1998: An Interview


Swami Jaidev teaching wellness.

M:

How did philosophy, wellness, theology, and the yoga tradition all come together for you?


Swami Jaidev:

It all started when I went to school; when I went to college. There I got interested in philosophy, and as my familiarity got deeper, especially in the ancient and Middle Ages period, the questions began to take on more clarity for me. Is there an order to life? Is there a higher state of consciousness? And I had read the mythologies, the fairy tales, and the various legends that we’ve inherited in the West that speak of unusual powers and strange and unusual human beings. As I pursued the degree, my interest increased, both in philosophy and theology, and at the same time I had questions that were larger than the western tradition could answer. I was more concerned, not just to know it academically, on paper, but I wanted to know if these remarkable stories and insights to higher consciousness could actually be embodied in people where today, we would be joining the ancient sages in their awareness. I didn’t find that anywhere in the West. I went to the finest schools both in this country as well as Europe. While I got more and more excited about what was possible for human beings I couldn’t find anyone who attempted, or rather, who actually embodied it. I even tried psychic phenomena for a while but even there I didn’t find what I was looking for.

Basically what I was looking for was a holistic approach, integrating body, mind and spirit, to understand human nature and the various levels and dimensions of human consciousness. I never stopped pursuing it. There were always fascinations. When I taught in college, I continued to research as much as I could, going to seminars, reading more and more and it wasn’t until I met Swami Rama in 1972, under interesting circumstances, that I found someone who seemed to indicate that embodiment of what I was pursuing. As a result of being trained by him and working with him over the years, I was able to bring this understanding into a human embodiment.

That’s how I got involved with yoga. Yoga is a very practical science that wants to work with the human energy and the vitality of human nature so that one gets prepared to pierce through everyday consciousness to discover the everyday order of things. Along the way I kept searching for ways I could synthesize both East and West, with the religious tradition, as well as try to understand how the human mind developed itself in terms of philosophical approaches, scientific approaches. I wanted to understand how the human mind itself, used life, from all its perspectives, its levels, its ranges, its approaches to things. That’s always been and still is a major concern for my interests.


M:

You talked about searching for something that embodied the body, mind and soul. How does yoga embody those things?


Swami Jaidev:

Yoga’s a vast field. One of the ways it brings about an integration of body, mind and spirit is, first of all, by introducing someone to certain basic postures. By paying attention to the way the body bends, twists and moves, an inner awareness begins to stir. As you continue becoming more efficient in the postures, you begin to realize there’s another component in you called breathing. As you begin to pay attention to the way the breath operates in the body, as you begin to realize why you have two nostrils, what that means when the breath flows from one or the other, and how the breath itself becomes a tool for quieting down the body so that you can become more aware of your mind.

It’s in this kind of procedure, which at first is somewhat clumsy and awkward, like any beginner, but as you begin to work with the dynamics of your nature: the use of your body, the use of your breathing, the way you focus your attention; gradually you begin to have a sense of bringing these basic levels that comprise you, body and mind for example, into a greater integrity. Like any skill, the more you do it, as you pay attention, often times the better it gets. You begin to understand your body and your mind from the inside, not merely reacting to life or always pursuing objectivity in the outside but learning what subjectivity is in yourself. Then as you engage in the process of meditation, dwelling inside, quieting down, you begin to go to a deeper understanding of the mind and its workings. You realize that everything that’s going on is rooted in your consciousness, the life force, spirit, soul, if you will.

It’s a progression, over time and space, in which you continue to broaden and augment your inner awareness. In that process, understanding arises so that you can deal with various components of your inner life as well as your outer life. You also begin to see how you can bring it to bear on your job, in your relationships, your family life so that life becomes, in one sense, a path of expanding awareness. Since that awareness embraces the body mind environment, you have a clearer understanding of what it’s all about and how to deal with it.


M:

With your background, and with the education that you have and considering what you’ve just described to me about yoga, what are some of the ways have you been able to bring this knowledge to the people, to make it useful to people to make it understood for people?


Swami Jaidev:

When you’re teaching from a yoga perspective, you have to be practical. You’re not just giving information, that’s important, the mind has to receive some of that in order to be satisfied but the crucial contribution is to get people engaged in their life force. They have to experience, feel and know, in a very concrete way, how this works. Yoga is extremely practical.

