Right from the beginningless ages, the world has been guided by spiritually illumined people who come from time to time to raise man's consciousness and to remind us of the way we must go. Swami Sivananda was one great soul who was born to give the word of spiritual life to thousands and thousands of people all over the globe. He never came to the West and he never went to the East, but today he is everywhere.
I have met many of the great men who have come in the galaxy of spiritual life in my lifetime, but practically none have been able to convince my keen intellect. It was Swami Sivananda, whose way of life, whose daily routine, external dealings and expression of personal spiritual power were so convincing and impressive that I made him my guru. I am proud, or rather I feel I am very fortunate to have Swami Sivananda as my guru.
When I lived with Swamiji from 1943 to 1956, I was very keen on observing each and every action he performed and each and every thing he wrote in his books. I found there was no gap between his preachings, his practices and his personal life. Therefore, I concluded that when there is absolutely no gap between a man's thought, speech and action, such a man is a mahatma, one who has universal consciousness.
The life of Swami Sivananda, as I know it, was the life of a simple, innocent child. In fact he did not have even a trace of the ego of a yogi. When you reach a high point in spiritual evolution you become innocent like a child. Everything about Swami Sivananda was so natural. He did not have to practise it, nor did he need to think about it. It was as though his personality, mind, body and spirit were all emanating a type of fragrance.
There are two types of people those who express their nature and those who express their intellect. You may be compassionate, humble, charitable and pure, but is that what you really are, or is it just the way you have trained yourself to be because you know that these are very good qualities? Swami Sivananda was not an artificially good man, he was intrinsically, basically and primarily good because that was the element in him. In my eyes that is the one thing that made Swami Sivananda completely different from all others I have met in my life.
I came to Swami Sivananda's ashram on 19 March 1943 in the early morning. He was sitting in a small room which was his office. As soon as he saw me he got up and greeted me with Om Namo Narayanaya and bowed down at my feet. I was about nineteen then. He made me sit down and asked me what I had come for. I said that I was searching for something. He said that I should stay there, and so I stayed for twelve years. During these years I lived with a person whose every act was in absolute conformity with what we call God's behaviour, divine enactment. In the case of Swami Sivananda, perfection was an absolute expression of the beauty and magnanimity of his personality.
During the years with Swami Sivananda, I did not learn hatha yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga, tantra, Upanishads or Gita. From dawn to dusk, and sometimes during the night as well, I worked and worked and worked like a donkey, because he gave me just one command: Work hard, then you will be purified. You don't have to bring the light, the light is within you. It was not intellectually possible for me to understand what he was telling me, but because I had accepted him as my guru I accepted his commandment. For twelve years I lived a life above time and space, and worked as if in a frenzy. I did everything from cleaning the toilets to managing the ashram.
The first years of ashram life were so difficult that if I imagine them now, I think it must have all been a dream. During the difficult periods, which were ultimately intended for our evolution, we were working unconsciously day and night in constructing rooms, writing books and printing them. We never knew that we were working. It was a transcendental life and work was relaxation. During those twelve years I did not really have any mental turmoil. Even if there was anything troublesome within me, it never dared raise its head.
To live with Swami Sivananda was to live with a little baby. In his presence you were never aware of your ego. Hold a little baby on your lap, then you will find out where your ego is. Whatever your age, whether you are a big officer or businessman, the president of a large company, the prime minister of a nation, or even a criminal, how do you behave with a baby on your lap? Differences, formalities, personalities no longer exist. That was the effect of Swami Sivananda's personality, and this is how a saint lives.
It is very difficult to talk of such great men because what can we say about them? It isn't easy to fathom the spiritual illumination of a person. The mind and logic are finite, but the spiritual attainments are infinite. So, with the finite scale you cannot fathom the infinity of spiritual life.
