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Heart of Sivananda

March 1998: NUMBER 24
Newsletter of the Divine Life Society of Maryland

Dear Readers,

In the last issue of our newsletter, we informed you about the Christmas/New Year Retreat to be held at the Divine Life Society headquarters in India. Eight of us from our Maryland spiritual family were able to attend the retreat program. December/January is really my favorite time to visit Northern India. The weather is usually clear, and sunny, and temperatures are quite cool. Three of us, Pat Gibbons, Rajeswari (Ruth Pickall), and I left from Dullas Airport on December 14th. in order to arrive at the Ashram one week prior to the retreat. Early arrival would insure us full recovery from the strain of the journey and give us a chance to acclimate and become fully immersed in the spiritual atmosphere of the Ashram.

We were met at the Delhi airport by Swami Vimalanandaji, who arranged for a good nights rest at the home of a devotee in Delhi. The next morning we were on our way to Rishikesh by taxi. A three hour delay on route due to a broken fuel pump, mud slides, potholes, and congested villages made the normally six hour journey feel stressful and long. Upon arrival at the Ashram, we were heartily greeted by old friends. A late dinner of hot soup and freshly baked bread was welcomed, and we were shown to our immaculately clean rooms in "Ishwara Bhavan", the mountainside guest house used to host foreign students. At last, I was home. I believe this was my thirteenth visit to the Ashram.

Sivananda Ashram is situated two miles north of Rishikesh on the banks of the river Ganges. Many ashrams and temples are nestled in the hillsides and river banks. The whole surrounding area is known to be one of the holiest parts of India. Our ashram was founded in 1932 by the great saint and sage, H. H. Sri Swami Sivananda. After his passing in 1963, the Divine Life Society has continued to grow. The society has many branches in India and abroad. The headquarters houses around three hundred residents including about one hundred monks. The organization runs a thirty bed hospital, a teaching academy, a large publication department and an extensive library. Sincere spiritual seekers from all over the world come to study and practice Yoga in a comfortable setting where English is spoken and people of all faiths are welcome. The daily program includes group worship with chanting, prayer and meditation, Yoga exercises, and discourses on Yoga , Vedanta and the Bhagavad Gita.

H.H. Sri Swami Chidananda, spiritual heir of the great Swami Sivananda and president of the Divine Life Society, is recognized throughout the contemporary Hindu world as a living saint. In addition to presiding over important functions at the Ashram, his life is spent continuously traveling in India and abroad, carrying on with the central objective of the Divine Life Society: the dissemination of spiritual knowledge. H.H. Sri Swami Krishnananda has been the General Secretary of the Divine Life Society since 1959. A towering, brilliant Vedantin, he performs the difficult task of balancing numerous administrative duties with lectures, spiritual discussions and writing. Both of these great souls and other senior disciples were to address us during the Christmas/New Year Retreat.

I looked forward on this visit to once again attend the 4:00am session with Swami Vidyananda Maharaj. He, a direct disciple of Swami Sivananda, is a true lover of music, bhakti and vedanta. Now in his eighties, he has dedicated his whole life to the teaching of music and has shared every morning his daily devotions with the students. Playing the Veena in a masterly way, he leads the devotees through morning prayers, kirtans, recitation of the Bhagavad Gita and special bajans appropriate for that particular day. His spiritual presence and kind personality instills a genuine love and devotion for God. Swamiji says in his own words, "Music melts the heart of all. It sets into motion the divine vibrations that gradually unite the individual soul with the supreme soul. The summun bonum of human existence is achieved through music very easily". Unfortunately, this beloved Swami suffered a stroke on Christmas Eve which paralyzed his right side. Our prayers are with him that if it is God’s will, he may experience a full recovery and be able to continue to share the state of Divine Bliss with all.

The first few days of our stay were spent preparing for the upcoming Christmas celebration. As the sacred evening was approaching, residents and visitors assembled at the library for the Christmas celebration . Pat Gibbons gives a beautiful account of the holy night:

Christmas at the Ashram

For a long time I wanted to spend Christmas at the Ashram because I understood that it was celebrated as Christmas should be; a holy time, no hype, so that the joy of the birth of Jesus would have nothing to rival it, nothing to distract us from it. And this was indeed how it was.

