Swami Sivananda

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

This year the European Union of the National Yoga Federations is celebrating 'Swami Sivananda's Birthday Week' in Zinal from 6th to 12th September. During this week, yoga teachers, yoga professors, yoga research scholars and yoga minded people from more than forty five countries will assemble to pay homage to this great man, who is no more in his physical body, but still lives in the hearts of millions of people all over the world. When he lived, he led a life of completeness and homogeneity, and possessed what could rightly be called an integrated personality. To this day the whole world is obliged to him for the great knowledge of the path he has shown to millions of seekers in every part of the globe. Therefore, it is very fitting that the European Union of the National Yoga Federations is going to pay homage to him in Zinal.

It has been said by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the inspired poets of our times, that the 'lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime'. They leave footprints on the sands of time, and we follow in those footprints. Millions and millions of people have been born into the world as pilgrims, but they have not been able to see the footprints of great men, because the winds of passion and ignorance have wiped them away. We who live in this beautiful part of the twentieth century are really fortunate, because we can still see these footprints with our own eyes. Swami Sivananda lived life in all its completeness: at once a great saint of the calibre of Christ an administrator in the highest position; a sannyasin with total detachment to life; a man brimming over with compassion, love and charity, but living a life of austerity and dispassion; a bhakta and devotee of God, and side by side a philosopher of superior intellect; a man with discipline and strictness as well as loving kindness for every sentient and insentient creation of God.

Such a man can be an example to us all. Most of us are puzzled by the day to day problems of our life. We are swayed by passions and emotions and dejected when we face the ups and downs in our emotional life. Definitely to sincere people, the question does arise, 'How is it possible for me, a person with so many limitations, to reach the highest pinnacle of life?' To such sincere people who are disappointed and dejected by the cruelties of life, Swami Sivananda is like a beacon of light. To hear about him is a joy, to think about him is yoga and to discuss him is to invest the time properly. Even though he lived in the physical body, he was not a physical soul, and his presence developed the inner awareness without any difficulty.

In one of the Upanishads there is a parable. A disciple asked his guru, 'How does a man walk? How does a man move?' The guru replied, 'In the light of the sun he moves and walks.' Then the disciple asks, 'If the sun is set how does he move and how does he walk?' The guru replied, 'In the light of the moon.' Then the disciple asked again, 'When the sun is set and the moon is set, in whose light does one walk?' The guru replied. 'In the light of the stars' Again the disciple interrogated, 'When the sun is set and when the moon is set and the stars are twinkling no more, in whose light does he walk?' The guru replied, 'In his own light'

What is this light he is talking about? When the mind is swayed by passion, when the intellect is filled with confusion, when your own beliefs betray you, when your own concepts do not help you any more in life, then you will have to raise your own consciousness. You will have to awaken your own spirit. In order to awaken the spirit, it is very important that a satguru be sought. Such a guru was Swami Sivananda, not only in his own time but even today when the message of his life and teachings is a lamp unto those who have yet to awaken their own inner light.

The best of men

When you compare the life of Swami Sivananda with the lives of other sannyasins and saints, you find that his was a different personality altogether. He did not behave like a miracle man, a great pontiff or a preacher. He just lived the life of a simple man. It was very difficult to change his human qualities. He was a shining example of all the great virtues that you read about in the books.

For me it is more important for a man to be a man than a saint. It is easy to be a venerable man, a guru, anything exalted, but not a man. It is very difficult to give, it's most difficult to love, and it's impossible to understand. Today, man has reached the point where he finds himself incapable of realizing his fundamental humanity. If a man can be a man, he can be everything, because to be a man he has to kill everything in him. Before you can play music on a bamboo flute, the bamboo must be hollowed out. In the same way, you have to empty yourself. You have to bear the kicks, face the criticism and live with the passions. You must end your fears and be prepared to be persecuted and abused. You should not expect to be loved or honoured; that is imperative.

