Guru and Disciple
Sri Swami Venkatesananda
This article is a chapter from the book Sivananda–Biography of a Modern Sage.
Sowing the Seed
Welfare of Disciples
In his books Swamiji has given the essence of traditional teaching, imparting to those teachings the secret message of how to keep in touch with this truth, how to make it an integral part of one’s life. The teaching was embodied in him. For instance, though his whole life was one of karma yoga in the truest sense of the word, his actual writings on karma yoga were very meagre. Though he didn’t lecture very much, the few words of instruction that his disciples heard from him were unforgettable. He was the living truth for the most part. His actions spoke far louder than a loud speaker.
The enlightened guru cannot verbalise his fundamental experience. What has been written down, committed to memory or verbalised, is only a fraction of the sage’s experience. There is something which he has experienced that is inexpressible. Even the little fraction that he is able to verbalise is lost in transmission, because the disciple is not attentive; so Swamiji didn’t often encourage people to take down notes when he spoke, but to write down the conversation or dialogue afterwards.
Communication is almost always non-verbal. Often it was found that when a highly inspiring dialogue was jotted down it wasn’t so inspiring, because Swamiji’s ‘hum’, his smile and the expression on his face and in his eyes had a tremendous impact and tremendous meaning. That was where communication took place. Communication can take place only when the disciple and the master have become like one, where they are at the same level and on the same wavelength. Then the teaching is picked up without the need for words. It is said in the Katha Upanishad:
Uttishtata jagrata prapya varan nibodhata.
Arise, awake, be vigilant; then approach a great master and attain enlightenment.
The arising and the awakening are the disciple’s problem, not the guru’s; but Swamiji went out of his way to admit to the ashram people who did not have all these qualifications. He did not hide spiritual truth–it was there, published–and he did not parade his knowledge. That was an extraordinary trait in him. Many swamis and yogis when asked even a simple question like: “Can one bathe in the Ganges in the winter?” would give a whole talk on vedanta: “You are not the body, you are not the mind. You are the immortal Self.” It is not the immortal Self that feels the cold, it is the body and the mind that feel cold! Swamiji never spoke like this. If at all, he erred on the other side. He was more interested in the aspirant’s physical and intellectual welfare, rather than impose a sort of religious instruction everytime one sneezed or coughed. He waited for the aspirant to ask a spiritual question, and when the seeker was keen he communicated that knowledge in a mysterious way.
It was the tradition in those days for holy men to hide themselves in a cave, and wait to be approached by qualified disciples who had experienced an inner awakening, who were vigilant and keen and who at great expense of energy and time went to them and asked for instruction. Swami Sivananda adopted this tradition to a great extent by ‘veiling his wisdom in a big overcoat’, so that the people who went to him often remembered him for his affection and love, for his great concern for their physical and material welfare. These were his main preliminary concerns–wisdom or Atma jnana came in its own time. But, when in total affection and love the disciple became one with him, then it was easy for non-verbal communication to take place. That was his secret. But, he did recognise that unless a person had wisdom, dispassion, noble virtuous qualities and a steady yearning for liberation, no amount of verbal instruction would be of any use whatsoever, and non-verbal communication became impossible.
In the early days when people went to Rishikesh they found Swamiji radiating bliss, peace and joy, in spite of the fact that all the things that are considered vital to peace, happiness and prosperity were absent. There was absolutely nothing. Living in such conditions he was able to radiate joy. What is that, possessing which he led such a life? The expression in his eyes revealed that he had found the Truth. When you looked into his eyes you realised that he had found the Truth and that you had not. That was enough to humble you and make you collapse at his feet.
Early in 1947 Swamiji was sitting in the office. A young man from South Africa, who had stayed in the ashram for about two or three months, was leaving that day. He walked in, prostrated to Swamiji and started crying. With supreme love and affection Swamiji looked at him. He said, “Swamiji, I have to go today, and in Africa where do we get a guru like you?”
Suddenly Swamiji’s expression changed, and with a very beautiful, meaningful and mischievous smile he said: “Huh, you don’t find a guru in Africa?” By this time the man’s grief had gone, his tears had dried up. He found Swamiji laughing and smiling. Swamiji then fixed his gaze on him and said, “It is very easy to find a guru, it is very difficult to find a disciple. Be a disciple! From head to foot be a disciple! Then you will find a guru.”
