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by Swami Sivananda
Table of Contents
About This Book (Back Cover) Foreword 6 Introduction 9 Epistle—1 13 Epistle—2 15 Epistle—3 17 Epistle—4 19 Epistle—5 21 Epistle—6 23 Epistle—7 25 Epistle—8 27 Epistle—9 29 Epistle—10 31 Epistle—11 33 Epistle—12 35 Epistle—13 37 Epistle—14 39 Epistle—15 41 Epistle—16 43 Epistle—17 45 Epistle—18 47 Commentary—1 49 Commentary—2 51 Commentary—3 54 Commentary—4 57 Commentary—5 59 Commentary—6 64 Commentary—7 69 Commentary—8 71 Commentary—9 75 Commentary—10 79 Commentary—11 80 Commentary—12 82 Commentary—13 86 Commentary—14 90 Commentary—15 93 Commentary—16 98 Commentary—17 101 Commentary—18 107
About This Book
This book is an epistolary autobiography of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj and contains just 18 lucid and inspiring epistles. Unbelievable as it may seem, it was written by him in just an hour. At the persistent request of his disciples for over a long period, he got down to it in right earnest one fine morning, and lo, this masterpiece was produced as if by magic.
It is a most modest self-narration of his momentous life and excels in brevity all the other autobiographies in circulation. It covers within this short compass the entire gamut of the life of an exceptional personality, his character, his activities, his aspirations and philosophy.
The reader can see the crystal purity of his thoughts, the sublimity of his spiritual ideals and the unmatched simplicity of his faith in the one everlasting Reality—Sat-chit-ananda.
Relevant photographs and appropriate commentary were added to make it more presentable.
"At long last, our boon has been granted"—this is the feeling that we, the disciples of Swami Sivananda have in our heart now. We alone know how we have been beseeching him for years to tell us the secret of his success in the attainment of Self-realisation. Every time we broached the subject, he would turn away with a smile. Many a time have we felt that we could easier make the Himalayas talk to us of their mysterious grandeur than make our Swamji talk of himself. We asked ourselves "What might be the reason?" We made guesses. We know him as an incarnation of Truth. We told ourselves: "If he is to talk about himself, he must speak about his virtues, because he cannot, by nature, be untrue to himself or to others. But he may thereby create the impression that he is vainglorious. To him, even the semblance or shadow of self-glorification is repugnant, for he is the embodiment of humility. Therefore, he prefers to be silent." But we persisted in our request, because we know his tender spot. He is so full of love and sympathy that if he denies a request however small it may be, he will be pained. In the end, our persistence has been rewarded. He has now decided to reveal his real inner nature, because he wants us to know what wealth is in store for us if we develop in ourselves the virtues which he has himself practised. He realises that even a little bit of his autobiography serves as so much precious spiritual instruction, because it throws the much-needed light on the path that leads to the goal of Self-realisation. None knows better than he that virtues develop in a saint only as a result of severe mental discipline and long and arduous endeavour. Many are the pitfalls to be avoided by the spiritual aspirant and he must be made aware of them. If we, his disciples, are to escape the dangers on our journey to the region of Eternal Bliss, we must walk in the footsteps of the Guru; steep and slippery cliffs can be scaled only by planting our feet with the same steadiness and determination with which our master trod along the rugged weary path before he reached the pinnacle of perfection and purity on which he now stands. To achieve this end, there can be no better guide than his own autobiographical sketch. The inner working of a realised sage are known only to himself and unless he reveals them, they will ever remain unknown. Our Swamiji has, therefore, decided to give us a glimpse of himself. It is nothing more than a briefest glimpse of his inner nature. Yet, the picture is clear, the outline bold and the features stand out very prominent. He who has eyes can see the crystal purity of his thoughts, the sublimity of his spiritual ideals and the unmatched simplicity of his faith in the one Everlasting Existence, Sat-Chit-Ananda. We, his disciples, will for ever and ever treasure in our hearts this rarest of his gifts "THE SIVANANDA-GITA."
