Sri N. Ananthanarayanan
This excerpt is from the book “From Man to God-Man”.
SWAMI Sivananda was about six feet tall, with a shining copper red for his complexion. He had broad shoulders and long arms. His head and face were clean shaven. His countenance was childlike–no guile, no gall in it. His eyes sparkled. The Master’s titanic proportions of head and body reminded one of the Deities of Grecian mythology.
In the simplicity of a monk, the Master seemed like a monarch. He was a picture of serenity and youth. It was impossible to judge his age from his appearance. He refused to grow old.
“You look like the rock of Gibraltar,” commented a visitor from Indiana, U.S.A., when she saw the Master on his sixty-eighth birthday.
The Master had a vibrant, powerful voice. Often at a meeting he would gently push aside the mike, saying, “I don’t need it.” His stentorian voice could reach an audience of thousands without the need of amplification.
Paying a handsome tribute to his voice, Dr. Hari Prasad Shastri, founder of Santi Sadan, London, once commented, “We cannot describe our joy when we heard on the gramophone the sweet and holy voice of this great advocate of spiritual life. It was indeed an unforgettable thrill.”
The Master’s walking made no sound. For years he walked barefoot, but in later life took to canvas shoes. There was a poise in his every movement. When he spoke, the flow of language was steady and natural, and tongue-slips were conspicuous by their absence.
In appearance the Master was far too simple–no colourful marks on the forehead, no matted locks or flowing beard, no rosaries around his neck, no beads, bangles or ear-rings–just enough clothing to protect his person from the weather and to ensure decency in society. In winter he wore an overcoat and in summer two large pieces of cotton, one around his waist, and the other over his shoulders and across his chest.
It so happened one day in 1956 that an old South Indian lady walked into the Ashram office to have Darshan of the Master. He greeted her with an “Om” and folded hands, showed her a seat and made kind enquiries about her health and her pilgrimage. When he resumed his work the lady quietly walked out. Near the dispensary she asked an Ashramite, “Where is Swamiji? When can I see him?”
“Swamiji is in the office. Why, you are coming from there only!” said the Ashramite, visibly amused.
With tears in her eyes the old lady went back and prostrated at the Master’s feet.
Similarly in the forties, one Adiga from Tirthahalli visited the Ashram. Chancing to come upon the Master and taking him for just another inmate, he asked to be guided to the room of his friend, Sridhar. The Master did not disclose his identity but took the visitor courteously to Sridhar’s room and left him there.
Not for the Master to assume manners or put on airs. Principal R.N. Nathani of Kandiaro went to Rishikesh to see him in December, 1940. He desired to stage the Master’s Brahmacharya Drama in his school, and requested the Master to teach him the tunes of the songs in the script. The Master gladly went a few times to the Ashram room where the principal was staying and taught him how to sing the lines.
The Master spoke and referred to everyone in terms of respect. Even if it was only a child whom he wished to call, he would say, “Aap ayiye.” Similarly, when in Malaya, he always addressed the Tamilian coolie on the rubber estate as “neengal” and never as “nee”. The second person pronouns, “aap” in Hindi, and “neengal” in Tamil, are used while addressing elders and superiors, and sometimes while intending respect to equals. The corresponding terms for equals are “tum” and “nee”, and for inferiors “tu” and “nee”.
In this regard the Master did not distinguish even between man and animal. A sickly stray dog had once laid a litter in the Ashram, and the pups, skeletons all, were lying here and there on the terrace. The Master passed that way and, noticing the pups, remarked most spontaneously, without the least premeditation on his part, “Ivalukkelam sappadu ille pole irukku–these people seem to be having no food.”
The Master was not one who cared for vain formalities. No one ever needed a letter of introduction to see him. He was freely accessible to all. There were no Darshan days with him. He himself took the first opportunity of greeting people and talking to them, people known and unknown. Even in Malaya, his friends used to say, “Put him in a dense forest in an unknown land he will make friends with the tigers, lions and bears.”
