‘Yoga Prepares One’s Body And Mind Towards Vedanta’


Olga Kovaleva is a spiritual development consultant. She is a pupil and follower of Swami Dayananda Saraswati; is engaged in the translation of his books into Russian and is the founder and lecturer at the International School “life base”. She is an author, and hosts training courses on Vedanta in India and Russia. She tells Pratyasha Nithin that the main inspiration was teaching of Vedanta and her Guru. The interview has been conducted with inputs from Nithin Sridhar.

Tell us about your early life, education and work.

I had a happy childhood. I grew up in an atmosphere of love and care, classical music, literature and art. Our family had its values and everybody had duties to perform. I happily went through the first stage of my life because I loved to study and knew that it was my duty. I read non-stop, played piano and sang Russian classical romances. Occasionally, I played chess with my father. My favorite song has this phrase, “There is a moment between the past and the future. This very moment is called life…” that’s when my search started. As far as I remember, I wanted to understand what this life is about. The questions were my companions all the way.

I graduated, had a good job, was settled in life, constantly thinking about the purpose of life and was sure that it was not about cooking, working and shopping. It was really difficult to live that life since I saw no sense in any activity. Having achieved my goals, I thought, ‘what is next?’ Again new goals and achievements. What then? A world tennis champion said, “I am the unhappiest in the world because there is nothing more to achieve.”

Inner conflict brought me to a spiritual center — freedom. I started meditating and working on myself. After two years of studying there, I saw that they had nothing more to offer in terms of teaching and growth. It was a turning point.

I came to India, the first time, with a group of more than 20 people. I heard someone at the Mumbai airport say, “Madam, you are in India. There are no problems in India.” India opened up for me in that beautiful way. Then, I came for visits frequently, for seva, which I did sincerely, for few years. At the same time, it was a great opportunity to visit sacred places, temples, to get in touch with the tremendous culture of the country.

Back home, I used to do yoga sessions, taught relaxation, Surya Namaskar and conducted workshops as well. I loved to do all that. Still, there was no clear understanding of life.

When and how were you introduced to Vedanta?

Seva, yoga, books and workshops did not help me understand what that moment between the past and future is. I had a strong desire to gain more knowledge, since all I had learned before was not enough. Partial knowledge could not help me see a complete picture. It looked like one piece of the puzzle was missing.

I did not know exactly what knowledge I needed, but was absolutely sure of its necessity. In Rishikesh, I enquired about short term courses in ashrams. I could not find anything. But I could not return home until I found a guru with whom I could learn and clear all my doubts. The inner call was overwhelming and I was ready to drop my passport and stay back to find my guru.

Also, it was important to understand religions. What makes people fight with each other if God is one? Why are there more than 5000 wars in human history because of religion?

After I realised that I am free to live my life as I wanted, I went to a pilgrimage to Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, Joshimath and Badrinath. My dream came true. After the pilgrimage, I found out about Swamiji’s (Swami Dayananda Saraswati) ashram in Rishikesh and embarked upon a journey to attain the knowledge of self with the able guidance of guru parampara. I was led to that precious moment when I met my beloved Guru, Pujya Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati, during a six month Vedanta course at the Nagpur Ashram.

What is Advaita? 

“Advaita is non-duality. Advaita is something you know, because it is you. It is not something you have to believe. Advaita is all that is there.” (Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Vol. 2, p.331)

There is only Brahman, “the only one, without а second – ekam eva advitiyam” (Chandogya Upanishad, 6.2.1). Brahman is advaitam. There is no other Brahman. Advaita Vedanta teaching tradition reveals the oneness of atma, the self, with Brahman, by mahavakya “tat tvam asi” which means, “I am that Brahman.”

Advaita, the vision of reality or ultimate truth, says, the truth is non-dual, one, without a second, and that truth is atma, oneself, though it is looked upon differently. Everything else being apparent, there is only one atma — I.

What inspired you to translate the books of Swami Dayananda Saraswati into Russian?

My main inspiration was teaching of Vedanta and its teacher, my Guru. People cannot live happily without this knowledge. When I came to know about Vedanta, it was hard to believe that this self-knowledge exists. I wondered then, “Why are we not aware of it?” Without self-knowledge, we are like blind kittens. It is natural to share good and helpful things. Earlier, I used to share yoga. Since self-knowledge is the most helpful one, liberating one from all sufferings, I wanted to let people know that it is there.

