MISSION

'Quickly, quickly,' urged the young sannyasin who only two days earlier had been overcome with grief, and now skipped nimbly down the steps of the ghat, 'If we hurry and are ready early, perhaps our story tellers will also come and we shall hear more of the great deeds of our Master.' Infected by his spontaneous enthusiasm, the others plunged into the waters of the Ganga, and within seconds were once again seated in a group, waiting expectantly. Swami Chidananda and Swami Krishnananda wandered slowly down the steps, immersed in deep conversation. 'Ah!' cried Chidananda looking up to see the welcoming crowd. 'I see you are keen and eager to hear the rest of the story. Such enthusiasm shall not be disappointed. Wait for one moment and I shall be with you.' And after they too had taken their baths, the two senior sannyasins settled down amidst the group to continue the story.

'The ashram, as you know it now,' began Swami Chidananda, 'came from very humble beginnings. After Swamiji's tours, he began to feel the need to establish himself independently, in the interests of the spiritual upliftment of the large number of seekers who came to him. And so in 1934, he and his disciples crossed to the right bank of the Ganga and, finding an old, dilapidated and disused cowshed, they settled down to work, sowing the seeds of the present Divine Life Society.

'The ashram grew very quickly. Devotees soon offered to build kutirs. Materials and workers came streaming in, and the humble beginning exploded into a world in miniature. But Swami Sivananda never allowed a pause for consolidation. He kept on pressing for greater and greater service. Hence the ashram suffered from an almost perpetual financial crisis, which he encouraged so that the inmates would have to work harder. "Work, work and work for the welfare of humanity," was then, as always, his maxim. Once, a shopkeeper in Rishikesh refused to supply provisions unless the earlier balance of Rs.20,800/- was cleared.

The secretary-swami of the ashram approached Sivananda and pleaded with him to keep only the senior Inmates and to send the rest away. Sivananda refused, saying that God had sent them here and he would provide. Miraculously, the next day, an ardent devotee of Swami Sivananda came to the ashram and offered money, exactly the amount that the ashram owed!'

'If he was so busy, where did Swamiji find time to write all those books we see in the library?' asked one astonished sannyasin. 'Heaven knows,' interjected Swami Krishnananda, taking over the storyline. 'You must all have seen how tirelessly and ceaselessly he used to work. But he always considered the gift of knowledge as the greatest gift and sought to share it with others to the maximum extent possible. He started a printing press at the ashram to aid him in this task, and everyone who wrote a letter to him or sent the smallest donation got some leaflet or pamphlet. Whenever he went out on tour, he made sure that spiritual literature was printed for free distribution. But, typically, he was not satisfied even with this, and with the growth of the ashram, he felt that something must be mailed regularly to his correspondents. Thus in September 1938, 'The Divine Life', the monthly magazine of the Divine Life Society, was born. Then, in 1939, his first book was published. For more than two decades he had to have his books printed by outside presses. Even after the ashram press was started, it could not cope with all the publications that he wanted undertaken. Don't you remember,' Swami Krishnananda said, turning to Swami Chidananda, 'when we arrived, you in 1943, I in 1944, how the press was never shut down, even when there was a financial crisis in the ashram?'

'Oh yes,' replied Chidananda, 'the speed with which Swamiji brought out books was phenomenal.

Generally, he worked on three or four volumes at a time. I think that overall he must have written more than 200 books, including commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, the principal Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and Narada Bhakti Sutras; scores of books on the practice of Yoga and on Vedanta, and many volumes on health and vigour. He used every form of literary expression to convey his point to the reader. Poetry and drama, letters and essays, stories and parables, aphorisms and lectures - all were adopted by him to spread knowledge of divine life.

'Perhaps you have heard about the All India-Ceylon Tour which Swamiji undertook in order to bring about a mass awakening and a further dissemination of knowledge. From 9th September to 8th November 1950, Sivananda travelled around, addressing hundreds of civic receptions and public gatherings, school and college students in almost all the important cities and towns. And en route, at every station where the train halted, thousands of devotees had Swamiji's darshan and heard his kirtan. At the end of the tour, when Swamiji returned to the ashram, how proud we were of him and what a warm reception we gave him! The effect of this tour was tremendous. Since then the flow of devotees to the ashram for darshan and guidance from Sivananda was ever on the increase. Eminent people from all walks of life were drawn towards Sivananda.'

'Is it true,' asked one young devotee, 'that he welcomed everyone to the ashram and gave mantra diksha to anyone who asked for it?' 'Of course,' interposed Chidananda, 'Swamiji also gave sannyasa diksha liberally, and I am sure that in India's spiritual history no other saint turned so many into monks. He gave sannyasa to men and to women; to Indians and to foreigners; in person and by post. To some who had worldly responsibilities, he gave mental sannyas. He coloured their minds. He told them to live in the world, but not to be of it. Furthermore, Swami Sivananda did not impose too many rules and restrictions on his disciples. He asked them not to think too much about their body or bread, but to dwell constantly on the all pervading Brahman. His instructions to all were; 'Serve, Love, Meditate, Realise.'

The disciples nodded in recognition of their Master's words. And then one by one they began to voice memories of their own. One spoke of the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy, established in 1948 to give systematic training to the resident Sadhakas and visiting seekers. Another praised the way Swamiji had advocated the fundamental unity of all religions and described the World Parliament of Religions, convened at the ashram in 1953. Gradually, the talk moved closer to the present and the sannyasins reminded one another of how their Master had seemed in recent months to know that the end of his life was approaching, and how on the day of his maha samadhi, he was able to swallow a glassful of Ganga water, having rejected all other food and drink for days.

One inquisitive member of the group turned to Swami Chidananda and asked if he knew what Swami Sivananda's last words had been. Chidananda was quiet for a moment and then, speaking in a voice full of tenderness and love, said, "Happiness comes when the individual merges in God". 'This was his last message to us.' The disciples fell silent, and calm seemed to descend on their troubled minds. Rishikesh too had subsided into quietness during the long hours of story telling. Only the stars seemed to be moving, sparkling in the night sky, and for a moment, the disciples felt that their Master was amongst them, that his love surrounded them and that it would always be so.