Dissemination of Knowledge
Sri N. Ananthanarayanan
This excerpt is from the book From Man to God-Man.
The habit of giving was ingrained in Sivananda. As a boy at Pattamadai, he shared with other children the sweets his mother gave him. At school and college, he went to help his classmates with their lessons. After he left the medical institute, he ran the Ambrosia, to earn no doubt, but equally to share his considerable knowledge of health problems with an ignorant public. Later, in Malaya, he put to maximum use his medical knowledge by treating the sick, by contributing useful articles to periodicals, and by training the ward boys in his hospital for better jobs elsewhere. When he gained wealth and influence, he utilised both for the benefit of people in distress, who needed money, a job, a place to stay.
This trait, this desire to share what he had with others, intensified after he became a Sannyasin. Around him sprang the Satya Sevashram Dispensary. Sivananda used his past savings to buy medicines for the sick Sadhus and pilgrims. When the Swargashram Kshettar gave him curd and Ghee for his consumption, he distributed them among convalescent Mahatmas in Lakshmanjhula. When the Yatris who came to have his Darshan made him offerings of sweets and fruits, he once again redistributed them. He gave his only blanket to a needy pilgrim, himself shivering in the cold.
When Sivananda advanced in his spiritual practices, began meditating for hours on end, underwent various experiences, tapped the mine of spiritual wisdom at greater and ever greater depths, he put down those experiences on paper and grew eager to share the new-found knowledge with others. Thus were born his early spiritual tracts.
Pilgrims who met Swamiji in Swargashram began to correspond with him when they returned home. Others who read his tracts began to write to him. Sivananda replied those letters and gave spiritual advice.
This Jnana Dan or gift of knowledge possessed a characteristic which other gifts failed to have. Sivananda reasoned it thus. “Give food to the hungry” he told himself, “After a while, they will again be hungry. Give clothes to the naked; after a while, they will again be so. Give money to the needy; and when they have spent it, they will again be in want. But give knowledge to all; and you would have given them the wherewithal to take care of themselves”. His face brightened. The gift of knowledge, indeed, was the greatest gift.
And what could be greater than spiritual knowledge? Sivananda began to share the wealth of his spiritual experience with others through conversation, lectures, letters, leaflets and articles in periodicals. In this regard, Swamiji utilised the printing press more than the platform. What was heard might be forgotten in a day, but the recorded knowledge would be of lasting benefit.
While at Swargashram, Sivananda gave impetus to some Meerut publishers to start the magazines Sudarshan, Sankirtan and Swa-dharma, himself contributing articles to them. He began to send articles also to the Kalyan and the Kalyana Kalpataru of the Gita Press, Gorakhpur and to a long list of smaller journals.
If an editor asked for one article, Sivananda sent four or five. He would say: “Even if they are not published, at least some of the editorial staff in charge of selection will go through them. I am satisfied even if one person reads the articles. If the editors like, they may publish one among the five or six. Even then, much good can be done to the public”.
Among the magazines to which Swamiji contributed, there were some which carried much undesirable reading matter. Critics remarked: “Why should Sivananda send articles to magazines containing advertisement on sex matters? This is not good”. Swamiji replied: “I will continue to send articles to such papers first. The minds of those who go through sex matters will be purified by going through spiritual articles. Spiritual lessons and sexual advertisements will occupy different pans of the same scale and the reader will one day find that spiritual lessons weigh much heavier than the other pan. He will become spiritually minded. The readers will then preserve the pages on spiritual lessons for repeated study. I try to change the mentality of atheists and agnostics. Others are already religious minded. I need not struggle hard to change them”.
Subsequent events verified the correctness of Sivananda’s standpoint. There was a magazine from Madras, the My Magazine of India, which had a large circulation not only in India, but also in Ceylon, Malaya, Burma and other countries. A reason for its popularity was the fact that with each issue the magazine carried many pages of romantic writing and many more pages of sex advertisement. Now, besides other journals, Sivananda chose this My Magazine too for contributing his articles. And when from 1931 onwards his powerful spiritual lessons began to appear regularly in its pages, not one or two or a dozen or a hundred, but literally thousands turned into avid readers of Swamiji’s articles and became his students and devotees.
