Talk given on the 1st of June, 1972, the Sannyasa Anniversary of Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. A collection of messages by Swamiji during various spiritual festivals including this message can be found in Swamiji’s book, “Spiritual Import of Religious Festivals”.
Swami Sivanandaji was known as Dr. Kuppuswamy in his Purvashrama. He arrived Rishikesh in the year 1922 when there was practically nothing in Rishikesh except a few alm-houses (Kshetras) and Sadhus staying in isolated thatched huts. It was the year when there was unprecedented floods. Everywhere there was water and water alone. In all the rivers of India there was flood beyond limit. It was the biggest flood ever seen in Rishikesh. The next big flood we had was, of course, in July 1963, immediately after Swami Sivanandaji’s Mahasamadhi, when it flooded Sri Gurudev’s Kutir neck-deep. After that we did not have a flood of that kind. It was in that year 1922, that Gurudev H.H. Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj then known as Dr. Kuppuswamy came to Rishikesh and stayed on the other side of the Ganga, in Svargashram, which is an ancient Institution. A few Sadhus and Sannyasins were put up there, living on alms and practising their meditations. Perhaps, the Svargashram Kshetra was functioning in a small measure even then.
Two years afterwards, in the year 1924, he came across a great saintly person known as Swami Visvananda Sarasvati, whom he met, as it is said, only for a few minutes and from whom he received initiation into the sacred order of Sannyasa, as Swami Sivananda Sarasvati. This was on the 1st of June. This Swami Visvananda Sarasvati is little known to the public and, perhaps, personally he was not even acquainted to Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. It was a unique coming-together of two personalities, as if ordained by God Himself, and Jnana Sannyasa, as it is known, was offered to Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. Jnana Sannyasa implies Sannyasa without ritual. The ritualistic confirmation of this Jnana Sannyasa was subsequently performed by the great Sri Swami Vishnudevanandaji Maharaj of Kailas Ashram, who attained Mahasamadhi very recently. Thus, Swami Visvanandaji Maharaj was his Diksha Guru, while Swami Vishnudevanandaji Maharaj was his Sannyasa Kriya Guru. But Swami Sivanandaji had equal regard for both.
From the year 1924, after he received Sannyasa, he started a rigorous life of Tapas or austerity. People who had the blessedness to see him those days described him as a fire of renunciation. There was an old Swamiji in the Kailas Ashram, who is now no more; who used to come to our hospital for medicine. He was a regular patient. Everyday he used to come with some trouble or the other. He had seen Swamiji in those days–1924 and onwards. He used to give us an idea as to what he looked like, in what esteem he was held by people in Svargashram, what was the type of Tapas he was performing to the astonishment of the other Sadhus, and the great reverence which he commanded from all the Mahatmas of Svargashram. The only two centres in Rishikesh which had a little population then were the Svargashram on the one side and the Kalikambalivala Kshetra in another place. There was nothing here where the Divine Life Society is situated now. This place known as Muni-ki-reti was an uninhabited forest. They say even wild animals used to crawl in these areas. When the land was dug up for some construction, they discovered even bones and skulls. No one knew what exactly was the situation or condition of this area. It was completely deserted, uninhabited by human beings. Such were the days when Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj entered the life of austerity in Svargashram.