The celebration was held on Christmas Eve. It was a very chilly night. We dressed in layers of clothing and walked, shivering, across the bridge and down the steps to the library which was so gloriously decorated that we immediately felt warmer. The centerpiece was the lovely creche with the figures of the new born baby and his adoring parents looking down at him. Behind it and over it were green branches, lit by colored lights and decorated by bright ornaments, seeming to shelter the crude hut where the Holy Child slept. Crisscrossed on the ceiling of the round, one room library were colorful streamers from which hung wonderful shiny ornaments of many colors and shapes twisting and turning in the movement of the air. In this bright atmosphere, the spirit of Christmas made itself felt.

Traditional carols from many countries were sung. The singers, (members of the retreat and residents of the Ashram) having rehearsed all week, sang beautifully. There was also a Japanese rendition of "Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer" and Charles from South Africa sang "Sunrise Sunset" from "Fiddler on the Roof" which was most appropriate to the spirit of the evening. I think we all felt the highlight of the evening was Swami Krishnananda’s brilliant talk on the nature of avatars. Among others Tyaga Ma, a resident of the ashram, gave a talk on the historical accounts of the birth of Jesus and Sister Vandana, a Roman Catholic nun, spoke on Divine Love.

At the closing we all sang "Silent Night". Just at midnight and before "Silent Night" was concluded there was a tremendous burst of fireworks outside the library. It marked the observance of a momentous event, so why not fireworks to disrupt even a Holy Silence with Tidings of Great Joy! For many of us Christmas is a time to be with family, so having Christmas at the Ashram every year would be difficult, but I’m glad to have done it once and sometime hope to do it again.

Pat Gibbons

On Christmas day we were treated to a festive midday meal consisting of many delicious items. Everyone received a special boxed Christmas cake. In the afternoon we had a briefing for the upcoming retreat, beginning on Dec. 26th. and going through Jan. 1st. The retreat began and we participated in an intense program of meditation and listened to spiritual talks on the theme of "Liberation" given by senior Swamis of the Ashram. Swami Krishnananda’s talk on "Meditation" was so brilliant and soul stirring that several discussion groups were formed to digest its content. Swami Chidananda, having had a travel delay addressed us for the first time on Dec. 29th. Somehow every foreigner visiting the Rishikesh area knew that Swamiji had arrived. The courtyard outside the library was filled with devotees. There was a large group from Belgium, from Italy and many more unexpected visitors who were not part of our retreat group. Everyone came to have darshan of Chidananda. We all packed tightly in to the library . Swami Vimalananda was leading the chanting "SRI RAM JAI RAM JAI JAI RAM OM". There was great anticipation. The door opened, and the Brahmacharies came in one by one with trays of Prasad, making their way to the front. Then, there He was, our Master, entering in a most dramatic way, so delicate, so ethereal as He walked to the front to take His seat. The whole hall lit up and we felt as being lifted into a different dimension. Then he addressed us in a most significant way:

" Radiant Atman, beloved children of light. Blessed children of the Father/Mother/Universal/ common parent of all existence, all life. You are part of that existence brought forth from the Unmanifest Universal Being. Therefore, you are part of that Being as children are part of their parents. You are part of that great manifestation that has come out of that supreme timeless, spaceless, transcendental, absolute Reality. You are part of this manifestation that is known as phenomenal existence that is subject to the perception of the five senses, that is also a frame within which you are at this moment making your earthly journey. It is a phase you have to pass through because you are there already, and you must pass through it with understanding. Then you will make it a gainful process. If you pass through it with a deeper understanding of why it has been given to you, to have been sent here, to be in this phenomenal appearance and to be made in it for sometime and go through it in it’s various phases. If pondering this, you come to understand that this is not only something that has come to you and cannot be avoided not only that it is necessary, but rather you need to understand that it is something very valuable and very important too... very valuable and very important too-- double too--. When you come to understand it this way, then you will suddenly recognize it as something bestowed, something granted. The great Lord’s heart, much love, much love, something granted, that is in the form of Grace Manifest,-- Grace Manifest.

