The Role of Spiritual Institutions and the Functions of the Divine Life Society

The spiritual institution is a place of training for suitably equipped temperaments and mature minds towards the acquisition of the higher knowledge of human life. This specialised knowledge is not like one of the sciences or the arts taught in modern colleges or universities, among which a student can prefer anyone to the exclusion of others, but it is the central art and science which enables one to recognise the true meaning of life in general. Spiritual life is not one of the ways of living or even one of the stages of life, but that general background of motive and understanding which vitalises all stages and gives life and meaning to every way of thinking and mode of activity. One cannot live wisely and successfully in the world without adopting the spiritual perspective of the Universe. Spirituality is not worship of the deity in a temple, performance of rituals, following any code of behaviour or conduct, or even the practice of any cult, creed or religion. It is not even faith in God merely, for it rises above even this concept. Spirituality is that comprehensive understanding and envisagement of values, by which the Universe is taken in its totality–not in bits or parts–by which its unity is recognised. Not merely this; the aim of spiritual life is the recognition and realisation of this totality of the Universe as a single omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent Self, or Atman. Obviously, this is a solution to all human ills, and all problems in creation.

The spiritual philosophy makes one the best of any kind,–a farmer becomes the best farmer, a gardener the best gardener, a driver the best driver, a clerk the best clerk, an official the best official, a teacher the best teacher, and so on. The noblest element in a person is brought out by the technique of spiritual living. It is, thus, not a question of option left to people or a theme to be discussed as to whether it is necessary or unnecessary, for it is the only meaning of all existence. The Institutions that teach this science and art of life are the spiritual organisations of the world and their existence is naturally a ‘must’ for the benefit and the peace, plenty and prosperity of mankind.

Anyone devoted to the ideals of truth, non-violence and purity can become a member of the Divine Life Society which is a non-sectarian Institution, embodying in its wide perspective the common fundamental principles of all the religions of the world, and of spiritual life in general. The Society accords equal place of honour to all faiths and religious traditions, and its members recognise no distinction or disruptive sentiment on account of each other’s different traditional background, or religious affiliation, all which the principles and the philosophy and teachings of the Society do integrate. Through the pages of the various books and journals of the Society, what is endeavoured is to reveal the secret of spiritual action, namely that it lies in the Knowledge of the true Self and in the effacement and transcendence of the ego; and to present Sri Swami Sivananda’s profound teachings that each soul is potentially divine and that everyone’s goal is to strive to manifest this divinity within by controlling the internal and external nature by ‘being good and doing good’. Anyone with the above ideals is welcome to become a member of the Divine Life Society.

The Divine Life Society has been a pioneer in advocating and popularising health, culture and physical fitness through daily practice of yoga asanas and surya-namaskara among the students and youth of India. This health-building work it has been doing through the length and breadth of India, from Rishikesh to Kanyakumari, and from Assam to the Punjab, since the past about forty years. The Founder Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj had commenced this valuable yoga work even before. His world-wide yoga practice movement was one of the earliest movements in this direction.

The organisation and spiritual work of this Society being entirely non-sectarian, non-denominational and fully tolerant in its nature, it has been a cementing factor amongst the people of this country. The Ashram has drawn its residents from all provinces in India. Its Branch Centres are to be found throughout the country and their spiritual work fosters tolerance and encourages national unity.

The Institution propagates unity of religions and goodwill among the communities. Almost all its annual Conferences, at State level as well as All-India level, feature one or two sessions as All-Religions-Meet or Sarva-Dharma-Sammelana. Thus, its work is intended to function as a constructive force promoting goodwill and harmony and peaceful relationship in India’s society.

This Society’s spiritual teachers in foreign countries have been welcomed everywhere as the country’s cultural and spiritual ambassadors of goodwill, who have endeared themselves to countless people by their sincerity and their service in the field of yoga.

The vast goodwill thus earned for India and its spiritual science (adhyatma-vidya) is an invisible and yet a tangible asset whose value cannot be easily estimated. This good work is spreading progressively all over the world.