In your approach to teaching your methodology, the way you tutor people, or lecture, you want to be as concrete, and as practical as possible, because what you’re really striving for is self transformation. You don’t want them just to have more knowledge; your computer has more knowledge; but you want knowledge in the person in such a way that it’s changing them, it’s developing their potential. It’s bringing out the latent possibilities in body, mind and spirit. It’s awakening the legacy they have to their own talents, contributions, so that they see they’re moving away from a state of not knowing, or ignorance, to a state of greater knowledge.

When that path continues on its way it ultimately comes to goal of what we would call self-enlightenment, where one finally discovers what is the ultimate order of life. But to do this, you can’t talk people into it. You have to show them. You have to give them those practical experiences whereby they feel the energy changing, the mind clarifying and more emotional balance in their life because this serves not only as the basis for further development, but it gives them the confidence, and the truth that it really works.


M:

From one of the books you’ve written, The Wellness Tree, wellness is a word that’s heard often, seen often, what does the word wellness mean to you? If you could, talk about what wellness is in this book, what is in this book for people to learn?


Swami Jaidev:

Wellness, as I understand it and as I utilize it in the book, The Wellness Tree, is not simply the absence nor the prevention of illness, rather it emphasizes optimal living. It places a premium on the individual’s natural desire to actualize those potentials of body, mind and spirit that promote a healthy, and active, lifestyle.

Most people think of health as their best achievement in terms of their body and mind, but wellness goes beyond health. Health is often described as the absence of illness. That’s not a very good description, certainly not inspiring. We have to see ourselves on multiple levels. We have to learn how each level operates and integrates the other two. We can have people who are very brilliant, but their lifestyles are very disheveled. Yoga addresses itself to this whole issue of what constitutes human wellness. Here we’re calling upon a tradition that’s thousands of years old, that’s proven itself by the sages and the saints that it’s produced and that is still as fresh today as when it was first inaugurated because it deals with the basic truths of human nature.

What constitutes my nature is a steady given; it’s there. While it may be subject to change at the surface level, what constitutes it are certain abiding truths which yoga has discovered like working with breathing, what is nutritious, what kind of movements seem to satisfy the body to keep it healthy, the necessity for rest, understanding how to use your solitude, understanding how relationships are constituted, how do you commit yourself to your chosen career, your work? All these things have had certain principals rooted in yoga which contribute to someone being very successful in life. The book, The Wellness Tree, brought this together in a modern way so that I was not merely repeating verbatim the ancient axioms but rather showing how they apply to the West today as we head into our next millennium.

I try to emphasize that one’s well being is primarily in their hands, more than they think. The real secret to promoting wellness is to get involved with your own inner resources. I named them in the book because when one engages these consciously there’s a dynamic change that occurs right from that moment on. The more you work with it, the more that change becomes evident. You discover the impact hidden through the way you feel, think and behave by using these principles, these resources. In the act of using them you increase your own self-awareness of what it means to be a human being, what it means to be creative, how to live healthfully, and gradually over time, as you begin to utilize these principles and resources more and more, you promote a lifestyle that not only embodies them but gives you a sense of well being in life to overcome the fears and anxieties that seem to plague our society.


M:

You talked about how wellness relates to yoga, how do religion and yoga intertwine? How do they relate to each other?


Swami Jaidev:

Religion is a series of beliefs. Yoga is not a religion. Yoga does proceed and develop from human conscious experience. A follower of a religion makes his act of faith; he assents to certain truths on the basis of his will to believe. It’s an act of faith. He does not have the first-hand evidence for if he did, he wouldn’t need faith. He’d have knowledge. Yoga can be utilized by a believer, a follower of any religion, because it does not compete with the religion. It supports and enhances one’s well being. I suspect that anyone who’s religious would want to feel healthy, balanced, clear-minded and have an understanding of their own life force. As you pursue yoga to its subtler levels, it brings you into an awareness that you are more than your body and that you are more than your mind. Your body and mind are like tools, magnificent tools, each operating in its own way. But beyond the body and mind is what yoga calls the self; and that this self is the source from which you’re getting all your energy, it uses all the faculties of body and mind, and in itself, is immortal. Here probably is the biggest differation from the traditional Western understanding of religion, at least how it’s taught by the institutional churches.

Yoga insists, that if one pursues in a systematic way, consistently, this path of gradual self discovery that one day, this side of death, that one can come to a total awareness of the meaning of life as well as one’s nature. Religionists believe that this awareness can only take place on the other side of death. So here there would be room to dialogue, and to discuss, the suppositions that would be working in both camps.

