Guru Seva

In the evening after dinner, all the sannyasins and inmates of the ashram quickly made their way to the Jyoti Mandir for the continuation of Gurudev's life story. After they were all seated, Swami Niranjan entered the hall and took his seat at the front side of the jyoti. There was pin-drop silence as he closed his eyes and began to intone the Shantipath. After the chanting, he resumed the narrative, while the sannyasins listened with rapt attention.

'Swamiji left home in 1943 and took a train to Udaipur. He was just following his unconscious inspiration, without a particular aim or direction. After wandering about for a while, he reached an ashram where a sadhu who was a master of Kaula tantra lived. Swamiji stayed with him for six months and learned more about the theoretical aspect of tantra. After that he wandered about in Rajasthan and Gujarat, often in the company of saints and sages. Being full of knowledge and spiritual light, he was often requested to stay on by the acharyas of the different maths which he visited. Sometimes they even offered to make him their successor if he would remain there. But his purpose was different, and so he moved on from one ashram to another, until he reached Rishikesh.

'In Rishikesh, Swamiji first stayed at the Kali Kamliwala Kshetra for a few days. There he met a man from Almora who directed him to Kailash Ashram where he met the Mahamandaleshwar Sri Vishnudevanandaji. He did not initiate Swamiji, but advised him to go to Swami Sivananda. Upon hearing his guru's name, Swamiji was filled with peace and he felt as if he had found his real home. So he immediately set out for Sivanandashram which was only about two kilometres away. He arrived there on the morning of March 19th 1943, walked up the stairs and entered the Bhajan Hall where kirtan was going on. The vibration which he felt in that hall was the most divine atmosphere he had ever experienced.

'Swamiji was met there by Swami Narayan, who was the vice president of the Divine Life Society, and then taken to meet Swami Sivananda. When asked by Swami Sivananda why he had come, Swamiji said that he was a spiritual seeker searching for a guru. He also explained that during meditation practice, he was able to reach a point of shoonya, or mental vacuity, but beyond that he was not able to go. At that time Swami Sivananda instructed him, 'Live in the ashram, work hard, and have absolute faith in God.' On that day, Swamiji's search for the guru came to an end.'

'What sort of influence did Swami Sivananda have on Swamiji, and what kind of life did he lead after that?' asked one of the young swamis who had been following the narrative intently.

'Swamiji had practised yoga and meditation before coming to Swami Sivananda,' replied Swami Niranjan. 'The early spiritual experiences which he had had were very powerful and allowed him to reach a point of meditation far beyond the mind. Not only once, but many times he had crossed the barriers of the mind and gone beyond his own ego and consciousness. Still, the things he was searching for were not in sight. He had not been able to arrive at any real understanding of his experiences until he came to Swami Sivananda.

'Swami Sivananda's influence was spontaneous and total. At the first glimpse of him Swamiji realised that Swami Sivananda was his guru. He did not have to assess him, he did not have to decide whether to stay with him or not. In Swami Sivananda's presence, Swamiji's analytical mind became stilled, and his heart was awakened. He experienced surrender for the first time in his life, not that surrender of prostrating before a man, but total, unconditional surrender of the ego and intellect. Under the guru's guidance, his consciousness underwent a process of metamorphosis. His whole attitude was completely changed.'

'What was the Rishikesh ashram like in those days?' asked the swami who was sitting nearest to Swami Niranjan. 'It must have been very different to what it is today.'

'Yes, definitely,' replied Swami Niranjan. 'At that time, the ashram at Rishikesh was in the early stages of development and no amenities were available there as you find nowadays. The whole ashram was surrounded by forest and there were plenty of mosquitoes, scorpions, serpents and monkeys. The Ganga, in which all the swamis bathed early in the morning, was very cold. There were no toilets; one had to walk a mile to find a suitable place in the nearby forest. The ashram life was so different and so difficult that it kept Swamiji constantly alert and aware. It developed in him a strong body and mind, and a total dedication to guru. At times it was so hard that he had to awaken his prana just to survive.'

'What about karma yoga?' asked one of the younger swamis. 'Swamiji must have done plenty of that!'

