Many a young aspirant who wishes to tread the path of spirituality, first does so with very many ideas–may be helpful or otherwise–and does not allow himself to be moulded by the Guru. He forms variedly wrong notions as to what spirituality is. He thinks that spirituality is living in seclusion in an Himalayan cave or growing a beard and matted locks or roaming throughout the length and breadth of the land. Anyhow, he retains the individuality in thought and cannot hopefully surrender his ego at the lotus feet of the Guru, which alone can see him well off in the spiritual path.
I, for one, first approached Swami Sivananda with a clean slate so that he might write on it all that he thinks will benefit me. I had no idea of my own. If Swamiji says, a trip to Badrinath or Mt. Kailas will help in realising the Lord, I will do it at once. As a matter of fact, Sri Swamiji has never told me that, and I, too, have never visited those places. I remember, only once he asked me to get by heart the eighteen Mantras of Isavasyopanishad. I at once crammed it day and night with word for word meaning. The whole of it was at my fingers’ ends, and I was in a position to repeat it in my dream also. But, somehow, I failed to recapitulate when Swamiji asked me to recite it. Let it be. Apart from that particular Upanishad, I have never got by heart the Brahma Sutras, or the Gita or any other Upaniahad; for, Swamiji has not asked me till now. If he says, to get through all those books day and night will give me realisation, I will do it.
Here I can tell you one or two incidents in the life, of some Sadhaks who went to do what Swamiji had not told them to do. In those days (1924-34) while Swamiji was living in Swargashram, there was a Sannyasi-disciple by name Swami V. Without the instructions of Swamiji he began to practise Hatha Yogic Kriyas. He was doing Vastra Dhauti. He began to complain that Swamiji did not give him a bottle of ghee (clarified butter) while his throat was bruised owing to the Kriyas. He went on abusing Swamiji. Mind you, it was a time when Swamiji himself was living on Kshetra food (alms). Who asked the disciple to perform the Kriyas? Without procuring a bottle of ghee first, why should he start doing the Kriyas? Sivanandaji never asked him to do so. Had Swami V. surrendered his individuality to Swamiji, the latter would have guided him correctly, and put him on an easy path. This the disciple never cared to do. He had his own individual ideas about spirituality and never gave a chance to Swami Sivananda, his Guru, to mould him. And as a consequence he had to suffer for having followed a wrong path without being instructed by the Guru.
I remember, in those days, while at Swargashram, Sri Swamiji would save every possible minute and add it to his Sadhana. He would keep old rotties (breads) in his room, dry them in the sun every day, and soak them in water an hour before his meal-time and this he would have for his meals along with gud (jaggery). In this way, he was able to save more than an hour which he would have spent in going to Kshetra for Bhiksha (alms). This was Swamiji’s food at a time when Vivekananda abused him for not supplying ghee.
Another instance. A young Sannyasin, a disciple of Swami Sivanandaji, met me, at Madras. He related his miserable life at that moment. He came to South India to lead a Parivrajak-life after visiting Badrinath and other places in Uttarakhand. The first thing I asked of him was, whether he had taken Sri Swamiji’s permission and whether Sri Swamiji had instructed him to undertake a Yatra (pilgrimage). To both questions, he replied ‘no’. Further, he related how he slept on roadsides and railway platforms, how he met with physical violence for travelling without ticket and so on. Such was his miserable life. Why should he suffer? The answer is simple: he did not take instruction from Swamiji and neither did he allow Swamiji to mould him. He gave full freedom to his individuality and, therefore, reaped the consequences thereof, suffering. To a further question he replied, that he had no plans. I fully remember Sri Swamiji having remarked in a meeting at Colombo during the All India-Ceylon Tour (in 1950) the importance of chalking out a plan to guide us in our actions. I replied to that Sannyasin, that I had a well-chalked out plan confirmed by the Guru and so I do not suffer.
I can tell you with all assurance that I am the happiest man not only now when there is a kitchen to cater to all individual whims and tastes, but I was also the happiest man when I had to receive Bhiksha from Nepali-Kshetra, as also Sri Swamiji had to. It is because I had no individuality, no idea or plan of my own; I allowed myself to be moulded by Sri Swamiji.
There was one Swami Jagadeeswarananda with us whom Sri Swamiji trained as a good lecturer. Sri Swami Jagadeeswaranandaji’s lectures on Concentration and Meditation were simply grand and eloquent.
Again there is Swami Narayanji. In those days he was sweeping the Ashram and keeping it clean. Today also he does the same work. He finds immense pleasure in it. He derives supreme happiness from that work. How is it? He had no idea of his own. He allowed Sri Swamiji to shape his career. Sri Swamiji, too, has made him a good Sankirtanist. Swami Narayanji has written a wonderful English commentary on Vivekachudamani.
