An Extraordinary Servant Of God

Swami Nirmalratna Saraswati

The majesty of having such a guru as Swami Satyananda goes far beyond what my words can express. His presence has connected me to eternity, to that unchanging reality, and shown the way to make this relevant to my daily life. How to thank him for that?

Swamiji was a modern day Lord Krishna, Sri Rama, Maharishi Patanjali, Sage Narada, Vedvyasa and Valmiki . . . he was all the greatest masters DNAed into one of history’s most extraordinary sages. He utilized his genius not only in brilliant satsangs on any and every topic of relevance to yoga, but also in the most practical and down-to-earth matters necessary to create and maintain one of the greatest institutes of yoga of all times, Bihar School of Yoga. When he expounded upon yoga he did so not only as a philosophy or spiritual science, not only as techniques of asana, pranayama and meditation but also as a vibrant tantric lifestyle, as a marvelous interplay of devotion, mysticism, self-enquiry and self-sacrifice. His yoga was and is the yoga of life itself. All were witness to his greatest siddhi, his ability to stand on his own two feet and cope with everything that came his way in the most efficient, positive and creative manner.

His entire spiritual life was spent in the service and spiritual upliftment of others. There’s a very clear memory of his words at my sannyasa diksha, “One’s own spiritual evolution and that of the community are of equal importance.” We saw this when during his panchagni sadhana he was also fulfilling the divine mandate to ‘serve his neighbours as God had served him’. His neighbours were some of India’s poor villagers, yet he didn’t give money directly into their hands and thus feed them with a meal or two, his vision was fare more expansive – he gave them the means to earn their own livelihood. He gave items of great practical value to them – rikshaws, thelas, bicycles, bulls and cows, sewing machines, pots and buckets, carpentry and masonry tools, etc. He assisted them to set up small businesses, dig wells, construct homes for themselves, and improve to the quality of their agricultural crops. He helped them to feed, clothe and educate their children. He sent his swamis out on tractors to plough their fields, if they weren’t able to manage it themselves. He called the women to the Akhara to cut the grass and then they took it home to feed their cows.

He could see the significance of every moment of existence and every experience in his life was accepted and valued. He took nothing for granted. I remember his most wonderful ability to take the slightest hint or the tiniest glint of talent or special quality in someone’s personality and empower them to use that to uplift themselves. No matter what that quality was, be it growing roses, baking bread, teaching asana, polishing brass ware, presenting a lecture, laying bathroom tiles, knitting or even belly dancing . . . he could appreciate everything as part and parcel of the magnificent process of spiritual evolution.

He knew that we must realize God in and through the world, and see another reality behind this existence. Therefore, he encouraged us not to separate our life into the mundane and spiritual but rather, to look behind the comings and goings of our life, to be a witness to all our celebrations and tragedies, gains and losses, sufferings and happiness, and to see all the idiosyncrasies of our personalities. He wanted us to see how we were riveted into the endless cycle of births and deaths, and show us the way to release ourselves. In this respect he stressed the importance of karma yoga.

Karma yoga had been taught to him by his beloved guru Swami Sivananda. It seemed to be his most cherished sadhana, and he offered the same to us, as the heart of our spiritual training. He also provided a myriad of practices by which each could find their individual way to realize the immortal self. All of the yogas: bhakti, raja, hatha, jnana, kriya, kundalini, laya, nada, etc., were systemically and expertly organized, explained and taught and preserved for posterity in his writings and audio recordings. He was a mastermind who left nothing undone or unfinished. It’s an understatement to say he was a rare being.

Everything he did and every word he spoke was precise, pertinent, intuitive and stimulating. Everything had its place and purpose. Once he called me to bring some lime paint. “Bring it here now! Go quickly!” I ran, found the huge drum of newly mixed paint but there was nothing in sight to transfer the mixture into my small bucket so I used my hands. I raced back to him, pleased to have been so fast. When I stood in front of him he glared at my hands, pointed fiercely, and roared, “What’s that?” “Swamiji, it’s lime paint.” “Idiot! Wash it off immediately! The lime in that paint can destroy your skin. Learn to use the correct tool for every work, every time.” It was a simple and straight forward lesson that echoes through me even now, if I dare to take a short cut in any way.

Even when he was playing the role of the hardest task-master and performing his egodectomies, with a training similar to Milarepa’s, we knew that through his toughness he was giving us opportunities to become ‘real yogis’, ever ready, sharp and aware! He could appear at any moment, and nothing was too little or too big for his attention. His hand would reach out to a tap to turn down the water flow if someone was using too much water. If he hadn’t seen a swami for a few days, he would enquire about them, in case they were sick and required special attention. One morning I saw him watching the carpenters make tiny bamboo pegs; later the same day, with a hammer in hand, he was helping to insert those pegs into the wooden legs of a small office table. He could show us how to prune trees, use the lawn mower, cure the roof castings on the construction sites, apply the enamel paint so that the finish was perfectly smooth, peel the veggies so as not to waste any. He was everywhere at all times; he still is. He has shown us how to become fully involved with life and how to give everything of ourselves to the people, places and events that came our way.

Swamiji found the way to surrender to God’s will and become His instrument, or as he preferred to call it, “His servant”. He inspired us to do the same in many simple ways. One winter’s day he was inspecting the room where one of his foreign disciples was to stay for a short time. He felt the thickness of the mattress, checked the potential warmth of the blanket, and then adjusted the position of the mat on the floor. He told us, “Here in India, the guest is God. Bring her our best sleeping bag and pillow. She will be used to warmth and comfort. It’s the least we can do to make her feel at home.”

I must admit that it was not until many, many years after meeting Swamiji that I even began to understand the significance of the guru-disciple relationship, and what ‘knowledge of the self’ actually meant. That this great master, who had realized the Truth himself, was prepared to instruct aspirants in that knowledge, totally silenced my mind! When I heard him say, “The purpose of man’s life is to realize the state of transcendental consciousness”, my entire existence fell into a spiritual perspective and I knew for certain that people like Jesus Christ do walk this earth. It was the sacred moment when my faith became solid, and when I knew that it was he who could (eventually) awaken the Divine within us. But he took no credit for anything he did. He said, “You must have faith in God. It is the power, it is the force behind it all. What a fool I was to think it was me!”

Finally, Swamiji was a jivanmukta. He knew the secret oneness of existence and was totally satisfied with his own self. He had nothing to obtain and nothing to avoid, and knew how to implement the cosmic will as the occasion or the environment required.

Swamiji, your dedication to sannyasa has set before us a living example of the highest caliber of loyalty and fortitude. It has shown us the degree of utmost surrender required if we are to live the life of sannyasa in full. As an aspiring sannyasin, I stand in awe of your commitment. How can I possibly pay homage grand enough to this blessed being who gave solace to us all? The remaining days of my life are not enough, but I quietly offer them to you.

Swamiji, of all the prasad you have ever given, your entire spiritual life was the most supreme and precious offering. But even then, you still managed to give us something more . . . Swami Niranjan and Swami Satsangi.