My Life in Rishikesh

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Divine Life Society, Madras, Feb. 1982

When I left my home I first went to Rajasthan. Then I lived with a guru who was about 90 years of age then and who was an expert in tantra. He liked me very much and I lived with him for over six months. He taught me different branches and aspects of tantra, theoretically and also practically. But I realised that that was not my destiny, so I left the place without informing him by scaling the walls of the ashram.

I don't remember after that how I went, where I went and what I did. I only remember one incident which happened somewhere near Laksar, close to Haridwar. During my journey, after leaving Rajasthan, I was in a state of unconsciousness. I don't remember anything even though I have tried. I only remember this one incident at Laksar when I was travelling by train. Sitting opposite me was a sadhu with matted locks, who was smoking. I had not smoked for many months, so I asked him, 'Can I have a cigarette from you?' He seemed to be a very aggressive man and said 'Where are you coming from?' I told him I didn't know, but that I was a seeker in search of a guru. He said, 'Go to Rishikesh.'

It seemed that my request for a cigarette was only an excuse, but what I actually received was the guidance from him to go to Rishikesh.

Discovering the jewel

According to his suggestion, I went to Rishikesh and stayed in Kali Kamliwala dharmashala for three days. There I met a man who was from the same district that I came from. During our conversation, he advised me to go to Kailash Ashram. At that time, Mahamandaleshwar Vishnudevanandaji was staying in that ashram. That is the ashram where Swami Sivanandaji's diksha was performed. When I went to see the Mahamandaleshwar and told him what I was after, he instructed me to go to Sivanandashram. This happened at about 7.00 a.m. on the 19th March, 1944.

I went immediately to Sivanandashram which is not very far from Kailash Ashram, maybe a distance of two kilometres. I went up the stairs and entered the bhajan hall, the place where akhanda kirtan (non-stop chanting) had been going on since 1943. The vibration of the hall is still very clear in my mind. It was the most divine atmosphere that I had ever experienced in my life.

I was met by Swami Narayana. He is no more not very far from Kailash Ashram, maybe a distance Life Society. He asked why I was there and I told him I was a spiritual seeker searching for a guru. He took me down to the place where the old kitchen was situated. Sivanandaji was seated there and I greeted him. He just asked me where I came from and I told him. He asked what I wanted and I told him of my difficulty. I explained that I had been meditating since 13 years of age. I had started my meditation when I was 6 years old. I was able to come to a point of shoonya (mental vacuity) but I was not able to go beyond that. There was no experience, no revelation and nothing transcendental. He said only one thing: that I should stay in the ashram and serve the ashram while purifying the mind and body.

Beginning my real sadhana

So, from 19th March 1944, I started to live in the ashram and participated in almost every sphere of service. It was a time which cannot be compared with life in paradise. It is difficult to explain my experiences.

I am talking about the totality of experience for a period of twelve years, not one day's experience, not a moment's experience, but the sum total of experience which cannot be compared with what one imagines even in one's wildest dreams.

Kabir Das has said, 'If you place the pleasure of swarga (paradise), and moksha (spiritual liberation) in one balance and the guru's presence in the other balance, there is no comparison between the two'. That is to say, to live in the association of guru, to work for him and to give all your love and dedication and devotion, and your idiosyncrasies also, to him, is such a wonderful experience that you can never get it even if you go into samadhi. That was my experience also.

It was not that the ashram life was easy and comfortable, because it was a life of great hardship. There were myriads of mosquitoes but no mosquito net. There was no mattress to sleep on, no place to sleep, no money to fulfil some of the petty requirements like beedies, toothpaste, pan. Even the food was so simple that most people could not live there for one week. For twelve years I enjoyed hardships, sometimes falling ill with dysentery, hepatitis, etc., and sometimes not taking proper food or rest. But still, that life was like heaven.

Once I was going to Rishikesh when an aged swami met me on the way. He said, 'Hey Satyananda, what happened to you?' I said, 'Nothing'. He said, 'No, you are suffering from jaundice.' I said, 'But I have no mirror to see and no time to see'. And I did not understand what he was saying. I know what hepatitis is, and what jaundice is, and I definitely knew it at that time too, but what he told me did not even affect me. I heard him and asked what he meant and when he said I had jaundice, I said, 'I see'. He said, 'Get yourself treated.' That is all, and then I forgot what he said. I only remembered after some years what he had said and I don't know what happened to that jaundice. I survived.

That I survived so many incidents which took place in my life in the ashram was solely due to the spiritual guidance and blessings of my guru, and my total devotion to him.