From the year 1924 till the year 1936, for 12 years, he was an incognito Mahatma doing his own Tapasya for a purpose which he alone knew. None of us was there and no disciples were there. He had neither associates, nor friends. What we hear from people who had seen him in those days amounts to this, that he wore little clothing and ate no delicious diet, which, of course, was not available at all even if he wanted. The only food that was available to Mahatmas in those days was dry bread (Chapattis, Rottis, the Pulka which had no ghee or oil) and Dal which also had no fat, neither ghee nor oil. People say that Swamiji did not take the Dal even, he used to take only the dry bread from the Kshetra and drank Ganga water over it. You know what will happen if you eat only dry bread with Ganga water. You will have diarrhoea instantaneously in this atmosphere. Anyhow he bore it. He was a doctor himself, but he had no medicines with him. He continued to live that austere life with dry bread and Ganga water. There was no question of milk or tea, or coffee, not even Dal, not even pulse. Vegetables were out of question. This went on for some years, and people held him in great regard for his tremendous renunciation which he held as his ideal of personal life. From another little information that we gathered from Swamiji himself during his later years, we understood that he used to go to the other side of the Laxman Jhula bridge. His Kutir was somewhere directly opposite to the Darsana Mahavidyalaya of the present day, and he used to be put up there. But he never used to stay in the Kutir most of the daytime because of fear that people would frequent him. He was a worshipful figure, even from the very beginning of his life in Rishikesh and Svargashram on account of the distinguished life of austerity that he led. It is difficult to live a life of austerity. Only if you live that life, you will know what it is. It is like death itself. You may even prefer death to a life of that kind. So it was a terror to see him leading a life of that kind with no clothes on his body. Who would give him clothes! There were no charities of any kind in those days. As I have already said, he used to absent himself from his Kutir to avoid frequentation by visitors and other Mahatmas, by going to the other side of the bridge. It was then some kind of a rope-bridge. Now we have an iron bridge of a modern type. There is a sand bank which you can see even now and Swamiji used to sit there during the night and do his oblations and austerities. During the nearly 26 years of life that we led physically with him I did not get even an inkling as to what sort of meditation he practised, what was the Japa he did and what was the purpose for which he meditated. He would never say anything about these things, nor were we in a position to get any information about these. This is all we knew, that he was staying on the sand bank during the larger part of the day and night on the other side of the Laxmanjhula bridge and would come to the Svargashram for his Bhiksha during the appointed time.
The life of Swamiji of this calibre and austerity began to be known by people who had occasions to come to Badrinath and Kedarnath. In those days there were no motorable roads as we have now. From Haridwar onwards pilgrims had to walk on foot, as there was only a foot path. There was a possibility of coming by vehicle upto Haridwar only. I used to hear in my younger days that Haridwar was a place full of ice. Perhaps in those days it was very cold, colder than it is now, and people had to carry fire with them to keep themselves warm. Such legends were in vogue then. People who used to go by the foot path to Badrinath had to cross the Laxmanjhula bridge and walk through what you call Phul Chatty and other way-side halting places. It was all jungle throughout. Swami Sivananda was then known as the great Mahatma of Svargashram. There was neither the Divine Life Society, nor the Sivanandashram, even to dream of. He was familiarly known as the great saint of Svargashram, the Virakta Mahatma of Svargashram.
One of the pilgrims who happened to go to Badrinath and who was a lover of saints, heard of the name of Swami Sivananda. He was a teacher in a High School in Nagpur, and his name was Hari Ganesh Ambekar. He later on joined this Ashram and took Sannyasa. He was our Gurubhai Swami Hariomananda Sarasvati. He was one of the earliest disciples, if you could call them disciples. They were disciples not in the sense of students who sat at the feet of the Guru, but in the sense that they admired the saint and wanted to keep him in their memory. Swami Hariomananda Sarasvatiji, Hari Ganesh Ambekar in his Purvashrama, used to send a money order of one rupee per month. That is what we have heard from Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj himself. In those days, one rupee was a very big amount. Those were the days when one kilogram of rice used to cost only one and a half annas or nine paise. So, you know the value of one rupee. He was one of the donors. But this one rupee, Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj never used to spend for himself. He purchased some medicines or a cup of curd, not for himself, but for a neighbour who was sick, suffering from dysentery. You know very well, dysentery was quite common among Sadhus, who were compelled to eat a diet without any fat or something soothing to the walls of the intestines and stomach. Illness was very common, especially diarrhoea and dysentery. They were the common illnesses of having dry stomach, without any lubrication. Swamiji used to purchase a little curd and a little medicine and then started his philanthropic activity in a meagre way which culminated in a small dispensary called Satya Sevasrama, in Laxmanjhula. It became a government hospital and till recently it was functioning. Now it is closed. Thus he commenced his ministry of humanitarian and spiritual service which continued simultaneously or side by side with his life of austerity, till the year 1936.
