Soft spoken, Yogananda Shastri - Skarbimir Rucinski - from Warsaw in Poland speaks Hindi with a lilt that is both exotic and poetic. Not a word of English creeps into the conversation, that is so intoxicating, as we talk about things as old as Varanasi itself, the city he has lived in for the last two decades.
Yogananda Shastri says his father who was a professor of Indian Philosophy at a university in Poland came across a book on yoga when he was very young. This book, his first brush with Bharatiya philosophy and spiritualism, led him to search for other books in Sanskrit, starting a spiritual connect with India for him and his family.
Varanasi was an automatic choice. A Polish relative and their guru were in Varanasi. Yogananda Shastri’s parents came to live here before his birth. Although, it was not a conscious decision to settle down here, he thinks it was a right decision to settle in Varanasi, “because it was a seat of Sanskrit and a centre for Hindu culture and learning.”
Varanasi is where he now works and does saadhana. “In Varnasi Vedh अध्ययन is very good. The music parampara is also ancient, especially at Kabir chaura and Ramapura. You have the famous Banaras Gharana of Hindustani music. This is a सांस्कृतिक (cultural) place. Kashi is a holy place (Divya nagari) from the point of Sanskrit and Sangeet and all the four Vedas are known and revered here.”
Yogananda Shastri’s day starts with chai, and then bath and pooja. He is fond of stotra paat, and also does a bit of kirtans and bhajans. And does Sandhya Vandanam as per his guru’s wish.
In this interview with CSP (entirely in Hindi) Yogananda Shastri talks about Bharat’s contribution to the world
What is India’s contribution to the world?
Yogananda Shastri: From which drishti (दृष्टि) should we see this? For thousands of years, people have been coming to India from all over the world to learn from Bharat’s rishis and munis. Is there any greater contribution (योगदान)? Many people when they hear this question will immediately say that India has given yoga to the world, she has given this and that to the world. The greatness and uniqueness of Bharat is that here there is freedom of knowledge. Everyone here has a right to acquire knowledge. Knowledge (Gyan) and Truth (Sathya) have been given prime importance here. That is why the rulers here did not try to hide or reduce the Truth. Those who were seeking knowledge have never had any impediments from the Kings or administrators or from society.
The difference between Bharatiya society and European society is that in Bharat there is complete freedom for spiritual saadhana or practice. There is full freedom to pursue saadhana of Knowledge. This is everyone’s Dharma. If a child from a Hindu family is interested in Bodh Dharma, or Jain Dharma or Islam, then no one prevents him from doing saadhana as saadhana is not against family values. But if the issue of marriage comes up, and if there is a trespassing of societal rules then it is not allowed.
In Europe there is a control (पाबन्धि) on thought and ideas and this control was enforced from long ago. Even now there is no freedom of thought. You can express your thoughts within boundaries (सीमा). Here I am not talking about administrative or political things, but about philosophical and spiritual things. In Bharat there is freedom for saadhana. This freedom does not exist in Europe.
In Bharat you can wear a dhoti, play holi, do anything. In Europe you can do these things as a fashion, but not as a belief as society will ostracise you. You have to think of those things. You can have hobbies and interests, you can do anything there but there is no freedom of thought. It was never there and it is not there now. In Bharat, because there has been no बंधन (restriction), there was a pursuance of knowledge. People dove into the depths of knowledge. Mind (मन), Consciousness and their connect was explored without inhibition. And it is for this that people have always come to India for.
The Europeans realised that Bharat not only had gold which could be looted, but also knowledge and so they started studying this knowledge. There were some who pursued this knowledge out of interest but there were many who wanted to take credit for it and publish it in their own name. They took the knowledge of Vedanta and spread it in their own name. They began looting knowledge from Bharat. I feel that Bharat must return to her own विचार-धारा or vision. No longer must her people look at Europeans and try to know what is allowed. Bharat must return to सत्यमेव जयते (Satyameva Jayate).
What is the importance of Samprdaya in the modern world?
Yogananda Shastri: To answer this question we must understand what is meant by modern world. What is modern is modern for today’s world. What was modern for a society 100 years ago was modern for that society. Likewise what was modern 200 years ago was modern for that period. Hence the importance of sampradaya has not reduced or become obsolete at any point of time. Because of differences in thoughts and interests many sampradayas exist. To attain moksh there are different routes or paths. New paths can emerge even today. Without saadhana we cannot progress. Just by thinking अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि, can we become Bramha, it is not so. We need a deep saadhana to get to that state.
