Satyananda Saraswati (25 December 1923 – 5 December 2009), was a sannyasin, yoga teacher and guru in both his native India and the West. He was a student of Sivananda Saraswati, the founder of the Divine Life Society, and founded the Bihar School of Yoga in 1964.He wrote over 80 books, including Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha.
Satyananda Saraswati was born 1923 at Almora, Uttaranchal,into a family of farmers and zamindars.
As a youth he was classically educated and studied Sanskrit, the Vedas and the Upanishads. He says that he began to have spiritual experiences at the age of six, when his awareness spontaneously left the body and he saw himself lying motionless on the floor. Many saints and sadhus blessed him and reassured his parents that he had a very developed awareness. This experience of disembodied awareness continued, which led him to many saints of that time such as Anandamayi Ma. He also met a tantric bhairavi, Sukhman Giri, who gave him shaktipat and directed him to find a guru to stabilise his spiritual experiences.However, in one of his early publications, Yoga from Shore to Shore, he says he would become unconscious during meditation and that “One day I met a mahatma, a great saint, who was passing by my birthplace…So he told me I should find a guru.”
At age eighteen, he left his home to seek a spiritual master. In 1943 at the age of twenty, he met his guru Sivananda Saraswati and went to live at Sivananda’s ashram in Rishikesh. Sivananda initiated him into the Dashnam Order of Sannyasa on 12 September 1947 on the banks of the Ganges and gave him the name of Swami Satyananda Saraswati. He stayed with Sivananda for a further nine years but received little formal instruction from him.
In 1956, Sivananda sent Satyanda away to spread his teachings. Basing himself in Munger, Bihar, he wandered as a mendicant parivrajaka travelling through India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Burma and Ceylon for the next seven years (although on several occasions he said he travelled only through India), extending his knowledge of spiritual practices and spending some time in seclusion.
According to Harry Aveling, some followers of Satyananda established the International Yoga Fellowship Movement (IYFM) in Rajnandgaon in 1962 but the organisation struggled to make an impact because he spent too much time travelling and was thus unable to direct it. J. Gordon Melton says that Satyananda founded the IYFM himself in 1956. In 1964, he founded the Bihar School of Yoga (BSY) at Munger, with the intention that it would act as a centre of training for future teachers of yoga as well as offer courses for ordinary people.
Among those who attended courses at BSY were students from abroad and students who subsequently emigrated from India. Some of these people in turn invited Satyananda to teach in their own countries. He lectured and taught for the next twenty years, including a tour of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, North America between April and October 1968. The foreign and expatriate students also established new centres of teaching in their respective countries. These people included John Mumford in Australia and Janakananda Saraswati in Denmark. With the organisation expanding into a chain of ashrams within India and without, the IYFM had 54 centres by the mid-1970s, including eight in Australia. These were all guided by Satyananda and operated on behalf of the BSY.
Allegations of sexual abuse
In the mid- to late-1980s complaints of sexual abuse were made against Akhandananda Saraswati, at the time the spiritual leader of the Satyananda Yoga Ashram at Mangrove Mountain, Australia. In December 2014 the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia investigated the responses of the ashram to these complaints.
The Commission heard evidence from former child residents that Shishy, a former senior member of the ashram, allegedly subjected them to fierce beatings, and summoned teenage girls for sex with Akhandananda.
Shishy herself told the Commission she was expected to have sex with Satyananda when he was visiting Australia, describing it as “on a continuum between bland and quite perverse”.
In 1988 Satyananda handed over the active work of his ashram and organisation to his spiritual successor, Niranjanananda Saraswati, and left Munger.
From September 1989 he was in Rikhia, Deoghar, Jharkhand.There he lived as a paramahamsa sannyasin and performed vedic sadhanas including panchagni, an austerity performed before five blazing fires outdoors during the hottest months of the year as described in the Satpatha Brahmanas and Kathopanishad.At Rikhia, Satyananda conducted a 12-year Rajasooya Yajna which began in 1995 with the first Sat Chandi Maha Yajna, invoking the Cosmic Mother through a tantric ceremony. During this event, Satyananda passed on his spiritual and sannyasa sankalpa to Niranjanananda.
He died on 5 December 2009.
Satyananda’s teachings emphasise an “Integral Yoga” with a strong emphasis on Tantra, known as the “Bihar Yoga” system or “Satyananda Yoga”. This system addresses the qualities of head, heart and hands – intellect, emotion and action – and attempts to integrate the physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of yoga into each practice.His system of tantric yoga involves the practice of:
Kundalini Yoga, in the tradition following Sivananda’s explanation. Kundalini Yoga is the yoga of the evolutionary energy of the universe.
Kriya Yoga through the practices of pratyahara, dharana and dhyana, which are the three
components of Kriya yoga, in combination with other practices such as asana, pranayama, mudras and badhas. Kriya Yoga aims to awaken the dimensions of consciousness where our dormant potential and creativity lies.
Mantra Yoga, the repetition of sacred sounds.
Laya yoga, the practice of a state of absorption on an object of meditation.
The four advanced stages of the Eight Limbs of Yoga as codified by Patanjali: Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
Satyananda classified and expounded the techniques given in the tantras as a series of different stages and levels of pratyahara, such as antar mouna, and different stages of meditation.He invented a technique of yoga-nidra, now known worldwide as Satyananda Yoga Nidra, and defined and codified the different stages of the technique.
Satyananda wrote over 80 books, including Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. Satyananda’s writings have been published by the Bihar School of Yoga and, since 2000, by the Yoga Publications Trust established by his disciple Ninanjanananda to promote his teachings.