This article is from the book “An Apostle of India’s Spiritual Culture”.
THROUGH the book “Practice of Brahmacharya” of Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj I came to know of The Divine Life Society. It was in the year 1967. As my interest in the Society grew, I happened to meet various devotees connected with the Society and in the early part of the year 1968 I happened to meet Sri Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj himself. Along with him were Sri Swami Venkatesanandaji Maharaj and Sri Swami Devanandaji Maharaj. They all came to attend a conference organised by The Divine Life Society devotees of my State. After this conference, an innate urge grew in my heart to visit the headquarters of the Society, and as a result, I am here in Sivanandashram since August 1968.
What little I could observe about the life of Sri Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj, what benefits I had in his Satsanga and what little I could hear from his sacred lips and read from his books I am noting down in the following paragraphs.
Swamiji’s day starts very early in the morning and ends very late in the night. Swamiji has his tea at 6.30 a.m. From 6.30 a.m. or 7.00 a.m. onwards, visitors start coming to have interview with Swamiji. This often continues upto 10.00 a.m. and sometimes even more. About 10.30 a.m. Swamiji goes to the Bhajan Hall of the Ashram mainly to meet visitors to the Ashram. About 11.30 a.m. Swamiji comes back to the room and once again people start coming for private interviews. This goes on upto 1.30 p.m. after which Swamiji has very light lunch which consists of a little vegetable or fruit juice, half a plantain and one or two slices of bread. And then he retires for a short nap. After that Swamiji starts attending to his office-work. Again the flow of visitors starts at about 5 p.m. and sometimes even earlier and this continues upto 7.30 p.m. Swamiji has a little tea at about 6.00 p.m. If there is no obstacle, Swamiji generally likes to have a half-hour brisk walk along the lonely road between the Ashram and Lakshmanjhula at about 7.30 p.m. Returning from the walk Swamiji attends to miscellaneous work like seeing people and looking into the mail. “At about 9.00 p.m. Swamiji leaves for the Bhajan Hall to attend the Satsanga. Returning from the Satsanga after 10.00 p.m., Swamiji has a little supper and continues with his office-work.
Once a visitor remarked, “Swamiji! It is easy to get Darshan of the Lord but it is very difficult to see you”. To this Swamiji replied, “Well Sir! What to do? The Lord is relaxing comfortably enjoying His own Lila whereas I am caught up in this busy schedule. Just imagine! I returned (from a three-month tour of America and Europe) 15 days back and upto now I am unable to find time to unpack the baggage and repack it (for a 15-day tour within India)”.
Visitors to Swamiji include spiritual seekers seeking guidance and initiation, patients with diseases of body and mind, students wanting economic aid to pursue their studies, members of the Society wanting to organise a conference or open a new Branch or do some such constructive work, inmates of the Ashram with varying problems, people who have lost their near and dear ones seeking consolation, social leaders, governors, ministers, doctors, educationists, businessmen, people from almost all walks of life dropping into Swamiji’s Kutir almost all the time of the day.
During his interviews with people, Swamiji tries to spread the teachings of H.H. Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj theoretically and practically. Theoretically he instructs them to do this and not to do that; and he himself practises the teachings in his day-to-day life. “The Divine Life Society is veritably Gurudev himself. No matter what faces me in life, my one concern shall be the furthering of Gurudev’s work”, declared Swamiji in his first presidential address to the inmates of the Ashram on 23.8.63.
Swamiji warns the Sadhaka that one should be very cautious in the spiritual path. One should put into practice a good thought the moment it enters the mind. For, who knows for how long it will be there in the mind! After a few minutes, it may go behind the layer of worldly Samskaras, from where it may never return. The reverse policy should be followed when a bad thought dominates the mind. Suppose you are working under a candle light surrounded by a bundle of important documents. Imagine that the lit candle falls down suddenly. How cautious and alert you will be at that times! (Each second’s delay may cost you the loss of years of intense labour.) With the same alertness or even more alertness you must try to destroy the bad thought, the moment it arises in the mind.