What one man has done, that all can do. Be a real Man and regain thy heritage of Divinity and Immortality. Real manliness is in breaking asunder the chains of bondage, of births and deaths, of pain and sorrow. May the Lord bless the seekers after Truth with peace and health and divine knowledge.
Here we have something new in autobiographies. Autobiographies are many and varied. Varied too are their genesis. Their genesis, at times, have been abundant leisure in the evening of life, at others sometimes forced confinement in solitude. In solitude too the lone soldier by the sentinal fire, totally uncertain whether he will be alive to see the morrow’s sunrise, has jotted down past memories as they rose in heaving waves in his self-communing mind. But this novel self-revelatory piece stands by itself due to its distinctive intriguing form. It is perhaps the first of its kind, to whit, and "EPISTOLARY AUTO-BIOGRAPHY". Containing eighteen self-written letters, it yet covers within this short compass the entire gamut of the life of an exceptional personality, his character, his activities, aspirations and philosophy. This it does with a surprising completeness that makes the reader feel that he has to know everything that is to be known of the author. So intimate is it in its communication that it imprints itself of the reader’s heart as if it were quite a familiar matter long cherished by him.
Another point—IT WAS WRITTEN IN AN HOUR. Unbelievable it seems but it is an autobiography in an hour. An idea came to the author at 4 a.m. one morning and the result—this life in sixty minutes. Do the letters, some of them, appear self-adulatory? Yes, and No! Yes, they are adulatory, but No! Not self-adulatory. Why? Here the reader should note carefully this point. This great little document is not an autobiography at all. Amazing you say. It tells you everything about the revered writer, but yet equally true it does not tell about himself. THESE LETTERS REVEAL A PERSONALITY IN ITS ASPECTS AS A REPRESENTATIVE OF AN IDEAL. They are the revelation of a type. A life that has worked out in itself the divine dictates of the Upanishads and the ancient seers of the Orient. It is the narrative of soul’s successful self-perfection, of its victory over this illusion of earthly existence. It demonstrates the proof of the truth of spiritual laws. It tells of the pathway to the Divine. It tells the secret of an all-round achievement. It shows Karma, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana in their actual working. It is an example of the working of the Lagos in and through the Monad, of the Divine through the human that this Sivananda-Gita narrates. When you understand this you get a glimpse of what Sivananda-Gita is, namely a Scripture expounding the Perfection of man and the nature of the field wherein the great truths of an ancient spirituality come into play as living verities.
It is even as Sri Krishna gives out through the Gita the working of the eternal spiritual laws and says again and again "I am such and such a Being, I am thus, I contain with myself all the worlds, this is dear to Me, for such and such a reason I have come upon the earth-plane, he who shall act in this way will reap the fruit of Immortality" and thus ad infinitum. The Sivananda-Gita is, as it were, a tablet for all times on the ‘Life Divine’ standing as a link between the finite and the infinite. The author’s personality shows as mirrored in himself a sort of terse analysis of the dynamics of Divine living. As the scientist after deep reflection, prolonged experimenting and continuous research declared the results of his life’s endeavours asserting "have done so and so and if you will do likewise you too will arrive at the results that I have done" this savant of the science of the Soul, of the Inner Life, voices forth the findings of his exploration into this higher realm. Now will be understood why Sivananda-Gita is an autobiography and yet is not an autobiography. Now will be understood why it may appear adulatory but yet is not adulatory. In silence these letters speak, in silence they utter the invitation "What I have done, what I have found, I have given out. Come, all ye, that would attain the Life’s Ideal, take up this guide and hasten to set foot upon the inner track leading up to the temple of transcendental Bliss."
From a sylvan spot nestling close to the sparkling Ganges as she sallies in all divine majesty out between serene, sacred, Himalayan Hills, this golden guide steps out into the wide world. Take it up, reader, and guide thyself to Glory and Peace!
