Why are the ethics of a spiritual life difficult to follow? Why does an average aspirant find it difficult to follow the precepts handed down by our seers and forefathers? It is because it is rare to find people who exemplify the teachings, and the precepts appear far removed from the normal, social environment. This is where the guru or spiritual teacher comes in. He embodies the highest spiritual truths. He lives them. One can see those dry teachings vibrate with life in his presence and feel them in his words and actions.
There has been an endless line of realized seers in India. Interestingly, however, though they have realized the one truth and their teachings do not contradict each other, there is difference in their styles, in the way they have presented the teachings. The style varies even within one lineage, and even from guru to disciple.
How do these natures become different? Herein lies the mystery of initiation. When a guru initiates a disciple, he also gives him a spiritual name. The disciple assumes the qualities of the name as he evolves and, ultimately, the name becomes indistinguishable from the person. Swami Sivananda is a glowing example of this mysterious process. A few incidents from his life illustrate how his actions, words, behaviour, indeed his very person resonated his name: Siva, the auspicious one. The benevolent one.
The traditional image of Siva is of a ascetic figure clad in tiger skin and matted locks, with a snake as garland, ash smeared all over the body, seated in deep meditation. A figure which is human, but which is difficult for a human to emulate. However, we can come to understand the nature of Siva if we see a human being who exemplifies the qualities of Siva.
The literal meaning of Siva is auspicious, shubha, and benevolent, kalyankari. Swami Sivanandas life is a continuous example of this kalyankari nature, a person who would always bestow benevolence and auspiciousness to anybody who came in contact with him, in flesh and blood or through his books. This touch of auspiciousness, however, would not be superficial. It would be life transforming. He would see to it that the person benefited in the long run.
Once, a heart-broken man walked into Swami Sivanandas office. Disgusted with the world on account of a series of failures, he sought solace. Swamiji had one look at the young man, dropped his pen, put his spectacles in the case and led him to a bench outside. He sung kirtan with him. Om chanting followed. The effect on the man was marvellous and he regained his composure. Swamiji advised him to do japa on the banks of the Ganga.
Shastriji, I think I will never attain salvation, said Swami Sivananda once, You see, worldly people are attached to their wives, children, families and properties. But I am attached to service and dissemination of spiritual knowledge. Even if the desire of running into the forest comes to me, it leaves me the next instant. The desire to work, work and work while this body lasts, to serve aspirants in every way I can, smothers such a desire for seclusion in a trice. I think I will never get out of this circle. I do not want to get liberation myself until everyone leading divine life gets salvation. Swamiji could not help himself from helping others. It was the driving force of life. It was the Siva nature which was driving him.
One of Sivas attributes is that he can hold poison in his throat, the reason why he is called neelakantha, the blue-throated one. Swami Sivanandas nature reflected exactly that. Always look at the good side of men and matters. Even when you come across people who are rude to you, feel that God has given you an opportunity for strengthening your mind through their behaviour. See no evil. But if you happen to notice any, see that the evil does not come to you. God created both good and evil in this world for us to learn. From the good we learn to be good and from the evil to be free of evil. Therefore, both good and evil are really good only. Evil exists to glorify good. If everybody were virtuous, how would you appreciate virtues at all? he said.
Swami Sivananda refused to accept anyone as a rogue or rascal. He went to the hospital to bless the person who had attacked him. It is my duty to improve rogues. If I keep one rogue here, it means the world is saved of one rogue. Of course I will not place him in a responsible position in the ashram. I seldom remove a man from the ashram unless his conduct is too bad to be mended and he is a positive danger to the ashram as a whole, he said.
A dreaded dacoit was caught and admitted to a hospital, as he was badly injured. People remarked that he deserved the punishment. Swami Sivananda got the news and came to visit him. Let us chant Mahamrityunjaya mantra for the health and speedy recovery of Shri Roy, he said and then called for a tin of biscuits. Lord Narayana has come in this form. Please give him the biscuits in the morning with tea or milk.
As administrator of the ashram, he would have to take strong action sometimes, but he would ensure that his blessings went out to them. Whatever your differences with me, please do not commit the mistake of returning home. You may find some suitable residence on the banks of the Ganga and stick to the path of renunciation. Please find enclosed some money for your use, he said to a disciple who was leaving.