The persons who thus benefited by Swamiji’s writings were fired by an unmistakable spiritual enthusiasm, and in that mood, they wrote to Swamiji. They told Sivananda their joys and sorrows, placed before him their problems and perplexities, and sought his help. And help came with lightning speed.
To a devotee who wrote a long letter detailing the miserable condition he was in, Sivananda sent an immediate reply asking him not to be desperate and assuring him that every moment he was changing and becoming a new man. And Swamiji ended the letter with these words: “Come and stay with me. I will help you, serve you and make you a dynamic Yogi”. “To the end of my life I shall remember this invitation of Sivananda” said the grateful devotee at a later date, “It was so bold, so unconventional and so very generous”.
Sivananda’s letters were simple, but they appealed to the sense of inner certitude, and not to the surface rambling of the intellect. The first contact with Sivananda was, to many, like a shower of cool rain on a bit of hard and parched-up ground.
Each letter of the Master was verily a spiritual awakener. The very mode of his address was a lesson in Vedanta. “Beloved Immortal Atman”, “Blessed Immortal Atman”, “Adorable Self”, “Glorious Immortal Atman”–thus he reminded the person addressed that he or she was not the body or the mind, but the all-pervading immortal Soul. Swamiji’s subscription to the letter, besides reaffirming this grand truth, revealed the secret of Sivananda’s extraordinary love for all and his abiding interest in them. He was “Thy own Self, Sivananda”.
Swamiji made it a point never to close a correspondence from his side. The last letter should always be his. In this way he wrote innumerable letters to people all over the world (Quite a few of these letters were handwritten. They were published from time to time by the Divine Life Society under the title Guiding Lights). Over the years, one enterprising devotee alone managed to secure from the Master more than a thousand letters.
Those who corresponded with Sivananda discovered soon enough that the latter was able to communicate with them on the spiritual plane, undeterred by obstacles of time and space. Once Swamiji had established a mental relation with a person who had appealed for assistance, that person’s life and problems became an open book to Swamiji. Such a devotee often received, unasked and at the appropriate moment, a letter from the Master almost in anticipation of a problem and containing the solution.
“It is always a holy day of my life on which I receive a letter from Swami Sivananda” said one. “When I receive a letter from Swami Sivananda, I am in a different world altogether” said another. “With every one of Swamiji’s letters comes a great spiritual current which helps me very much” said a third. And these statements were verified by numberless others. “How truly wonderful! It is not in the words, but in the effect these words have on one” exclaimed Pat Pearson of Johannesburg. “The explanation was simple. In his Ashram, whenever a book-packet or a letter was to be sent by post, Sivananda looked at the address and concentrated–for a split second, perhaps–and when the recipient opened the book or letter to read, a spiritual tide swept his entire being.
But in all this work, Sivananda suffered a considerable handicap in his Swargashram days. There was neither stationery nor adequate assistance. He had no fountain-pen, no typewriter. And the printing of leaflets and tracts depended on chance donations. In the matter of correspondence, he asked his devotees to enclose postage stamps for reply when they wrote to him.
Then one day, P.K. Vinayagam of the My Magazine presented Swamiji with a typewriter, and later, a small cyclostyling machine. By that time Sivananda had moved to the right bank of the Ganges. The nucleus of the Sivanandashram had been born. The Ashram purchased a duplicating machine in 1937. And Swamiji began cyclostyling his Forest Talks. He freely distributed these and other leaflets to all he came across.
Everyone who wrote a letter to Swamiji or sent the smallest donation got some leaflet or pamphlet. And whenever Sivananda went out on tour, he made it a point to have some spiritual literature printed for free distribution. The recipients of this free literature in turn helped the cause by donating money for printing more.
When Sivananda’s writings gained in popularity, the working of the Free Department in the Ashram was systematised. This was in 1940. Under the new arrangement, the spiritual tracts brought out by the Society began to be mailed free to those who enrolled for them by remitting in advance a sum of Rs. 2 to cover forwarding charges for a year.