It is very unfortunate that we have no information as to what transpired between him and his Guru, his austerities and what sort of meditation he practised. His reply to queries from his disciples was: “You do not bother about what I did, but you do what I say.” From the attitude he held in regard to life, till late in his life, we could gather by reading between lines that he was a combination of heights of Vedanta Philosophy and pinnacle of austerity or Tapas. He used to define Tapas as ‘flaming like fire by sense-control.’ One day, he put me a question: “What is Tapas? Can you define?” But, before I could say anything, he himself gave the definition. “Tapas is burning like fire by sense-control.” I remember this definition even today. It is the heat that is produced in the spiritual body of ours by the control of the senses which deplete our energy and make us weaklings that we are. Can you dream or imagine for a moment that the status and the spiritual dignity which this Institution commands today, is the efflorescence, flower and the fruit of his Tapas and his spiritual stature! All success is the result of Tapas. This is his teaching. There can not be a saint without Tapas. There is no spirituality without Tapas. And Tapas is the same as Sannyasa. It is not wearing an ochre-coloured robe. It is neither an order of life, nor a stage into which you enter socially. But, it is an entry into the dedicated life of austerity and control of oneself.
Today, being Sri Gurudev’s Sannyasa anniversary, we should contemplate on the spiritual spark that blazed itself forth as the great Swami Sivananda Sarasvati whose presence and Tapas, whose spirituality, goodness and large-heartedness became the nucleus and the seed for this large Institution which vibrates today in the hearts of many people in the world, not as buildings or constitutions, not as visible bodies or Institutions but as spiritual aspirations, noble longings for God-realisation, charitableness in nature and a conviction that the realisation of God is the only goal of life. “God-realisation first, everything else afterwards”–this was, is and will be the teaching of this saint for ever. Everything else follows automatically from this great surging longing of the heart. There are very few who could so forcibly proclaim this most unpalatable of truths that God-realisation is the primary aim of life. Because, many like to dilute this concept with ‘plus world’, ‘plus humanity’ and all that. They say, ‘God plus world’, ‘God plus humanity.’ But here was one who would not add anything to God or God’s perfection, to make it complete. As a matter of fact to add something to God would be to diminish the Perfection itself. God’s presence and the recognition of Him is the primary objective of all human activity, human longing and desire of every kind. There is no such thing as adding something to God’s perfection, because God is another name for Perfection itself. Can you add something to Perfection? No; for, then it would cease to be Perfection. That is Perfection, to which no addition is necessary, and also Perfection is of such a nature that you cannot subtract anything from It–that Perfection is God.
Most of his earlier writings began with this proclamation: ‘Goal of life is God-realisation.’ He would commence his work,–be it a book, or an essay, or a message, or even a lecture,–with the sentence, ‘Goal of life is God-realisation.’ Slowly, this concept is becoming more and more academic in these days, i.e., it is accepted only by the intellect as a logical conviction and a rational acceptance of spiritual values but having little bearing on the practical life of people. But to saints of the type of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, it was a calling of life and not a mere intellectual conviction or a rational acceptance. When we say that goal of life is God-realisation, we have said everything that needs to be said. Vairagya, renunciation or Sannyasa spontaneously flows from the acceptance, from the heart, of the fact that the goal of life is God-realisation. It follows as a necessary consequence. We need not make another statement about it. Vairagya or Sannyasa is the necessary result that follows spontaneously and logically from the acceptance of the reality that the goal of life is God-realisation. If the goal of life should be God-realisation, God should be the Reality; because you cannot regard an unreality or a lesser reality as the goal of life. That which is Real can only be the goal; the unreal cannot be the goal of life, not also a partial reality can be the goal of life. It is the full Reality that alone can be the goal of life. So, God has to be the fullest of realities. And that which is fully Real has to exclude everything else that is tagged on to It externally by associations temporarily contrived by the weaknesses of flesh. So the Sannyasa of Satgurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was an inner spiritual fire which burnt forth in his practical life and in his teachings and the instructions which he gave to his disciples.