Swami Sivananda - his heart and soul

Those who have not seen Swami Sivananda will never be able to understand that such a man could ever exist on this planet. Today we see many sadhus, mahatmas and gurus, but very few of them measure up to his natural compassion, wisdom, dynamism and saintliness. He never directed the ashram, but the ashram blossomed. He never took care of the property and money, yet the ashram prospered. The ashram was full of people of nineteen or twenty years of age. I was barely nineteen when I went there. Now all those young swami disciples have grown up and are sixty or sixty five years of age. We were all boys when we came to the ashram; we all worked very hard and learned a lot. We evolved ourselves only under the able inspiration and guidance of our guru.

In my opinion, as the time went by, Sivanandaji lived in a totality of consciousness, operating on every sphere of consciousness, at the same time. Simultaneously he experienced samadhi and the world, maya (illusion) and moksha (liberation). Everything seemed to be operating in him. I cannot say that he was a total vairagi (renunciate), but I cannot also say that he was a total ragi (enjoyer). He lived a life of completeness.

His teachings to us were simple and direct. He said, 'Do not be disturbed and don't disturb.' I never saw him fretting and frowning. I never saw him worried. I never saw him over-jubilant. I never heard him criticising anyone and never saw him refuse anything to anyone.

There was a man, Danavira Kama, who was born during the Mahabharata era, five thousand years ago. He was the greatest, most generous man in India of that time. He was the son of Kunti, who was also the mother of the five Pandavas who are central figures in the Mahabharata. When you saw Swami Sivananda, you could remember Kama. If anyone came to the ashram he would receive them unconditionally: not only a brahmin, or a sadhu; not only a beggar, or a sweeper; not only a good man, but even those who came into the ashram to harm him, or to cause damage to the ashram. All would receive his blessings, assistance and support.

One man made an attempt on Sivanandaji's life for no reason. Sivanandaji had him released from police custody by going himself to the police station, which was something he had never done before. He asked the police inspector to cancel the charge and had him released, gave him money, sent a swami with him to escort him to Delhi, and from Delhi a ticket was purchased for him and he was sent back home to his wife and children. Such was his magnanimity.

With me in particular, Sivanandaji was very kind. I used to work very hard. Many times I used to keep awake during the day with work, and also during the night I used to look after the ashram property by taking rounds at 1a.m., 2a.m., and 3a.m. in all the buildings and all over the forest. He knew of my busy timetable and he used to send me coffee even though he personally never drank coffee in his life. He used to keep coffee for me and tell everyone: 'Keep it for Swami Satyananda, because he keeps awake for many hours in the night.'

No sannyasa for me

Once I went to him and told him that I was going back and was not intending to take sannyasa, because I had realised by then that for God-realization, sannyasa was not necessary. Anyone can attain samadhi, moksha, whether he has a wife or not, children or not, whether he is a householder, a brahmin or a non-vegetarian. I had realised this, and without telling him, I had also written to a newspaper applying for a job as sub-editor. My letter of acceptance had; also come and because I had written that I did not have any money and I could not come in geru robes and take up my appointment, they had also sent me a money order for Rs. 80. That was enough for a good suit in those days.

I went to Swamiji and told him of my intentions. It was the 5th of September 1947. Swamiji said, 'Your destiny is sannyasa and self-realization is not your problem. You have a duty to perform. Get yourself well-equipped. I want you to be a sannyasin.' On the 12th of September, three days after his birthday, many people were to take sannyasa diksha. My name was on the list.

On the 12th morning I returned and told him that I had decided to proceed with my plan. He said, 'No', and he said sternly and with conviction, 'You have things to do and you are not meant for that life.' He said stubbornly, 'Sannyasa', and I was given sannyasa on the 12th of September 1947. My shikha (tuft of hair worn on the back of the head) and sutra (thread, worn by most brahmins and also many kshatriyas) were removed on that day. At the time of sannyasa, Swamiji said, 'You are serving here as a part of your training. Even as the saplings of a tree are removed and are planted elsewhere, so shall be your destiny'. I remained in Rishikesh for many years and served him.

Out of the ashram and into the world

Then, in 1956, I went to him. By that time I had become completely exhausted. I wanted to leave every type of work; I wanted no sweeping, no keys, no money, no bank account, nothing. Physically I was tired, emotionally I was tired, mentally I was tired. I can say that I was in a state of depression. I wanted to get out of the ashram and stay somewhere calm and quiet with no work and no responsibility, just eat a little and do some sadhana, that is all. I wanted to sleep for six months. I had become totally exhausted in every way.

I went to Swamiji to tell him I was going. He did not tell me not to go. He said, 'That is right. Have you got money?' I said, 'How can I possibly have money here?' He gave me Rs. 108/-, and even now I still have that money; I have not spent it. I have a small box in my cupboard in Munger and I have given instructions to my disciples: 'Don't touch it and don't open it'. That 108 rupees is a symbol of Sivanandaji's 'ashirvad' (divine blessings) and the time will come when twenty zeros will be added to that. This is my faith.