But Swamiji was not quite content with this method of leaflet distribution. With the growth of the Society, he felt that something must be mailed regularly to his correspondents. Thus was born The Divine Life, monthly organ of the Divine Life Society, in September, 1938. Giving his message for the inaugural number, Sivananda said:
“There are now very few spiritual journals in the whole world. The world is in need of many high-class journals. Then only can spiritual ideas be widely broadcast. People are thirsting for spiritual ideas, contact with evolved souls. The materialistic world also is tired of money and power. They do not find any solace here. They are directing slowly their attention towards the quest of God and search of Mahatmas. They visit India in search of Satgurus and Yogins. May the blessings of sages, Rishis and Yogins be upon you all”.
In the hands of Swamiji, the ‘Magazine’ now took the place of the erstwhile leaflet. Visitors to the Ashram each got a copy of The Divine Life, instead of a mere tract. Sivananda put every new address coming into his hands on the ‘Magazine’ free list. If some people still subscribed to the magazine, he viewed it as charity on their part. The result of this attitude was that The Divine Life began to run at a loss over successive years. A well-wisher suggested that the magazine be closed down till the general financial position of the Ashram improved. Sivananda remarked:
“I cannot think of stopping a magazine, whatever be the loss. Actually I am thinking of starting a few more magazines. It does not matter if we incur a little loss in the beginning. How much knowledge we give the public! God will give us money when He thinks fit. We have to go on working. If today we are getting over ten thousand rupees a month, it is due to God’s Grace and the work that we did ten years ago. The effect of the increased volume of work that we have undertaken today will be seen after ten years. Money is pouring forth now. Later on, gold will flow into the Society as from an ocean”.
And true to his word, Swamiji did start more magazines. Five of them! The Divine Life Membership Supplement was started in January 1949; Yoga Vedant, a Hindi journal, in July 1951; The Divine Life Forest University Weekly and Health and Long Life in September 1951; and The Branch Gazette in January 1952.
Sivananda liked the ‘Weekly’ the most, “People do not have the power of sustenance to keep up spiritual thoughts in their mind amidst the din and bustle of day-to-day city-existence” he said, “The Weekly serves them nicely. Every week it reawakens them”.
With the need to ensure timely despatch of so many magazines, the Ashram authorities thought it best to have a printing press of their own. An enthusiastic disciple brought in a printing machine on September 20, 1951. But it had to be operated manually; the output was poor. Swamiji teased the disciple: “Ohji! This is all that you can do? It is only for printing these few pages that you started a press in the Ashram?”. In wounded pride, the disciple brought a second and a bigger machine.
Then came electricity. The printing machines were switched on to power. Thereafter the growth of the press was rapid. Lino machines for composing, automatic machines for printing, modern machines for folding and binding–one by one, all were acquired. Production increased. Swamiji was pleased.
Sivananda got his first book published in 1929. It was Practice of Yoga–Vol. I and it was printed in Madras. For more than two decades, Swamiji had to get his books printed in outside presses only. Even after the Ashram press was started, he continued to give many books to outside presses, since the infant press in the Ashram could not cope up with all the production jobs that he wanted to be undertaken.
Messrs. Ganesh and Co., Madras were the first publishers of Sivananda’s works. They brought out three books, viz., Practice of Yoga–Vol. I, Practice of Vedanta and A Trip to Kailash.
Then P.K. Vinayagam published more than a dozen books of Swamiji under his “Himalayan Yoga Series”. Important works like Kundalini Yoga, Yoga Asanas, Science of Pranayama and Raja Yoga were made available to the public. Vinayagam also took over Swamiji’s first three books from Ganesh & Co. With the publicity given to all these books in the My Magazine, wherein Sivananda’s articles also appeared regularly, Swamiji’s books soon became well known everywhere.
Em. Airi of Amritsar was another important publisher of Sivananda’s works. He brought out more than half a dozen books, including the ever-popular Sure Ways for Success in Life and God-realisation, under his “Self-Realisation Series”.
There were other publishers too. Swamiji’s Mind–Its Mysteries and Control was published by the Gita Press, Gorakhpur, Practical Lessons in Yoga by Messrs. Banarasi Dass of Lahore and How to Get Vairagya by the Daily Herald of Lahore.
The royalty copies that these publishers sent to Swamiji were now available to him for free distribution, in addition to his leaflets and magazines. And Sivananda was immensely happy.