He had no disciples and he never said that he had any disciples. On the other hand, he positively used to say, ‘I have no disciples.’ He also used to say that he had no organisation or an Ashram. He was the same Swami Sivananda who came to Rishikesh in the year 1922 under the name of Kuppuswami, the same Swami Sivananda who lived through the life of Sannyasa and spirituality and service to mankind, and it was the same Swami Sivananda who attained Mahasamadhi in the year 1963 without any change in his attitude to this world.
Such are the sparkling ideals that he set forth before us. Every first of June, we celebrate and observe as an anniversary of this momentous event of his entering into Sannyasa, many years back. And no greater homage could be conceived to this saint than a sincere determination to lead the life that he himself intensely led, and to develop a similar attitude towards life as a whole, that the whole world is enveloped by the Presence of God. The Isavasyopanishad says: “Isavasyamidam sarvam, yat kincha jagatyam jagat.” Whatever is moving or unmoving, Sthavara or Jangama, whatever is visible or invisible,–all this is indwelt by the supreme Being of God. The Upanishad also says: “Tena tyaktena bhunjithah.” Here is the seed of Vairagya and Sannyasa at the very commencement of the Isavasyopanishad. It says, “renounce and enjoy.” Enjoy by renunciation, not by possession. The enjoyment that comes by renunciation is more intense than the enjoyment that comes by possession of the things of the world. That satisfaction or pleasure or enjoyment which seems to come to us by the acquisition of the objects of sense, is a pain that comes to us in the guise of satisfaction. But that joy which comes to us by renunciation is a real and permanent joy. Why is it so? Because, renunciation is the relinquishment of false values, the abandonment of falsity in our attitude to things, which brings about a spontaneous inflow of God-consciousness and the substance of Reality into our hearts. When our substance or being commingles with our consciousness, there is a manifestation of delight, Ananda. But, in possessing things, in grabbing objects and in coming in contact with the temporary, fleeting values of the world, we do not come in contact with Reality, rather we flee away from Reality. The more you believe in the reality of objects, the farther you are from Truth or Reality. The more you come in contact with things, the more also are you unwittingly running away from the reality of God. The more you ask for pleasure from the objects of the world by sensory contact, the more is the pain that you invite from them; because all sensory contacts are sources of pain, for they have a beginning and an end. Contact with objects is the opposite of contact with Reality; because while objects are external, Reality is Universal. So the more is the contact with objects, the lesser is the contact with Reality; and consequently greater is the pain that we suffer in this life. So, “Tena tyaktena bhunjithah”–renounce the false values of the world on account of which you have a craving to come in contact with the transitory values, and enjoy the bliss of that union with Reality, the Supreme God indwelling all things. The Isavasya-Upanishad adds: Ma gridhah kasya svid-dhanam–“Covet not the things of the world.” Do not ask for things which do not really belong to you. The things of the world do not belong to you, because they are unreal. How can unreality belong to you! Therefore, do not ask for the things of the world, which are untrue. Renounce all false values with this awareness that God indwells all creation, both movable and immovable. This is, in some way, the quintessence of the gospel of Divine Life which inspired the teachings and the writings of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj.
To him we pay our obeisance by directing our thoughts and contemplating on these eternal values, and by proclaiming once again in the same tone and intensity of feeling and fervour, that the goal of life is God-realisation. Everything else follows in the wake of this acceptance, as a shadow follows the substance or, as they say, ‘the tail follows the dog.’ You need not separately tell the tail to follow. All the things of the world and all values that are regarded as covetable in life will come in abundance and in plenty, if we accept from the bottom of our hearts that the goal of life is God-realisation, for which ideal Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj lived and sacrificed all his life. Such is his Sannyasa, such is his Vedanta and such is his teaching for our practice. May his Grace be upon us all!