'Yes,' Swami Niranjan replied, 'during his years with Swami Sivananda, Swamiji did not have any time to study hatha yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga, tantra, Upanishads, Vedanta, Gita or Ramayana. Right from dawn to dusk, and sometimes during the night as well, he worked and worked and worked and worked. He worked like a donkey, because his guru had given him just one command. "Work hard, then you will be purified. You don't have to bring the light; the light is within you."

'So, for twelve years he lived a transcendental life which was above time and space, and worked as though possessed by guru's grace. He did everything from cleaning the toilets to the management of the ashram. He worked so hard that he completely forgot himself in karma yoga. He never knew that he was working. He used to feel as if work was relaxation. And during those years, he never suffered from mental turmoil. Even if something troublesome was inside, it never dared to raise its head. His one watchword in life was service to guru, without any motive, and without any expectation. This was his passion, his joy and his pleasure.'

'What was the procedure for taking sannyasa in those days?' asked one of the swamis, 'Was it compulsory to undergo a period of training first or did Swamiji take sannyasa straight away?'

'Generally, the Sadhakas living in the ashram, who were unmarried, were given Brahmacharya diksha as a preliminary to sannyasa,' Swami Niranjan replied. 'Seeing a high calibre of spiritual aspiration in Swamiji, Swami Sivananda initiated him into the order of Brahmacharya in 1945 and renamed him Satyachaitanya, but he always called him Satyam.

'Then after working hard for a couple of years and living the life of a brahmachari, Satyam suddenly got the idea that for self realisation, sannyasa was not necessary. He reasoned that anyone can attain moksha whether he has a wife or not, children or not, whether he is a householder, a Brahmin or a non-vegetarian. So, without telling anyone, he applied for a job as a sub-editor to a newspaper in Lahore. After receiving a letter of acceptance, he went to Swami Sivananda and told him of his intention.

'Swami Sivananda said, "Oh, now you are going! You have lived in the ashram for several years and you have done a lot of work, constructed so many buildings, printed books, managed all the departments - kitchen, office, accounts and press. So, before going, we will give you a farewell party which will be arranged in one week's time" Satyam said all right, and then he began to prepare for his departure.

'One week later, on the 12th September 1947, in the morning, Swami Sivananda called Satyam and said, "Get yourself ready, you are going to take sannyasa. Your destiny is sannyasa. You do not have to worry about self realisation. You have a mission to accomplish." The barber was already there. The geru dhotis were ready. The acharya who chanted the mantras for sannyasa was waiting nearby. Everything was prepared, Satyam looked around him and said, "But you were going to give me a farewell patty." "Yes," Swami Sivananda replied, "farewell to the old and welcome to the new."

'So, on the occasion of Swami Sivananda's Diamond Jubilee Birthday, Satyam was given Paramahamsa sannyasa and renamed Swami Satyananda Saraswati, a name which denotes his inner nature more than any biographical sketch could. Into his affectionate heart, cosmic love came to dwell. Into his searching eyes entered equal vision. His questioning mind questioned itself out of existence, and in its place Swami Satyananda realised the Truth, the substratum of all being. At the time of his initiation, as an indication of his future, Swami Sivananda said to him, "You are serving here as a part of your training. However even as the saplings of a tree are removed and planted elsewhere, so shall be your destiny."

'After his sannyasa initiation, Swamiji remained in Rishikesh for many more years, serving his guru. He became a pillar of the Divine Life Society. As a sannyasin, he touched guru seva at the greatest number of points. He washed his guru's clothes, cooked for him, attended upon his guests, served as his private secretary, typed his manuscripts, translated his books into Hindi, looked after the publication league, supervised the printing of books outside, established and managed the ashram printing press, worked as the mandir pujari, and thundered forth his divine life message during tours, seminars and conventions.

'In spite of all this work, Swami Satyananda remained entirely detached mentally and was an example of karma yoga in every respect. He did everything very well and then offered it to Guru. Therefore, he was ever cool, introspective and contemplative. He had the knack of getting work done. He was original in his thought, speech and methods of work, but he was not proud or vain. He had one-pointed application to any task which he undertook. His needs were few and even those he was ready to renounce at any moment. He was humble and simple, but fearless. He loved everyone but he calmly bore any criticism. He was an all rounder and an ideal sannyasin.'

'Please tell us some stories of Swami Satyananda's life with his guru,' asked one of the young swamis who had been listening most intently.