In the meantime the Divine Life Society had come into being. And the trustees felt that it would be better if the publication of Sivananda’s works was centralised under the Society. Thus was born the Sivananda Publication League in 1939 to collect the publication rights pertaining to Swamiji’s writings and to make available to the public all his works from one source and at the minimum price.
During its first five years, the League managed to bring out over a score of Swamiji’s books. Then came Sivananda’s Diamond Jubilee on September 8, 1947. On the happy occasion, donations were received in generous measure and Swamiji, in his characteristic way, allocated the maximum to publication work.
Among those who had come to the Ashram for the Diamond Jubilee was one Lilian Samash, of California. One fine morning, with a stroke of the pen, she donated Rs. 40,000 to Sivananda. Joyous Swamiji flourished the cheque before her and said, “You have saved all my manuscripts. I will have all of them printed at once”. And immediately he arranged to despatch the manuscripts to printing presses in Allahabad, Ambala, Bangalore and Madras.
It was during this phase of growth of the Sivananda Publication League that the sale of Swamiji’s books was organised through well-known distributors. The Divine Life message took wings and began to spread.
During the days of the Indo-Pak Partition, several books of Sivananda were caught in the raging storm of communal riots in Lahore and Calcutta. The Master smiled and said, “The Lord’s Sudarshan is there! Why worry?”. (Sudarshan is the divine discus held by Lord Vishnu to defend the righteous and to destroy the wicked. Devotees of the Lord believe that His Sudarshan Chakra will protect them against enemies and save them from dangers.)
The books World’s Religions, Illuminating Stories and Upanishad Drama and the original manuscript of Swamiji’s Commentary on the Brahma Sutras were in the Lahore presses. A bomb explosion partially damaged the Civil and Military Gazette Press, but Swamiji’s books inside were saved by the Lord. No efforts were made to get the books from Lahore. There was no way of getting them either. Suddenly a businessman turned up to help and the books reached the Ashram in huge railway parcels.
It was a similar story in Calcutta. Sivananda Vijaya, Mind–Its Mysteries and Control, My Master and Stotra Pancharatna were all with Muslim binders. For months the press could not contact them. The printed forms were almost given up for lost. And then one day, to everyone’s surprise, the Ashram received a note from the Calcutta press saying that they had been able to retrieve the forms from the binders.
So the work went on. Kashiram Gupta of the General Printing Works, Calcutta now came forward to give a further fillip to Swamiji’s mission; he offered to bear the printing charges of no less than eighteen books. This was unprecedented. At once Sivananda sent a senior disciple to Calcutta to organise the work. Week after week, huge parcels arrived at the Rishikesh railway station. Swamiji’s hands were full when he gave books to visitors and sent them free to spiritual seekers and libraries everywhere. When Kashiram heard of the speed with which Sivananda was giving the books away, he said, “Let him. It is our duty to fill his shelves with fresh stocks”.
Swamiji attached so much importance to this work of dissemination of spiritual knowledge that even when there was a financial crisis in the Ashram, he refused to slow down the tempo of work on the publication side. He was willing to shut down the kitchen, but, not the press. “We can all of us go to the Kshettar and live on alms” he would say, “but the Jnana Yajna must go on”. In 1949, the budgetary position became too tight and some inmates had to be asked to leave. Still Swamiji would not economise on book production. “For me the printing of books is the greatest necessity” he said, “All other works have a secondary value”. About money required for mailing the free copies, he remarked, “If there is no money for postage, we shall keep all the almirahs open and let visitors and pilgrims take whatever they want”.
That situation did not arise. The Indo-Ceylon tour came in 1950 and, with it, more money. The financial crisis turned out to be a bad dream and was quickly forgotten. Several Ashramites worked day and night preparing Swamiji’s books for the press.
The speed with which Sivananda brought out books was phenomenal. Generally he worked on three or four volumes at a time. Between his first publication in 1929 and his Mahasamadhi in 1963, he wrote nearly two hundred books, big and small. They included commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, the Principal Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and Narada’s Bhakti Sutras; scores of books on the practice of Yoga and Vedanta; and many volumes on health and hygiene.
