees that the practice of Yoga is something healthy, but also for them, while joining their hands, and in peaceful coexistence, to explain that the Religions of the Creating God are the Religions that love and preserve Life, and never the opposite.
During these almost two decades, I also asked for the support of the main religious leaders in the World, and of the most powerful politicians for the International Day of Yoga to be made official.
Shrí Narendra Modi, a great Yogi, after being elected Prime Minister of India in May 2014, went to the UN General Assembly in September, to propose the officialization of the International Day of Yoga, June, 21st. Which came to happen (in a record-breaking manner, in less than 90 days) in December of 2014. This Motion was signed by 177 countries (out of 193), and approved by consensus. A huge diplomatic achievement by India and its extraordinary Prime Minister.
We were the only Yoga Institution in the World to be present at this famous General Assembly, where the International Day of Yoga was made official and politically approved. It was a great triumph of the Yoga Darshana.
For this work, India awarded us the Padma Shrí Award in 2015, April.
After achieving this first step, right at the beginning of the following year, in 2015, we set in motion what Lord Shiva called the second step (out of 4 steps), that is, we proposed to the Government of India, and to the Ambassador of India to UNESCO (and also to the Portuguese Government, which was not interested at the time), that Yoga should become Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity at UNESCO (we had already visited UNESCO in Paris, over the last decade, 3 times, to set this goal in motion).
Top: With Shri Narendra Modi, Down: With Pujya Dayanana Sarasvati and Swami Paramatmananda.
As is evident, India immediately move forward with this Ideal; and at the end of the following year, 2016 (December, 1st), it was approved at the UNESCO General Assembly in Addis Ababa, now unanimously.
The third step is that Yoga reaches all children, and the School Curricula, of all Countries in the World that so desire. India has already taken huge steps in this direction (and Portugal has already taken some).
And the fourth step, is that the International Day of Yoga becomes a Global Holiday; where the whole Planet can practice Yoga, almost simultaneously, without having to miss their work duties, but mainly Celebrating what they have in common, Life, respect for Creation, and for the Earthly Paradise.
What is the role of your guru in your life? How did you first meet them and how did they transform your life?
I was born here on this Planet on August 1st, 1952; and I started practicing Yoga in 1970 (hence about 50 years ago).
When I chose HH Shrí Swami Krishnánananda Jí Mahá Rája as my Guru Jí, after more than 10 years of Yoga practice (up until then, insipid). But in reality, it was him, my dear Guru Jí, who in the midst of all his austerity, but also Cosmic Love, chose me for his beloved and even preferred Disciple; which was a huge surprise for me.
HH Shrí Swami Krishnánananda Jí Mahá Rája taught me a lot of what I know of the true Yoga Darshana, from India, and its secrets; and made available to me specialists in Ásana, Pránáyáma, Yoganidrá, Kriyá, Bandha, etc., and in Kírtanam and Jápa, and at my insistent request even a specialist in the Sámkhya Darshana (this despite being in a Vedanta Monastery); he also taught me the deep secrets of Samyama / Meditation, and passed me Krpá in Param-Pará, all of this in rshikesh, in the Shivánanda Áshrama / Divine Life Society, in the beginning of the 80s.
He then said to me "Westerners have a habit of distorting the Yoga Darshana, and making it up, you should follow the Traditional Yoga of India, practice it intensely and daily, study the Shástra, and you will go far". And so I did, all my life.
But my Mahá Guru, Luminous, Mighty internal Master, is Lord Shiva, whom I follow, and place everything I do at his feet.
What is the structure of the Yoga Teacher Training Programme taught by you. How does it help pass on traditional knowledge?
We only teach the Traditional Yoga from India, so we only transmit the Traditional Wisdom of Yoga. In fact, only Yoga from India is Yoga. Any pseudo modern imitation does not interest us, and moreover it is empty.
The Training Course of the Portuguese Yoga Confederation is based on excellence. We train Yoga Teachers in 6 years, with 6,500 hours of training; Yoga Professors in another 4 years (in a total of 10 years), and another 6,000 hours; and we prepare Yoga Guru in more 4 years and 9,500 hours more, for a total of 14 years and 22,000 hours of training.
We teach the Shástra - shruti and smrti, with a main focus on the Darshana; all the main 14 Yoga Technical Disciplines, and their multiple techniques; Yama and Niyama; the Mahá Guru; the 7 main Chakra; Sattvik food; the Sámkhya Darshana; introduction to Samskruta; Anatomy and Physiology; and because of Sámkhya we also make introductions to Astrophysics and Quantum Physics; among others.