Swamiji never said, “I am your guru.” Occasionally he used to say, “You are my disciple,” or “He is my disciple,” and to his early disciples he wrote: “I have accepted you as my beloved disciple, I shall serve you and guide you.” When he said: “I have accepted you as my beloved disciple,” the disciple felt that he had a claim over Swamiji and could write to him more freely. That is what Swamiji wanted. The next sentence was: “I will serve you.” The disciple is supposed to serve the guru! So in that formula itself he cancelled the idea of him as a guru. He never regarded himself as a guru. It was for the disciples, not for him.
Service of the guru is extremely important. It is by serving the guru that one discovers the guru’s wave-length and how to raise oneself to it. The disciple does something in a certain manner, in a certain spirit–the guru does it differently. It may even be his idiosyncracy; but unless the disciple learns to do things the guru’s way, he is not going to raise himself to the guru’s wavelength. Hence, this service is valid. Even when Swamiji made them feel that their service was an important contribution to the mission, he was actually creating opportunities for the disciples to tune themselves and align themselves with him, not because he needed their service. He worked very hard in order to create a field for the exercise of their talents and thus to help them grow inwardly so that the communication could take place. For instance, a couple of musicians joined the ashram. For their sake he organised music classes, bought the instruments necessary, set apart a room for it and so on. This is how the transmitter tuned itself to the receiver!
Swamiji emphasised, again and again, that the disciple should surrender himself to the guru, but he realised that this surrender could not be forced either by the guru or even by the disciple himself. It had to happen; but even that he made happen by creating the necessary field for the exercise of surrender. For instance, he might say something concerning what he wished to be done, but then spread out a whole lot of alternatives. The disciple would naturally choose, and from that choice Swamiji would know exactly where he stood–whether he was arrogant or merely vain, indifferent or hypocritically humble, or truly humble with the spirit of self-surrender. At the same time he enabled the disciple to realise where he stood and he gave him an opportunity to study himself in that situation. Thus the disciple was enabled to discover the ego and its play. When he realised the ugliness of the ego’s activity, surrender would arise in him.
In the early years of his mission, Swamiji was strict about admitting aspirants into the ashram; they had to lead a very hard life. He told applicants in no uncertain terms what the conditions of living there were. But after he had established the ashram and had ensured the creature comforts of the sadhaks, he was eager to admit more and more people into the ashram so that all could have a chance of evolving spiritually.
Swamiji worked ceaselessly so that the aspirants who had taken shelter at his feet could be saved from experiencing the difficulties that he himself had had to face during the early days of his life at Rishikesh. He would go to any length to save them from wasting precious mental energy in anxiety over the ordinary creature-comforts of the body–food, clothing, shelter and medical care–so that they might be free to pursue the path they had chosen.
Having fully experienced the danger of extremes, he would say: “It is good that you reject luxuries, but do not hesitate to accept certain simple comforts that form the minimum necessities of the physical part of man. If you are required to engage in active work for some period, then do not deny yourself some substantial nutritious food. While you do mental work keep some cooling oil like brahmi amla oil for your head. Do not refuse fruits when I give them to you.” Thus when sadhakas engaged themselves in study and writing work Swamiji would press them to take a little extra milk and ghee, and offer them almonds and nuts, etc. If they declined to take it, Swamiji’s advice would be, “This is not wisdom. Do you want to court diabetes and neurasthenia? Look at what my austerity has done. Dry bread and plain dhal is not the sole test of ‘sadhuism’.”
No one in the ashram had greater physical disability than Swamiji himself, and yet there was no one who worked harder than he did. The moment he found an aspirant not well, even if it was only a mild headache, he would say, “Please go and rest,” and depute a doctor and half a dozen others to attend to him. However, when he himself was ailing he would sternly brush aside the doctor’s plea that he should rest the body a little. This was one aspect in which there was a vast difference between Swamiji’s precept and practice. He practiced self-sacrificing service but to others he preached, “Please take care of your health.” His love for the sincere spiritual aspirant was incomprehensible.