How many books have you translated? 

Thanks to Swamiji’s blessing, translating his books has become a consistent and integral part of my life that I love to look forward to. Upon his suggestion, I have completed translation of six books, including Discovering Love, Freedom in Relationships and The Value of Values. Currently, I am translating the fifth out of nine volumes of Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course by Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Swamiji’s writings are absolutely invaluable for the contemporary society and each book, be it small or big, contains pearls of wisdom.

What are the difficulties in translating the Vedantic teachings?

The knowledge is whole. It is one and the same from beginning to end. To unfold the truth, Vedanta uses different methods. Having a whole picture does not create difficulties. At the beginning, there were some typical translating challenges, like finding an exact translation for the Sanskrit word. With practice and guidance, these challenges have become joyful learning experiences.

What challenges do you face while teaching Vedanta?

The teaching itself helps one to deal with challenges. Seeing things as they are, helps one face situations objectively and deal with them accordingly. The response depends on the maturity of a person. There are many seekers in Russia. In fact, everybody is a seeker in the world. Those who know, who understand what they really need in life, come to Vendanta and then, cannot imagine their life without it.

What basic qualities should a student of Vedanta have? 

A strong desire to know is the most important quality for a student of Vedanta. It should be a burning desire, the only desire. If it is there, everything else will come gradually. Of course, a student should live a life of dharma. To learn anything, one has to be ready. A two-year-old child cannot learn maths. But when the child grows up, he can learn it. It is the same with Vedanta. If one is ready for it, with the help of a teacher, one can learn Vedanta.

What is the connection between yoga and Vedanta?

Yoga and Vedanta are different. However, as a discipline, yoga complements Vedanta. It prepares one’s body and mind towards Vedanta. Health is necessary and the mind also has to be healthy and focused. Yoga helps one to become mature enough to be able to listen and understand Vedanta — the ultimate goal of human life.

How do you teach meditation? What role does meditation play in Vedantic pursuit?

Any teaching is a responsibility. Here we deal with a very special subtle instrument we have – the mind. As Arjuna said to Lord Krishna: “In fact, Krishna! The mind is “agitation”, strong, well-rooted tyrant. I think of it as impossible to control as the wind.” (6.34)

And Lord Krishna replied to his disciple: “No doubt, Arjuna, the mighty armed! the mind is agitated and difficult to master. But, it is mastered by practice and objectivity.” (6.35) (Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Vol. 5, p.p. 208, 214). From this, we understand that doing something with this mind is not easy. But, lucky for us, we have scriptures that provide us with proper guidance and teach us how to take care of the mind. Therefore, for a beginner in meditation, it is good to know and accept agitation as the nature of the mind which wins half the battle.

While teaching meditation, I use all that I learnt from Vedanta and yoga, which makes it unique. Regular practice of meditation is very important and definitely changes an individual’s mind. It becomes calm, steady, clear, free, satisfied and cheerful, that is, ready for self-knowledge, and most importantly, helps a person to be objective.

Nididhyasa plays an important role in Advaita. How similar or different is Nididhyasa from meditation?

Nididhyasana does play an important role in assimilating Advaita. It is different from meditation. Though the preliminary steps are the same for both, the objectives are different. Meditation is “saguna brahma vishaya manasa vyaparaha – mental activity related to Brahman in the form of Iswara” (“What is meditation” by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, p.5).  It is meant to prepare one’s mind before one exposes self to self-knowledge. Its object is saguna brahma or Iswara.

Nididhyasana is a contemplation of the self in the form of what it is, as revealed in the scriptures, after being exposed to the teaching in the form of shravanam (listening to the teacher) and mananam (reflecting upon what has been understood by shravanam). Nididhyasana is about remaining as the pure self. In other words, it is “contemplation upon the very meditator” (Hymns on Meditation and Prayer by Swami Viditatmananda).

Tell us about your current projects.

I am currently working on translation of nine comprehensive volumes of Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, with indepth meaning and insight; teaching self-knowledge by taking Vedanta classes and a course on meditation for groups of students in person and through Skype.
Upcoming projects include publishing translated books and translating new ones. I also want to continue to share the joy of Vedanta with as many seekers as I come across.