Swami Sivananda gave us complete freedom of expression. We had to manage all the ashram affairs, from building construction and publishing books to taking care of the guests or finance. Whatever problem the ashram had or whatever things the ashram needed, we had to manage ourselves. If we made a mistake we were not chastised. Swamiji believed that everyone had come to the ashram with a noble intention, and he had complete faith in the sincerity, purpose and intentions of his disciples.
Even if Swamiji heard about the swamis fighting amongst themselves or abusing each other, he would say, It's just a momentary diversion, relaxation. They are sannyasins who have renounced with a purpose and an intention. This is a temporary maya on them. They will be all right soon. This is what kept his disciples around him. It was not Swami Sivananda who created the whole illusion, the whole maya, but his disciples, and he was just a seer of that. He gave us plenty of chances to learn things, and that is why his disciples have done such wonderful work all over the world in a very sattwic and humane way. They do not work in a rajasic manner, but in a calm, quiet and simple way.
During my stay with Swami Sivananda, people from different ashrams would come to see me. What does your guru teach you? they asked. Nothing, I replied. He doesn't teach you hatha yoga? they pursued. No, I said, I type his letters. Does he give you shaktipat? Has he given you siddhis? they inquired further. No, I answered, nothing.
Frankly speaking, what I say in lectures, what I have written in books, what I teach, has not come from studies or teachings. The knowledge does not come from outside; it is an unfoldment of what is already within. That which is in me is also within you. The only difference is that I had one watchword in life service to guru, without any motive, without expectation. This was my passion, my joy and my pleasure.
I have heard many mythological stories about great men of charity, but I have never seen one except for Swami Sivananda. Nobody went away without taking something. If one asked for money, clothes, blankets, food, shelter, medicine, love, affection, recognition, certificate, recommendation, letters anything one wanted he received. That was the greatness of Swamiji's heart. It was not that he was rich; in fact for many years the ashram was under a very heavy debt. If anyone told Swamiji about the ashram's financial situation he would say, It's not me, it is God who gives.
Not everyone in Swamiji's ashram spoke well of him; some criticized him day in and day out. Some people even came to the ashram to ridicule and mock, not only Swamiji but everything that concerned him. Swami Sivananda knew this very well. When it was brought to his notice the only thing he said was, God's creation is beautiful and we all have to be different from each other. If there is no resistance or criticism, the evolution of man will come to a dead end. If you think, wish or believe that everybody should accept you, your advice, philosophy, way of life, and agree with you totally, then you are hoping for a world which can never be. If you cannot live with different types of people in society, in your family, in an institution, then you are doomed to miseries, frustrations and all kinds of mental problems.
When people came to him with troubles, Swamiji's attitude was so natural and free from vanity, show and egoism. I have never seen anyone else like this. Many people who have siddhis make a show and give a type of stage performance, or they credit themselves, but he never did this. Whenever people came to him with a problem he always said, I will pray for you or You should practise this mantra and meditation or God is very kind and he will listen to your prayers. You will be all right.
If anyone told Swamiji they had been helped by his spiritual power, he would immediately reject it. He would say, No, God is great, He has done it. I've only helped Him. Many people have marketed their spiritual power, or they have cashed it in for political influence or for obtaining disciples. This is still being done in the world today and it has been happening throughout the ages. But Swamiji was never a part of this.
According to Swamiji, spiritual power that comes to you by dint of sadhana is an expression of God's wish. Therefore, you are only an agent, an instrument. That much credit can go to you. You are the tool, but you are not the maker of miracles. You are not the healer, you are not the prophet, it is He. This is the greatest self-control a sadhu, a sannyasin or a saint must have.
On 13th July 1963 I was in Munger, and that night, when I was sleeping, I had a very clear vision. I saw Swamiji travelling across the Ganga in Rishikesh on a very big ship. I was standing on the bank of the river while the ship was moving towards the opposite side. The dream was over and I knew that Swamiji had left his body. The physical body of guru leaves at any moment, it is inevitable, but his spirit remains forever if the disciple can remain in tune with him. Then he guides him at all times, in dream, in thought and emotion, and in actual life.
—Zinal, Switzerland, September 1979