If very wealthy parents, multimillionaires send their children to the very best of the universities, top universities for studying and getting the best tuition, best environment, best training, evidently they get it. They want their offspring not to just be literaturely learned and scholastic, they want their offspring to shine , to achieve, to be top scholars, golden crowned personalities in their own field of learning. It is with this intention they are willing and prepared to spend any money to get the best tuition to them, send them to refresher courses, to top professors, and all that ... Why? Because they love them. Because they happen to be their children and because they happen to be their parents. They don’t want them to opt for number two. They want to give them so they get their number one, top. And this you think is natural. This you can understand. The truth is, your father and mother are not merely multimillionaires or multi-billionaires of inexhaustible wealth. No one can compare to your Father/ Mother God-your parent God. illimitable wealth of the whole world that can never be exhausted. So, there you have as your parent, Father/Mother God whose wealth is illimitable. Nothing can compare to it, inexhaustible, illimitable. Naturally He can afford to do anything in order to make you become a top person in His creation. That is God’s plan for each and every one of you who are present in this hall at this moment for this six day spiritual retreat from the 26th. Dec. to 3lst. Dec.. l997 in this Holy Ashram of beloved and worshipful Master Gurudev Swami Sivananda. Believe me when I tell you that I’m not being poetic or fanciful, because I know that for each and everyone of you, God is focusing upon you with all His love and grace and with this one view that He wants to make out of you the supremest of human individuals on earth, on this planet earth, in this period , in this period."

" Many horses run in a race but it is the first one that crosses the winning line that gets acclaimed all over the world. Photographers throng around the horse, and the trainer, and the jockey, and then you have it all, media, the radio, all the TV stations and all the TV screens, millions and millions of them in each home. Why? Because the horse out distanced all and came out to be the first. It is the horse of the year, super horse of the year, super horse. Yes! And the helper of the owner, the helper of the trainer the helper of the jockey, ah, and those who bet upon him. I bet upon all of you, and God is your owner, your master, and your own life and your books are your trainer and you are the rider and the horse is what you call your life. The seat of your life must take you to the winning point in a flash and you must come first and that is God’s plan for you. Anyone may tell anything else, but I tell you this and I will keep on telling this and I shall have no reason to change. I will go on telling this as long as telling is good. Because it is so. It happens to be so, therefore, know that you are people of destiny. To each and everyone of you God plans that you should, as you move towards the conclusion of your present earth incarnation, you must be at the very top...at the very top. Each one must shine like a gem, shine like a gem and God intends this. That is why God has brought you here. God has this plan for where ever you are. Right from your birth He has been working towards this. I know, because of this divine intention for you in your life, He has brought you here today. He has brought you here today and he has brought me also here today. "

Then Swamiji explained in detail all the travel difficulties he had and why he was delayed in meeting with us. He continued: "What I mean to say is, with all this hazard that I am here to tell you these things. It is because it is meant to be. You have to be told this at this point in time. You are here to obtain the supremest of all experiences, the greatest of all goals man can conceive of by life, and an experience which is no less, no more than radiating your forgotten full divinity, total divinity, because you are of God. Every scripture says it in different ways: ‘God created man in His image’. Then, as though it was not enough, God created you! Divinity in His likeness, because He does not have a physical image, He is not a corporal being, so in His image means like Him, or like God. So, likeness of God is your real nature. His divine breath is within you . You are a spiritual being and all the saints, all the illumined teachers, all the great masters, all the scriptures have been giving this call to mankind: ‘regain your lost status’.

This is your birth right. You’re meant for this. Let me tell you, you are made for perfection. Your presence here today proves positively that you are made for perfection. Otherwise, you will have arranged a Christmas vacation with your family or your friends or some group, having late cocktail parties and having late night dancing and skiing up some mountain, and God knows what all, during this Christmas/ New year period. Bearing up with the cold and little inconveniences you had the urge to come and participate in something which is other than the secular field of your being, other than the earthly or worldly aspect of your being, something which is different. That in itself shows, that in itself is a proof that you are meant for something greater, something higher. I only will tell you, you are not meant for something high, something great, you are meant for the greatest, you are meant for the highest, no less than attaining God experience. Once again , regaining your status as part and parcel of God, one with God. One with God. -- Divinity. Become to merge with Him as a river when it reaches the ocean. As long as it has not reached the ocean, even at the point of entry when it has not attained the ocean, it is the river and the ocean is the ocean. Once it has reached and entered and merged into the ocean then its riverness is no longer there. It loses its riverness and there is only ocean. There is only ocean. What greater good fortune can there be to the river than to become ocean ?