Questioned as to how he found time to write so much, side by side with a tight daily routine, Swamiji told a disciple: “You should allot one hour to each subject every day or once in two days. Then in six months, you are amazed with the progress you have made in all these works. There should be system and method, first arranged in your mind. Then the action proceeds smoothly”.
Swamiji had an extremely facile pen. There was no effort or strain. Sentences became paragraphs. Paragraphs became leaflets, leaflets turned into pamphlets and pamphlets into books.
The Ashram workers sometimes delayed the return of the manuscript notebooks entrusted to them for typing. So Swamiji used more and more notebooks. He kept some in the writing room and some in the office, so that any moment he would be able to write. He kept several pens, all filled with ink and ready. He kept a pair of spectacles in the writing room, another in the almirah, a third in the office. No time should be lost in searching for them: work was of paramount importance. He kept several torch-lights too–one near the bed, one near his writing desk, one near the easy chair on which he rested. Even at dead of night, if a good thought came, it must at once be recorded. It must not be lost to the world.
Sivananda did not use chair and table. He found it inconvenient. He could not spread his books and notebooks comfortably on the table. So he squatted on the ground, with a broad writing desk in front.
Sometimes Swamiji did the typing himself. The entire matter for the book Sure Ways for Success in Life and God-realisation was typed by him straight on the machine without a draft.
For Sivananda there were no moments of inspiration and moments of depression. It was all a chain of inspired moments for him. His knowledge welled up from within. His difficulty was that he did not find time to express all his thoughts. Once he said to a student: “I cannot stop writing. I will write till I become blind. If I become blind, I will dictate and somebody will write for me. Thus I will continue my mission of dissemination of spiritual knowledge till the end of my life”.
In February 1950, Swamiji developed an unyielding pain in the right arm. It was put to him that it would be helpful if he reduced his writing for a couple of days. But Sivananda would not listen. “That is death while living” he said, and went on to add, “It will be all right. But I will have to go on with the writing”.
Swamiji recorded his thoughts in various notebooks as and when they arose. Some thoughts would cross his mind when he was on the Ganges bank. He would run inside and record them. He would develop the ideas later on. Or he would be relaxing in a chair. A sudden flash of thought would send him scurrying to his writing desk. Often Sivananda carried with him his manuscript book. While climbing the height leading to the Ashram Bhajan Hall, he would register a thought. While running round the Bhajan Hall for a little exercise, he would dictate a few thoughts to the steno.
Sivananda did not look to grammatical perfection or high literary standard. When some mistakes were pointed out in his writing, he commented: “I do not pay much attention to the beauty of the language and the rules of grammar. Ideas are important. There is a peculiar power in my writings. To revise, correct and improve the language is a job for the scholars, Pundits and grammarians”. Swamiji’s main concern was to write fast and disseminate as much spiritual knowledge in as short a time as possible. “I believe in maximum spiritual good to the public in a short space of time” wrote the Master, in a letter to his disciple Paramananda who was getting his first books printed in Madras, “Do you know Dhana-dan Kam or Fata-fut Kam? You will have to complete four or five books at a time by engaging several presses. Don’t rely on one only I like 20 days’ production or 10 days’ blowing out”.
Sivananda wrote to serve. Says the Master in one place in his writings: “I spent much of my time in meditation and practised various kinds of Yoga in my Sadhana, and my experiences have all come out in many of my publications as advice to aspirants. I quickly sent out my thoughts and experiences to help the world and struggling seekers after Truth”. Periodically Swamiji went through his old replies to spiritual aspirants a second time, took out useful paragraphs of general interest and converted them into spiritual lessons.
The pen was his weapon, but he used it lovingly. He did not criticise; he only coaxed. He wrote with both spiritual depth and intellectual persuasion. Sivananda did not condemn the scientific mind of the Space Age, but interpreted Patanjali Maharshi and Bhagavan Krishna in the spirit of the Age of Science. He did not look down angrily on his own countrymen who had sadly neglected the divine Sanskrit in the land of its birth. Swamiji realised that if the youth of the land strayed away from the path of spirituality, it was not because they had become suddenly perverse or wicked, but because they had not had the benefit of true knowledge, of right education.
