“Be with nature, learn from nature, and change your nature.” said H. H. Swami Chidanand Saraswati Ji while welcoming guests to the International Yoga Conference at Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh, India. From March 1st thru 7th Radhanath Swami, along with forty yoga gurus, shared the teachings of yoga with hundreds of yogis from around the globe. Prominent teachers at the conference included H.H. Sri Shankaracharya Swami Divyanand Teerthji, H.H. Swami Ramdevji, H.H. Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji and H.H. Swami Veda Bharatiji.

The International Yoga Festival, which started in 1999 with a just a handful of people studying under one or two yoga gurus, has grown into one of the most renowned yoga festivals in the world. Parmarth Niketan Ashram, situated at the banks of holy Ganges River, in the lap of the lush Himalayas is Rishikesh’s largest ashram.

Radhanath Swami shared yoga teachings through stories of his life as a young yogi and wanderer of the Hymilayan foothills, elaborating on stories from his memoir The Journey Home. Speaking on the yoga as the integration of the mind, body and soul, he narrated a humorous story of how he was first given the clothes of a sadhu from a stranger on the banks of the Ganges River. One day, while he was engaged in meditation, a saintly man with long white hair and beard walked up to him from the forest, said, “You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are. I have been watching your determination. Now take off your clothes and offer them in the current of Mother Ganga.” Swami gave up his jeans and T-shirt, throwing them into the Ganges, but was hesitant to give up his underpants. “Now I was standing in my under-pants, and he said, “Offer you under-pants also.” In this way the saintly man requested him give up his old clothes and offered him the robes and loin cloth of a sadhu as a replacement. Radhanath Swami, giving a purport said, “Our body is like the set of clothes. When we identify with this for so long, we think we are really this body and we become attached. Under-pants are like the subtle body that is under the gross body, that’s why we are even more attached to it.”

Radhanath Swami shared stories of his experiences in other holy places in India like Kashi and Prayaag where he met many mystic yogis who could create ashes by chanting mantra, stop their heartbeat for half an hour or even stop their breath. Taking a clue from this story, Swami beseeched the audience to appreciate so many miracles present around us. He gave the examples of a tiny seed which can give rise to a gigantic Banyan Tree, a monsoon cloud which can flood the entire city with water, and how from the combination of semen and the ovum a fully developed body grows. “Life is nothing but one miracle after another. If we understand the miracle of the mind, body and intelligence, and understand where the force of consciousness is coming from that animates them, then our lives can be transformed.

The final lesson which Radhanath Swami shared drew from from the Bhagvad Gita. “The real yoga is to harmonise the body, mind, and intelligence with the true nature of the self – the soul. Our true nature is to look for pleasure. Unless we find that pleasure within our own hearts, we cannot find it anywhere else in this world. Things cannot bring pleasure to the soul or the heart. They can give some flickering pleasure to the mind and senses, and only when we experience something higher we will find the true pleasure. To love and be loved is the most fundamental need for every living being and it’s the only true pleasure that can satisfy us. According to all the great scriptures of the world, the origin of that love is the love between the pure spirit self (atma) and the supreme Lord (Ishvara). Each one of us can experience this love if we connect to the Lord through seva (service). Bhakti Yoga is to receive the love of the Lord by chanting, hearing and meditating on God’s names, and to express that love through seva.”

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