A COMMENTARY ON SIVANANDA-GITA
by SRI SWAMI SADANANDA
Bhagavan Sri Krishna tells Arjuna in the Gita (VI-42), how one who practises Yoga with Sraddha but fails to gain perfection in it, is reborn in the family of wise Yogis. He also says that such a birth is exceedingly rare to obtain in this world. Swamiji’s birth proves the truth of this teaching. His father was a Tahsildar in the Ettiyapuram State (Tinnevelly District), who shunned position and power and lived the life of a mental Sannyasin. His contemporaries knew his frequent absorption in the contemplation of Siva. It is said, that when he repeated the Mantra ‘Sivoham’, he would lose consciousness of the external world and the tears of joy trickling down his cheeks would reveal his inner enjoyment of the bliss of union with the Lord. The family was a branch of the great Appayya Dikshita, whose erudition and Yogic powers are well-known to all students of Sanskrit philosophical works. He wrote one hundred original texts in Sanskrit. Once when he was refused admission into the precincts of the Conjeevaram temple, he amazed the priests by converting the Vishnu idol in it into an image of Siva. The popular belief about him was that he was an Avatar of Siva.
Sivananda’s paternal uncle was Appayacharya, also known as Appaya Sivam. His masterly original works are mostly in manuscript, one of which, the Yoga Sara, is a brilliant exposition of the practical side of Videhamukta and Jivanmukta Realisation. Descended from such a line of ancestors, our Master is a living proof of the truth of Lord Krishna’s words referred to above. He has in this birth perfected the practice of Yoga, which he left unfinished in his last one.
Cheiro, the world-renowned exponent of palmistry and numerology, has much to say on the effect of number 8, the birth-date of our Swamiji. He says, "The Number 8 is a difficult number to explain. It represents two worlds, the material and spiritual. One side represents upheaval, revolution, anarchy, waywardness and eccentricities of all kinds. The other side represents philosophical thought, a strong leaning towards occult studies, religious devotion, concentration of purpose and zeal for any cause espoused." The truth of these remarks is borne out in Swamiji’s life.
As a student, Swamiji’s quickness of grasp and the thoroughness of his knowledge were appreciated by his Professors who engaged him as their Assistant even in the first year of his five years’ course. As a doctor, he was Christlike in his sympathy for the suffering patients. Many are the reports available from those who know, about the ideal Nishkamya Seva that he rendered in Malaya.
The rigorous of his Tapasya and meditation as a Sannyasin in Rishikesh have been excellently recorded by "Prism" in his "Light Fountain". That book will serve as the best commentary for Swamiji’s simple sentence "I did Tapas and meditation for 15 Years."
Swamiji’s lecturing tours were between 1931 and 1940. Wherever he went, he conducted Sankirtans, Satsanga classes and delivered lectures. He gave instructions in Yoga Asanas, Kriyas and Pranayama. The number of places he visited and lectures he delivered, are recorded in Chapter XXII of "Sivananda, the Perfect Master", a book full of information about the Swamiji’s life, daily routine, philosophy, teachings and propaganda. The All-World Religions Federation, inaugurated by him at Ananda Kutir on the 28th of December 1945, is the seed which is bound to grow in time into a divine tree yielding the most delicious fruit of peace to the whole world.
"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
(Matthew: XVIII, 3)
Yes, unless one becomes like a child, one cannot have a vision of the Truth. That is the teaching imparted by the Swamiji in this epistle. It is a child that bubbles with joy, drinks in the beauty of God’s creation, receives and radiates unalloyed bliss. It is a child that is stainless and pure, free from conceit, guile and selfishness. It is full of affection and love. It can make easy friendship and share its joy with all. It can laugh off its own pain. Yet its eyes will be filled with tears if it listens to a tale of sorrow. It will give and forgive. With irrepressible curiosity for knowledge, it will ply any one with questions about what it does not know. A child is, indeed, God’s greatest gift to man. These are the virtues we see in our Swamiji. How are we to acquire them? He gives the simplest and yet the most learned answer. "I become one with all." In this admirably brief sentence is found the quintessence of all philosophy. To become one with all is to become the most perfect of Yogis; to become able to judge of pleasure and pain everywhere by the same standards that we apply to ourselves.
He who, through the likeness of the Self sees equality everywhere, be it pleasure or pain, he is regarded as the highest Yogi.
This can be done only by establishing ourselves in unity, by worshipping God, Who dwells in all beings.