To a businessman Swamiji tells that business is meant for helping people and not for looting people. One may have a little profit margin to help himself and his family, but doing business for earning more and more money by unlawful means leads only to decay and destruction.
For sick people, Swamiji prescribes medicines and if the patient happens to be a poor man, he gives him the medicines freely. He does prayers for their speedy recovery and asks them also to pray.
Swamiji’s love for leprosy patients is unique and inexpressible. There are three leper colonies in the near surroundings of the Ashram and all patients are supplied with free food and medical treatment. Addressing a group of us Swamiji said one day, “All of you must go and see the miserable plight of these people. After that you will stop complaining that you don’t have this or don’t want that. One man without a nose, another without a hand, the third one without a leg, with foul-smelling sores all over the body. After seeing this sight you must go and thank the Lord for giving you a sound body”. “They are also citizens of the country like any one of you. Only because of that dreadful disease you hate them and don’t allow them to move along with you. Many of them possess a good heart”, Swamiji added.
To a student, Swamiji gives the advice that he must devote his whole time for studies, to the exclusion of all other distracting activities. A few minutes of prayer morning and evening, study of the Gita or Ramayana or any other scripture for a few minutes, a little Japa, a few minutes of Asana and Pranayama, vigorous exercises, these must go hand-in-hand with the study of one’s text books. Apart from giving advice, Swamiji extends monetary help to many poor students of the locality.
Once I went to Swamiji with a vague idea that a Sadhaka must follow the wandering monk’s example of not sticking to any one place for a long time, for quick progress in the path. Before I could express my thought to Swamiji, he himself told me, “The very fact that you are getting all necessities for doing Sadhana here, in this Ashram, shows that God’s Grace is fully upon you. The Parivrajaka (wandering monk’s) life is actually meant for Jivanmuktas who are above heat and cold, hunger and thirst, and other such dualities of life. Instead of thinking of the Lord, you will always be thinking where to get your next meal, how to spend the next winter, or where to stay the next rainy season”.
On a different occasion I went to Swamiji and told him that with so many base thoughts I was unfit for the Ashram life, and as such, I must be permitted to go back home. To this Swamiji replied, “Because you have got all these drawbacks you are eminently fit for the Ashram life. When you are sick, what will you do? You will go and consult a doctor, join the hospital, take the prescribed medicine and follow the dietetic restrictions. Once you join the hospital, you must do whatever the doctor says, and having faith in him, you must completely free yourself from all worries and anxieties. In a like manner, the moment you detect such base thoughts in you, you must go to a Guru, take his advice, do whatever he says and, above all, have faith in him and surrender to him completely, and the recovery is bound to follow”. During the next day’s evening lecture class Swamiji dealt with my problem in a more detailed manner and concluded the session saying, “Abandoning all fears, take refuge in me alone. I will see that you attain the goal in the end”.
Once during a tour with Swamiji, my stomach was upset and that evening I hardly ate anything. In the night Swamiji offered me a handful of nuts. I told Swamiji that my stomach was not alright. “Oji! You are a young man. You must digest stones. Come on! Have it”, saying thus, Swamiji handed over to me not only the nuts, but also a couple of oranges, a cup of Kheer, two Rasagullas and some other sweetmeats. The next morning I found my stomach in perfect condition!
People in the headquarters often complain that Swamiji stays in the Ashram only a few days, spending most of the time outside on tours. On the contrary, devotees staying outside often say that Swamiji never visits their places and even if he visits them, it is only for a few days, and sometimes, for just a few hours.
This point Swamiji himself has clarified: “I myself do not want to travel, as it is uncomfortable for my body to put up with different climates, different foods and odd hours of work and rest. If this would have been only an Ashram, I would have asked those who want to see me to come over here itself. But, as it happens to be an Institution with various Branches scattered all over the world, and each Branch wants some personal guidance from somebody from its headquarters, I am compelled to oblige them. Sometimes, I take over a group of Branches and allot for them one day, two days, three days, and sometimes a few hours; and yet at other times, only a Satsanga on the railway platform. In spite of this, people often complain that they are given only a little time.
