Swami Sivananda lived life in all its completeness: he was at once a great saint of the calibre of Christ; an administrator in the highest position; a sannyasin with total detachment from 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 jnani, 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 of 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 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 asked, "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 asked, "When the sun is set and 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 is sought. Such a guru was Swami Sivananda, not only in his own time, but even today when the message of his life and teaching is a lamp unto those who have yet to awaken their inner light.
When you compare the life of Swami Sivananda with the life 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 is most difficult to love and it is impossible to understand. Today man has reached the point where he finds himself incapable or 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 and 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 as 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 thought that he would rebuke me or admonish me, or tell me what was right or 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 everyone 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 of gold, you examine it thoroughly. And if you go to purchase a diamond, you don't pick up the first one you see. Likewise, 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 the test of the divine, so that you may pass through it and then you will be given the higher wisdom."
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 used to collect a few chapatis from his daily bhiksha and keep them in a box. When he had a sufficient number, he would close the 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 the 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 those 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 and so on. 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."
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 the experience exists within the mind. This practical doctor then was at the same time a true jnani 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 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. 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 one hundred and eight upanishads. Swamiji also decided on the melody. So, for twenty four 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 the program continuously running.
On the day of 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, 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.
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 an 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 that he has recovered completely, because we cannot be sure he got 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 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.
From Light on the Guru and Disciple Relationship, Swami Satyananda, Yoga Publications Trust