He who, being established in unity, worships Me who dwells in all beings, that Yogi abides in Me, whatever his mode of living may be.
Anyone who has seen the Swamiji even once will know how the Swamiji observes this supreme teaching of the Gita. As he says in this epistle, he respects all. He does salutations to all first. It is the daily experience of all his disciples that at the moment of meeting him or parting from him, unless they are very quick in doing obeisance to him first, he will embarrass them by touching the earth in salutation to them. Is it a mere formality? Not at all. Formality is foreign to his nature. His action springs from the one thought that ever runs in his mind, namely, that God dwells in all beings. He has so thoroughly banished egoism from his very being that he finds no difference between himself and the lowliest of the lowly whom he encounters anywhere. The full significance of this remark can be grasped only if the reader remembers that it is most literally true. "I respect all." It is gospel truth.
The result of such intense Sadhana—possible only for one whose mind is as pure as his—is that he is, as he writes, "ever happy and joyful." He also makes others happy; and joyful. Through rigid self-discipline, he has found it possible to enthrone Supreme Peace in his heart. He is the master of his Indriyas. He has attained the highest knowledge through deep devotion and unfettering Yoga. He is a living example of the teachings in the following Slokas of the Gita:
The man who is full of faith, who is devoted to it, and who has subdued the senses obtain Knowledge of the Self: and having obtained knowledge he goes at once to the Supreme Peace.
The united one (the well poised or the harmonised) having abandoned the fruit of action attains to the eternal peace: the non-united only (the unsteady or the unbalanced) impelled by desire, attached to the fruit, is bound.
Mentally renouncing all action and self-controlled, the embodied one rests happily in the nine-gated city, neither acting nor causing others (body and the senses) to act.
Swamiji has attained the peace which comes from steadfastness in Yoga. He rests happily in the city of nine gates. He sheds the radiance of this peace and happiness around all who approach him.
"I always speak sweetly." Here we are given the most necessary practical advice. Time and again, we become guilty of harsh speech. We have not conquered our irritability. The purely negative virtue of controlling our temper appears to be a Herculean task for most of us. We have no Titiksha, the inner strength to bear unpleasant things. He, on the other hand, has developed the positive virtue of speaking only ‘sweetly.’ It is common knowledge in the Ashram that even when he points out our shortcomings, his words fall as soft as the petals of a rose. The most fitting description that can be given of his words is what is found in the 15th Sloka of Chapter XVII.
(Speech which causes no vexation, which is true, agreeable and beneficial).
"I walk quickly." He is the most inveterate foe of sluggishness in himself and he is always prompt. Ever busy in selfless service, he has to do his daily meditation as he walks along or even during his working hours. In his walks, he will be constantly watching the tricks and disguises of Maya revealed in the actions of men and even animals; and he will be silently enjoying the fun. He is always the closely attentive witness of the Lila or Play of the Divine Para Sakti. How can he be other than humorous in this talk? Yet, all his talk is edifying and educative. He looks upon life as an eternal comedy in which Rajas, Tamas and Sattva appear in different captivating costumes and play their role to perfection.
"I am ever hard-working." Here Swamiji points out the method by which one can shut out evil influences. It has been truly said that an idle brain is the Devil’s workshop. The mind is never at rest. Even when one thinks one is resting, one’s mind keeps itself busy. It is Maya’s dynamo ever kept in motion. Mind control is best effected not by suppressing its activity, but by keeping it active in the right way. When we take up any work, our mind is kept concentrated on it. It cannot harbour extraneous thoughts. Therefore, there is little scope for the play of Maya. There is no dearth of work for a conscientious person. He can find work or create it. So many kinds of service are needed in the world that there is no one who cannot contribute his own bit. Those who wish to have a proof of it have only to pay a visit to Ananda Kutir. The Swamiji has, for himself, a full programme to which he sticks by sheer dint of his will power and an inborn love of service. His disciples are up to the neck immersed in work, each in his own respective sphere and to the best of his capacity. All in the Ashram have now fully realised that work is the best refuge from Satan, the best harbour where protection can be had from the storms of passion, pleasure and pain.
