The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita ends with a description of the highest state of consciousness a human being can attain. Arjuna asks of Lord Krishna, “What are the marks of the man who lives always in wisdom; completely established in himself?” And Lord Krishna replies:
“He lives in wisdom who sees himself in all, and all in him. Whose love for the Lord of love has consumed every selfish desire and sense craving tormenting the heart. Not agitated by grief, nor hankering after pleasure, he lives free from lust, and fear, and anger, fretted no more by selfish attachments. He is not elated by good fortune, nor depressed by bad. Such is the seer. This is the supreme state . . . Attain thou this, and pass from death to immortality.”
For me, these verses summarize Sri Swami Satyananda’s life. He was a shining example of all the great qualities mentioned in the Gita and yet he lived the life of a simple man with so many human qualities.
In the early days I spent with him in BSY, Munger, his every minute was given over to others. This began with the steady stream of disciples, devotees and visitors who came from all over the world for every conceivable reason: to get an interview, to settle some question, to argue with his opinions, to get help on disciplining an unruly child, to settle marital relationships, to seek spiritual light or knowledge.
He made a point of always discovering a person’s interests and skills, and had that ability to draw out the very best in a person. He brought out people’s qualities, their gifts, so enabling them to express themselves creatively. Their work then became a sadhana, their profession became a sadhana; developing their abilities became their spiritual sadhana and took them closer to their goal. People just blossomed under his touch, under his glance. He had just one attitude in mind, to do good to everybody.
During that time he had not the slightest privacy. Sri Swamiji once said that a saint’s life should be an open book. Nothing should be hidden. And in his own life, in the ashram or during his many tours, indeed nothing was. His solitude, if at all, was taken in the midst of many. It was only much later after he left Munger and moved to Rikhia that this changed.
In the middle of all this apparent chaos, however, Sri Swamiji kept order by an exact inner attention to detail and to time. He was punctual to the minute. In fact, he always arrived at least ten minutes prior to his meetings or programs. He would never keep anyone waiting.
In the ashram, Sri Swamiji’s day began very early, around three or four, and sometimes even earlier. I recall when I was getting up very early to do my kriya sadhana, no matter how early I got up, when I crossed the space between my room and the hall where I did my practice, Sri Swamiji was invariably standing at the door just watching, and showing me, by his quiet and immovable presence, that he was supporting me in what I was doing.
The ashram was always an odd collection of many different men, women and children, from different parts of the world: swamis, sannyasins, devotees, visitors, guests. They were all so varied in their backgrounds and dispositions that once I heard them referred to as the ashram menagerie. This was because everywhere Sri Swamiji went, he attracted people whose love for him released tremendous reserves of loyalty, courage and selfless service, which utterly transformed their lives. Whenever we came into his presence, even if it was just a few moments, something was always said, done or felt that uplifted us and gave us strength to continue.
It became apparent, within a very short space of time, that some of the rumours that I’d heard earlier that he knew everything – one’s motive, thoughts, words, deeds – was actually true; it became a living reality to me, and I knew that I could not do anything, or think anything, without his knowledge of it. Various experiences brought this to light.
Once in Switzerland, we were at a convention in Zinal, and I was invited to have lunch with Sri Swamiji. After his morning satsang, we had been invited to an Indian devotee’s room in the hotel where his wife was preparing special Indian dishes. Now, Sri Swamiji always left a lecture with tremendous speed; he very seldom walked slowly or waited for people to come up to congratulate him. This meant that those who wished to keep up with him had to move almost as quickly. So we were racing out of the lecture hall, when I was confronted by a girl in a very emotional state, and she said, “Oh please. I must have a word with you.” I said, “Could we have that word later on, because I’m in a bit of a rush.” She said, “It’s terribly important. I have to speak to you now.” I said, “I really am in a hurry. But straight after lunch, if you will come back here.” She said, “I have to speak to you now. It’s terribly important.” I said, “What is it?” She said, “I want to have my head shaved.” I said, “Ok, I’ll arrange that for you after lunch.” She said, “Oh, please, I have to find out where, and how, and when.” By that time I was starting to get worried because so much time had passed, perhaps not so much time had, but in Sri Swamiji’s life, in a few seconds, one does a lot. So I became quite abrupt with her, and said, “I said after lunch.” And I rushed up to the luncheon room. I knocked on the door and the host opened the door and greeted me with a smile, and just as I was about to put one foot in the room, Sri Swamiji who was already seated at the table, spun around and said, “No,” in no uncertain tone, “No! Not her.” And so the host politely smiled and closed the door, and I stepped back. I knew immediately why he’d said that. Because I hadn’t taken sufficient care of the girl’s problem. I had not handled the situation correctly. My attitude had not been correct. So I knew what I had to do. I went down and found her and arranged for the shaving.
Sri Swamiji’s voice was always within a certain range of pitch. It never went too high; it never went too low. It was melodious and sweet. He never raised his voice, even when he wanted to get a point across. The tone of his voice was always pleasing and gentle to the ear. It seemed soft, but it carried far.
There are times when nothing one can say is as powerful as saying nothing. To argue brings one down to the level of those with whom one argues. Silence convinces another of their folly, and one wishes they had not spoken so quickly.
I remember an incident in France after Sri Swamiji had just delivered a magnificent lecture. Hundreds of people came. Everyone seemed inspired and uplifted, freer from their difficulties and problems. We were leaving the hall, when a man burst forward. He said that he didn’t agree with various points in Sri Swamiji’s lecture and confronted Sri Swamiji quite aggressively. Suddenly the whole foyer was quiet. The man raised his voice so high, as he put forward his point of view, that he could be heard by all. Sri Swamiji just stood there, very still, watching him, with a sweet expression on his face. Whenever the man paused, Sri Swamiji just said, “Yes, that’s right. Mm.” Or he said nothing. After a while the man’s anger and aggression died down, and he just remained silent watching Sri Swamiji, while Sri Swamiji watched him, and the rest of us watched them both.
Eventually the man began asking Sri Swamiji’s opinion on what he had just said on the Gita. When the whole discussion was over, Sri Swamiji quietly adjusted his dhoti around his shoulders, and moved on.
Sri Swamiji said nothing more on the matter. In all the years I have known him, I have never heard Sri Swamiji say anything unnecessarily. He never speaks just for the sake of speaking, but for the sake of those present. We all remembered this incident long after it was over, but Sri Swamiji forgot it immediately. In a world where there was so much to be done, and to be done quickly, there was no time afforded to petty slights.
Above are just some of the experiences I have been fortunate enough to live through with Sri Swamiji. Definitely it is not possible for me to make an accurate assessment of the personality of Paramahamsa Satyananda with whom I lived for only a short period of time, but who was responsible for transforming my whole life.