May I Answer That?

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Swami Sivananda was a sage whose first concern, even first love, was the spiritual seeker, the student of yoga. The following answers were given to queries from aspirants through letters and satsangs. Swami Sivananda’s magnanimous personality shines through the answers, indicating a spiritual giant whose authority is a masterful combination of intuition and personal experience.

I am in earnest search of a guru who can emphatically say that he has realized the Brahman, the eternal Truth or God. Can you give trace of such a man? May I take the liberty to ask whether you have realized the Brahman?

The questions you have asked are common to all sincere aspirants in the spiritual path. Suppose I tell you that a certain ‘X’ is a realized soul, how can you verify my statement and how far will you be benefited by him?

Realized souls are not rare. Ordinary, ignorant persons cannot easily recognize them. Only a few who are pure can understand realized souls and they alone will be benefited by their company. There is no use of running here and there in search of realized men. Even if Lord Krishna comes to you, he cannot do anything for you unless you are fit to receive him. Realize this point well and purify yourself by nishkama karma yoga (selfless service), charity, concentration, meditation, japa and control of senses. Testing a guru is very difficult. Don’t use your intellect here. Have faith. The real aspirant is free from such questions and doubts. You will be miraculously helped if you believe my words.

If escape from this world be the goal, where is the incentive for social work?

Escape from the world is not the goal, but freedom from worldliness is what is desired. Social work has its own value in life until a certain stage, but after a time it is transcended by a higher consciousness. The value of social work, however, is purely subjective. One does not become a great reformer or saviour of mankind, but offers one’s ego as a sacrifice at the altar of universal love and so obtains purity of mind, which is the basis of all spiritual progress. For a realized soul, however, it is an urge born out of compassion for his fellow-beings.

Why was the Bhagavad Gita taught on the battlefield?

There was certainly some meaning in the Lord’s choosing the battlefield for imparting the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. He wanted to point out to us that wisdom should not recline on an armchair. If his wisdom did not accompany a man to the field of battle, it is no wisdom at all! Anyone can talk philosophy ‘after dinner’; any person can discourse on the most intricate points of the yoga shastras sitting comfortably near the fireplace. But that is mere lip-service to the supreme science of knowledge of the Self. It is sheer hypocrisy. These people generally fail when they are faced with a trial, when their wisdom is put to the acid test of practical demonstration, or when faced with a crisis.

Real wisdom will serve you right on the battlefield, right in a crisis, and will enable you to surmount the obstacle, resist the temptation and arise victorious from the trial. You will convert the trial into a great opportunity by revealing your genius. For, genius is often a product of crisis.

A person with a strong character will not succumb to tests and temptations, however powerful they may be. On the contrary, strength of character is revealed only at the time of crisis. A morally weak man talks philosophy when things are getting on the way he wishes them to, but his philosophy takes leave of him at the sight of a test. However, a morally strong man may give no indication whatsoever of his strength in ordinary times, but when a great trial faces him, he reacts most surprisingly and reveals his true character. That is what aspirants should understand from Krishna’s choice of the dreadful platform of the battlefield for his discourse. It was a fitting prelude to the great yoga of equanimity that he was about to preach through Arjuna to the entire humanity.

When the grace of guru and God is there, why is the mind still not controlled?

There must be purushartha (self-effort) also. It is only when you practise purushartha that grace will come. A professor will not answer the questions for you and make you pass the exam. The Bhagavad Gita says, Uddharet atmanatmanam. One should raise oneself. Grace only helps one to raise oneself. Everybody should work out their own salvation. You may ask, “What is grace then?” If an aspirant gets letters from his preceptor clearing his doubts, that is grace. If an aspirant comes here, bathes in the Ganges and hears the lectures, that is grace. Many people are thirsting for such opportunities, but not all get their wish fulfilled. If good books are available for swadhyaya (self-study), it is grace. If one enjoys good health for doing sadhana, that is grace. If God so wishes, He can give liberation to the whole world in an instant; but He does not do so. Grace descends only when there is purushartha.

Swamiji, which is greater: love or wisdom? Bhakti or jnana?

Keep your intellect in a box. Love and wisdom are one. Bhakti and jnana are one. Prema (love) leads to jnana. One helps the other. People read books and start such arguments. “Is this great or is that great?” It is all foolishness. God is both love and wisdom. One should not waste time in such useless arguments.

In an article in Siva’s Treasure entitled ‘Are you really qualified?’ you write, “If a thing is refused to him (the aspirant), he should not aspire for it again.” Does this statement not advocate a false sense of self-satisfaction and defeatist mentality? Please reconcile the discrepancy.