"I have intense application to work. I never leave it till it is finished. I never procrastinate. I am very quick in doing things." It is only ardent workers like the Swamiji that can appreciate the full significance of Longfellow’s immortal words, "Art is long and Time is fleeting." Unfinished work is waste of labour which he can never contemplate with ease in himself or others. "Procrastination is the thief of time." The quickness with which he does things is gained through concentration, of which he is a thorough master because of his prolonged practice of Raja Yoga. "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; learn his ways and be wise" is the old adage. But the ant is not quick in its work, though it is ceaselessly moving about. It goes along devious paths and wastes much of its energy before it hits upon the right one. Our Vedantins have no admiration for the "ants’ path" which they call the "Pipeelika marga"; they contrast its dilatoriness with the parrot’s path called the "Suka marga". The parrot darts quickly from the branch of the tree where it was resting to its nest, taking its shortest route. Swamiji is like that. He is ever on the alert and knows, by intuition, the quickest way of doing anything, material or spiritual. He can, at a glance pick out the essence of a book, however voluminous and erudite it may be. He can write a drama of the Ramayana in thirty hours. It will cover two hundred pages of print. He used to demonstrate all Asanas in a railway compartment when the train stopped at a station for fifteen minutes. When he talks on the platform, he plunges into the subject without an introduction, holds the audience spell-bound for fifteen minutes and ends abruptly. When the shorthand notes are typed, it will be found that he has covered a variety of topics which would require at least an hour if another were to talk about them. He is ever quick in action and yet because of his calmness of manner, the quickness often goes undetected. If he had not been so quick, he would not have written the hundred books and more, which he has done within the space of eight or nine years, devoting on an average, not more than two hours a day to writing. The secret of his speed is concentration. He writes as words come. He never scores off anything he once writes. His mind thinks quickly and his pen moves on paper steadily on and on without break or pause. And look at the number of subjects he deals with—philosophy, ethics, health and hygiene, Hatha Yoga, dramas, songs and what not. One is lost in wonder when one thinks about his work, its complexity and its volume.
Service! Service! Service! This is the very life of the Swamiji. "I cannot live without service" says he. Once he said to us, "I do not care even for Nirvikalpa Samadhi. I am prepared to be reborn, if I am born to serve all." Why has he such a feeling, he—who has realised the bliss of Samadhi? He gives the answer—"Service has elevated me. Service has purified me." He wants us to know that we should do service with such a feeling. We serve with expectation of some kind of return. The best of us is guilty of expecting at least gratitude. Such service is no service as the Swamiji understands it. It must ‘elevate’ us, ‘purify’ us. He often tells us "If you give charity, it is not for helping the deserving poor. They will get help even if you do not give. But you should give charity to purify yourselves." All his service is of such a nature.
"I know well how to extract work from others. I do it through kindness, service, respect and love." In fact all who work for him think that their work can never be sufficient compensation or adequate return for what they receive from him in many ways. The smallest child studying in the primary school attached to the Ashram, he addresses as "Aap aayiye", in the respectable plural form. That is the way in which he respects even the young ones. As for love, one must experience oneself. An inmate in the Ashram will be busy at his desk writing, or at his typewriter typing. All on a sudden, he will hear the sound "Om". (That is the way in which an inmate has to attract the attention of another.) On turning towards the newcomer, he will find that the Swamiji has sent him a little curd, an ounce of tomato-juice, a bit of some sweet or savoury dish and just a mouthful of fresh butter. The items may change from time to time, but never can the love change. Everyone in the Ashram will get this ‘Prasad’ (it is nothing less), in his own turn. Even the scavenger will receive it when his turn comes. Such is the affection one receives at the hands of the Swamiji. The effect is that workers in the Ashram feel that they can never work hard enough, even if they work eighteen hours a day. Work in the Ashram is, in fact, several times more than the work one is called upon to do in the heaviest of offices or firms. Yet, never has any one worried himself about it. A ‘Darsan’ of the Swamiji and an appreciative nod from him is felt to be far higher than the highest salary one could get from even the best of employers.
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