This article is from the book An Instrument of Thy Peace.
You may not have known much about Swami Sivananda, but in a few words I will tell you about him. He was a noble-souled man filled with wonderful love, whose chief aim in life was to make other people happy. He was himself a very happy person who loved to laugh and make others laugh! He radiated cheerfulness and made people forget all their sorrows. He had no sense of difference between East or West, this country or that country, this religion or that religion. His personality was such that immediately he made everyone feel that they belonged to him, and he belonged to them. He had no strangers in the world and simply showered his love upon all. It was a very strange thing to observe how even people who did not speak his language at all immediately felt a sense of oneness the moment they came before him. He became a person beloved by countless people all over the world.
The essential aspect of Gurudev’s life was first of all that he was a person of transparent simplicity. Many scholars, statesmen and other public figures came and offered their homage and respect to him, but he never felt himself to be in any way extraordinary. Natural simplicity, deep wisdom, compassion, understanding and sympathy were all there in his heart. He was a very unusual blend of deepest wisdom and vast knowledge, and at the same time he had this unassuming simplicity that one doesn’t usually associate with this type of knowledge and wisdom. He was as simple as a child and yet the wisest of sages. He was totally without self-consciousness; he never had the idea that he was something special.
Another aspect that struck me, in contrast to all my negative qualities, was that in my entire 35 years of associating with the Master, I have never seen him get angry, speak angry words, or at any time raise his voice no matter what the situation was. This is something very distinctive. It is not ordinary with human beings, and it is such a contrast to me who was and still is excitable. I could get excited in an argument and raise my voice, but then, I don’t know how hard Master had to work with himself on this or whether he was born with this nature right from the very beginning.
These are wonderful traits–this type of serenity, peace and absolute absence of anger. He was totally incapable of seeing anything bad or negative in people. I found that he always focused only upon things that were praiseworthy in people. He fixed himself only on the positive and just brushed aside anything that was negative. He was not ready to see anything bad, and there were many instances to attest to this positive quality of absolute sincerity. He was meticulous in anything he did, and there was a clockwork regularity in his daily life. For us as spiritual seekers, the most important aspect was that to him the spiritual purpose of life was the most important factor. He came to proclaim to the whole world a spiritual meaning of life, and he hammered on this theme again and again. He was himself one hundred per cent spiritual in his outlook toward everything. He had attained this nature through years of great penance and prayer, but he had some elements of this nature even from an early age.
His teachings went directly to the heart of life. He always tended to emphasise the essentials of his message, and he didn’t bother going into too much detail. He was precise, to the point and simple. His teachings were the soul of simplicity, so much so, that some people who are more intellectually and rationally oriented take him to be one who is not much of a philosopher. God knows what depths of philosophy he had in his head, but so far as his teachings were concerned, he gave them in a manner that even a layman could understand and easily adopt. The teachings were very simple–going to the heart of the matter, not beating around the bush, and not caring so much about non-essential matters.
His teachings always emphasised unity, and he always wanted to bring people, religions and countries together; hence, he always took care to mention only things that offered common ground where people could meet and be one. Above all, his teachings were practical. He did not so much write about things that you should know as much as about things you should do. Much of his teachings were practical instructions on living life and practising yogic sadhana. If you were to open any page of one of his books, you’d find him directly talking to you, and as a result, his works have great power.
As a young man, he became a doctor and travelled to Malaya where he did medical service with great love for ten or twelve years. He served the poor and the suffering people without any expectation of gain or reward. The pains and sufferings of these poor people moved him; his large-hearted nature went out to them in great sympathy and he grew in compassion. He became a brother to all and was something like a Good Samaritan. He saw no difference between day and night in his work, and his door was open to all people at all times. Whenever a suffering man called him, immediately he went to his side. Sometimes, because they were very poor, he went and treated them for free, and he even left them some money from his own pocket.
At the same time, this contact with sorrow, pain and suffering brought about an inner awakening in him. He found that life on earth need not be a beautiful experience–as it was full of disease and death–and this awakened a religious consciousness in him. He felt that life here is painful, the human body is an abode of much suffering and sorrow, and the soul is in a state of bondage to the human body. His mind turned to philosophy, he read the lives and teachings of saints, and he began to search for a way out of sorrow and pain. “Is there not a way by which man can transcend this present state? Is this the only experience available to man, or is there another state that is marked by peace, joy and true happiness?” This questioning drew him into the study of philosophy; he contemplated these questions, and ultimately it dawned on him that there was in fact a state full of blessedness and beatitude, and that this state was within the reach of all human beings. One could attain what other people had attained. Thus, he decided to dedicate himself to this attainment.
