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Interview with non duality magazine
  Swami Dayananda Saraswati  

Swami Dayananda 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 students.

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.


Penicillin was 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 their death?’


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?


Swami Dayananda Saraswati


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. (Laughs)


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. (Laughter)


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 training?


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 just reading?


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 direct teaching.

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 mind.


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 saccitānanda! [existence-consciousness-limitlessness]’ It’s not going to tell me anything.


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, nagging.


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 from?

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 me.”

“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 inside.


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?” (Laughter)

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 this world.

You have to deal with garbage. Therefore it is called jagat 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. (Laughter)


Question from 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?


Swamiji: Mithyā is Īśvara [total universal Law and Order]. Mithyā consists of all-knowledge, you know. This body is mithyā. 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 buddhi [intellect]. That’s why we call it Hiranyagharbha, all-knowledge, Īśvara.


Individual/total, then 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.” (Laughs)


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!” (Laughter)


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 silence.


If 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.


And 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.)


I 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.


With all the teaching, if people don’t understand, where is the question of silence? (Laughter)  

NDM: Does a Vedanta teacher have to be enlightened?


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.


So 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 that?


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. (Laughter).


What 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.


But 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.


Swami Dayananda Saraswati


NDM: Why not?


Swamiji: “You give me this much money and I will give you…” Then you are trading ātmā – 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)


NDM: The 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 [He wished: may I become many, may I be born.]


One beautiful thing is that He is the creator and the creation is non-separate from Him – asrjyata abhavat – two words. Asrijyata means ‘created.’ Abhavat means ‘became.’ So both the creator and the creation are one and the same because He became the creation.


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.



NDM: Before creation – before this – before the manifested creation…


Swamiji: It was unmanifest. The creation was there unmanifest.


NDM: Unmanifested?


Swamiji: Like in a seed, a tree.


NDM: Okay, with that seed, how is it nirguna [without attributes] if it has a seed in it?


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. Nirguna is satyam [truth].


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 individual.


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 is.


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 samsārīs [worldly]  really. (Laughter)


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.” (Laughter)


 NDM: Thank you, Swamiji



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