What greater good fortune can there be to an individual soul to regain once again the supreme blessed experience of its spiritual divine oneness with the Universal Soul that is the source, origin, eternal level as Father-Mother-Friend-Relative, Wealth--Wisdom. Everything that means Everything. You are headed Godward, and this retreat has such picked souls aspiring to attain that. No matter what your opinion about yourself, at this moment, may be, it does not alter the fact and the truth, you are meant for the highest. You are meant for the supremest experience. This experience is already inherent in you and each and everyone of you have got full potential, everything, capacity and full potential to attain this Godward experience. Shine like God, shine like Divinities on earth. Full potential is there. Put it first. See this full potential as part of your heritage. And put forth the necessary effort to bring out the divinity and shine within. You call it Sadhana, you call it Abhyasa , you call it Spiritual Practice , you call it Discipline, you call it Yoga, you call it Devotion, you call it Prayer, you call it Meditation, you call it Vedanta, listening, and discourses. Call it what you will, these are all so many moods and methods of attaining to that great Divine Experience.

See, ---what a great blessedness to be patient at the ways of life, so that you have this aspiration, have this superior knowledge. That is great! All this yearning, and you have the know how for it through various agencies. God bless you all. God bless you all to recognize this truth. God bless you all to live on the basis of this truth. God bless you all to realize that no matter what obstacle may come, what difficulties may arise, what complications...everything is necessary to overcome, to strengthen you , give you endurance, give you new sight, insight, and to tap up the inner resource to overcome and face all things. To overcome all things, and attain victory. You are born to attain victory. In spite of all these, go straight to the goal. These things that come are those outer, as well as inner. You have all the capacity to overcome the inner as well as the outer and victory is certain for you. Not in the distant past. Not in the distant future, or some other life after death. No, in this very life, in this very body, in this very incarnation. In this very time of existence, seek the eternal. Unfold and put forth the divine perfection within you. That is the serious business of life. All other things are secondary. All other things are minor and secondary. Give top priority to this. Neglect not earthly affairs . Give them their due but neglect not this. If you neglect, when everything is finished, there is nothing left for you. Only mere existing. This is Life. Other things are earthly existence. Making a living is necessary, but it is not the purpose for you have incarnated here as divinities on earth, as parts of God.

God bless you all. Never, never forget a single word that has been uttered now. These words do not belong to me. They belong to you. They come from God. They come from the Holy Master. They come from all the prophets, sages, and saints from far away ancient times: Upanishads, Sages, Seers, the perfected Masters, from Zoroaster, from Moses, from Laotse, from Buddha, from Jesus, from Mohammed, and the ten Sikh Gurus. Whatever has been said, and given it comes from all of them. Not one single word, or letter of the alphabet belongs to this being through whom these have been uttered. They have been sent, and you have received it. No matter to whom it has been given, to have received it, is your blessedness. Hold this treasure and crown yourself with eternal golden glory. Hari Om Om Om"

At the end of Swamiji’s talk, I realized how important it was for all of us to have been there at that time. We were all truly blessed. The special committee in charge of organizing did such a wonderful job in keeping everyone healthy and comfortable. The Christmas/New Year Retreat has become an annual event at the Ashram. Any readers who are interested in future retreats can contact me by July for information and guidelines. Airline tickets need to be purchased early because travel to India at that time is very heavy. This is a golden opportunity for all.

Yours in the service of Gurudev,

Swami Gurudevananda <simado@aol.com>


What is Yoga?

To live in God, to commune with God is 'Yoga'. Life in God brings eternal bliss. Yoga shows you the way, unites you with God and makes you perfect and immortal.

Yoga is a system of integral education, education not only of the body and the mind or intellect, but also of the inner spirit. Yoga shows you the right method of rising from evil to good, and from goodness to holiness and then to eternal divine splendour. Yoga is the art of right living. The Yogi who has learned the art of right living is happy, harmonious, peaceful and free from tension.

Yoga is for all. Yoga is universal. It is not a sectarian affair, but a way to God and not a creed. The practice of Yoga is not opposed to any religion or any sacred church. It is purely spiritual and does not contradict anyone's sincere faith.

The four paths for God-realization are Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga. Karma Yoga is suitable for a person of active temperament, Bhakti Yoga for a person of devotional temperament, Raja Yoga for a person of mystical temperament and Jnana Yoga for a person of rational and philosophical temperament.

Swami Sivananda


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