In 1946 the ashram was fairly poor and did not have many rooms nor many conveniences and comforts. There was not even any protection against the monkeys that used to invade the ashram. There was a very small room which was called the office, with a couple of rickety doors, and adjacent to this was a small room with a low ceiling and a low entrance. (Swamiji used to call this the humility’ entrance.) Unless one bent down one would lose his head. One midsummer’s midday it was so hot that three or four office workers had closed the door of the office as well as the interconnecting door, and were in the back room. When Swamiji had his lunch he would always ask for another plate, and he would take a portion of the food and put it on that plate. After finishing his lunch, without resting, he would take that plate in his hand, cover his bald head with a thin piece of cloth and walk around from room to room giving each of his disciples a little of that food. (In those days this was an extraordinary thing, because many of the swamis would not let their disciples or anybody else even see what they ate.) He would advise them with motherly affection: “Please do not come out. It is very hot outside.” On this particular day at about 1 o’clock, in the scorching sun he walked to the office, plate in hand. Seeing all the doors closed, he presumed that the disciples were sleeping. He went into the kitchen, which was next door to the office, and found a swami there. He gave him food, saying, “Those three boys are resting in the office. Please do not disturb them, but when they wake up, give them this.”
Throughout his life Swamiji was more considerate of others than he was of himself. (Perhaps that is why his body had so many illnesses). In looking after his disciples, in the motherly love that characterised his attitude towards them, even the fondest parents could take lessons from him.
Once, as Swamiji was emerging from his kutir, one of the ashram workers was coming along the road on his bicycle. The moment he noticed Swamiji he got off and walked along. Swamiji remarked: “All these formalities are not necessary for me. Love and respect have their seat in the heart; and you should always have love and respect for elders in your heart. That I will know! These external formalities do not have much significance for me. You are going about in the hot sun, making purchases at Rishikesh and supervising the construction work. Do not hesitate to take all that you need. You must have a cool drink now, and half an hour later you should take a hot drink. If you feel like taking some fruits in the bazaar, don’t hesitate. You have perfect liberty to do everything to keep your body in perfect health.”
Swamiji considered that living on the bank of the holy river Ganges at the foot of the Himalayas–doing a little japa, meditation and selfless service–was a blessing, and he was eager to throw the gates open to all. Numberless young men sought the shelter of Swamiji’s feet as their refuge in distress. Swamiji would not question their antecedents. The moment he noticed the, look of despair in the newcomer’s eyes, the latter would be made to feel that Swamiji was just waiting for him and that he was doing Swamiji a great service by joining the ashram. What a psychological strength this gave is impossible to imagine. The destitute person was made to feel ‘big’, and instantly he felt that the past was a bad dream and that he had a glorious future.
In 1945 a lady who had undergone torture at the hands of her husband gave up her family and sought the refuge of the ashram. Even the authorities of the ashram, brought up in the disciplined ways of Swamiji, hesitated to grant her asylum. But Swamiji was firm in his determination that she should stay. The very thought that she might otherwise end her life was enough to enable him to ignore the whole world and serve this one person. Volumes can be written on the wonderful ways in which Swamiji trained her to forget her woes, to conquer her own mind and ultimately to stand on her own legs as an independent preacher among the women of India. From a liability Swamiji turned her into an asset to society: a true example of rehabilitation.
In 1955 Swamiji welcomed a cook to the ashram. The cook had not come to stay there at all, and he was surprised when Swamiji told him on seeing him the first time, “Please stay here itself. You can open a hotel in the neighbourhood. I will do all that I can to encourage you.” He followed this up by asking the secretary to give a room and the necessary utensils for the cook to start the venture. “You can take food in the ashram and carry on your business for your own profit,” said Swamiji. A little later he clarified his attitude by revealing: “It is a blessing to live here on the bank of the Ganges, in Rishikesh. Some day he might get the aspiration to renounce the world. Till then it is good to encourage him even in his ambition to earn money. First make him stay here; then slowly convert him to sadhana.”