Many times when people talk about love I just laugh at them. I have never met any other person who I think knows love, but I can definitely say that Swami Sivananda was a man whose very being emanated love. Nevertheless, he was the least emotional person I have known - completely calm, quiet, unruffled and absolutely detached. He was the best of men I have seen in my life. I have never seen Christ, but I have seen Swami Sivananda and therefore I believe Christ must have existed. He was a man whose kindness and compassion knew no bounds. He was nothing but sweetness, nothing but smiling eyes.

In everything he did throughout his life, he maintained only one attitude: to do good to everybody. He was never a dictator, and never interfered with his disciples. In fact, he used to touch the feet of his disciples just like a disciple touches his master's feet. Many times I made mistakes, both in my life and in the ashram, as an inmate and as an executive. I was always expecting to be called by him, but he never once called me. I thought that he would rebuke me or admonish me, or tell me what was right and wrong, but he never said one word. When I used to go to him he would never raise the point. He would just say the usual things. He never recognized the mistakes in man. He always used to say that everybody had in him the spark of divinity.

His attitude towards people was unique. If anyone was concerned about being criticized, he explained very simply, 'It is a divine test. When you purchase a steel rod, you don't examine it, but when you purchase a rod of gold, you examine it thoroughly. And if you go to purchase a diamond you don't just pick up the first one you see. Likewise, now, when God is choosing you, he should test you. It is not your karma that is coming to you in the form of suffering. It is not your viciousness that is causing you criticism. It is the test of the divine so that you may pass through it, and then you will be given the higher wisdom.'

Give, give, give

Swami Sivananda started out practising medicine in the states of Malaysia, When he came to Rishikesh, he plunged headlong into spiritual life. He was so sincere and devoted that all the swamis who were living nearby were very much influenced by him. Sometimes he to collect a few chapattis from his daily bhiksha and keep them in a box, When he had a sufficient number he would close his doors from the inside for a week and practise his own sadhana. Sometimes in the middle of the night you would see him chest-deep in Ganga chanting 'Om. Om. Om'.

With this sincere devotion to spiritual life, he soon became a darling of the swamis there. In reaction to this, there naturally developed a gang of rascals who used to harass him, and actually cause him injury as well. His attitude towards these people was just superhuman. He used to say, 'If someone kicks you, give him love,' and he practised this every day. Later, when Swami Sivananda became very famous, he would give these very same people great respect and hold them in esteem.

He was very generous and gave people anything they asked for. His main motto was, 'Give, give, give.' Even if he had been alerted that a man had come to cheat him, he would not listen. He would say, 'That is his karma, and this is my karma.' He freely distributed food, money, books, clothes, blankets, etc. If somebody told him, 'Swamiji, this man is dishonest; do not give him a blanket,' Swamiji would say, 'God has given it to me for him. The money does not belong to me; the ashram does not belong to me.'

Gyani and bhakta

Swami Sivananda was a sannyasin belonging to the highest order of Vedanta philosophy. This Vedanta philosophy holds that 'I am Brahman', and does not accept any lesser form of idol worship. It is a philosophy of pure monism, in which the truth is formless and nameless and all experience exists within the mind. This practical doctor, then, was at the same time a true gyani, who spoke of the philosophy of the Absolute, and also a bhakta, one who is devoted to God. In fact, he believed that devotion to God, and repetition and singing of the name alone were enough to enable one to cross the barriers of worldly consciousness.

His faith in name was sometimes very unintellectual. He used to say, 'Name alone can take you across the world.' So in 1943 he started a wonderful program - continuous, unbroken chanting of the name. By that time we had built one hall and seven or eight of us had become swamis. In that hall a lamp was placed and every swami had to sing there for two hours a day, then another swami would take over the duty. So we needed twelve swamis and a few surplus in case some should fall ill.

Swamiji decided upon the mantra which would be used: 'Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare.' This is a very ancient mantra known as the Maha Mantra, which forms a part of the Kali Santarana Upanishad, one of the 108 Upanishads. Swamiji also decided on the melody. So for 24 hours a day, there would be a swami continuing the kirtan. In those days, whenever anybody came to the ashram asking to become a swami, I used to say, 'Yes, please' and lead him in because we had to keep this program continuously running.

