A Jnani - Humble and Wise

From May I Answer That, Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Swamiji, while you always associate saintliness with humility, why are you so fond of being photographed?

The force behind the system of visual education which psychologists today acclaim as infinitely superior to textbook education will be apparent if you reflect over a very common phenomenon. Leave on your table in the study a few good books, a few pictorials and a few photographs. Let your children, your friends, come into the study. What do they pick up first? The books? No. The photographs first, and then, the pictorials.

It is not entirely without reason that the old women in South India prevented their grandchildren from being photographed, saying, “Your lustre will be taken away by the photograph.” It is true that your lustre is transferred to the photograph. To your friends and relatives, to your near and dear ones, your photograph is alive, aglow with your lustre. Therefore, to a devotee, a picture of the Lord, and to a disciple, a picture of the Guru, is a Living Presence. It is necessary for meditations.

Why are there so many photographs, you may ask. Different people want different photographs, in different poses, with different backgrounds. I have to satisfy all of them. A photograph of mine taken twenty years ago may look more youthful and may be better technically than the photograph taken today; but the aspirant who has seen me for the first time today insists that he should have a photograph of me as I am today and does not accept another taken twenty years ago, however nice it may be. And then, people want to be photographed with me; these photographs act as mementos of their visits and inspire the visitors.

Refusing to be photographed is subtle egoism. It is timidity or fear of criticism in the garb of humility. If you have right discrimination, you will at once understand.

Why should a great saint like you, who has renounced everything, put on an overcoat in winter?

A saint or a sannyasin will not sleep on thorns, eat mud and stones, walk on his head and break through walls. His body, too, is subject to hunger and thirst, heat and cold, etc., and an overcoat is only a vertical blanket in bits and stitched in a convenient way to cover the body against cold without hampering the movement of the limbs for service. A blanket is a horizontal piece. I do not attach more importance or value to the coat.

After all, why should you look at the outer garb? Try to perceive the inner man, his thoughts, his ideas and his virtues. Not the external details. Only a real saint can understand another saint.

It is not a body besmeared with ashes or a flowing beard or matted locks that determine a saint. Why should you attach much importance to this overcoat of mine? To indulge in dress by way of luxury is certainly not justified. But, for bare necessities, the body must be provided with proper dress and food.

Why are you fond of publicity? You talk of selfless service so much; and yet, we find you working for name and fame!

Firstly, I am not working for name and fame. When a person does selfless service, fame comes to him, though he does not want it. You found it so in the case of Mahatma Gandhiji’s life also. Only selfless persons know how to utilize even that fame for doing more selfless service to a greater number of persons.

Secondly, it is through publicity that I come into contact with more and more seekers after truth. It is the publicity that enables more and more people to offer me opportunities to serve them. When people glorify me, they glorify only sannyasa, they glorify a divine life of sadhana. And if by bringing this to the notice of others, they too can be inspired to lead the divine life and practise sadhana for attaining Self-realization, I do not neglect it. As you know, lives of great men remind you that you can make your life sublime.

Thirdly, the man who runs after name and fame would not do menial service, would not mix freely with everybody, would not cut jokes and make people laugh in his presence, he would keep himself ‘far above’ the common run of mankind, compel the awe and reverence of the people, and by artificially dwelling on high philosophical themes alone during his conversations, would endeavour to impress on those who meet him that he is far above all of them. I like to mix with all and to make everybody feel that I am one with all. I take intense delight in doing every kind of service to everybody. I am full of educative humour; even a young boy can cut jokes with me.

Please come here and spend some time in the ashram. You will change your opinion