You should not ignore highly evolved souls like Swami Narayanji and Swami Poornabodhji as some insignificant personalities. They are the happiest persons. You should resort to them often and often and learn from them in first-hand detail how Sri Swamiji had trained them. They are ever ready to serve you all with the nectarine instructions they received directly from Sri Swamiji while he was actively engaged in training the aspirants individually.
You may ask why Swamiji was not giving those instructions in later times. Those days things were different. On one side the volume of work that drew his immediate attention had attained a colossal magnitude and on the other side none was willing to sacrifice his individuality to get himself properly established in the spiritual path and enjoy the Supreme Bliss. If Swamiji asked a new aspirant to observe a fast, at once the other man thought that Swamiji was making him weak by forcing starvation on him.
I shall now recollect certain instances which shall be of help to you all.
Once Swamiji introduced saltless diet on Saturdays. Some inmate-disciples did not like this. And they used to keep ready with them, even on the previous day, small packets of powdered salt. Swamiji on learning about this incident abandoned giving this personal training to the inmates, save the instructions: “I have given you everything. I have shown you the path. If you have good aspirations, you will definitely adopt the correct measures; otherwise, if you are not sincere, you may hardly evolve. I shall no more insist and force upon you all any instruction, however good it may be.” Such is the method of Swamiji Maharaj. When you do not admit yourself humbly to get trained by Swamiji why should he forcibly train you? If he does so, you will begin to abuse him.
Early morning classes used to be conducted in the Ashram, when Swamiji himself would go round every room at 4 a.m., stopping at every door and telling in sweet words, “It is Brahmamuhurta. Wake up!” On hearing his words, everyone would run to the morning meditation classes. But later, aspirants were not so enthusiastic in attending the early morning classes. People did not want to get trained and face some hardships.
In this connection, I shall just tell you a humorous incident.
I was then (in 1934) put up in a room at Brahmanandashram. It was mid-winter. One day at 4 a.m. Swamiji came to my Kutia all the way from Ananda Kutir in that biting wintry morning to wake me up. It was a distance of nearly half a mile. Peeping through the window he called ‘Maharaj! OM! Maharaj! OM!” Twice I got annoyed and replied, “Maharaj, Kya Chahiye?” (What do you want) I could not make out who was standing at the door (Swamiji, it seems, had his voice purposely changed). Again, “Maharaj! OM …. !”. Now it was definitely his voice. I got up as though in a shock and Swamiji mildly said, “Maharaj, you are sleeping. It is Brahmamuhurta”. I replied how the previous night I kept late hours busying myself with urgent work of the Ashram. Swamiji joyously remarked that when a sleeping man is disturbed he would lose his temper, but that I was very mild and sweet in my reply!
Such was the trouble he took in those days to collect the inmates for the morning class, in spite of the fact that Ananda Kutir had not grown up then, and therefore we had to lodge at different buildings, not close at hand. The inmates, then, had a keen desire to get their personalities moulded spiritually by Sri Swamiji Maharaj and they were all happy. Now, too, if you all have a keen desire to surrender your individuality at the feet of the Guru, he will definitely come forward with his practical instructions.
Go to the Guru with a clean slate. Have no idea of your own. Let him write on it. Let him chalk out a plan for you. Allow him to mould you into a spiritual genius. This alone I consider as surrender unto the lotus feet of the Guru.
Go to the Mahatmas. See who will guide you properly. When once you have selected your Guru, stand by him always with unswerving faith and devotion. Carry out all his instructions. Never allow your individual imaginations and ideas to play. This is the way to approach the Guru. This is self-surrender.
It was in 1930 that I first met Swami Sivanandaji and in a couple of years I wrote a book under the pseudonym ‘Ananda’. The book was published only two years later in 1934 at Madras. Now you will not be able to find any copy of the book, except two copies in the Sri Ramashram library, Muni-ki-reti. I myself do not know what happened to the rest of the copies.
In that book I wrote all about the relationship between the Guru and the disciple, how the disciple should conduct himself in the presence of the Guru and ever-so-many other items of practical importance to an aspirant just stepping into the spiritual path. In the very same book, I had also mentioned about the various Ashrams where I stayed before as well as about their different managers and presidents, while describing the unique nature of Swami Sivanandaji and his institution that kept me spellbound.