Even long before any of our present-day teachers had started to go abroad, Swami Sivananda’s spiritual teachings and yoga literature had made such a powerful impact in other countries during this recent era that it had raised the name and the prestige of our nation and its culture to very great heights in the eyes of the educated peoples of numerous foreign countries the world over. His books on yoga were very eagerly translated into French, German, Latvian, Estonian, Italian, Danish and Spanish languages, with the earnest objective of bringing about the widest possible spread of our country’s most precious spiritual heritage. The dignity and eagerness of the country’s cultural heritage has obviously risen high in the eyes of the peoples of other nations by this Institution’s work.

A perusal of the spiritual teachings and a careful examination of the work of the Institution can make it evident that it has been propagating practices and indirectly working for targets for which the Government itself is now working and striving through various means and methods. Aims and goals such as national health and physical fitness, integrity of character, dutifulness and discipline, avoidance of wastage, limitation of family size, simplicity and thrift have been directly propagated and taught to people by this Institution from the time of its most revered Founder, who was known throughout India as one of the foremost spiritual leaders of his time and an illustrious well-wisher of the country, its people and its culture.

About a hundred or more deserving students of Uttar Pradesh, most of them from the very poor and backward District of Tehri-Garhwal, are receiving regular educational aid from the Institution for their school and college studies. In addition to their fees, the Institution helps them for their text-books as well as for their school uniforms and clothes. Besides this, the Ashram sometimes gives aid to poor and deserving schools nearby to help them out of their monetary problems and difficulties.

On the health and medical side, the Society, besides its regular year-round free medical service rendered to the public through the Ashram’s Hospital, has conducted (a) twenty Eye Camps for free surgical and medical treatment of the public; (b) twenty Annual Women and Children’s Medical Treatment Camps; (c) three First Aid Training Courses; and (d) a few Child and Maternity Welfare (prenatal) Camps and food and nutrition education exhibitions. Such medical relief and service activities are carried on by a number of its Branches in different parts of India.

The Divine Life Society has reclaimed from the streets a large number of leper beggars and is providing for their maintenance in their own settlements. These leprosy patients have thus stopped begging on the streets since some years past and improved their general health. Medical care is provided to them. Also periodical repairs to their hutments and supply of clothes are made to them. In addition to this humanitarian Social Welfare project, the Society also bears a major part of the financial burden of running another leprosy colony of more than 120 leprosy patients since the past many years. The Institution has been a regular and unfailing participator in a number of national schemes by contributing appreciably towards Small Savings Fund, National Savings Certificates, Defence Bonds and collection drives undertaken by the Government. It also contributes its share in times of natural calamities like famines, epidemics, floods, etc.

As a centre of revival, propagating and perpetuating the country’s invaluable cultural heritage, the Institution’s yeoman service is very well known throughout this nation over the past three decades.

The Headquarters Ashram has ever tried to be a haven of refuge for persons in distress, disappointment, grief, dejection, friendlessness and despair. The grieving and the sorrowful, the agitated and the confused come here for peace and solace. Such people rest and recover in this place and return in a better condition to face their problems and situations. No distressed person is ever turned away without assistance. No hungry person is ever refused a meal at the Ashram’s kitchen. No shelterless person is ever turned away without night’s shelter here. Through the years men and women, old and young, high and low, all come to this Institution on the banks of the Ganga by the highway to the Himalayan shrines, seeking to fulfil some inner want, some indefinable need. In the name of the Almighty, the Institution strives to fulfil in some measure the inner need of countless persons. The value and importance to their lives of what they find and receive here is only known to them and can be assessed only by them.

The Divine Life Society has been not only helping and supporting the imparting of education by normal schooling but also imparting education by correspondence. The Society is conducting classes on yoga, vedanta and Indian Culture in general, including classes in Sanskrit language, music, physical culture etc., regularly, throughout the year. Postal correspondence work is also done on spiritual and cultural subjects, as well as themes of humanitarian service. Further, at periodical intervals, trained instructors from our Society are invited by the National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie and the Officers Training School, Nainital, to give training in yoga for the benefit of the officer trainees of the Academy. Thus, I.A.S. Probationers attending the foundational course as well as senior officers attending Advance Management Development and Planning course conducted at the National Academy of Administration have undergone training under the able Instructors deputed by the Society. Similar such training courses are conducted in different parts of the country in places like factories, industrial townships, universities like the Pantnagar University, the Delhi University, the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, etc. The Divine Life Society’s Library contains a very good collection of valuable books on Indian culture, philosophy and religion not only in English and other Indian languages but also in foreign languages. The Library is available for free use by all and a number of students and scholars are regularly visiting the Library and making use of the facilities.