Another lady who had lost her husband was restless and therefore came to Rishikesh and stayed near the ashram. She told Swamiji: “I have got four or five thousand rupees worth of jewels and I have got a house also. I want to stay here permanently. If you permit me, I will dispose of the jewels and house.” Swamiji replied: “Keep the house and jewels with you. You may stay at Brindavan.” Swamiji gave a letter of introduction to a very good sadhu at Brindavan and sent her away. He also instructed her: “Tour the nearby villages. Spread the glory of the Lord’s name. Conduct kirtan in every house. Teach the young children.”
For some time she followed Swamiji’s instructions. Then she had some mental suffering. She came to Rishikesh and started making amorous advances to Swamiji. Through the window she would throw some scent on Swamiji’s bed. When Swamiji opened the door of the kutir she would come in and sit near him. He would go on with his work, without even thinking that she was there. After some time she would go away of her own accord. Swamiji could well have asked her to go; but no, he would not cause the least hurt to anyone. He was full of love for all.
When this trouble grew intense, Swamiji asked us to put up a barbed-wire fence around his kutir. When she found the fencing around Swamiji’s kutir she often grew wild with frenzy. She used to throw stones at Swamiji’s kutir. Swamiji even then kept silent. After some time she went away.
Some years later she came to Rishikesh in a sannyasin’s robe. She had grown old. Swamiji was never swayed by prejudices. “She might have changed. Everyone is evolving every second. We should not judge anyone by his past conduct,” he said. That was his guiding principle. He allowed her to stay somewhere near the ashram. She used to go to Rishikesh Bazaar every day and for some time sing all sorts of nonsense about Swamiji before each shop. She even abused him in public. In the evening she would come to the ashram. Swamiji would send her fruits and almonds.
Sowing the Seed
Many people longing for peace and happiness in the midst of disharmony, strife and fear, found in ‘Sivananda Swami of Ananda Kutir’ (as he was generally known to all the people in and about Rishikesh) a father-figure dearer than their own kin, while those of a fundamentally religious and spiritual temperament who had made sadhana the sole aim of their lives, found in him a perennial source of spiritual light and wisdom.
Swamiji had a different relationship with different people. Some evolved aspirants came to him blazing with the fire of renunciation, dispassion and discrimination. Training them was on different lines. Swamiji was very rarely seen with them, nor did they move very closely with him. Their relationship with Swamiji was on an entirely different plane altogether–the spiritual plane. They were very few.
The vast majority of the others with whom Swamiji worked and moved very closely were half-baked aspirants (some of them with not the least spiritual aspiration in them but who were given shelter by Swamiji in order that, as a result of the material failures that had driven them from their homes, they might not end their lives); and Swamiji himself had often to sow the seeds of vairagya (dispassion) in them! “Turn him away I cannot. At least let him have a chance to grow into a better and happier individual. If he fails, it does not matter. An attempt must be made anyhow.” Such was the remark of Swamiji when one disturbed young man was admitted into the ashram. Thus, no qualification was imposed on the aspirant. It was sort of a joke that if a young man failed in his exam or in his business, look for him in Sivananda Ashram! Swamiji admitted them freely and then tried to bring about an awakening.
Not all the people who sought the shelter of Swamiji’s feet were good people, but Swamiji only saw the good in them; to the evil he was blind. He would never condemn nor be hard on anyone who manifested an evil trait. He used to say, “Never mind even if this man is vicious; by bringing him here and giving them shelter I’ve insured that there is one rogue less in Delhi.” That was his philosophy. “The very fact that So-and-so came here shows that there is a little opening, however minute, through which some sort of communication can take place. Let him stay here, I will plant a seed. In this birth, next birth, never mind; that seed will germinate now or years and years later.”
Swamiji said that it is perhaps too much to expect a person living in the modern world, assailed on all sides by distractions and temptations, to develop discrimination and dispassion. He said that even in the case of a person who runs away from failure it is possible to find a spark which could be fanned into a big flame. Sometimes if the spark didn’t exist he even ignited it. That was the uniqueness of Swami Sivananda. He planted the seeds of goodness, he nurtured them, watered them and made them grow; though this created tremendous difficulties to himself, he didn’t mind at all.