Many think, because of their ego that by repeating अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि a thousand times they will attain that. It is their mind that will tell them that they are Brahma, which is not true, only Maya. In reality they will never attain that state, they only get further trapped in Maya. By being in a sampradaya one becomes aware of these shortcomings and it makes mankind walk in better way, cautious of this pitfall. For example take the Bhakti sampradaya. The more successful we are, the more rational we are, the more educated we are, the more egoistic we become. As we progress in the spiritual path, there is a chance that our ego will attack us, and bhakti is the only thing that destroys that ego. It makes us realise that we are one drop in the ocean.
What is the importance of the Guru Shishya parampara, according to you?
Yogananda Shastri: It is a big question not because it is difficult to answer but because we need to understand what we mean by guru, shishya and parampara. The Guru shishya paramapara is the most important ‘parampara’ in this world. The guru transfers his knowledge, his experience, his ज्ञान (gyaan) to the student according to his ability and takes them further. Any knowledge cannot be transferred without the presence of a guru or a sishya even in our present day times. And the student cannot reach the level at which he is without the guru.
Had we followed the guru shishya parampara in its truest and fullest sense the material and spiritual being of everyone would have been very different, it would have been vast. No man can learn on his own because one needs the teacher to give him the experience. We can still learn the technical subjects on our own because we do not need experience in learning it.
Some things can be learnt only according to a parampara, for example in sport not only will we be injured but we will also not get the desired results. This is so in the case of music too. For example we cannot play the sitar or veena properly, if we do not learn it in the way it is meant to be learnt. This kind of experience comes only with a guru. Likewise with philosophy or spirituality, we cannot have any knowledge without the guru and the results can be painful. Likewise, when we walk on the spiritual path without a guru, or devotion, we either give in to the ego or we practice it in a manner that is detrimental to us. If there is a guru, the मार्ग (marg) becomes easier for us. There are certain fields which we should not enter without a guru like spirituality and philosophy as the guru looks at our capability and guides us individually. The guru takes the shishya further. Here there is no syllabus to complete, only an understanding of potential.
Are you attracted to Sanskrit because of the grammar or the sound of the language?
Yogananda Shastri: Sanskrit language is very attractive and scientific. For me the attractiveness is because of both the reasons. But primarily listening to the language, to the Dhwani, creates a special experience. Reading the Vedas and studying Sanskrit creates a different experience, a different mind state.
Because of its scientific structure it is a very rich language. It is rich because we can express our thoughts in a very clear and precise manner. If we want our thoughts to remain unexpressed we can do that too by expressing it with different meanings. We can have two to three different meanings to our thoughts. So we can use Sanskrit to express our thoughts clearly or to have them remain unexpressed.
When we use such a rich language, our mind too develops in a likewise manner. If we use the richness of the language properly or in great detail, our mind benefits. When we talk about the नाद (naad), we cannot measure it, it is very subtle. When we used to teach Sanskrit in Poland people used to feel great joy in listening to the language. The sound of the language creates a sensation which takes people to a deeper level of being, or a higher level of existence. For me both these sides of Sanskrit are very important.
What is the similarity between Polish and Sanskrit?
Yogananda Shastri: The grammar of Sanskrit and of Polish is very similar. Or rather I should say the grammar of Polish is similar to Sanskrit. Polish is one of the most difficult languages of Europe. Polish has all the declensions except for the पञ्चमी विभक्ति (paJNchamii vibhakti), ablative case. In a lesser way the द्विवचन (dual) is found in तृतीया विभक्ति (tRRitiiya vibhakti), instrumental case. The usage of विभक्ति (case endings) is similar to Sanskrit. Some of the words are similar, counts are similar and even word formations. In Polish, we can instantly form new words, just like in Sanskrit by adding upsarg, pratyay, sayunktakshar. This proves that in some way there must have been some influence of Sanskrit on Polish. That was why I was so interested in using the usage of grammar of Sanskrit, not Paninian Grammar. Sometimes I use Sanskrit like it is done in Polish, just like Hindi speakers use Sanskrit in Hindi. Though there are some differences, it feels so much like my language. Whereas in the other Indian languages the grammar is very different from Polish, hence I find it difficult to pick up other languages. I started learning Hindi along with Sanskrit but I could pick up Sanskrit faster because of the similarities in Grammar.