Interview with non duality magazine
Saraswati is a contemporary teacher of Vedanta and a scholar in
Sanskrit in the tradition of Śankara. Swamiji has been teaching
Vedanta in India for more than five decades and around the world
since 1976. His deep scholarship and assimilation of Vedanta
combined with a subtle appreciation of contemporary problems make
him that rare teacher who can reach both traditional and modern
A teacher of teachers, Swami Dayananda taught six resident in-depth
Vedanta courses, each spanning 30 to 36 months. Four of them were
conducted in India and two in the United States. Each course
graduated about 60 qualified teachers, who are now teaching
throughout India and abroad. Under his guidance, various centers for
teaching of Vedanta have been founded around the world; among these,
there are three primary centers in India at Rishikesh, Coimbatore,
Nagpur and one in the U.S. at Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. There are
more than one hundred centers in India and abroad that carry on the
same tradition of Vedantic teaching.
In addition to teaching, Swami Dayananda has initiated and supported
various humanitarian efforts for the last forty-five years. The most
far-reaching of these is the establishment of
All India Movement for Seva in 2000.
Awarded consultative status with ECOSOC (Economic and Social
Council) by the United Nations in 2005, this organization is devoted
to serving people in the remote areas of India, mainly in the field
of Education and Health Care.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati has also promoted several international
events and participated as a speaker in several global forums, among
which are: the United Nations gathering of NGO's, the UNESCO Seoul
Global Convention, the United Nations 50th Anniversary Celebration,
the Millennium World Peace Summit, the International Congress for
the Preservation of Religious Diversity, the Conference on the
Preservation of Sacred Sites, the World Council for Preservation of
Religious Diversity, the Youth Peace Summit, the Global Peace
Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders, a
Hindu-Christian dialogue with the World Council of Churches, and the
Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit
NDM: What are your
thoughts on contemporary advaita teachers who say that
self-realization is an accident, it happens for no reason, that
there is no path, method, or means to do this, that all of these
things only reinforce the seeker?
Swamiji: I cannot be an
accident. If self is myself, I’m not going to be an accident or
incident or an event. I am already there. Why they should say an
accident? That’s a wrong thing to do. An accident is an incident,
the cause of which you don’t know. That’s called an accident.
It’s an incident. If you
are not able to figure out the causes of the incident, then you are
constrained to call it an accident. Otherwise it’s not an accident.
It’s an incident in time and space.
If there is a road
accident a cop comes there, and then he has to find out who is the
cause for this accident. Then he begins to search for the cause.
Then when he finds the causes, the accident reduces itself into an
incident. These are the reasons this happened. Therefore it’s a
cause effect relationship. Somebody is punished and somebody gets
all the benefit.
And therefore, there are
no accidents at all in life. And the worst thing is, self is an
accident – self-realization is an accident. This is a silly thing.
Self is not different
from self-realization. Self is self. If I don’t know what that self
is, how am I going to come across myself? I am what I am. If I don’t
know what I am, how am I going to suddenly recognize myself?
I cannot come across
myself accidentally. If I am ignorant of myself and I commit a
mistake about myself, to correct that mistake I have no clue. And
therefore in life, you may accidentally – it means without
expectation – come across something. A lot of discoveries are just
made without any planning.
discovered by that man not with a deliberate search for penicillin.
He was doing some research on some bacteria, and he was growing this
bacteria for his research, and he found all of them were dead. Then
he tried to find out why they were dead and he found a formation of
fungus. Being a scientist he thought, ‘Is this fungus the reason for
Then he picked up this
fungus and put it in another strain. That also died. The whole
strain of the bacteria died. Penicillin was discovered and the
quality of human life was never the same afterwards. We didn’t have
anything for infection until then. Now they can do transplantation
of organs, they can do all these orthopedic surgeries and all that
because of the discovery of penicillin. Then afterwards they went on
and on and discovered more derivatives. It’s never been the same.
One discovery – by accident.
Therefore, you can
stumble upon something that you don’t know, and you may come to
know, but you cannot stumble upon yourself when you are ignorant of
yourself. No way. No way. (Laughter)
That there is no path is
true because what is the path between you and yourself?
Arsha vidya gurukulum temple hall
NDM: How about a
means – the means is different from the path?
Swamiji: Yeah, that’s
why I’m saying if there is no path, then the only problem is not
knowing. So I am the seeker, I am the sought. What denies me what I
seek is myself in terms of my ignorance, and therefore I have to
shed my ignorance. And no ignorance goes away without knowledge,
because the opposite is only knowledge.