It is not easy to understand now what the seekers who went to the ashram in the early 1940’s felt. Some of them would have read Swami Sivananda’s flaming words from some of his original writings, which were so inspiring that if you read them you wanted to tear off all your clothes and run away to the Himalayas to practice austerities and attain Self-realisation at that moment! That was the peculiarity of his style. Many seekers thus inspired by his writings went to the ashram. Usually they went without even a change of clothing, because in Swami Sivananda’s How to Get Vairagya they had read ‘Renounce everything’–and so they renounced everything; ‘Seek solitude’–and so they went to seek solitude in the ashram. Some of them, on entering the ashram, might even have discovered that others who had joined earlier had a nice coat. There was a tendency to feel, “Ah, they have lost the path, they have fallen away. Look how dispassionate I am. My aspiration is far greater than the aspiration of these people who have been with Swami Sivananda for such a long time. They don’t know what tapasya, vairagya and burning aspiration mean. Every morning I am sitting here at 4 o’clock meditating. Look at all these older ashramites.” Swamiji used to watch them and appreciate them.
Whatever the aspirant did, first came the encouragement. Then he would gently push a little bit. “Enthusiasm is very good. You have got brilliant, wonderful aspiration. You are supreme, you are like a Sukadeva. But juvenile enthusiasm is no good.” First a lot of butter and then a little bitter pill, was his method. No one should be discouraged or made to feel that what he was doing was totally wrong. His attitude was: “No, do it, it is wonderful, but make sure that it is not only juvenile enthusiasm, something which might lead to a reaction.”
Since the students were not only raw, but not even awake, even the awakening influence had to come from the master. On some occasions very senior disciples of Swamiji would go to him with all manner of complaints. Swamiji had to please them also. He would pretend to be really angry. They would be satisfied and go away thinking that Swamiji would deal with the young seeker. On the contrary, the man against whom the complaint was filed would first of all get a couple of bananas. There was a little boy serving Swamiji in those days who would come running and say, “Swamiji gave you some fruits.” Half an hour later somebody else might come running, “Swamiji gave you some coffee.” An hour later you might have his darshan. He’d say, “You’re shining, you’re radiant. You’re meditating nicely? You’re doing japa? Good. You’re studying vedanta? Very good.” What happened to all the complaints? He would watch to see if this encouragement worked. Instead of saying “You are a bad man,” Swamiji insisted on concentrating on the good qualities in you, telling you that you were a great worker, even if you had no spiritual aspiration or devotion at all. He would say, “You really are a tremendous worker. There is nobody who works as hard as you do.” Then he would gently add, “Whenever you work, see God in all. Why don’t you go and serve food in the kitchen? You’re a tremendous man, you’ve got a nice body and a fine voice. When you serve roti, say Roti Bhagavan, roti Narayan, roti Maharaj’.” In this manner the seed of aspiration was planted.
Swamiji would do for the aspirant what even the fondest of parents might not always do. The moment an aspirant manifested the least trace of a hidden talent he would almost dedicate himself to the awakening and the fullest manifestation of that talent in the aspirant. Day and night he would contemplate ways and means of enabling the sadhaka to express himself fully; ultimately for the benefit of mankind. In this manner some of the departments in Ananda Kutir were given birth to and nourished. A young man who said he knew the technique of paper-manufacturing joined the ashram in 1948. The following morning Swamiji asked for pits to be dug and raw materials to be ordered to enable this young man, who had no credentials whatsoever (and which were never asked for by Swamiji), to experiment with his ideas!
Swamiji would take such a keen interest in all these enterprises that one would think that he had just been waiting for that person to come and help him in his work. So thorough was his enthusiasm that in a short while he would give suggestions on how to do a better job of the work in which the aspirant was an adept. Such was the case with the photographic studio in the ashram.
Swamiji sometimes pointed out that Atma jnana (Self-realisation) is extremely easy. It is extremely easy, but the preliminary to it, the purification which is a prerequisite, is extremely difficult.
When it came to training for self-purification, he adopted very simple methods which were profound in their effects. The training had to be continuous (in the sense of repeated). Swamiji had to do it again and again and again. He had such patience that he never treated anyone as hopeless. If a disciple couldn’t see it this way Swamiji would turn it that way and the other way. He went round and round and round until one day he hoped that the disciple would see what he was trying to teach him.