Gurudev Comes to India
A day came when he gave up his very successful medical practice, his popularity, his wealth–everything–and came away to India. He came as a lone, wandering seeker, and he turned his footsteps north towards the Himalayas. After months of travel he reached a quiet little village on the banks of the sacred river Ganges surrounded on all sides by mountains. Civilised modern India practically ended at this spot, for beyond this place there were only the high mountains. He reached this place sometime in 1923-24, and here he took up a life of silent seclusion, penance, prayer and meditation. For ten years he lived a simple life. He spoke very little, practised self-control, served the neighbouring people with compassion and kindness, and plunged into deep meditation. He sometimes gave medical aid to the monks and the villagers; otherwise, most of the time, he was sunk in prayer, meditation and study.
This intensely lived life brought spiritual illumination to this wonderful man. From that day of enlightenment onwards, his mission began of calling mankind to this same great attainment. He wanted to share joy and peace with everyone and he said, “O friends, there is a way by which you can transcend all the sorrows and sufferings of this life and attain true peace in this life. This is the true life that leads you to the great attainment where sorrow vanishes, joy comes into your heart, all the restlessness of the mind subsides, and peace comes. Where there is no more inner darkness, life becomes a thing of great joy. That is the main purpose of your life.”
This message that he brought into the life of countless beings, he called simply the “Divine Life.” He gave a simple universal name that did not have the label of any particular religion. It is a life that takes you towards divine experience, a life that is lived in the knowledge that within this physical body and this restless mind, there is an all-perfect, divine principle. That eternal divine principle has the nature of absolute peace and radiant bliss. Within you is this hidden divinity, eternal existence and radiant, pure consciousness. Neglecting this, we are searching here and there, wandering in this world of externals, and seeking happiness in temporary objects. How can perishable, changeful and finite objects bring real happiness and satisfaction? This is impossible, but man ever seeks for happiness where it is not to be found, and then he weeps and wails, but he does not know what is the reason for his sorrow. However, the reason for this sorrow is within him and comes from the great error of thinking that this imperfect world can give him real happiness.
The mistake is not to be found in this outside world though. The world does not stand up and say, “Come, O man, I will give you happiness.” The sense objects in the world do not promise anything; hence, they do not themselves cause disappointment. It is your expecting something that causes the disappointment. Mistakes lie not in the world; rather, they lie in man. Thus, from birth to death man wanders in this desert wilderness of perishable, changeful objects ignorantly imagining that through these objects he can attain true happiness. These objects can only give some temporary sense satisfaction, but this sense satisfaction is not happiness.
It is a biological process depending entirely upon your nervous system. Happiness is an inward state of being, and sometimes it just wells up from within even when there is no object present at all. When you are sitting alone at times, when no desire troubles your mind and you are sitting at peace with yourself, you can experience a rare joy from within. This joy comes in the absence of any object or thing whatsoever.
Where does real joy come from? It does not come from any external object or through any one of your senses. On the contrary, it comes up from within yourself. This internal state of your own subjective being is joy, and this is always available. It is the grasping after external things that prevents you from experiencing this inner happiness. This inner happiness is always present, because it abides in you and is your own essential nature. This joy and peace is your Self, but unfortunately our mind is drawn away from this inner centre and it is scattered towards innumerable objects. When this mind is thus brought outside and dispersed, then you move away from the joy within. Yet, you cling to the outside objects thinking that they are the best things in the world. On the contrary, they are the obstacles to the experience of true joy and happiness. The more you become free from desire for external things, the more you begin to feel a wonderful peace.
Where there is peace of mind, there is happiness, but where there is no peace, there is no happiness. Anything that makes the mind restless deprives you of your happiness. Now ponder this yourself and reflect upon the truth–then you will understand the cause of your happiness as well as your sorrow. You will have a golden key to the attainment of happiness. Live in such a way that your mind is always calm and peaceful, then you will begin to feel happiness automatically. Anything that you do that makes your mind restless will deprive you of your happiness. This is the truth and is to be understood by everyone who is really serious. This gives us an immediate understanding as to why innumerable people in modern times are not happy. They always seek excitement, but they make their lives miserable. That is what we see. This little bit of thrill is not the real happiness, because it fails to give true satisfaction and brings about a reaction of dejection and depression.
Therefore, build up your character in such a way that you ever maintain a serenity of mind with an absolute balance in all the changing circumstances. No matter what happens outside, be ever balanced within. Be simple in your life, and do not become enslaved by too many desires. Multiplication of desires is not wisdom, as it only invites greater agitation and restlessness. Ultimately, you will have to face the truth that it is in the control of desire that true happiness lies.
The Divine Life
This great truth that joy is within was given to everyone through the teachings of Swami Sivananda. He was a realist and a practical man. Even though he taught this great ideal of Self-experience, he knew man also had to live his normal life. He gave some practical suggestions for daily living through which man gradually grew into this state of self-management and inner control. This graduate discipline that he gave to man was the very essence of his Divine Life teachings. He gave these rules and regulations in a very non-sectarian way, so that they did not interfere with anyone’s religion. These rules of Divine Life were such that they could be incorporated in one’s life without affecting one’s beliefs or religious practices. He organised these teachings into twenty basic spiritual instructions, and the adoption of these instructions moves one towards happiness and peace and away from suffering and sorrow. These twenty instructions contain the very essence of the message of Swami Sivananda.