Then he called me into his room and said, 'I will give you some instructions on a very old tantric practice - kriya yoga.' He started teaching me and it took hardly 7 or 8 minutes to learn all the kriyas. He just looked at me. You know, in my life I have never bent before anyone, never, not even in a temple as many people do. No, it is not my nature. That day when I touched his feet, at once a point came into my mind and that point was, 'Find a mission for yourself.' I left the ashram and from 1956 to 1963 wandered throughout the Indian subcontinent on foot, by bullock cart, by car, by train, by plane. I lived amongst the people and experienced their joys as well as their suffering.

The passing of an era...

On the night of the 13th July 1963, I was in Munger and I had an inner awakening. I had a dream as if something was happening inside but it was as real as if it were happening physically in front of me. In that dream I saw Swami Sivanandaji travelling in a steamer from the Sivananda Ashram to Swarga Ashram on the other side of the river Ganges. From the steamer, conches and bugles were being blown and drums were being beaten.

Sivanandaji was sitting alone on the steamer. He was the only passenger. I was witnessing the whole thing from the bank in front of Darshan Maha Vidyalaya which is a little above Sivananda Ashram. The flywheel on the steamer splashed a little bit of Ganga water on me and my experience finished.

I came out, my dream was finished. Immediately I understood that Swamiji had left his body. At the time when the water was being splashed on me he was sitting in the chair and looking at me. Otherwise he was looking to the other side. When my dream finished, firstly I understood clearly that he had left his body and secondly that I had been anointed, I had been appointed. His grace was upon me, and I would have to start working for the propagation of yoga.

...and foundation of the next

That was the month of July. I left Munger and went to Delhi and from Delhi I went to Rishikesh and found my dream was correct. I came back to Munger and informed K.K. Goenka that I was going to stay in Munger. Then I went to Bombay and made a few connections. You know, to have an ashram one needs so many things. I collected bedding, money, and other things, loaded one goods wagon and came to Munger.

On the 19th January 1964 at 9 o'clock, I declared the ashram open and offered first ahuti (oblations) on the fire. That was the day of Basant Panchami. From that time every now and then my soul opens, and I find him there and he tells me what to do. I do not know how to open myself to his presence; I cannot do it, it happens by itself. Some mornings or evenings my spirit opens and he is there. He tells me what to do.

You should understand that the work Bihar School of Yoga has done in the last seventeen years is not an outcome of my intelligence or my efforts. It is not an outcome of my experience or of anything that belongs to me. It is because of his instructions and the guidance which he whispers to me from time to time.

The eternal voice of guru

You can now perhaps understand the relationship which a disciple and guru have with each other. A guru may leave his body but he will continue to live in the heart of every disciple. Disciples may go away, but the guru's grace follows them. Whether or not you realise that grace is a different matter. Blind people can't see the sun even though there is sunlight. Often disciples become blind through avidya, agyana (ignorance), and maya moha (worldly attachments) and they do not realise the blessings and benedictions of the guru.

Now of course I have passed through that period of life when passions and ambitions assailed me, when I could recognise and was influenced by greed, anger, jealousy, name, fame and money. That time has passed very gradually and of its own accord. I do not feel that I have done anything because my simple philosophy is that everything is an expression of guru's will.

Everything, not only in my life, but also in your life and in everybody's life is an expression of divine will.

Only God knows what is to be wished for and what is to be desired. I don't know anything. If I am a criminal today, it is Thy wish. If I am a saint today, it is only because You wanted it. If I am going through a period of passions and ambitions, You wanted it. If I succeed in the work that I have undertaken. You wanted it. And if the whole drama that is being played by me is destroyed, it is Thy will. Thy will be done.

Doing what is done

This firm conviction is becoming more and more clear in my mind because I am a human being and naturally I must express my human behaviour. Even if I don't work, the work will go on. Even if I don't live the work will go on, because it is said in the 11th chapter of Gita:

"O Arjuna, Bhishma, Drona, Jayadratha..., they have already been killed. They are not standing here; they have already been killed by me, but you have to play the part of an instrument."

Destiny is there and the destination is also already fixed. It will happen, but we have to participate as a witness, as a medium and as an instrument. And that has always been the philosophy of Sivanandaji.

Today, wherever you go, in any part of the world, you find the benign, soft, kind and gentle influence of Sivanandaji through the numerous disciples who have spread his message to every part of the globe. You can find them in America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia, Japan, India- everywhere.

If you are a disciple you should be dedicated and devoted to your guru. And you should direct your effort and endeavour to carrying out and furthering his work, whatever it may be. For you are merely an extension of your guru, in body, mind and consciousness.