“I have told so much upto this time. There are so many books of Sri Gurudev. There are so many other. Mahatmas. Why do you say you have no personal guidance from me? Throughout Sadhana one has doubts. Every great saint had serious doubts. They doubted their own sanity. They doubted whether the path they were following was right or wrong. How many of those precepts which you have learnt upto this time you are putting into practice? Are you getting up early in the morning? Are you reading Gita and other scriptures? How many Malas of Japa are you doing? How many virtues have you developed? How many vices have you eradicated? You have got enough material to start the Sadhana. If you have not yet started anything upto this time, then what is the use of my telling you?”. This is the answer of Swamiji to those who say that they have no personal guidance, be they inmates of the Ashram or devotees from outside. A nice point for everyone of us to contemplate upon.
Swamiji’s tour programme includes attending Divine Life Conferences, paying homage to towering spiritual personalities, visiting pilgrimage centres, attending Yoga camps and retreats, opening new Branches,–all with the single motive of disseminating spiritual knowledge which was the only purpose for which Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj lived and moved in this world.
Among the many eminent spiritual personalities Swamiji has met are Mahatma Gandhi, Sri Anandamayi Ma, Mother Krishna Bai of Kanhangad, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, H.H. The Pope Paolo VI, Baba Sitaramdas Omkarnath of West Bengal and Baba Ranchod Das of Gujarat. Swamiji’s love and respect for them is unique.
Swamiji’s love for resident Sadhakas of the Ashram is inexplicable. For, they have left their all to rededicate their lives to the sacred mission of Sri Gurudev. Swamiji attends to all their necessities with due care. One Mahatma of the Ashram significantly remarked that Swamiji was like a mother to the inmates of the Ashram. Swamiji always makes constructive suggestions. He says that the body should not be mortified in the name of Tapasya; on the contrary, every care should be taken to keep it in a fit condition, for it is an instrument for the service of Sri Gurudev. But, on that account, Swamiji never gives leniency to anybody.
Swamiji says that he neither likes to make disciples nor likes to become a Guru. He only initiates people so that they may progress quickly on the path and be of some service to Guru Maharaj’s mission. One day a young monk, initiated by Swamiji, told him that he was going to, start his own mission. The reply to this was: “What is the use of creating a Sannyasin who is of no use to Gurudev’s mission? A Sadhaka initiated by me must serve Gurudev’s mission for a long time. Then only there is some meaning in that initiation. If you have had an idea of starting a mission of your own, you could as well have had your initiation from some other Mahatma. My only mission in life is serving Gurudev’s mission and that should be the mission of everybody who gets initiation from me”.
Yet another young monk, initiated by Swamiji, once told a lie to Swamiji himself, in some very simple matter. To this Swamiji said, “In such small matters these people tell lies. How can they have any progress?”.
Why should one do service? To this Swamiji says, “Constant service frees one from laziness and develops concentration. The mind thus concentrated can be used for meditation and realisation of the goal. Paropakara (doing good to others) is the Mulamantra (the basic sacred formula) of life”.
When Swamiji came to know that we were going to celebrate his Diamond Jubilee, he exclaimed, “I don’t like the word celebration at all. Rather, it should be observation. There is a lot of suffering around us. How can we celebrate such functions? Well, if somebody opens a clinic for poor people, opens a new Branch (a centre for service), or donates for the poor and the suffering in the name of this function, I welcome it. I don’t like having a Bhandara in this connection. Rather, we should all have saltless diet, do Purascharana of a Mantra, do intense Sadhana, during this period”.
A good doctor always wishes the speedy recovery of the patient and never thinks about the money he can extract from the patient. The patient, on his part, must also be cooperative and strictly follow what the doctor says. In like manner, the best way in which we can serve Swamiji is to practise the precepts of Swamiji with willing obedience. Otherwise, we will be defeating the very purpose for which Swamiji lives. Not only that. We ourselves will be losers in the bargain.