Sri Swami Narayanananda
This article is a chapter from the book “Sivananda–The Perfect Master”.
A newcomer to the Ashram is overwhelmed by the uniform courtesy and hospitality of Siva. He would enquire from his students again and again whether a particular guest was given a particular thing, viz., milk, tea, coffee, hot water, etc.
Sometimes we are astonished at his special interest in these minor details. Do aspirants come to receive his royal treatment? Do they want it? No; certainly they come for higher purposes. Then why does Siva take so much interest in attending to minor bodily comforts of Sadhaks?
For a thinking man this has a great significance. There are different types of people in this world. Some come to him out of real spiritual thirst and devotion. Some come to him merely to satisfy their curiosity. Some come to Rishikesh to have a change and enjoy some good scenery of the Himalayas and see the hanging bridge. Some have half faith. Some are confirmed atheists.
Siva, imparts two important instructions by his action. (1) Treat your guests nicely and attend to their wants. Make their stay comfortable. (2) Do not spoil your health in the name of Tapascharya. Aspirants who are new to Rishikesh will find it difficult to change their habits suddenly. Therefore they should not neglect their minimum requirements. Siva knows fully what the difficulties of Sadhaks would be in this respect. He knows that control of tongue and endurance of heat and cold are trying experiments. So he asks the Sadhaks to change their habits gradually.
His hospitality is a practical lesson to householders. He says: “Guests are more tender and sensitive than the flower that fades by the mere smelling of it. Therefore be careful in receiving your guests. Even if you show a slight disregard or suggestion of disrespect, they will be displeased.”
Siva will never compel any one to do anything against his wishes. If a Sadhak practises Titiksha and control of tongue, he will never ask him to take bath in hot water. He will never give him tea or coffee. But to those who are not capable of practising hard Tapas, Siva says: “Take bath in hot water. Take tea in the morning. Take Parota and fruits.” He trains aspirants according to their tastes and capacity to do Sadhana. There is no hard and fast discipline with him. You yourself should adopt methods to suit your convenience and health. He will place matters before you.
Those who have no spiritual inclination, though they may not like his Kirtan, Japa and meditation, cannot forget his kindness and love. He never hates a non-believer. He is free and frank with everyone. These simple winning manners captivate the hearts of even atheists and they also try to do some spiritual Sadhana in the long run. Siva wins the hearts of others by his love and spontaneous affection.
Just see the way in which Siva serves his guests. A guest steps into the Ashram. Siva receives him with a gentle smile in his office and a humble prostration. He is then made to sit on a comfortable seat. Siva would offer an equal seat with him. To Mahatmas and Sadhus he will offer his own seat rising from it.
Siva then enquires about his welfare and gently fans him and comforts him. He will ask one of the students to fetch a cup of tea with some fruits. He does not approve of the practice of keeping a fruit and a knife before the visitor and ask him to eat. Siva cuts the fruit into small slices after removing the skin and offers the fruits kept on a clean plate together with the tea or milk. A vessel containing water and a clean napkin will be kept ready to wash and wipe his hands. Then he would humbly request the visitor to take the offerings, saying: Maharaj ji Paayiye. If it is time for meals he would arrange for a sumptuous meal. He would then sing his Sangeeta Lila Yoga and other select passages from some of his books. He will read also the Sangeeta Ramayana and Bhagavata.
Siva enquires at 10 p.m., whether the visitor was given a pillow, a water pot, a light and a match box. Sometimes due to heavy work the students may forget to attend to these details. But Siva would himself attend to everything and then only retire to bed.
Siva can never forget even the minutest detail. Though he attends to many works at a time, he will never miss his usual routine.