So you are not denied of
the self. You are denied of the knowledge of the self. And knowledge
is opposed to ignorance. Self is not opposed to ignorance. Self is
not opposed to ignorance or knowledge. Self will sustain both.
NDM: What are your
thoughts on the teachings of Nisargadatta?
Swamiji: I don’t know
much about his teaching. As long as what he says is meant to remove
my confusion that I am That – if that confusion has to go, what will
make that confusion go – that should be the teaching. If that is the
teaching Nisargadatta or anybody else is okay. If it further brings
about confusion then there is no teaching, there is some talking.
NDM: What are you
thoughts on the Direct Path of Atmananda Krishna Menon?
Swamiji: It is the same,
you know. Same answer.
NDM: Is it
possible to become fully enlightened without the traditional Vedanta
Swamiji: We don’t need
to have the traditional Vedanta training. But Vedanta is a teaching
– there is a method in the teaching because I am solving a problem
that doesn’t exist. When I am solving a problem that doesn’t exist I
have to follow a method. It is like therapy.
You cannot write it in a
book. You can never make someone a therapist by giving him a set of
books. The therapist himself has to undergo hundreds of hours of
therapy first because there is no medicine, there is nothing, nor
does the therapist really solves the problem. He makes the person
talk and sometimes points out, “This is not your fault.” Shifts the
attention, shifts the whole blame from the person to another. That
is what the therapist does. The therapist doesn’t really do anything
except make the person see – validates the feeling, “If I were a
child, I would have the same thing.” And that means there is a law.
There is an order. And therefore, the child is not to blame. The
child is innocent. But somebody is to blame. That is therapy.
We have a super-therapy.
Nobody is to blame. (Laughter) Neither you are to blame, nor is
anybody to blame. It’s all in order. So it’s a method. It’s a
method, and therefore that method is the tradition Adyāropa
apavādābhyām nisprapañcam prapañcate. By this method of
superimposition and negation what is already free is set free.
It’s a method. It’s
magic. And therefore, you cannot replace the teacher either, because
the package is with the teacher.
Śāstra [scripture] and the
ācārya [teacher] both come together. You cannot separate one
from the other. The teaching and the teacher don’t get separated.
Therefore, you need not
have a traditional Vedanta training, but you should have exposure to
a traditional teacher that’s all.
NDM: What about
through reading books? Would you have to have the teaching orally,
like through listening, or could you get the same teaching through
Swamiji: First it has to
be direct exposure then afterwards you can use books and things like
that. And these days you have got all of them available. And it’s
But we have a
traditional way of teaching that makes sure you are on the track. We
have enough material so that they can keep you engaged looking at
the same thing. So the books are like a mirror, word mirror, and you
look at yourself. To see myself I need the mirror. It’s a word
mirror – handled word mirror. And if it is mishandled – not properly
handled – then the mirror can be concave or convex, and you get a
distorted version of yourself.
Already you had one and
then now you have another (laughter)
NDM: An Indian
sage once said, “No learning or knowledge of scriptures is necessary
to know the self, as no man requires a mirror to see himself.”
Swamiji: He does require
a mirror to see his face. No man requires a mirror to find out
whether he exists or not, correct. But if he wants to see his face,
he requires a mirror.
I have no question about
myself whether I exist or not. I don’t have a doubt. I don’t need
any mirror. Even my eyes and ears, nothing I require, because I
exist and therefore I use my eyes. I exist and therefore I use my
So I am. The problem is
who I am. Who is to answer? If I know the answer, I won’t ask the
question, ‘Who I am?’ If I don’t know the answer, then I cannot
answer myself by asking the question, ‘Who am I?’ Unless the self is
going to tell me from inside, ‘Hey, I’m here! I am
[existence-consciousness-limitlessness]’ It’s not going to tell me
Why this bugging, ‘Who
am I? Who am I?’ bugging. (Laughter) Then you go on bugging,
bugging, bugging, bugging – then the self gets bored and blurts out,
‘I’m saccitānanda!’ (Laughter) It’s all ‘Who am I’ bugging,
So understand the topic.
You see, nothing is necessary. Scripture is not necessary, nothing
is necessary to know yourself, except knowledge. Where do you get it
Wherever you are getting
it from, that is called ‘scripture.’