Swamiji would go to great lengths to put in a spark of divinity in a persons life. He would let an aspirant express his own desires and go along with him till he found an opportune moment to place the seed.
Swamiji, I wish to travel throughout India and visit all the shrines and sacred places singing the name of the Lord, said a disciple. This is not an easy task. You have to undergo many difficulties. You will not get food and shelter in time, Swami Sivananda replied. No, Swamiji, God will take care of these things, insisted the disciple. God will provide everything, but He will also see whether you are fit for His grace. You will have to face many a trial and tribulation and in the process you may lose your faith in God. Your faith is not yet developed to that extent. The best way for you is to stay here, work for a few hours and then meditate, said Swamiji. No, Swamiji, I have no interest in work. I cannot work, the disciple persisted. My dear sir, go step by step. You cannot meditate twenty-four hours long. The mind has to be controlled tactfully. You have to practise integral yoga for a harmonious and synthetic development. Work is never a hindrance. Rather, it refreshes the mind which is tired of meditation, Swamiji explained to him. But the disciple was adamant.Excuse me, Swamiji, I cannot work, he replied. Okay, you need not work. You are interested in kirtan, is it not? Do akhanda kirtan daily in the Bhajan Hall and help in the worship of the temple. Be cheerful. May the Lord bless you.
Ultimately, Swamiji turned the disciple around and made him work, which he was unwilling to do. However, the form of work was now acceptable to him. It was seva in the temple. Swami Sivananda would often use obstinate natures of aspirants for spiritual progress. Here is one more example.
A letter was received from a devotee: Swamiji, a week ago I came to your ashram at around 2.30 p.m. with the intention of having the darshan of my beloved guru. I knocked at the door and was disappointed because nobody opened or replied to me. I felt that if Gurudeva hurts the feelings of disciples like this, where can the disciple go for consolation! Therefore I am determined to fast unto death if I do not get a satisfactory explanation from Gurudeva within four days. Swamiji smiled and remarked, Do you call this devotion? It is nothing but adamancy. Anyhow, I am going to write to him only after two days! Let him fast for at least for two days. That will do him good and purify him.
Swami Sivanandas auspicious nature was manifest in the way he would give prasad. What delight he would take in distributing prasad!
When the news was announced that a certain Chimanlal Bhai had sent a parcel of sweets, he jumped out of the office. Bring the prasad in buckets. I cannot give just a pinch of prasad to anyone. I must give to my satisfaction. And my family is large, so whoever sends prasad has to send a lot. Om Namo Narayana, come here, take prasad. Patram, Pushpam, Phalam, Toyam. Swamiji greeted each one and gave handfuls of prasad. The hands of the recipients were full, but Swamiji would not stop. Take it in that towel, he said. But Swamiji, I will fall sick, said a disciple. Oh dont worry, I will give you medicine, replied Swamiji. When I give prasad I give naivedya to Lord Narayana. I repeat Om Namo Narayana when I meet everyone. This makes it a japa and a potent sadhana, he said.
Divine Life Society perhaps has the unique position of being the only publisher which does not hold copyright to its books. Swami Sivananda would ask for only Ganesh prasad copies from the publisher and thereafter anybody could make any number of copies, anywhere. He was also not concerned about maintaining financial restrictions as far as giving was concerned. He gave and gave, and never allowed the ashram to have a comfortable bank balance. However, Swamiji never identified himself with the transactions. He was in that exalted state of non-duality that sees no difference.
Swami Sivananda saw no difference between a sadhu and a dacoit, between a mouse and a human being. That is why his compassion extended to all. For him the world with all its diversity and dualities did not exist. This is said so in his own words in the following incident.
Someone asked Swamiji once. Who do you like more, Swamiji, Saradananda or Gurupremananda? Swamiji kept silent. The person repeated the question. Why do you ask? queried Swamiji. The disciple declined to answer and said, First answer my query. Swamiji coolly replied, To me there is no world and remained silent.
The Siva consciousness is transcendental and beyond the dualities of the world: like/dislike, pleasure/pain, heat/cold, love/hate, etc. That is why Swami Sivananda could never identify himself with those feelings.