The 14 vast Technical Disciplines that we teach exhaustively are: 1 - Ásana, 2 - Pránáyáma; 3 - Yoganidrá; 4 - Samyama / Meditation (Dháraná, Dhyána, Samádhi), 5 - Pújá, 6 - Kriyá, 7 - Bandha, 8 - Kírtanam, 9 - Jápa Tala, 10 - Jápa Shesha, 11 - Yantra, 12 - Múdrá, 13 - Nyása , 14 - Mánasika.
We provide the experience of Yoga in specific Sádhaná; and an exhaustive training in teaching Yoga classes.
As well as the Krpá and the respective initiations, in the different degrees of evolution of the Sádhaka; and Param-Pará to the deserving ones. We wrote the following works: Chakra Sútra (the 7 main Chakra in Yoga); and also Sámkhya Cosmogenesis and Yoga (beyond hydrogen). For this work we were awarded a D-Lit Degree in Yoga, by the University of Bengaluru, S-Vyasa, in 2014, January.
With Swami Maheshananda Maharaja, Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute, March 2008, Lonavala
What is the role of Swami Sivananda in promoting Yoga in Portugal and Europe?
From my dear Guru Jí, HH Swami Krishnánanda Jí I learned everything that was truly important about Yoga, about its constant practice, and about its profound experience, about the importance of Tapah, and Pújá, and about Dháraná / Dhyána, and about the relevance of Samádhi, and of Keivalya Mukta; And also about the secrets of the Shástra, and so many, so many more things.
Evidently I felt that everything that HH Swami Sivananda Saraswati had taught verbally or through his (more than 200) Books, flowed through my dear Guru Jí.
For this reason, and of course, the Yoga of Ádí Guru Lord Shiva, through its Grand representative, Swmi Sivananda Sarasvati, spread throughout Continental Portugal, and even insular Portugal, with the Portuguese Yoga Confederation already having some operational Áshrama (and others under preparation) in Europe.
With the foundation of the Iberian Yoga Confederation in 2007 and later of the European Yoga Confederation in 2014, Institutions were created that greatly facilitated the expansion of Yoga from India throughout Europe, and for its countries that wanted it seriously.
Also the speech I made at the Headquarters of the European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium, by invitation, in 2012 about “The Importance of Indian Culture in the Foundation of modern Europe”, and the closing of the 2nd European Congress of Yoga in 2016, also the Headquarters from the European Parliament, Brussels, and the 3rd European Yoga Congress at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, in 2018, contributed greatly and opened large windows for the proper promotion of the Yoga from India in Europe.
You have founded the Portuguese Yoga Foundation. How does this govern the practice of Yoga in Portugal?
The Portuguese Yoga Confederation is a solid Entity that brings together Associations, Federations and more than 60 Áshrama, and its structure allows an organized work with quality, which is fundamental for the propagation of Yoga, and transmitting of Yoga Classes with the utmost quality, and also the Training of Yoga Professionals with the highest demands and excellence, in Portugal, and all over the World.
The Portuguese Yoga Confederation is naturally the largest Yoga Institution in Portugal, and today it reaches about 100,000 practitioners, and hundreds of Yoga Teachers, trained by us.
Still recently in November, 2019, I visited India accompanied by 202 Yoga Teachers my disciples, for a Congress in New-Dillí / Greater Noida.
During the recent visit of the President of the Portuguese Republic of Portugal, to the President of the Republic of India, in February this year, a bilateral Protocol was signed, between Portugal and India, represented by the Portuguese Yoga Confederation and the S-VYASA University, to carry out a scientific research study on the benefits of Yoga for school-age children. This study will take place in Portugal, with the duration of 2 academic years.
How has Yoga developed in Portugal? What were the main influences?
Yoga in Portugal has developed exponentially, not only for adults, but also for children (6 to 12 years-old), young people (from 13 to 18 years); and even for seniors, 3rd age from 65 to 79 years-old (and even for the 4th age - from 80 to 95 years-old, and sometimes for centenarians).
The main influence is to keep the Traditional Yoga of India as the only base reference, due to its enormous Power (true power is that which comes from Wisdom).
And the constant clarification that Yoga is a Darshana - a complete Philosophical System, and therefore it can be practiced by everyone (even by atheists). And also the scientific basis with which we teach Yoga.
The Confederation has, among others, a Science Research Department. The fact that we also have a Medical Department, composed of doctors of traditional western medicine, Medical Doctors, who are simultaneously Yoga Teachers (and some of them even trained in Ayurveda in India, in courses of at least 5 years), also helps to enhance our results.