A copy of the book was duly sent to Swami Sivanandaji who wrote me back, ‘Wonderful; excellent!’ Within a short time, I made ready the manuscripts of the second volume of the book (the first book ended with the note that it is being continued in the second volume that awaits publication). All things were ready, press, paper, etc. All of a sudden, I received a letter from Sri Swamiji saying, in effect, ‘Your book is very bad. Do not sell it to any body. Do not even give it freely. Do not bring out the next volume.’ I was thunderstruck. ‘What? Only the other day Swamiji wrote me appreciating the book and now he condemns it’, I thought. From Madras, I wrote to Swamiji requesting him to enlighten me as to what he means. And here is the reply he favoured me with: ‘Such and such a Mahatma writes your book is a frightful attack directly aimed at him and his institution. Your book offends my friend. It has injured him. Therefore stop sales as well as drop the second volume.’
Mark, how large is the heart! What an amount of gracious kindness! Swamiji liked the book very much. But because someone feels offended, the book should not be brought out. ‘Do not offend any one. Do not hurt anybody’s feelings’: this is what Sri Swamiji preaches to everyone. This is what I learned from him on that day.
I implicitly obeyed Sri Swamiji’s wishes. The second volume was never brought out and the books already printed were never put for sale. And this was not at all difficult for me, nor was I affected. I am ever happy.
All this was because, I had no idea of my own, no plan of my own. Sri Swamiji puts the idea and chalks out the plan. I simply execute them. He moulds me and I allow him to do so.
Many are curious to know when Sri Swamiji wrote his first book, how he was able to establish his second-to-none Divine Life Society within a few years of his coming to Rishikesh.
The first book that was written and published by Swami Sivananda is his master-piece Practice of Yoga. The year was 1929. That, as all of you know, is an excellent book. I had the opportunity to see a ‘deluxe’ edition copy of the book at the Connemera Library in Madras. The book was priced as low as rupees two only. Even in those early days of Sannyasa life, when it was very difficult for him to procure money, Sri Swamiji brought out costly editions of books for supplying free of charge to all public libraries and poor aspirants who would treasure them. For those of ordinary means there were cheap editions priced very low. Incidentally, it also happens to be the book that brought me so close to him. That much regarding his first book.
The Divine Life Society, if I can say, was virtually born the very moment Sri Swamiji stepped into Rishikesh, i.e., in 1923. What he started that day, he is still continuing now.
He would go to every Mahatma living around him, fetch them water from the Ganges, attend to their needs and serve them to their satisfaction without their asking. I have seen Sri Swamiji doing the very same thing even while at Swargashram (i.e., from 1930 onwards when I first met him). On one occasion when I stepped into his Kutia (hermitage) to attend to his need, I remember Sri Swamiji asking me to serve all other Mahatmas living, washing their clothes, sweeping their kutias and so on. On another occasion, he told me that I should always look out for opportunities to serve others in any capacity. He would insist on keeping a small handkerchief in our pockets so that we might clean the shoes of the Mahatmas and Yatris while they were at Satsang, without their knowledge. Such is his zeal and enthusiasm for serving the Virat Swaroopa (cosmic manifestation) of the Lord.
As he put into action his love for service in the year 1923 in Rishikesh, the seed for the Divine Life Society was sown. He watered it with the nectarine stream of cosmic love and selfless service and in the next year a tender plant sprouted forth and was christened ‘Satya Sevashram’; it was a charitable medical dispensary to cater to the needs of the ailing Mahatmas and pilgrims. It functioned as a mobile clinic also. This happened (in 1926) after Sri Swamiji moved from Rishikesh to Lakshmanjhula.
Indeed the seed should have been a divine one; for, now the tender plant grew into a nice little tree when Sri Swamiji shifted his Kutia from Lakshmanjhula to Swargashram. That was somewhere in 1929. ‘Satya Sevashram’ paved the way for ‘Swargashram Sadhu Sangh’ but the former’s motto remained the same, that is, practising cosmic love and selfless service.
All the time, even though Sri Swamiji was busying himself with writing books, he was touring many places holding Satsang and Sankirtan. All this formed part of the Society’s work. The work was continued with renewed vigour and enthusiasm at every step. Swamiji travelled from Mount Kailas in Tibet, to Rameswaram in the southern tip of Deccan, and from Srinagar in Kashmir, to Gangasagar in the Bay of Bengal.
In the mean time, he had settled at the present site of Ananda Kutir (in 1934). After a while, in the year 1936, when the little tree of ‘Swargashram Sadhu Sangh’ had firmly rooted itself and grown into a full-size tree, it brought into existence the Divine Life Society. As you know it better now, this divine tree is every day shooting forth a new branch bringing into existence new centres of Divine Life, far and near. Every day, it brings forth immortal, unfading, pleasant smelling flowers in the form of ideal selfless workers. And the fruits of this divine tree are but the immortal happiness.
And so, as you have seen, the Divine Life Society really came into existence in the year 1923, even though it assumed its present name in 1936.