He called out to modern man to turn towards the imperishable source of all happiness and joy in the divine centre within himself. Control your senses, discipline your mind, conquer unnecessary desires, and purify your heart through selfless service. Do not live only for yourself, but try to bring joy and happiness into the lives of others. Serve elders and parents, neighbours and friends. Serve people who are in distress and sorrow; serve selflessly wherever there is need for such services. Never hurt the feelings of others–let your words be such that they bring joy and solace to others. Be kind and friendly, hate none, dislike none, and see only the good points in others and not the defects. No one is perfect, so take things with a charitable view. See the good and ignore the false. If you want to see the false, see the false that is in you and try to remove it. Through selfless service, kindness, compassion and sweet speech develop a great love for the universal principle.
From whence have you come? Is there not some source of both you and this world? Yes, there is. Behind these visible names and forms, there is a mysterious, hidden principle. These objects will perish and pass away, and physically you will also perish and pass away, but this hidden, invisible, eternal principle will never pass away. This is the eternal Reality and the divine truth that is the source of both your being as well as the existence of this universe. Seeing that, one attains fullness. In this present state of separation from that fullness, you are incomplete. Completeness and wholeness come into your life when you once again regain your inner spiritual relationship with That. Develop this inner hunger and devotion and grow in your inner life.
Progress through prayer, daily contemplation and inner adoration, and try to practise ceaseless remembrance of that supreme divine principle. Do it in the midst of your daily life, and let your interior rest in that eternal substance. Let the body and mind be given to the daily tasks of life, but let a little part of yourself abide in that Reality. Your participation in this external world lasts only for a brief while, and when the span of this physical life is completed, you will have to move on. Your real ultimate concern should not be so much with this physical existence but with That. Inwardly you are ever at one with That, but you have forgotten this inner relationship because the mind has become lost in the outer world.
You have now to reverse the picture; you have to regain once again a living relationship with that eternal source of your being. Real life is a life that once again retraces the steps into that experience and makes use of this golden opportunity called human life. This is your great duty. One who engages himself in this quest lives life triumphantly. Such a person overcomes sorrow, breaks the slavery of desire and moves towards a greater joy and lasting peace.
Such a life is called Divine Life, for it is a life that takes you towards divine experience. It is a life that is lived in the awareness of the spiritual purpose of your life where–through thoughts, words and daily activities–you express the divine within. Life is no longer a process of giving expression to your petty, selfish emotions, but it is a life that radiates compassion and kindness. You move as a centre of blessedness filled with joy and peace who brings joy and peace to others.
To do this requires self-control–control over your mind and its desires and control over this ego and its selfishness. If you are a slave of your own senses, you cannot live such a life. But you should not think that this discipline is something puritan or an austerity suitable only for monks and nuns. On the contrary, such self-control is evidence of real civilisation and true education. It is such self-control that makes life worth living, and a society is truly wealthy if it has men and women in such a state of self-government. This is not a world-denying philosophy, for it is with this temporary denial that you are moving towards an abiding state of true joy. It is not a denial for its own sake, but is the way to attainment of true happiness. Thus the goal is joy, happiness, peace and perfection, and this is Divine Life.
How many people have deeply pondered the message of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount? Is there any greater treasure than this message from this wonderful man? He was a man in outer form, but was divine within. Is there anything so full of grandeur as the message of Jesus? Even if you practise one-sixteenth of what Jesus has given as His life and message, your life will become filled with sunshine. People suffer not because they have no religion, but because no one really practises the great teachings of their religion. Religion has not failed in any human society, but again and again history shows that mankind has deliberately failed religion. It is the ignoring of the teachings of religion that is the root cause of all sorrow and pain.
“Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you.” How true, and how great a call to mankind. Are our ears open to this great truth? In so many beautiful ways Jesus tried to bring our attention to this great necessity. This is the first thing that has to be attained–all other things are secondary. Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” and “Unless you are reborn, you cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” These three truths together show that what is to be attained is already right here within you.
The old life of selfishness, greed, hatred, anger and jealousy must die, and a new being full of kindness, humility and devotion should take birth. You are the pure consciousness beyond name and form. You are neither male nor female, nor are you young or old, Catholic, Protestant or Jew. You are immortal soul beyond body, mind and intellect. That alone is real. Until you attain this knowledge and this experience, no object in this outer world will be able to give you true satisfaction. It is this alone that can give you true satisfaction and true joy. This is the eternal message of Divine Life, and I feel myself greatly blessed to have this opportunity through this talk to serve you all in the name of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivananda.