This article is from the book “An Apostle of India’s Spiritual Culture”.
SWAMI Chidananda was born sixty years ago of very wealthy parents in South India. His father was a very big landlord; but he is today the lord of people in many lands. He was born in a palace; he dwells in the hearts of millions today, though he has no brick and mortar home to call his own!
As a young boy, he listened to religious spiritual stories which Anantayya, a friend of his grandfather, used to narrate. These stories carved in the young heart a spiritual ideal. “I must also do Tapas, become a Rishi and have a vision of the Lord” the young man prayed. The Lord heard the prayer and prepared for its fulfilment.
He had and has a distinct and great role to play in the world of today. He is India’s spiritual ambassador. He is the latest member of the oriental trinity that has illumined the occidental horizon, the other two being Swami Vivekananda and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. He is embodied ecumenism, the Hindu-Christian dialogue. Hence, the Lord led the young Hindu to the Christian Loyola College in Madras from where he graduated in 1938.
In common with Gurudev Sivananda, Swami Chidananda was born with an insatiable zeal to serve the sick and the suffering. Service to lepers became his ideal. He would build them huts on the vast lawns of his home and look after them as though they were deities. The purification of heart that such service effected soon led him to the lotus feet of Gurudev Sivananda whose Ashram he joined in 1943. Even in the Ashram he continued service of the sick and suffering. He was the Ashram’s ‘deputy Guru’, an ideal for the Sannyasins to emulate, a professor of the Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy, the very heart and soul of The Divine Life Society which Gurudev had established in 1936.
Gurudev admired his divine compassion. Gurudev pointed out that knowledge of the Gita and the Upanishads flowed within the compassionate heart of Swami Chidananda. Gurudev exalted him above all his disciples, Gurudev recognised his own image in Swami Chidananda. No function or celebration in the Ashram was complete without Swami Chidananda’s discourse. I used to take notes of many of these discourses and got them published in the sumptuous volume ‘Yoga’ which is a treasure for all spiritual aspirants. From 1948 till today he has guided the destinies of the Ashram, the Society and the spiritual aspirants resident there and others all over the world. He has been The Divine Life Society’s General Secretary from 1948 until in 1963 he succeeded the great Master, Gurudev Sivananda.
Among the countless divine qualities that find their abode in the person of His Holiness Sri Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj, perhaps the most unique are the blazing fire of renunciation and the equally warm quality of compassion. The spirit of renunciation did not stop in his case on the date he renounced the world (which means, his family and fortune) but the spirit of renunciation is natural to him, it is a daily and hourly fact of his life. Therefore he is totally free, unattached and untainted. He has toured round the world a number of times; he is worshipped by thousands and thousands all over the world; yet, he shines as a Mahatyagi, completely independent of all.
But he is not ‘aloof’. He has demonstrated in his own life that the spirit of renunciation need not, does not and should-not result in cool indifference or aloofness; on the contrary the spirit of renunciation becomes meaningless if compassion does not arise as the very radiance of that spirit.
The fire that burns all worldliness at once spreads the warmth of compassion all round and it also illumines the path of mankind. That is surely what we see today in Sri Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj. It is because he is such a blazing fire of renunciation that there is such a warmth of compassion which is experienced by everyone who has his Darshan, and the light that radiates from him illumines the path of millions all over the world. This light is so powerful and life-transforming that it distinguishes those who have been illumined by it–in them, too, the spirit of renunciation is kindled and in their heart, too, compassion has taken its abode.
He indeed is a great benefactor of humanity who thus transforms the lives of everyone that comes into contact with him.
May this light of renunciation and compassion shine for ever.
(Acknowledgement: The first five paragraphs of this article are taken from a write-up by the author in ‘Advance’, Mauritius, dated 22nd March, 1968.)