This article is from the book Swami Sivananda: Saint, Sage and Godman.
I spent all my energy and time in relieving human sufferings by serving the poor and sick, day and night, with a sympathetic heart. This kind of selfless service gave me purification of heart and mind and led me to the spiritual path.
First comes Vichara, then comes Viveka. Through Vichara and Viveka flowers Vairagya. Vichara is stimulated by careful observations of life around us. We don’t allow an event or an occurrence to pass without observing it carefully and reflecting over it, ‘What is it that I am observing? What is its deeper meaning and significance? Does it hold any special lesson or an unspoken message for me?’ Thus one becomes a thoughtful observer and not merely a passive onlooker; one becomes an active enquirer of what is being seen and one tries to find out the deeper significance from every little thing.
You can observe and learn something even from the behaviour of children. Suppose two children are left alone for a while and there happens to be only one toy. Soon they will quarrel, scream and cry. When the mothers come they find the stronger child holds the toy and has pushed away the other child enjoying the victory over the helpless child. This is the whole commentary on life. The behaviour of elderly people, communities, nations become epitomised in this small incident. If there were two toys, then also the stronger child may try to snatch away both the toys or he may want the same toy that the other one wants. What you find in the children, like that you find in the humanity also.
In this way little incidents become unspoken teachers for an enquirer who reflects upon the inner significance. The famous English poet William Shakespeare says,
And this life ‘exempt from public haunt’
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in everything.
—As You Like It. Act II scene (i)
A person with a vision and a poetic eye, as he goes on a lonely quiet walk in a forest, does not merely see the inert objects but he also finds sermons hidden in stones and whole books in babbling brooks.
Another poet Lord Tennyson finds inspiration from the ocean waves to go on ever, progressing forwards, upwards till the last breath.
Men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.
I would never leave my march forwards.
Dancing and circumventing with the waves,
Till I cross the majestic ocean.
I will march towards the mountain,
Turning and twisting, leaping and falling,
Overcoming the obstacles,
I go on, and on, and on for ever.
The ancient writer, Vishnudev Sharma was watching from his window the lush green fields and a big tree which was standing in their midst. One day a storm set in; terrible, sweeping winds. Suddenly he heard a big shattering sound of the falling of the old tree. The strong big tree which was standing erect had broken. But the standing harvest and small grass bent, bowed down and gave way to the sweeping breeze and when the storm passed away, once again stood up straight, fully cheerful full of life. The thinker learns a lesson from this small incident: “A hurricane does not uproot the pliant grass that bends low before its fury, it snaps only proud lordly trees” — Panchatantra. You can survive if you know when to yield leaving aside your pride. If one is obstinate and rigid on account of ego and does not bow down he meets the fate of the tree. That is what Zen also teaches us, that is also what Judo teaches us, ‘Don’t resist power with power but know how to yield and become unruffled.’ The poet learns this profound lesson: By yielding one is able to overcome the fury of the blast whereas by becoming rigid one is uprooted.
In this way observation stimulates enquiry. Enquiry creates the ability to discriminate. Through discrimination one begins to see the difference between the mere passing appearances and the permanent changeless Reality. So comes Vairagya.
Gurudev had this faculty of keen observation well developed, because he was a medical man. A physician has to observe every little symptom, whether the patient tells it or not. Sometimes the doctor gathers the symptoms by mere observation. If the patient is fidget and restless, the doctor takes note of it and knows that the patient is a nervous type person, easily susceptible to outer occurrence. So a doctor must be a keen observer. In the olden days diagnosis depended on physical examination and observation only, as there were no laboratory facilities, X-rays, etc. They were able to find out by questioning and observing what a certain symptom meant, and immediately they tried to know the cause behind it. So the medical profession makes a person keenly observant and very subtle in detecting the hidden cause behind the apparent symptoms. The young doctor Kuppuswami of Malaysia was abundantly endowed with these innate qualities which when applied to the spiritual field became very valuable to him, became very helpful to his spiritual unfoldment, to his subtle ability to grasp the actual reality of things in this world.