'Ah,' said Swami Niranjan, 'there are many beautiful stories like that, but I remember one which relates to obedience. Swami Satyananda was very fond of visiting different pilgrimage places such as Kedar, Badri, Gangotri, Yamunotri and Haridwar, especially on the occasion of the Kumbha Mela, when thousands of sadhus and devotees gather for a dip in the sacred Ganga. But Swami Sivananda always disapproved of his going, and on such days, he would give him extra work to do in order to keep him in the ashram. However, not wishing to be thwarted Swami Satyananda would stay up all night in order to complete the work assigned by his guru, and then set off in the early morning for the mela.

'On one such occasion, after arriving in Haridwar he had been trapped in the surging throngs. While moving en masse towards the river, suddenly his upper cloth slipped off and he was unable to retrieve it. As the crowd arrived at the river bank, he was pushed and jostled into the water. While dipping, his bottom dhoti got stuck in somebody's feet and was quickly carried away by the current. After this, as he tried to regain his footing and return to the river bank, in the rush the upper end of his loin cloth came untied and before he could even reach for it, it was gone. In such an enormous crowd, on a cold winter's morning, how could he remain in the water for long? He thought of joining the group of naga sadhus passing by, but his mind was very disturbed.

'After passing some time in this distressful plight, he spotted someone amongst the jostling crowds whom he knew from Rishikesh. Slowly he made his way towards his friend, hoping that no one would notice his nakedness. Fortunately, his friend was able to give him some cloth to cover himself, and feeling much relieved, he quickly made his way back to Rishikesh. When he reached the ashram, Swami Sivananda was standing at the gate. "Well, Satyam," he said, "shall I give you some cloth?"

'As Swami Sivananda was a medical doctor,' asked one of the swamis, 'did he expect his disciples to serve the sick also?'

'Oh yes,' Swami Niranjan replied. 'His sannyasins were always on call to sweep, clean and wash the rooms and clothes of the sick, to feed them and even to massage their feet. Swami Sivanandaji used to say that there was no better way than this to erase the ego.'

'What are some other lessons which Swami Satyananda learned from his guru?' asked the swamis.

'There were so many,' replied Swami Niranjan, 'I'm sure they would fill a book. But as we are all sannyasins, I will tell you about the time when Swami Sivananda taught him about tyaga. You see, Swami Satyananda had always been a tyagi, even in his childhood, but tyaga is not so easy to practise. He was not the type of babu sadhu which we find in many ashrams today. You know, the type who dress very well and keep all manner of things in their rooms. In his room he kept only one chowkie. There was no mattress, no blanket, no mosquito net, no glass, no water pot. In fact, his room was absolutely empty, he did not even lock it.

'One day Swami Sivananda went around to visit the rooms of all the swamis. When he came to Swami Satyananda's room, he looked around it and asked, "Is this all you have?" Swami Satyananda thought that his guru would be very happy to see that his room was absolutely empty, but instead Swami Sivananda said, "From now on, you must keep a few glasses, one kerosene stove, some tea and sugar, a few blankets and mattresses, in your room, so that if any guest arrives in the night, you can give him something."

This was another definition of tyaga that Swami Satyananda learned from his guru. From that time he remained totally detached, even though he kept many things in his room because he was keeping them for the sate of others. He was not keeping them for his own enjoyment or satisfaction. In the course of time, his room became a place for everybody. All the sick people in the ashram would go there to drink tea. If somebody had malaria, they would go to his room for medicine. If money was needed, one was sure to get that also. This is another view of sannyasa.'

'What about the spontaneous spiritual experiences that Swamiji used to have in his childhood?' asked one of the swamis. 'Did these experiences keep coming?'

'Yes,' replied Swami Niranjan, 'they continued to come and with far greater intensity. I remember him telling me about an experience he had while sitting on the banks of the Ganga late one night after completing his duties as night watchman. He was thinking of some mundane affairs when his mind spontaneously started in and in. Suddenly he felt as if the earth was slipping from under him and the sky was expanding and receding. A moment later, he experienced a terrible force springing from the base of his spine like an atomic explosion. He felt that he was vibrating very fast; the light currents were terrific. He experienced the supreme bliss, like the climax of a man's desire, and it continued for a long time. His whole body was contracting until the feeling of pleasure became quite unbearable and finally he lost complete awareness of his body.