The aim of the Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy of this Society is not merely an academic equipment of students, but a providing of the requisite training to enable them in their endeavour to blossom into truly humane, serviceful, integrated personalities, so that they succeed, at least in an appreciable measure, in living a life of goodness and wholeness personally, and of dedication, unselfish cooperation and constructive work socially. It needs no special mention that this achievement in one’s own person and in society is obviously rooted in the extent to which one’s practical life is attuned to the Ultimate Reality of the Universe. Philosophical discipline, thus, is the pre-condition to leading a perfectly sociable, ethical and progressive life of an onward expansion towards the realisation of the Supreme Goal of existence. The teachers of the Academy will strive to hold aloft this objective set before the students, and are not just instructors in the well-known intellectual sciences. The basic spiritual foundation of all life is the principal motive governing the curriculum of the Academy, and students with this elevated spirit of quest seek admission.

Every year the Society also conducts intensive training camps in which people from all walks of life from every region, irrespective of caste, colour or creed, take part. During this period intensive training on yogasanas, pranayama and meditation is given to the participants. During the morning and evening sessions, instructive and illuminating discourses on the theory and practice of leading a spiritual life with a view to develop the integrated personality of man even while attending to the normal duties in one’s respective walks in life are given. The printing and publication section is only intended for carrying out the educational programme in building character and all-round development of the personality so as to bring out the nobler qualities inherent in all human beings. A substantial output of the publication section is distributed free to those who are interested in undergoing physical as well as mental discipline and extending the frontiers of their knowledge.

By way of medical relief, the Society is running (1) an Allopathic Section, (2) an Ayurvedic Section, and (3) a Leprosy Relief Section, and also arranging free medical relief camps in and around Rishikesh, the Headquarters of the Society. The Allopathic Section is equipped with a clinical laboratory, X-ray machine and the Physiotherapy Section has facilities for ultra-short wave diathermy, infra-red and ultra-violet therapy. The hospital has 20 beds and more than 30,000 patients are treated on an average every year. Treatment in all departments is free to all, irrespective of caste or religion. In the Ayurvedic Section, medicines are prepared strictly according to the injunctions contained in the science of Ayurveda and such medicines are distributed free at the dispensary to patients who seek treatment.

It should not be difficult to appreciate that all charitable activities and service to humanity, particularly service to the poor and the sick, flow from the conviction in a Transcendent Presence which holds humanity together as a single fraternity. In India, as in other parts of the world, all true charitable activities are carried on with a spiritual zeal which oversteps the boundaries of classes, creeds and cults. The Divine Life Society is religious if by religion we are to understand the grounding of one’s life in the structure of a Cosmic Reality. But, no one, definitely, we hope, would be prepared to abrogate the need for such a religion, if religion is the name we prefer to give to it. It is, rather, the Science of Life, on whose basis this Society has always been working ever since its inception. It attempts to make man human to enable him to live at peace with himself and the Society at large. It lays emphasis on the brotherhood of man to regulate his conduct with his fellow beings and to promote a sense of unity among things. The Divine Life Society is essentially a Charitable Institution and its main object is education, spread of knowledge, promotion of cultural progress, medical relief and relief of the poor. The fact that the workers engaged in carrying out the objectives of the Society have faith in a Super-Power that guides the destinies of men and believe that the ultimate goal of human endeavour should be to realise and experience oneness with that Power, would only adumbrate the integral approach of the Society as a whole.