You can call it a
scripture, or a book, or a teaching – whatever you say – sacred
text. We simply say ‘śruti,’
what has come through ears.
NDM: How about
through intuition – intuition or insight?
Swamiji: Intuition is
not a means of knowing. Intuition can give you a hunch and a
feeling, maybe this is right. But then afterwards you have to prove
this is right.
Every research scholar
has some kind of intuition, and he assumes that this must be the
truth. This must be the reason for a given phenomenon. He has a
hunch and that is intuition. Intuition is nothing but a conclusion
without having all the leading steps of reasoning. So the human mind
is capable of doing that. And one gets a window through which one
sees the whole thing. Then he doesn’t know the reasons for all that.
Then afterwards he works for it and finds out the reason, and proves
what he thought was right was right. That is research. But it’s not
a pramāṇa [means of knowledge]. You have to prove.
Therefore, what is it
that divides wishful thinking from intuition? Wishful thinking and
intuition – what is the line that differentiates? There is no line.
One person said,
“Swamiji, I came from Atlanta because I thought you were calling
“Hey, you thought I was calling you? You should have checked up,
whether I called.”
“That is what I thought,
you were calling me.”
I said, “What you
thought that I thought was a wrong thought, okay? (Laughter) That
you are here, I am happy. But don’t think that I was calling you.
You have got your job and therefore I don’t want to disturb you in
any manner. And why should I call you? If I have to call you, I will
call you. (Laughter) So, what you thought that I thought was not
what I thought.” (Laughter)
Intuition is over. We
don’t count it as a means of knowledge. So, one fellow intuits like
this, another fellow says, “I intuit like this.” So what’s the
difference between this intuition and another intuition?
One fellow says, “I intuit ātmā – the self – is zero.”
Each one can say
something. It has no validity. It has to stand scrutiny through
valid means of knowledge. The knower goes about knowing through
various means of knowledge.
How is he going to know
himself as Brahman if that is true?
“All that is here is me.
I am the cause of this entire thing, known and unknown.” That’s an
entirely different vision. Sarvātmā bhāva [the sense that I
am the self of all].
One fellow claims, “That
is free from everything.” Therefore everything else is like a banana
peel. The banana peel is not less real than the banana that has gone
One fellow threw a
banana peel outside and then ate the banana. He had his suit on with
new shoes, went out and came back; he forgot about the banana peel
he had thrown on the driveway. He stepped on it. (Laughter) He went
down sprawling, and the banana he ate came out. Therefore, I always
ask the question, “Which is more real, the peel or the banana?”
Mere negation has the
danger of dissociation. The modern Vedanta is like our dealing with
garbage. (Laughs) So you have an underworld. We always just flush it
out, but it is not totally out. It’s all in somewhere. It joins
water, it joins air, it ends up in your salad. Nothing goes away in
You have to deal with garbage. Therefore it is called
garbage—the world garbage. This is, “I am not the stars. I am not
the sky. I’m not time. I’m not space. I’m not this. I’m not that.
I’m not…” Okay, what about all of them? This is called dissociation.
It only denies problems,
and the problems will come back in great proportions and completely
smother the person. But the truth is, “The subject and object are
me.” That is Vedanta. You only get that by teaching.
The self is free from
all this, and it is just consciousness – that is the reason why they
all deny this, deny that, and all. But you have to account for this
world, and it is complex. Is it something separate from me? Or if it
is me, then what is this? You have to know. Then how do I remain
myself at the same time I become all this? What accounts for it, the
complexity of it?
Take your own body, how
complex it is. And therefore, you require to account for all that,
and so unless that is all resolved properly there is no question of
Vedanta, advaita. Advaita is there is no second thing. There is no
banana peel other than the banana and the eater of banana.
audience: If you see the whole creation is mithyā [relatively real]
– it has no substance – its substance is only in your self – and
that you lend the substance to the creation – and it resolves into
mithyā – why do you need Īśvara [the Lord]? Why is there a necessity
to have Īśvara?
is Īśvara [total universal Law and Order].
consists of all-knowledge, you know. This body is
It’s nothing but knowledge. This whole body is a complex creation,
so there is so much knowledge. There is nothing but knowledge here.
And every cell is knowledge, every platelet is knowledge, and every
organ is knowledge, every function is knowledge. It’s all knowledge.
And so once knowledge is the thing, then mithyā is only in
terms of reality, and that reality is all-knowledge. And so this
whole jagat is knowledge. There is nothing more than
knowledge, word and meaning.