'This was the third time it had occurred. With the first experience, he didn't know what had happened, with the second experience came the awakening of his fantastic photostat memory, and with the third came complete and total awareness of vairagya. After returning to consciousness, he was listless for many days. He could not eat, sleep or move, even to go to the toilet. He saw everything but nothing registered. The bliss was a living thing within him and he knew that if he moved, this wonderful feeling would, cease. He would lose the intensity of it all. How could he move when bells were ringing inside? This was the awakening of his kundalini.

'After a week or so he returned to normal and then he started to study the deeper aspects of tantra and yoga. He practised hatha yoga in order to purify his entire system, then he began to re-explore the fantastic science of kundalini yoga. What was this power which awakens in mooladhara chakra? His interest was aroused and he put much effort into trying to understand this marvellous force.'

'How interesting,' exclaimed one of the swamis. 'Now we can begin to understand how Swami Satyananda became such a great exponent of kundalini yoga and tantra.'

'I would like to know,' said another swami, 'if Swami Satyananda was fond of kirtan, because he certainly sings very well.'

'Oh yes,' Swami Niranjan replied, 'In Sivanandashram from 1943 onwards, akhanda kirtan, unbroken kirtan, was going on all the twenty four hours, day in and day out. The maha mantra - Hari Rama, Hari Rama, Rama Rama, Hari Hari - was repeated in the Bhajan Hall before two burning lamps. In the beginning there were only four or five swamis to conduct the kirtan and Swami Satyananda had to do kirtan sometimes for six or eight hours a day continuously. Once he relieved all his gurubhais and sat down in the Bhajan Hall from morning to evening singing the mantra. He had a very nice experience while doing that and afterwards when he went to his room and lay down, he felt wide awake. He tried to simply be aware of his body, but instead of experiencing his physical body, he experienced the body made of light particles. That experience continued all night.'

'Was there ever any thought that Swami Satyananda would succeed his guru, as you have succeeded him?' asked one of the swamis.

'Swami Satyananda's association with his guru was very deep,' replied Swami Niranjan. 'During the days when he lived in the ashram at Rishikesh, he was innocent as a child, and Swami Sivananda took great care of him. Swami Sivananda never wished to part with Swami Satyananda, but for the good of humanity, he did so, knowing that his disciple had a great destiny which had to he fulfilled. Swami Sivananda used to say, "To keep Swami Satyananda here would be like trying to accommodate an elephant in a tiny match box." In a tribute to his beloved disciple, Swami Sivananda wrote: "Few would have such vairagya at such a young age. Swami Satyananda is full of the nachiketa element. Yet, any work that he takes up, he will complete in a perfect manner. He does the work of four people and yet never complains. He is a versatile genius and a linguist too. Yet, he is humble and simple, an ideal sadhaka and nishkama seva."

'Please tell us one thing more,' asked one of the swamis. 'When did Swami Satyananda finally depart from his guru's ashram?'

'Swami Satyananda served in his guru's ashram for the traditional period of twelve years, from 1944 to 1956. After this period he went to Swami Sivananda to tell him he was going, Swami Sivananda gave him 108 rupees and told him he could go. Then he called him into his room and gave him instructions on a very old tantric practice, kriya yoga. It took hardly seven or eight minutes for Swami Satyananda to learn all the kriyas. Before his departure Swami Sivananda just looked at him for several minutes, and when he bent to touch his guru's feet, at once the thought came into his mind very clearly, "Find a mission for yourself."

'With that, Swami Satyananda's ashram life came to a. close. Now we must end this session, but we will continue tomorrow evening. Please get ready for Shantipath.' As the vedic mantras were intoned, each sannyasin was thinking about the life of Gurudev.

When the sannyasin is denounced,
He does not defend himself.
When he is criticised,
He does not clarify himself.
When he is hit,
He does not retaliate.
He considers praise and respect
As maya, which is false, not true.

The property, disciples and followers
That the sannyasin receives
Do not belong to him.
He has no right to enjoy
Money, name and fame.
Ashrams that are given to him
Are not meant for his gratification.

Everything the sannyasin has is in trust.
Once the sankalpa is made before guru:
"I give my life to sannyasa",
The money, property, intelligence,
And whatever faculties he possesses,
Are no longer to be used for himself
But for the upliftment of others.