Religion, to the Divine Life Society, does not mean any particular faith, creed or cult, or any ‘ism’ in the sense it is usually construed with relevance to the organised, the traditional or the accepted religions of the world. To this Institution, and to all its followers, religion means that consciousness or that conduct which manifests in practical life as well as personal demeanour the laws that are supposed to operate behind the working system of the universe. Thus, religion becomes a scientific principle, a philosophical necessity and a spiritual ideal which regulates human life in every field of its activity,–personal, social, national or international. Thus, again, religion becomes an inviolable law of the world as a whole, by which individuals are united into a fraternity or brotherhood in the light of a total culture of humanity which may be said to be directed towards the achievement of the purpose of human life as such, without any distinction characteristic of the ordinary religions. This feature exemplifies the ‘universal nature’ of the activities and the aims and objects of the Society.

The following are the principal departments of The Divine Life Society:

The Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy trains seekers in the knowledge of India’s Culture and in the practice of yoga as a general discipline for personal integration as well as human welfare. The Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy Press prints the cultural and spiritual books as well as the journals and other literature of the Society. The Sivananda Publication League caters to the public demand for this valuable literature. The Free Literature Section distributes freely books and other literature to deserving seekers and aspirants the world over. The Sivananda Ayurvedic Pharmaceutical Works manufactures genuine Ayurvedic medicines from pure Himalayan herbs. The Charitable Hospital renders free medical service to the public and conducts periodical medical relief camps freely. The Annapurna Annakshetra, which is the common kitchen of the Ashram, feeds about 250 permanent residents as well as the daily visiting sadhakas and guests and pilgrims in varying numbers. The Guest House looks to the needs of the many visitors and guests (visiting sadhakas) who come to the Ashram for spiritual guidance and yoga training. The Temples of worship hold prayers for the peace of the world, conduct regular worship and continue the recitation of the Divine Name throughout the 24 hours of the day, for the welfare of mankind. The Library contains some of the most precious books in philosophy, yoga and culture. The Correspondence Section provides proper replies to countless queries that come from seekers all over the world in various walks of life. The daily satsanga held in the Ashram is a perennial source of inspiration to the souls that seek communion with inner peace. Yoga courses held in other parts of India, outside the Headquarters, in other Institutions and Organisations, are, again, channels of the much-needed inspiration to students, officials and people in general, which work the Society carries on through its Yoga Instructors who travel for this purpose. The Divine Life Conferences held in different places in India have become effective means of mustering in the moral and cultural forces of people and bringing them together for the purpose of achieving individual and social solidarity. The Cultural Tours conducted by the senior swamis of the Ashram have become a by-word to anxious seekers in India as well as in other countries, who are benefited immensely by the teachings, lectures and personal guidance provided by the swamis travelling for this purpose. The Personal Guidance which the senior swamis at the Headquarters render in a paternal way to hundreds of people coming to the Ashram from the various countries in the world has been ever giving a healing touch to the tension-ridden personalities in society.

The Daily Meditation sessions are a practical mobilisation of mental and soul-force for a reconstruction of the human personality towards the various noble purposes in life. The Annual Sadhana Weeks are Spiritual Camps held in the Ashram, to which hundreds flock in eagerness for cultural and spiritual rejuvenation of their minds and hearts. The Educational Activities of the Society consist in helping poor students, about a hundred in number, right from the primary standard to the post-graduate level, by providing them with the requisite facilities in their studies, as a free gesture of the Ashram’s goodwill towards the welfare of people. The Leprosy Relief Work of the Society is so well-known that it has always been regarded as part and parcel of the love extended by the Society to some 200 or more leper-patients who are rehabilitated and taken care of in a suitable manner. The Social Service Wing attends to such services as medical aid to the poor and needy, contribution towards different relief works in the country, and such other gestures of charity as would relieve the sufferings of people, in some measure, from poverty, disease and ignorance.

These services and activities of the Ashram are so conceived and conducted that they form a vehicle for the expression of the spiritual aspirations of seekers and become a venue for manifesting in practical life the broad-based inclusive ideal of the Oneness of God, the brotherhood of creation and the immortality of the soul.

The fundamental aims and objects of The Divine Life Society, as a whole, are purely spiritual and cultural, entirely non-sectarian, universally applicable and perfectly tolerant. The Society offers a peaceful haven wherein is provided ample opportunity and actual help for the restoration of peace to the troubled, conflict-ridden and psychologically traumatised personality of the modern man.

You may like it