Word and meaning is
knowledge. If you say, ‘chair,’ there is no chair. This is all cloth
and then there is something inside, so none of them is chair. All
the constituents of this chair are not chair. So if you remove them
all, there is no chair. And each one has got a word and meaning. And
so, each word if you look into it, there again it becomes many
words. So every word has got many words. And any one word again you
take among the many words, and then again you have many words.
So you go like this.
That’s how science is never ending. And they go on branching off
into small lanes and by lanes. So all-knowledge means – where is
this all-knowledge? Same vastu [same reality], is
all-knowledge. Then I can understand all-knowledge from the
standpoint of the small knowledge I have, because I have
[intellect]. That’s why we call it
that’s the difference. That makes all the difference. And the total
is never away from the individual. Therefore the absence of
alienation from the total, from all that is here, is security and
safety for me. So that’s where the sanity lives. That’s where the
sanity, well-being and wellness of the person abide.
The absence of
alienation from the whole is where the sanity is and wellness is.
They say, “I am the self.” I go one more step: “I am the whole.”
So either way you
require Īśvara, because you live your life only in
Īśvara’s domain. If ‘God’ makes the pursuit religious, let it be
religious. We are afraid of religion because of religious
teachers, (laughter), not because of God. The religious teachers
have presented God as a punishing God.
God the Father makes an
offer that I cannot refuse, “Either you come to me or go to Hell!”
If a godfather makes an
offer, I can get him before he gets me, because he is locally
available. But this God sitting in Heaven and makes an offer that I
cannot refuse, I can’t even get him. (Laughs)
NDM: There are many modern advaita teachers
out there today. Some of them communicate by
silence or by looking into others’ eyes. Is it
possible to communicate Vedanta by silence?
Swamiji: If Vedanta by silence, Kena Upanisad
will be one page, empty. Brihadaranyaka Upanisad
will be 50 pages total, empty – empty pages – by
you ask a question, and I am silent and look
into your eyes, what will you do? You have to
look into my eyes. If I don’t blink, you have to
close your eyes. Because you get embarrassed,
you close your eyes.
then you have to think. Whatever question you
asked disappears, or you try to find some
answer, some something. That’s not an answer to
the question. You get whatever answer you can
get from your own interpretation. Each one gets
his own answer.
Somebody asks me, “What is God?” I sit there.
(Then Swamiji sits still staring straight ahead
for a long time and everyone begins to laugh.)
have practiced this for a long time (laughter)
without blinking. So what answer you will get?
Each one will get his own answer, that’s all. If
silence is the answer, we won’t have Upanisad.
all the teaching, if people don’t understand,
where is the question of silence? (Laughter)
NDM: Does a Vedanta teacher have to be
Swamiji: You know there are two types of
teachers, those who are in the process of
knowing and sharing the knowledge, and those who
know. Therefore no Vedanta teacher worth the
name will teach without knowing the text. So
they will teach the text.
why should we judge whether he knows or not? If
he knows, you will also know. If he is capable
of teaching you – making you see – then he must
be knowing. Otherwise he can’t make you see. So
why judge? If he is ready to teach a text, you
give the benefit of doubt to that person.
If somebody says, “I’m running classes in
Oracle,” you join, assuming that the fellow
knows. And therefore if somebody says, “I’m
going to teach Vedanta,” you join, assuming that
he knows. And if he knows, he will make you
know. If he doesn’t know, then he will pull you
into the whirlpool. (Laughter)
NDM: Modern advaita teachers today charge
money for sitting with the teacher. Like to sit
with a teacher like this it would cost maybe $35
for an hour. So maybe they get 100 or 150 people
together in a group. Then each person gives the
teacher money. Traditionally, how do you do
Swamiji: (Laughs). You know, they have to
survive, and this is India’s contribution to
that fellow’s life. And so, for his livelihood,
India has contributed something – some words,
which are useful for him to earn his livelihood.
And he earns his livelihood, and there are
always blokes to subscribe to all that. And
therefore, that’s fine. There is nothing wrong
in it. He has to live his life. He has to pay
his bills, and therefore he charges what he
needs to take care. So teaching becomes his
profession. He is an advaita professional.
I say is that there is nothing wrong in it as
long as he teaches properly. If the teaching is
alright, what he does is fine, it’s okay. But if
the teaching is not alright, then I don’t know
what people pay money for.
generally teachers don’t deny people – teachers
in India, they don’t deny people who want to
know. They don’t bring money in-between. Money
is required perhaps, but money is never brought
in between a true student and a teacher, no.