On the day of the inauguration of the ashram, Swamiji said, 'This kirtan will continue as long as the world lasts.' We became greatly worried. I thought, 'For one, two, three or four years, maybe. We can at least keep our minds busy with something, but as long as the world lasts!' And this was precisely the program of Swami Sivananda which became the nucleus of the whole structure that you find today.

An innocent mind

Swami Sivananda was a man who believed in everybody and never thought that anyone was bad. He was a man without ego and ambition who never posed as a great swami. Thousands of people came to him and were helped out of difficult situations, but his only comment was 'It is God's grace.' They would all say to him, 'Swamiji you are a great siddha; you are a great master. On account of your blessings my child has come through his crisis.' He would say, 'No, no, no. It is God's grace, and your prarabdha karma.'

Swami Sivananda was not intellectual; he was purely a bhakta, with a very innocent mind. If anyone came to him or wrote to him with problems, at once he would ask everybody to please sit down, close their eyes and repeat the mantra for that person's recovery. He had such faith that immediately after the mantra was repeated, he would have us write a letter saying, 'We have conducted the mantra prayer for you and now you will be alright.'

Unless you have faith, you cannot believe in this. We are all intellectuals. We know all the mantras, but we have no faith in them. If we practise a mantra for someone who is sick, we will not dare to write and tell him, because we cannot be sure he has gotten better. Whereas faith leaves no room for doubt, knowledge has fissures in it. I am not against intellect, but at the same time its limitations must be pointed out.

Faith is very innocent but it is so powerful that the miracles you see in the lives of the great saints are a product of that innocence. Innocence is not childishness; it is the blossoming of the purity in man's structure. To be innocent you don't have to do anything or be anything. Rather, whatever you have acquired you have to throw away: knowledge, proceeds, wealth, power, status and political and religious background. You have to believe, 'I am nothing.' When this attitude takes hold within you, it becomes the centre of faith and in Swami Sivananda I found this faith in absolutely living form.

Taking notes

At one time I was writing a commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. I had a sound intellectual knowledge of Sanskrit and philosophy because my earlier academic background had been very bright, but nevertheless I had great difficulties in writing the commentary on this Upanishad. From time to time when I used to go to Swamiji for clarification, he used to direct me to H. H. Tapovanamji Maharaj. He was not a disciple of Swamiji's and did not live in Rishikesh, but in Uttarkashi, a place on the way to Ganga's origin. He was a venerable swami, a master of the Upanishads and a great Sanskrit scholar.

During his life, Swami Sivananda wrote approximately 300-400 books. In the period I was there, he had already finished 250 of them. But it was a very important part of his philosophy not to pose, even before his disciples, that he knew everything. You are deluding the disciple if you do not direct him to the proper authority for that which he is trying to learn. Swami Sivananda could have also guided me by referring me to a few books here and there, but he was my well-wisher and knew that it was best to send me to a great authority like Swami Tapovanamji Maharaj.

Likewise, whenever Swami Tapovanamji visited Rishikesh during the snowy winter, Swami Sivananda would say to me, 'Swami Tapovanamji is here; go and study with him.' So I would go to Swami Tapovanam with all my philosophical queries and grammatical complications. I used to sit with him for hours discussing philosophy, and when I returned I always found Swami Sivananda waiting for me. He would call me to his kutir and question me: 'What did you ask and what did he say?' I would tell him everything I had learned and while I was talking Swamiji would be busy writing it all down. The next morning he would get these notes typed out and would develop a story, an article or a poem out of all those ideas which I had received from Swami Tapovanam and then narrated to him.

The humility of enlightenment

There are many people in this world who think that they know everything already and who are not open to the positive effects of learning from others. If you tell them something you have just learned, they say, 'Oh, I already knew that!' This is a peculiar characteristic of man's nature which represents his deep rooted and inherent egoism, and where there is egoism there is bound to be ignorance.