Religion is often involved with a great deal of ritual. Certain schools of yoga are involved with ritual and again we have to look, be practical, at what is the effect of the ritual. What is it intending? And then you have to examine each one? Yoga has an ethic, in the same way that religion has an ethic, often times virtually identical. Yoga believes in a positive affirmation of life. Yoga believes that one should embrace life as a contribution, loving others, assisting others. This assistance of course you would find in most religions. There are a lot of bridges that could be built here. But there are certain fundamental truths that would leave room, as it were for a lot of dialogue.


M:

I’m not even sure how to phrase this question but what does it mean, to you, to be a yogi? What it means in general and what it means personally.


Swami Jaidev:

First of all for me to be a yogi is to embrace life, to the hilt; to love it, to pursue it, to know it, feel it, play with it, utilize it, enjoy it, and at the same time to be involved in certain practices that involve my bodily flexibility, its health as well as my pursuit of a higher state of consciousness through meditation, to know myself on all the levels, and it’s only by the continuing practice of it on a daily basis that I can be assured that the growth and the development will take place.

To embrace yoga means to adapt these ancient principles to the cultural and ethnic contexts of whatever place or time you’re living in. These are universal truths, as far as I can see. They would apply across the board, cross culturally. I simply adopted those that make the most sense to me to the circumstances that I’m living, professionally and personally. The more I practice them, the more I utilize them in daily life, the freer I feel, the more I feel a confidence in the soundness of life, and so there’s a constant outgrowing of anxiety, dissidence, worry, fear and this is the benefit of following a lifestyle that embraces the yogi principles.


M:

What has been the motivation for bringing this lifestyle to other people as a professional? What has been the motivation for writing the books and for teaching the classes? What are some of the experiences that you’ve had or what has compelled you to bring these teachings to other people?


Swami Jaidev:

I think it’s a natural outcome of when you’re enjoying something and it’s paying off for you, it’s likely you’ll want to share that especially with people who are close to you. If we take that further, perhaps there are others out there, who are sort of looking, probing to find the things you’ve been able to discover or given over the years. There are natural questions and pursuits that we all have simply because we are human. There are certain basic questions we always ask. In addition to earning a living and raising a family you want to know more about the deeper aspects of life. You want to know what else is there besides what I can pick up through my five senses. How can I organize my life more effectively with less problems and confusion and pain Seeking those answers no doubt motivated me to come out of a state of ignorance as much as possible. As a result, I’ve bumped into people, situations and circumstances where it was just so natural for me to share some of this knowledge that I knew as one thing led to another this pursuit became formalized in an academic way through courses in college which I taught. It’s like discovering and then sharing what you’ve discovered with those who communicate an interest. It’s an invitation to people and friends through lectures, seminars and retreats, writing, consulting; introducing them to the research you’ve done on yourself and others and showing them the steps of how they can obtain this knowledge themselves if they’re introverts.


M:

We are some of the ways to bring yoga into everyday life and by that I mean, from reading the books, from taking the classes, what are some of the things that an initiate can start off with? Instead of changing your whole life overnight how can someone get started on the path?


Swami Jaidev:

Let’s take that momentum that you started one-step further. What is it that you’re interested in? Do you want to improve your health? Do you want to have more clarity in your thinking? Do you want to be more creative? Do you want to understand people better? Do you want to learn how to quiet down and not be so hyperactive? So let people pick the pursuit that they think they would be interested in knowing more about. And then, from that point on, you take a look at what the menu of yoga offers. If I wanted to increase my flexibility, quiet down my body, feeling better then I would take a course in Hatha Yoga. If I want to deal better with stress, if I want to get more control over my mind, I would understand the practice of breathing, the prana as it’s called in yoga, controlling energy, and I would probably look into meditation. It’s by engaging in the practice that the change comes about. It doesn’t come about by reading it, or thinking about it, that’s not sufficient to cause change. Thoughts and body have to come together in a common pursuit in which you actually stir up the energy in a certain way. This conjunction can occur through motions, moving the parts of the body, altering your breathing, focusing your mind as you do through meditation, learning to quiet down. Involving yourself in this way in a hands-on affair you can feel and detect changes almost immediately. These guide you to continue so you can test them right away, whether it’s coming about or not, or at least ask the teacher, if there seems to be some confusion. In this way you see where you have a practical guide to any of these questions you’d like to pursue further in your own personal life.



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