I never tried evolving, moulding or developing myself. Everything has happened of its own accord, but the main reason was my guru’s entry and presence in my life. Without him stepping into my life the transformation would never have taken place. I was a hard and heartless person, but by my guru’s grace I began to soften. The association with my guru brought about this change within me.
Swami Sivananda was a very special person. His heart was very large. He was happiest when he was feeding and giving to people. His philosophy in life was that God is real and everything else is unreal. His heart was completely open, without any doors or windows.
He would call all the sweepers and scavengers, feed and clothe them, give them tea, wash their feet, and ask me to do the same, but my response was negative; I found it useless and irrelevent for spiritual evolution. He also started a leper colony for about two hundred and fifty patients behind Kailash Ashram on the banks of the Ganga. I was given the duty of going amongst the lepers and the sick to narrate the Ramayana, but my heart was not in the work. My guru built them huts with thatched roofs and gave them goats to rear because lepers are forbidden to raise cows. He forbade them to beg in the streets and would even send them bundles of bidis.
There were thousands of incidents like this in Swami Sivananda’s life which I saw with my own eyes. He believed that those who think well of others have soft, tender hearts. One who thinks ill of others has a hard heart which needs to be pounded. Prakriti breaks hard core hearts. Your heart should be so sensitive that it responds immediately to another’s pain.
Many years ago during a Kumbha Mela, a man suffering with leprosy was brought to the ashram in a gunny bag. Swami Sivananda called me and said, “Put him in a room and clean his body with the necessary antiseptics.” Swamiji was a doctor and he knew what to do. I also had a little knowledge about such matters, so I carried out the duty I had been given. That man was obnoxious; his smell, attitude, behaviour, his entire being, was difficult to accept.
The next morning, when I gave Swamiji a report, he asked me how the man was. I said, “Swamiji, that man’s disease is so difficult to handle.” He replied, “You want to find God without any effort. You want to realize God without a change of heart, mind, philosophy and concept, without destroying your personal nest. You have a personality, character, views, habits, likes and dislikes. Destroy them first and change your heart.” If it had been a beautiful young lady or even a beautiful or rich man, I would have served them without complaining. Such a man was I. Do you think I was fit to realize God? No, I was unfit.
On the day when I heard the command, “Love your neighbours. Help them as I have helped you,” that scene and what Swamiji had told me came into my mind. “You want to realize God without changing yourself. You want to see the light without operating upon your own cataract. No, it is not possible.” At that time the realization dawned.
Before you are able to experience Brahman or the Lord, to see the light or experience enlightenment, you must be able to feel the tragedy in another’s life. Otherwise you cannot attain peace. A compassionate and sensitive heart attains knowledge effortlessly. The more distant you are from the suffering of others, the further Brahman will be from you. God, Shiva, Rama, Devi will all be beyond your reach. You should be tender and sensitive to the misery of others, compassion should flow from you, your hearts should immediately respond. You should experience other people’s pain as your own. Only tender hearts can feel and experience the Paramatma.
You are so engrossed in yourselves that you have forgotten the reality, the totality of God’s existence. Your world ends once you have thought about yourself, your husband, wife and children. How small you have made yourselves. ‘This is mine, this is not mine’ are the thoughts of a limited mind. The sum and substance of spiritual life, the best teaching of Vedanta, is atmabhava, which means feeling the pain and distress of others as if it were your own, feeling the poverty, sickness and calamities of others as your own.
God permeates the whole of creation like electricity, water and air. The best and easiest way to attain Him is to have a genuine feeling of compassion for others, to have the same intensity of feeling for the suffering of others as you have for your own self.
God is here and now among human beings. Look for Him where He is most needed, not in the temples where people are pouring wealth on His idol. That God is very rich, but the God living among the poor and the downtrodden in the guise of a lame or blind person is needy. Go and look for Him in destitution, hunger and starvation. Go to those houses where there are no hearths.
Vishnu is in the waters, in space, on the mountain tops, in the garland of flames, in every nook and corner of the world.
This is a fact, not a theory. We who have enough of everything should develop the philosophy of atmabhava in our lives. Try to see God in suffering humanity. This is the duty of saints, sages and holy people, as well as householders. It is the duty of humanity.