Sivananda therefore set out to unearth for his countrymen the vast spiritual treasures of the land. He brought to light, popularised and laid bare in an intelligible manner all that was formerly regarded as secret, unintelligible and impracticable in religion and spiritual life. “I am glad you are showing the real deep spiritual meaning of the Hindu scriptures, which is so commonly misrepresented” wrote Bishop Walsh, Swamiji’s old principal, from his Christa Sishya Ashram at Tadagam, Coimbatore.
Swamiji’s writings were not confined to religion per se. There was no pressing problem of the day which Sivananda failed to comment upon in his books and magazines. But even when he wrote about sex or social crime, even when he discussed politics or the population problem, the spiritual orientation was unmistakable. It was the common thread running through his works. “The subject of a book by Sivananda is difficult to specify” said a reader, “Wisdom is the only subject of his writings”.
Sivananda used every form of literary expression to convey his point to the reader. Poetry and drama, letter and essay, story and parable, aphorism and lecture–all media were adopted by him to spread knowledge of Divine Life.
Sivananda’s style was aphoristic and his language simple. His writings were lucid, sparkling and pure like a mountain stream springing from a mighty rock.
Swamiji did not beat about the bush or parade his pedantry. Theory was confined to the barest minimum and the practical aspects were expounded in great detail. Every paragraph of his book drove the reader, not to his dictionary, but to the meditation room, to start the practice then and there.
To the earnest spiritual aspirant who asked, “What should I do now? When I get up tomorrow morning, what do you actually want me to do?”, to such a Sadhak, Sivananda’s books were like manna dropping from heaven. They were practical cent per cent.
This practical aspect of Swamiji’s writings made a powerful impact on the mind of the readers. Wrote one devotee after perusing Sivananda’s Practice of Karma Yoga: “I heard the whole of the Ramayana, read the whole of the Gita; I turned the pages of Shankaracharya’s philosophy and volumes of Western philosophy; but none except Sivananda’s writings revealed to me the beauty, the glory, the urgency and the absolute necessity of selfless service”.
A German lady complimented, after reading through Swamiji’s Concentration and Meditation: “I have experiences after practice of spiritual exercises about which no book in Europe and no man in Germany could give me the right explanation. But this book portraying the experiences of other beginners on the spiritual path did help me. After reading it, I began to do the exercises”.
Similarly, Dr. Pannalal of the Indian Civil Service said of Swamiji’s writings: “They are so surprisingly practical that aspirants find in their pages helpful solutions of personal difficulties which they may encounter in their Sadhana. For instance, I find Swamiji’s book Japa Yoga of much practical help and it answers several questions which had been in my mind for long”.
In the broad sweep of his treatment, Sivananda covered the spiritual needs of the child, the teenager, the office goer, the housewife, the politician, the businessman and the monk. He held out a hope to the sinner as much as to the saint.
Buoyant optimism was a dominant characteristic of Swamiji’s writings. They were always positive in their tone, never negative. They always aimed at drawing out the best in the reader; never dwelt upon the darker side of things. “Nil desperandum” was a pet expression of the Master. “Be bold”, “Be cheerful” were other favourite exhortations of his. Sivananda firmly believed that nothing was impossible for the man who strove with earnestness and perseverance. The Master’s words infused courage in the reader, who was made to overcome all chicken-heartedness and strive boldly in the face of all odds. The messages of inspiration and hope in the writings of the Master answered a vague and undefined longing in every human heart and made for their universal appeal. Said Dr. R.T. Werther, Professor in the University of Perth, Australia: “These works are living water which flows into the depth of our soul and refreshes us with life-giving substance”.
Another point which struck many as highly important about the teachings of Sivananda was the great insistence with which he spoke and wrote, on the ethical basis of Yoga. Speaking about this aspect of Swamiji’s writings at the Ashram Satsang on March 16, 1956, Prof. Jean Herbert said:
“I have known personally a great number of people, and when I say a great number, it runs into several dozens, who have become insane or whose health was totally ruined by such practices of Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga, because they ignored the ethical prerequisites. This is the reason why I am extremely glad that Swami Sivananda dealt at great length on these and with such insistence, emphasising the essential basic, simple, self-evident truths with which one must start any Yoga. I have met many people in Europe who have come under his influence through his writings, and possibly through correspondence, and I have so far not known of such cases of people losing either their mental or bodily health–and I know how extremely difficult it is to correspond with a Master whom you have never seen, who lives on the other side of the world. As far as I have been able to judge, his influence has always been very good, exceptionally good, and only good, on all the people who have come into contact with him through his writings, who have followed his teachings and who have accepted him as their Guru”.