The great support that the Official Entities give us, namely the City Councils, and sometimes the National Government, is fundamental for us.
The more clarification there is in the Media about what the true Yoga of India is, the more Yoga expands. Of course, the quality of the Yoga teaching should be added.
What is usually deliberated in the Yoga Congresses? What is India's participation in these conferences?
What is deliberated in Yoga Congresses and Conventions is summarily the maintenance of the quality of the Yoga Teacher’s Training, and the clarification of what is the purity of the Traditional Yoga from India; as well as the action plans between Congresses.
You mention that the only true Yoga is the Yoga of India. Why is it important for you to visit the holy land of India?
Bhárata is the Motherland of Yoga, this to me is a sacred phrase, because it is from India that everything springs up, it is India that has preserved the Traditional Yoga for thousands of years. India is a great reservoir of Wisdom and of the subtle throughout the Planet, and Ahimsá is the gateway to Yoga.
If today we had to choose one single Commandment for Humanity, it would have to be Ahimsá - not to kill, to use diplomatic solutions to resolve conflicts; which would solve more than 90% of the current problems.
During the Yátrá I looked for the most sacred places, with the most spiritual and cosmic energy and where I could be more in tune with my Mahá Guru, Ádi Guru Lord Shiva and the Spirit of Bhárata, Great India.
So I made pilgrimages to 11 of the 12 Jyotirlingam, to the 7 Sapta Puri, the 4 Jantar Mantar, to the City of Lord Shiva, Varanasi / Banáras / Kashi, to those of Lord Krishna, and Lord Ráma (Ayodhyá); to the archaeological sites of the ancient Indus-Sarasvatí civilization (Rakhighari, Dolavira and Lothal); to the Birthplace of Ádi Shanaráchárya; the lands of Gandhi Jí; to the sacred Rivers / Nádí, to the Prayág, to the Ancient Caves, and of course to the four Kumbha Melas.
I also proposed, under the inspiration of Lord Shiva, that the 3 Shankaracháryas should hold a great Summit in Kaladhy, to reinforce the Spiritual power of India and its position in the World, and also to nominate their four successors for the 4 Regions of India (North, South, East and West).
I just want to recall that India still lives today this enormous Sacred Force, having done so for thousands of years, and that it is the only great World Potency that has no military and no expansionist or hegemonic purposes, in our planet. Such a great example to follow, for the rest of the world.
At Kumbh Mela, Illahabad
What do you find special about the Kumbh Mela. What do you do when you visit?
Humanity today does not have the notion of the Earthly Paradise that we inherited; it has no sense of our beautiful and extraordinary Planet, it has no sense of their relationship with Súrya, the Sun, and the rest of the Planets in the Solar System, and with our beautiful satellite Chandra, nor do they have a sense of their position on the Milky Way; nor the notion of its Hyperlink with the whole Cosmos.
In a Kumbha Mela, this subtle macro connection with all the powerful surroundings is highlighted. With the Mahá Shakti and the subtle Life. And that the more "Subtle the more Powerful". All of this is felt in the Kumbha Mela of: Haridvar, Ilahabad / Rája Prayág, Ujjein, and Nashik.
It is all this that is found in a Kumbha Mela, the wonderful and Sacred waters of the great Nádi / Rivers, absorb all that Cosmic Macro information, and we Wisely, whilst bathing, greatly reinforce our Shaucha / Purity, our Strength and our Health and Universal Love. In addition to the baths, we practice Yoga with special emphasis on Pújá, Kírtanam and Jápa, but mainly on Samyama / Yoga Meditation.
What are the main similarities between India and Portugal in terms of spirituality and Yoga?
India is the great reservoir of Spirituality and the Motherland of pure Traditional Yoga.
That is why we seek to bring the blessings and benefits of Yoga, from the Great India (1.4 billion inhabitants) to small Portugal (10 million inhabitants). And, of course, it is not just a matter of size, it is that India holds the Yoga Bíja / Seed, and we here in Portugal are just being sown upon.
Although I usually say “an Indian cannot always be born in India” (which has many disadvantages and some advantages); and that the Portuguese were in Goa for some centuries, which certainly influenced our Samskára (and our DNA).
But I also want to recall that “Portugal is the Country of Fatima”, where about 1 century ago, the Mahá Shakti manifested 6 times, in 1917. She was announced by a Mahá Deva who called himself Shánti Deva, and who said: "I am the Deva of Peace, and also the Deva / Angel of Portugal".