If you had some weakness or the other, Swamiji would turn a blind eye, saying: “He has some weakness but he has also got some great qualities.” He adopted the technique of never pointing out the other person’s fault unless it had to be done–for instance if there was a confrontation with another disciple and the whole thing was brought to Swamiji’s attention and both had to go to him. When it was pointed out it was done so nicely. The first thing he did was to praise the aspirant “You have got this quality and that quality. First of all to be able to renounce the world and to come here and bathe in the Ganges is the greatest good fortune. You must have done spiritual practices in hundreds of previous births to be so spiritually inclined, and you must have earned the grace of thousands of saints in order to be brought here to an ashram to lead a spiritual life.” Then he would add: “Why do you want to quarrel? It is only a little defect. Don’t lose your temper. If you lose your temper you might spoil all your efforts. Did you have your breakfast? What did you have? Coffee, tea? Shall I get you some more?” A bunch of bananas came first, then a little bit of a prick which was followed by butter and honey. After the banana had been digested and the butter used up, suddenly realisation dawned: “This is what Swamiji was saying!”
Swamiji never kept his disciples in a state of tension. He would push to bring about this training, but if he found that the disciple was breaking down, all rules would be relaxed.
The fundamental principle in all this was that no one was ever criticised by Swamiji. Criticism would have made it ineffective.
Welfare of Disciples
Day and night the question of his disciples’ welfare, growth and progress–secular as well as spiritual–filled Swamiji’s mind. Many a time he would break forth into a passionate appeal to his beloved students, urging them with fiery words to root out all traces of personal considerations and give themselves wholly to the noble ideal of service of the world. He would thrillingly depict to them the glory of ‘selfless service’ as the greatest and grandest of all yogas and worship of the Almighty. Like all aspirants, they would at times feel dismayed at the endlessness and the vastness of human problems and suffering, so then Swamiji would cheer them with the emphatic assurance that a life spent in the cause of universal service was never a failure. He would stir them up by saying:
Never mind whether realisation comes or not. Put forth every effort at attaining ethical improvement to render yourselves perfect for the service of Man. See God in Man. Look upon Man as God. If your concept of God includes the idea that He is all-pervading, then why can’t you see Him in all creatures? What makes you hesitate in translating your belief into action? You will have to give up such notions that He is available only behind locked doors and closed eyes. First feel His presence in everyone and everything as you serve; then see whether or not He shines of His own accord in the chambers of your heart. When the heart is not yet free of all impurity and the lower nature rid of its dross, how can spiritual experience come to you? Until you have rendered your nature perfect, is it possible to realise the truth of a Being who is the very essence of perfection? First root out egoism, anger, hatred, greed and duplicity, by sincere selfless service. Even if you manage to do some little good to ten human beings, if you succeed in destroying one evil trait completely and develop fully a single noble virtue, feel certain that your life has not been lived in vain. Even this, ten people in a million hardly ever achieve. What if you do not have samadhi and Self-realisation?
Cheer yourselves up! Apply heart and soul to this work. I guarantee that you will feel blessed and happy. Feel not dissatisfied with your lot or be downcast about your progress. Act upon my word. Have I not thought about your spiritual welfare? Why, if you could only know you will see that day and night, every moment, my heart is fluttering with concern over your well-being.
Apart from the ‘immediate family circle’ of aspirants, students and workers, there were many seekers in other countries who had great affection and reverence for Swamiji, and to whom he was spiritual guide and guru. Swamiji answered their letters promptly, answering all their queries and guiding them on the path.
Of this, Swami Sahajanandaji of Durban, South Africa, wrote:
It must be the experience of every devotee of Swamiji that to describe his boundless mercy and compassion is something that can be expressed only by the silent heart rather than by words. Somewhere I read of Swamiji’s charity described as being ‘reckless’, but I think that the manifestation of his mercy and love are even more abundant than his charity. It is nothing remarkable when a first-class aspirant wins the grace of a sage, but when one struggling painfully on the path of God-realisation has the loving attention of a great saint focused upon him, he is certainly filled with trembling awe and inexpressible gratitude. Unfortunately I am one of those who were not born ‘pure’ or with a generous quantity of spiritual samskaras. But, through Swamiji’s grace, victory is being won slowly but surely. It is this love and care given by Swamiji to a fifth-class aspirant like me that marks him out as a God-incarnate sage.