Sivananda’s writings made one keenly realise that he or she alone was addressed. They made a personal appeal to something inside the reader. R.W. Cornwall, a Yoga student of New Zealand, described this subtle touch in Sivananda literature as the Spirit of Contact. The effect in many cases was dramatic. People were totally converted. In this respect, a single leaflet of Sivananda had the same transforming power as a big volume. “Having read one page only, I knew that I had hit a spiritual gold-mine. I read with tears in my eyes and with my heart aflame” said Lucian Linde of Michigan, United States, about Sivananda’s Voice of the Himalayas. “Your views have a universal appeal and a cosmic ring” wrote another, “They strike a responsive chord in my heart”. “I always find the exact answers to the questions that are troubling my mind and the proper guidance I need at the moment in the books and magazines of Sri Swami Sivananda” said a third. A fourth, a fifth….the number of people drawn to the Master through his literature swelled into hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands. Many of Swamiji’s disciples were initially drawn to the Master through the magnetic power of his literature only. For instance:
SWAMI SAHAJANANDA. In 1947, Srinivasan, a Durban schoolmaster, stumbled across Sivananda’s Practice of Karma Yoga. At that time, Srinivasan did not know the real meaning of Yoga; nor was he aware that a wonderful state called God-realisation was possible. He was merely attracted by the title of the book and purchased it. The book effected an immediate transformation in him. All desire for success in secular education was given up and a deep yearning for God-realisation was substituted. Srinivasan resigned his job, plunged into the practice of Divine Life, visited Sivanandanagar, was initiated into Sannyas by Swamiji and given the monastic name of Sahajananda. Filled with the spiritual power of the Master, Swami Sahajananda returned to Durban to vivify the Divine Life Society of South Africa which today is rendering yeoman service through a network of well-organised branches.
MAJOR GENERAL YADUNATH SINGH. During the Second World War, Yadunath Singh was serving in the British Army, when he felt the need for some spiritual support. It was then that he came across a book on Yoga by Sivananda, with an English colleague in the SEAC (South East Asia Command) Headquarters. The book inspired him and led him to closer contacts with Swamiji. During the 1947-48 Kashmir operations, Swamiji not only guided him, but inspired him to be a better man, a greater soldier and a still greater Sevak of the troops. He was told by Sivananda to pray for the departed souls of the brave men who sacrificed their lives on the battle-front.
SWAMI VISHNUDEVANANDA. At 17, Vishnu was serving in the British Army. Looking in the wastepaper basket for some lost letter, he found the Sadhana-Tattwa, a single-page leaflet by Swami Sivananda which attracted his attention and caused his spiritual awakening. During a short furlough, he travelled to Rishikesh to see Swamiji. And when the War was over, he joined Sivananda, learnt and mastered Hatha Yoga, toured India to share his knowledge with the masses, then went abroad and settled in Montreal, Canada, from where he is spreading the gospel of Yoga far and wide.
V.L. NAGARAJ. It was a single sentence in Swamiji’s Student’s Success which awakened the inner spirit of this Bangalore postal official when, out of curiosity, he opened the book which fell from a postal parcel that accidentally broke loose. The transformation which took place in this one soul, in its turn, brought about a beneficial change in many lives in Bangalore, through the activities of a Divine Life centre which Nagaraj helped to build up.
There were numberless others like Srinivasan and Vishnu, Yadunath Singh and Nagaraj. It was a remarkable story of a God-man giving shape to shapeless masses, turning dust into gold, through the written word.