“If a thing is refused to him (the aspirant), he should not aspire for it again.” Read this statement again and again till it suffuses your entire being, till the proper substance of it is totally realized by you. Only then you will appreciate the grand truth and imbibe its true spirit. ‘Neither ask nor reject’ should be the motto of an ideal aspirant. He should not have any special craving for any particular object, however dear and cherished it be. Whatever comes by chance can be had, provided that it does not degrade the individual. One should not develop any attachment to any object lest one suffers mentally when the object is weaned away or refused. Everything comes and goes as per His sweet will. Whether one strives for an object or not when something is due, it certainly befalls to one’s lot of its own accord.

Self-sacrifice, self-contentment and self-restraint are what are required in the spiritual field for progress. It is no defeatist mentality if the aspirant rests satisfied with his ordained lot without yielding himself even mentally to the temptations which he previously used to enjoy. He is certainly not the fox that remarked that the grapes were sour when he could not reach them. By voluntary self-restraint and dispassion or by keeping equanimity when something pleasing does not fall to one’s share, tremendous will power accumulates. It is therefore a necessity to keep balance of mind in all states of working consciousness.

There is such an expression as ‘the flight of the alone to the Alone’. Where is the necessity for a guru or his grace? God’s grace will do, as it is said in the Upanishad.

How will you get God’s grace? When you discipline yourself. How will you know how to discipline yourself? By observing others who have walked the path successfully to the goal of perfection. Who are these people who walked to the goal? They are the ones known as gurus. So you need their help, their personal example, their encouragement and their grace. Thus we have come round to the answer that a guru as well as his grace are necessary. Everything is necessary: atma kripa, guru kripa and Ishvara kripa.

Why do different prophets give contradictory teachings?

Prophets are born from time to time to remove a catastrophe and establish dharma. They preach according to the time, place, conditions and requirements. Lord Buddha preached, “Don’t kill” whereas Guru Gobind Singh preached, “Kill.” When Buddha was born, people were sacrificing many animals. He had to preach ahimsa (non-violence) to stop the killing whereas Guru Gobind Singh had to infuse chivalry in men. One prophet preached, “Renounce and go to the forest.” Sri Ramanuja preached, “Enjoy at home. Have no attachment. Worship Vishnu.” The teachings are not contradictory in reality. They are needed to suit the occasion, time and nature of people.

How can a person, who has been thinking in a negative way for a long time, change to positive thinking?

Let him start with some positive suggestions: “I am hale and hearty. I am healthy. There is nothing wrong with me. I was under a misconception of my own abilities and capacities. Now I have realized my real nature.” Let him do it with the help of some person advanced in yoga or a devotee of the Lord. Let him start with a prayer and make prayer a part of his daily life. All negative thinking will end and he will become quite normal.

What are the marks of a wise man and a fool respectively from the ultimate point of view?

The fool reacts outwardly and emotionally under all circumstances, while there is no reaction in the sage. If at all the latter acts, such actions are not reactions to any immediate action, but are born out of the sage’s satsankalpa (true resolve) to serve humanity. Secondly, in all situations, the fool places himself first but finds himself last, while the wise man places himself last but finds himself first. Thirdly, the wise man retires silently as soon as he has done his work, but the fool remains there to hear others praise him, and in some cases, if nothing like that is coming forth, he shamelessly asks for it. Also read the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, where you will find a nice description of sthitaprajna (stabilized consciousness).

If the soul is immortal, why does Swamiji celebrate his birthday which belongs to the body?

I do not celebrate my birthday. It is the devotees who do it. Celebration of such birthdays is equal to worship of para brahman (supreme reality). Worship of the guru is worship of para brahman. The devotees take delight in celebrating the birthday, and they are benefited and uplifted. A spiritual wave is created year after year when the birthday is celebrated. The celebrations of the birthday is an annual reminder to the aspirants of the purpose of their life. It is a fillip to their sadhana. The pious, receptive attitude prevalent on such an occasion draws forth the grace of the guru and God upon the devotees. The thoughts of peace, love, devotion, etc. sent out by the innumerable devotees who assemble together to celebrate the birthday go a long way to promote peace, harmony and spiritual well-being.

The Hindu calendar is, in fact, dotted with many such occasions and other holy days. Their observance provides the needed spiritual impetus to people so they may strive with increased zeal for the attainment of the purpose of life: self-realization.