RENUNCIATION

The following morning the disciples rose as usual in the quiet, early hours of the morning, when the only sounds to be heard in Rishikesh were the chiming of bells, the chanting of mantras and the rushing waters of the Ganga. They spent many hours that day, sitting in meditation by the samadhi shrine, contemplating their Master's greatness, as it had been revealed to them by Swami Chidananda and Swami Krishnananda the day before. As the evening approached, they rose, as if of one accord , and having taken their ritual bath in the Ganga, they again gathered together in eager anticipation of the story to come. Once again Swami Chidananda took up the tale, this remembrance of his Master which had become a tribute far exceeding his original intentions.

'On his return to India,' he began, 'the delight of Kuppuswami's mother at seeing her son again was short lived, for he chose to slip away quietly, without even having entered the family home. She waited for him, but in vain. Empty handed, Kuppuswami began to wander in search of God, heading towards the sacred city of Varanasi, His fellow travellers were amazed at his beatific absorption and his apparent unconcern with the comings and goings around him. On arriving in Varanasi, Kuppuswami, now a pilgrim, bathed in the holy Ganga and was blessed with darshan of Lord Vishwanath. "O Lord!" he prayed. "I now take refuge in thee! Guide me in my quest for the truth." Varanasi, although a holy city, was not the quiet and secluded place which Kuppuswami was seeking and so he continued on his way towards Rishikesh. Leading the life of a mendicant, on some days he went without food, walking mile after mile. But he faced his hardships gladly, grateful for the opportunity to prove his devotion.

'Shortly after his arrival in Rishikesh, in March 1924, Kuppuswami met the sadhu who was to initiate him into the Sannyasa Dharma, Sri Swami Vishwananda Saraswati, giving him his ochre robe and the name Swami Sivananda Saraswati. His sannyasa initiation rites were performed at the Kailasa Ashram by His Holiness Sri Swami Vishnudevanandaji Maharaj. From that moment on, Swami Sivananda dressed to clothe himself, ate to live and lived to serve humanity. A small, dilapidated kutir, not used by others, and infested with scorpions, protected him from rain and sun. He would walk four miles every morning, singing and chanting Om in his ebullient way, for his alms of four rotis and a cup of dhal. He practised intense tapasya, observed mouna and often fasted for days together. In the early morning hours he would stand in the icy cold Ganga up to his hips and commence his japa.' The disciples shivered in the warm, evening sun, knowing how cold this could be.

'Despite this intensive sadhana, Swami Sivananda continued to treat sick pilgrims and mahatmas, believing strongly that realisation only comes through selfless service. He visited the huts of sadhus with medicines, served them and massaged their legs. He begged food on their behalf and fed them with his own hands when they fell sick. He brought water from the Ganga and washed their kutirs. Using his savings from Malaya, he provided medicines and printed spiritual leaflets. So famous did he become that the authorities directed visitors to him for darshan, saying, "He is the only great mahatma and yogi in Swargashram."

'One of the mahatmas in this neighbourhood, Swami Kalikananda, watched with interest the selfless services rendered by Swami Sivananda and, thinking that the opportunity should not be lost, he approached him with a proposal to run a charitable dispensary. Thus, in 1925, the Satya Sevashram Dispensary came into being. Here Swami Sivananda continued to work for others, putting them before himself.' 'Tell them the story of the pilgrim,' interrupted Swami Krishnananda, 'they must know to what extent their Master's devotion went.' 'Yes, indeed,' continued Swami Chidananda and he told the story to the waiting group.

'One evening a pilgrim en route to Badrinath came to the dispensary for help. Later it occurred to Swami Sivananda that he should have given a different medicine which would have been more helpful. So, early next morning, even before dawn, he took the correct medicine and started at a steady uphill run to catch up with the traveller. When he reached the next halt, he found that the pilgrim was an even earlier riser and had already proceeded on his way. Never daunted, Swami Sivananda caught up with the pilgrim near the fifth mile and there gave him the medicine.'

'Was that back when you joined the dispensary, Swamiji?' asked one listener, knowing that at some point Swami Chidananda had been entrusted with the management of the dispensary, 'No, my child,' replied Swami Chidananda, 'this was many years before I arrived here. I remember being told that during this time, Swamiji refused to accept disciples, claiming himself to be a common sadhu and a friend of all, not a guru. It was only later, after a vision of Lord Krishna requesting him to share the divine nectar that he possessed with all those around him, that he began to teach yoga and meditation. But he never lost his own inner peace, and on days when too many callers posed a threat to his spiritual routine, he would disappear into the rocky ledges of the Ganga or the forests on the Manikoot hill slopes. In deep meditation he questioned his own soul and the truth began to manifest.'

Silence descended on the group, as they imagined how their Guru had been in those days. Just as they were all sinking into their own reveries, Swami Krishnananda began to speak. 'Remember,' he admonished them, 'that your Master never forgot others. Knowing that there was a great need for him in the outside world, in 1931 he began to mix with the masses, touring extensively in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Jammu-Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh. Everywhere he went he delivered fiery speeches, demonstrated asanas and pranayama, and conducted ecstatic kirtan. He visited schools and colleges, pouring forth all his energy, and people became devoted to him from all corners of the country. Even the British and those who came to criticise him were inflamed by the passion of his presence and would come to the stage and dance with Swamiji, singing the Lord's name.' The listening disciples laughed, amused at this picture of the divine inspiration which Swami Sivanandaji had often caused others to feel.

'For five years, he travelled the whole length and breadth of India, not only speaking to the people but also visiting important places of pilgrimage in the South, including Rameshwaram near his home town.' Krishnananda paused, noted the setting sun and the tired faces of his listeners and decided that, for the moment, they had heard enough. 'His work and his energy should be an example to us all,' he said, 'but do not forget that Swamiji was a god man and we are but children in comparison. Let us then go to bed, where we can each marvel alone at the stories we have heard this evening.' After a short prayer, the disciples dispersed for the night, comforted and consoled for the loss of their Master by the tales which his dearest and closest followers were now telling.