‘Kill the Little i’ Swami Sivananda’s Prescription for Divine Life

Sannyasi Shivadhyanam

Divinity and spirituality have become oft-used clichés these days. They have come to mean religion, monasticism, asceticism, mysticism, occultism, scriptural study, metaphysical argumentation, or one of the many yogas such as jnana yoga, karma yoga or bhakti yoga, depending on their usage and context. For me personally, it wasn’t until one serene Vijayadashami evening, when Swami Niranjan elucidated upon a very crisp and concise statement of Swami Sivananda that a glimpse of the true meaning and intent of divine life shone through.

Kill the little i
Die to live
Lead the divine life.

Through this succinct statement, Swami Sivananda reduced divine life to a plain and simple act of suicide. The i here refers to our little self, upon whose death the universal or true Self shines through. This i is not our real identity and in the remainder of this article, the terms suicide and the assassination of Mr i will be used rather interchangeably.

The hunt

One doesn’t have to be on the rolls of MI6 to figure out that the first step in carrying out any assassination is the identification and cornering of the quarry. Now this Mr i is a slippery character; always cloaked in secrecy and never revealing his true identity. His presence can only be inferred from his activities and the games he plays. One has to methodically and meticulously look for him in all sorts of places, continually asking “Where am i? Who am i?”

Albert Einstein used to hate algebra in his younger days. One day his uncle brought him a book on algebra and introduced the subject in a very novel way. “Algebra is nothing but a hunt,” he said, “an adventurous search for the elusive Mr x who (or more precisely, whose value) is hidden somewhere in the equations of algebra. For example, the value of x hidden in the algebraic equation, 3x = x + 2, is nothing but 1.” Einstein took to the algebraic hunt with gusto and the child who was once scared to death of algebra went on to become one of the giants of modern physics.

This elusive Mr i needs to be identified and ferreted out, just like its algebraic counterpart, in the innumerable personal and interpersonal equations of daily life. Wherever the awareness goes, whatever one identifies most strongly with at any given moment, that’s where the i is. For example, if one stumbles and hurts one’s big toe, the i is right there in the toe during the moments of pain and agony. At that instant one could almost say i am the toe. During idle moments given to daydreaming, the i can be found floating in the flights of fantasy. In a fight, the i is in the anger, in loss, the i goes with the cherished possession. In love, the i is in the beloved and in sorrow, the i can be found wallowing in self-pity. And one of the favourite haunts and strongholds of i is Fort Ego, where it can be seen strutting around, wearing one of the different masks of pride, vanity, conceit or arrogance.

The battle

Once the victim has been identified and chased out of its hiding hole, one needs to arm, take aim and shoot. The entire process of sadhana is nothing but this constant struggle to expose and progressively decimate one’s own unreal i-ness. It is a long and arduous battle no doubt, but one must attack with renewed effort each time. Victory is certain for those who persevere and persist.

Swami Sivananda has himself indicated the quickest and most direct way to carry out this assassination.

Adjust, adapt, accommodate,
Bear insult, bear injury.
This is the highest sadhana.

Sacrifice is the touchstone of this highest of sadhanas. Sacrifice of one’s body, possessions, comforts, name, status, desires, feelings, abilities – any and everything that i can use as a cloak to hide behind must be meticulously and ruthlessly let go of. And this spirit of inner sacrifice must manifest externally as loving and humble service. After all, the sacrifice must be offered to someone, what is given up has to end up somewhere! Divine life is nothing but this reorientation of one’s life around love, service and sacrifice.

One potential pitfall in this endeavour is the paradox of pride. The pride of sacrifice, the pride of having obliterated one’s own i-ness, paradoxically resurrects that very i-ness, just like the mythical demon, Raktabija. Whenever Raktabija was beheaded by Kali, he would re-arise from his blood spilt on the earth! This is the reason why the attitude of humble service is of paramount importance. Can day and night ever coexist? Similarly, humility and pride can never ride on the same boat.

Divine injection SB 40 and other potent remedies

In cases of acute megalomania, where one’s pride proves an insurmountable obstacle, Swami Sivananda prescribes the following potent remedies: “Live under a guru. Obey him. Serve him. Rectify your defects. Pray and do japa. Then only will your old asuric nature change. Have rigorous self-punishment. Fast entirely for a day or two. Do plenty of japa. Pray fervently. Then only will your old unregenerate demoniacal nature change. Or, stand in the market place and allow a scavenger to shoe you with his old shoes 40 times. This is the best method to correct and improve yourself. This is the most potent injection to cure this disease instantaneously. Injection SB 40 means Shoe Beating 40 times!”

The prize

The fruit of this lifelong endeavour is atmabhava, the feeling of oneness and togetherness with the whole of existence, from the lowest to the highest. When we as cold, frigid, ice-cubes in this icebox of a world finally begin to melt under the heat of sacrifice and the warmth of love, then and only then do the walls of our individuality begin to dissolve and a flowing sense of oneness begins to dawn. Melting of the ice-cubes is the path of divine life and its culmination, the pure, undifferentiated water, the exalted state of atmabhava.

A ‘pyrotechnic’ poem penned by Swami Sivananda spurs us on this divine quest of ours.

Vedantic Bomb

A physical bomb destroys a city,
but a Vedantic bomb destroys
the city of egoism inside.
A Vedantic bomb annihilates
the illusion caused by ignorance
and makes the world vanish.
A physical bomb can destroy
only a limited area,
but a Vedantic bomb destroys
the entire universe.
The ingredients of a Vedantic bomb
are dispassion, discrimination,
renunciation, aspiration,
reflection and meditation.
Sivananda says:
Carefully mix these ingredients,
kill the egoism by this bomb,
enter the kingdom of bliss
and hoist the banner of eternal peace.