NDM: Why not?
Swamiji: “You give me
this much money and I will give you…” Then you are trading
– and you are not giving anything to that fellow. What you are
giving is himself – for a price – and it’s not quantifiable. What is
involved here is infinite. For infinite, you have to charge
infinite. Therefore the value of this knowledge is not understood.
If the value of this knowledge is understood, you will not trade.
You will not make it a commodity – a tradable commodity.
When you teach a
discipline of knowledge like astrology or yoga or something, you can
charge. There is something you are giving, and so you can charge.
But everything will pass
if the teaching is proper.
The truth is – if the
teaching is proper, you won’t charge. Now you can figure out what’s
going on. (Laughter)
Taittirīya Upanisad 2.6. says, “The Lord in the beginning of
creation desired, ‘May I become many, may I be born.’” What prompted
the first desire?
Swamiji: There is no
first desire because it’s a cycle. In a cycle there is no first
desire. The unmanifest becomes manifest. The Lord became –
abhavat. It is something like a sleeping person wakes up. The
whole jagat was unmanifest, and it became manifest. That is a
graphic description of that – some kind of a poetic description of
that – so
'kāmayata bahusyā prajāyeya
wished: may I become many, may I be born.]
beautiful thing is that He is the creator and the creation is
non-separate from Him – asrjyata abhavat – two words.
means ‘created.’ Abhavat means ‘became.’ So both the creator
and the creation are one and the same because He became the
So He thought of the
world, and then the world was there along with space and time.
Let us put it that way.
Whatever He thought of – the sun – the sun was there. And so this is
how the creation is really speaking. If you analyze the creation, it
is nothing but Īśvara’s knowledge, and it is His own
knowledge. This is a very big topic. That’s why I said that it is
not simple consciousness. It is all-knowledge consciousness. So with
reference to the world, it is all-knowledge consciousness. You don’t
need anything else.
In the Taittirīya that
is what is being said. That in a cycle of creation – what was there
before – He visualized as the creation. That’s how it is described.
creation – before this – before the manifested creation…
Swamiji: It was
unmanifest. The creation was there unmanifest.
Swamiji: Like in a seed,
with that seed, how is it nirguna [without attributes] if it has a
Swamiji: It’s all there.
All the attributes are there – undifferentiated attributes. All the
attributes of the jagat – the world – are there. Like in a
seed, the tree is there, the twig is there, the leaf is there, the
flower is there, the fruit is there, roots are there, all these are
there, but undifferentiated, in a software. This is a software.
Whole thing was unmanifest – software – of the previous manifest
form. In a cycle the previous
jagat is now in an unmanifest
form. Again, it will become manifest. Then it becomes unmanifest
like your waking up from sleep. Nirguna is the truth of this
mithyā jagat manifest or unmanifest.
NDM: Okay, so then
this cycle is going to end at some point.
Swamiji: This cycle will
go on forever until the one who looks at the cycle wakes up. So till
then the cycle will go on.
NDM: Oh, for the
Swamiji: Yeah, for the
individual, the cycle will end. The cycle will end after getting
this knowledge that the whole thing is myself, and therefore this is
a big long dream.
NDM: But why the
dream in the first place? Why the dream?
Swamiji: This is how
Īśvara is. He didn’t create anything. If He created, I can ask
Him, “Why did you create?” He didn’t create – this is how the truth
Really speaking, there
is only one reality. Therefore the fun is that there is subject,
there is object. That is the fun.
And reality is
really a fun reality. (Laughter) It’s a very fun loving reality.
They talk like that, “līlā kaivalyam [merely play]”, a
fun-loving reality. It’s not an ordinary reality. That’s why we all
love funning. We all love fun because reality is fun-loving. The
serious people are
NDM: So could you
say it’s like a joke?
Swamiji: You can
understand it as a joke…it’s a glory. Why not we say, “It’s a
glory?” Reality has glory. Iccha śakti, jñāna śakti, krīyā śakti.
It has all these powers of desiring, knowing and doing, making.
That’s how reality is. When this is the reality, I cannot ask the
question, “Why are you like this?”
“This is how I am. What
do you want me to be? Why do you want me to be any different? What
do you think in the different thing I will be better? You tell me.”
NDM: Thank you,
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