A common sight at the Ashram in Swamiji’s days. And it often went unnoticed, much less understood. But it was unique. A gentleman stepped in. He was greeted by Sivananda with a warmth that melted the coat of reserve, suspicion and scepticism that the gentleman might be clad in. Swamiji evinced interest in the little man’s “achievement, ideas and ideals”. The sage listened. The gentleman was pleased. What little ‘reserve’ was left was easily washed down with the sweetmeats and coffee offered by Swamiji. Almost half an hour had passed. The renowned Yogi of the Himalayas, reputed for his wisdom, had not spoken a word of advice or admonition! But the gentleman was not disappointed. He was preparing to leave, after meeting a ‘lovable’ personality. Swamiji quietly slipped a few books into the visitor’s hands. They went with him. He took them home. The taste of the sweetmeats and the majesty of the face lingered. Renewed memory tempted him to open a book. A line, a word, jumped out of its pages! His eyes were glued to a paragraph. He was won, in spite of himself.
Such was the miracle wrought by the ceaseless gift of books, freely bestowed on all, by Swami Sivananda. In his own lifetime, Swamiji distributed books worth lakhs of rupees free. He spent tens of thousands of rupees on packing and postage only. Sometimes the books would be lying in the despatch tray in the Ashram for weeks on end for want of postage money. Swamiji used to send them one by one as and when he got funds.
Sivananda gave away books indiscriminately. Once when he gifted a valuable treatise on Vedanta to a person who looked like an ignoramus, a bystander remarked: “Swamiji is giving books to worthless persons”. The Master replied: “Some worthy person will get the book from him and read it. He will be benefited. For quick dissemination of knowledge and doing useful work quickly, one should be very generous and largehearted”.
Possibly no author or publisher ever mailed free so many printed pages in so many directions and to so many persons. Perhaps because of this extravagant generosity in presenting his works without hesitation, Sivananda became more popular in his own lifetime than many a religious writer or teacher became long after his death.
What has this literature done?
It has given, and continues to give, new hope, new light and new life to many a distraught soul. Many have left smoking, drinking and meat-eating. Many have shed jealousy, hatred, greed and ill-will. Many have learnt the lessons of goodwill, friendliness and selfless service. Many have started to recite the Names of the Lord, to do Japa and Kirtan. Many have taken to the Path of Nivritti by embracing the holy order of Sannyas. Many have learnt the technique of one-pointed meditation. Sivananda’s uplifting pen has worked miracles.
Swamiji’s literature has literally saved countless persons from cultural and spiritual bankruptcy and filled them with life-giving ideals and higher purpose. It has come to be a vitalising current in the lifestream of the twentieth century world, of the confused humanity of our contemporary age. It has been let loose into the modern world as a force, as a great power, a power which is working towards the integral uplift of mankind upon all planes, especially upon the inner plane of man’s ethical self and man’s spiritual self. In giving his literature to the world, Swamiji had given himself.
Sivananda literature is nothing but the veritable live spirit of the God-man Sivananda himself. It is but an expression of the Master’s grace to seekers after Truth. Where there are books of Swami Sivananda, there we find peace in the hearts of men. Where Swamiji’s literature has reached, there we see that it has brought a new light into the lives of many people, and through them, to others on all sides.
A regeneration of human nature is taking place, slowly, silently, in many corners. Every day Sivananda literature is dealing death blows to materialism in the minds of people all over the world. Every day it is awakening people to the fact that their mission on earth is to dedicate their lives, not to the various systems of exploitation, but to the cultivation of those human qualities which alone can lay the foundation for a truly human world. A definite changing and moulding of modern thought is thus taking place, a reshaping into purer inward channels of searching. As this self-culture spreads, a broader tolerance between religions and nations is bound to come about gradually, through mutual understanding and love.
The spirit of the new age is one of enquiry into the ‘why’ of things. Everyone wants to know why he should follow a certain course in preference to another. Action accompanied by understanding is the characteristic of the day. Sivananda literature answers exactly to this urge of the present day. Swamiji’s interpretation of the ancient teachings has a scientific approach, an eye to their spirit rather than to their letter, a catholicity at once comprehensive and welcoming, and a wonderful adaptability to the various schools of thought. The spiritual enlightenment that Sivananda literature has bestowed upon humanity has, indeed, opened and laid bare new vistas of wholesome experience to millions of men, women and children everywhere.