All of the scriptures in Christianity, Islam and Hinduism say the same thing- that egoism is not a product of knowledge or enlightenment; in religious terms, one can say that it is the product of Satan. Where there is enlightenment there is humility; the more enlightened you are, the smaller you feel. This is true not only in the life of a saint or a swami, but also for an artist, poet, politician, scientist or musician. The more enlightenment comes, the less you think about yourself, and when you feel that you are little, how can there be egoism?

Newton said about his discoveries that he was only collecting the pebbles on the shore while the ocean still remained untouched before him. A great man, a true man, an enlightened personality is always open to every form of knowledge. Whether he learns from saints or sinners makes no difference, because these are only social distinctions, categories and castes. For a mother, it makes no difference whether her child is a boy or a girl, healthy or unhealthy, a swami or a drunkard.

Saints never criticize and are never afflicted by prejudice or attachment. They interact on spiritual levels. Of course, to talk about saints is not an easy matter. They are like icebergs - you can only see a small part of them above the water; the rest is hidden. Therefore, it is definitely not possible for me to make an accurate assessment of the personality of Swami Sivananda, with whom I lived for only a short period of time, but who was responsible for changing the whole current and concept of my life.

From shore to shore

In 1956 Swami Sivananda called me and he just said, 'What sadhana are you doing?' In twelve years he had not asked me any questions like this. I did practise asana, pranayama, etc., but not at the command of guru, just as a matter of personal choice. The quantity of mantra I had practised was very great, and at the same time I had practised karma yoga day and night.

I told him, 'I do asana, pranayama, mantra japa,' and a few more things that I did. He said, 'You don't practise kriya yoga?' I said, 'No, I have heard about it but I don't know it.' He took me to his room and in ten minutes he taught me kriya yoga. Or, to put it another way, in ten minutes I learned kriya yoga. Then he gave me 108 rupees and said, 'Now you can go from here. This ashram is no longer the place for you. Keep moving, and spread the message of yoga from shore to shore and from door to door.'

According to this instruction, I left the ashram and kept moving. I was still young and it was very difficult because there were so many different movements and gurus that a man like myself could hardly survive. I could never tell lies or complicate matters. Nevertheless, I managed to keep moving for many years.

Waking up from within

In 1963, on July 14th I believe, I suddenly woke up from inside. I was in Monghyr at that time, and a vision swept across my mind. I was in Rishikesh, near the beautiful Ganga, and on it a ship was sailing across to the other side. Swami Sivananda was standing on the deck looking towards me with his hands joined in namaskara. Trumpets and conches sounded, drums were being beaten and bells rung. At one point, the ship moved very close to me and the current was so strong that the flywheel sprinkled water all over my head, throat and body.

When this inner vision was finished, I understood that it meant Swami Sivananda had left his mortal body and had transferred his blessings to me. Swamiji loved Ganga very much; I cannot begin to tell you how much. During the rainy season when its water became so muddy, he would still drink it. When Ganga rose high in rain and floods, and his room would become half flooded, still he would refuse to shift to any other building.

That very same day I took my bag, went to the railway station, purchased a ticket and went to Rishikesh. And I was correct; he had already left. From that time on, even up to this day, at least once or twice a year, I can wake up within myself. And that experience is as true, as real, as deep, as concrete as this one. It is not a dream, it is not hypnosis, it is not, imagination. It has the same dimension as this reality. There I can find him, converse with him and receive very clear guidance from him.

My life has been very exceptional, I've never had any difficulties; therefore when I go to guru, I don't go with any desires in my mind. Many times I've thought I should try to pray for something, but I don't know what to pray for. He has given me everything and what he has not given me I think I should not have. In my interaction and my life with Swami Sivananda the discovery of Self was the primary goal of the relationship between him and me. The period of twelve years that I lived with him was a time for me to polish my inner mirror. The ego had to be erased, the passions settled, the desires properly fixed, and ignorance erased.

How can one do this unless he serves his guru?