An Interview with Swami Dayananda

The following is an interview with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, conducted by John LeKay for Nonduality Magazine. That site is no longer available and the article was submitted by Dhanya. It is in three parts.


Swami Dayananda Saraswati is a contemporary teacher of Vedanta and a scholar in Sanskrit in the tradition of Sankara. 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 accidently. 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.  The 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 orthopaedic 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?

NDM: How about 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 your 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 solve 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 – adhyāropa apavādabhyam niṣprapañcam 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).

*** Read Part 2 ***

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About Dhanya

Dhanya developed an interest in Hinduism and Eastern philosophy in the early 1970s. In 1973, she traveled to India in search of a guru to guide her on the spiritual path. While there she encountered disciples of Neem Karoli Baba and his teachings of bhakti and karma yoga which influenced her life from then on. She studied Vipasana meditation for some time with S.N. Goenkaji beginning in 1974. In 1991 she met HWL Poonja, whose words sparked a desire in her to understand the teachings of nonduality. Subsequently she met other advaita teachers, including Jean Klein and Sri Ranjit Maharaj, who were great sources of inspiration to her. In 2002 she met her current teacher, Dr. Carol Whitfield, a traditional teacher of Advaita/Vedanta and a disciple of Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Having found a teaching and a teacher with whom she has a deep resonance and who clearly and effectively elucidate the means for self-knowledge, Dhanya now lives in Northern California, where she studies Vedanta and writes on the topic of nonduality.