Although we are thousands of miles away from his physical presence, Swamiji looks after us in the same way, if not better than those living in his proximity at the ashram. To quote a few examples:
Sometime ago I wrote him an urgent letter regarding some physical troubles. This was at the time when Swamiji had just returned from the All-India Lecture Tour. Although he must have had hundreds of letters to reply to, Swamiji was gracious enough to reply to me the same day. More recently I wrote to him about a change in my sadhana routine. Back came an immediate two-page reply in his own handwriting. More remarkable still, something that stuck and made the deepest chords of my heart vibrate was the fact that Swamiji himself addressed the envelope and had evidently posted the letter with his own hands! Imagine an insignificant one like me being showered with so much of his love! And what encouraging and soothing words his letters contain. Every word is saturated with the warmth of his fathomless love. It is this love of Swamiji’s heart that makes us feel how unworthy we are to receive his rare blessings.
Swamiji’s book-gifts reach us by the dozens. If I ask him for one book, he sends six. Even when a request was made that books should not be sent unless paid for, they arrived with dauntless persistence. Not only do gifts of books reach the shores of this country, but also delicious sweetmeat-prasad arrives here freshly packed in tins. It would not be out of place to mention here an interesting experience that occurred when a friend of mine, Sri G.V. Naidoo, visited the ashram. As soon as he met Swamiji he was literally bathed in love. Swamiji personally attended to him, and my friend left with a pile of books in his hands. He related how, when he was admiring a photo hung on the wall–the scene of Swamiji’s tapas-days–Swamiji then and there pulled it off the wall and handed it to him. What a rare magnanimity shines in Swamiji’s heart!
Swamiji’s healing powers are not without evidence in this far-off country of South Africa. Two cases came within my personal experience. One of my friends who is a patient at a T.B. Settlement used to complain of severe insomnia. I wrote to Swamiji about it. Swamiji’s immediate reply contained instructions on how to overcome the trouble. Although the patient did not follow the instructions he began to sleep well. After some weeks, however, he was again troubled by sleeplessness. It is a pity that the instructions were not followed. The other instance was that of a personal friend who suffered from severe and painful moles on the hands. He was having medical treatment with little beneficial effect. I wrote again to Swamiji. The simple remedy given by Swamiji was followed and my friend has got rid of the moles completely. It is months now and the trouble has not recurred.
How does Swamiji solve the day-to-day difficulties of aspirants who are not fortunate enough to receive his verbal instructions? This happens in a curious way. Sometimes when I am confronted with some troublesome problem, I casually take up one of Swamiji’s books and open a page at random, and the very answer to the problem stares me in the face. Sometimes, perhaps, Swamiji’s inner promptings are received during meditation; or perhaps it may happen that some incident or person would give the right answer. One has but to be on the alert to receive the proper guidance. But in most cases it would be Swamiji’s book that would help us. This has been the experience of other devotees here also, and it happens so often that we have no doubts that Swamiji knows all our difficulties and his guidance is ever with us regardless of the many miles that separate him from us. Also Swamiji has perfect insight into the heart and mind of everyone and one cannot pretend to him what one is not. Once I wrote him a letter seeking answers for a few questions of a spiritual nature. Swamiji found out the truth that the answers were required for the purpose of belittling someone else and he did not give direct replies. From then I dared not hide anything from him. We have also noticed that whatever he said came to pass sooner or later. His words are infallible.
The secret of winning Swamiji’s grace is to serve him wholeheartedly. A little service to the sick or a little distribution of pamphlets and you have won a place in the warm chambers of his heart. Everyone of Swamiji’s thousands of disciples know the truth of this. Service to Swamiji (which I call Sivayoga) is the greatest yoga of the age. Let those who want to follow the many paths to the Lord’s feet do so, but my greatest joy is to serve Swamiji whether it leads to God-realisation or not.