The Master often bowed to a visitor even before the latter could make up his mind to bow to him. On many an occasion he touched the feet of the visitor before the latter could conquer the hesitation to touch his. He would not hesitate to put the shoes on for one who found it difficult to bend.
Early in 1938, N.P. Kaliandasani, the hypnotist of Kalyan, read an article wherein the Master had mentioned that to bake roti on coal kept on the palm was only a trick and not magic. Wanting very much to learn the trick from the Master, Kaliandasani went to Rishikesh in August, 1939.
The hypnotist related his experience later on, “The Swamiji did not know me at all. As soon as I entered his room and bowed down before him, he himself placed his hand on my foot. At this I flinched as to how the great saint repaid our salaams, and I really forgot the object of my going over to him. The current of his eyes compelled me to think high in life. My tongue at last said to him that I had come to have Guru Mantra.”
The Master always tried to greet a person in the latter’s mother tongue. He was always eager to please people and put them at ease. Thus, besides Tamil, English, Hindi and Malay, which he knew well, he learnt words of greeting, proverbs and poems, songs and couplets, in several other languages. A Gujarati visitor to him would invariably be greeted with a sweet “khem che”; a Bengali Babu with a “kemon achen”. A guest from Maharashtra, Andhra or Mysore would meet with like treatment.
The Master felt at home everywhere and with everyone. During the 1950 tour, after a meeting at Madhav Bagh, Bombay, when he and his disciples attempted to come out, they encountered a big crowd, and in the confusion got into the nearest car, half supposing it was for them. Within seconds the Master suspected a mistake. He spoke to the driver.
“Whose car is this?”
“It is the Sethji’s car, Maharaj-ji.”
“Oh! We have got into the wrong car!”
“No, Swamiji, it is the right vehicle; it is your own car.”
“Do you know where we are to go to?”
“Wherever you wish to go, Swamiji, I shall gladly take you.”
“Will not the Seth be annoyed with you for going away like this?”
“No, Swamiji, on the other hand I am sure that he will be greatly pleased with me, and with the car, too, that we were of some service to you.”
There was no more questioning. All were happy with the arrangement, since it would have taken an hour to get out of the Bagh through the crowd and reach the Master’s car, which they now came to know was parked outside the building.
The late Swami Tapovan of Uttarkashi, who knew the Master from the latter’s Swarg Ashram days, traced the boundless love and modesty of the Master to what he called the “Sarvatma Bhava”, the saintly vision which saw God in all, which saw the self-same Spirit pervading all creation. “When I remember Swami Sivanandaji,” he said in a birthday tribute, “this quality of that great saint comes to my remembrance more readily than his learning, authorship, religious leadership and all the other uncommon qualities and activities.”
In the early days of their Sadhana, the Master once went to Swami Tapovan and said, “A Bengali Sadhu is staying with me. For the last few days he has been very ill. I have been trying to get a little milk for him. I have gone from Ashram to Ashram just to obtain a few ounces, but no one has any. There seems no way of getting it except from some shop. If only I had two annas…” And the Master lapsed sadly into silence.
Swami Tapovan, too, had been depending entirely on alms, which was meagre and never included milk. Neither did he keep any money. However, somehow he managed to collect four annas and gave it to the Master, praising his great kindness and love of service. Both the Master and Swami Tapovan held each other in mutual esteem throughout their lives.
True it was that this Sarvatma Bhava became second nature with the Master in his later years, but then, it was the result of assiduous cultivation. For instance, there was in him in the early years a lingering feeling of caste superiority, an instinctive bias that dies hard. The Master erased this subtle feeling by constantly prostrating to sweepers and scavengers, and treating them as equals. He called the scavenger the “health officer”, the barber the “beautifying officer”. He entertained no contempt even for the prostitutes, whom he characterised as the “fallen sisters”. For years he deliberately let himself be served by disciples not belonging to the Brahmin caste, till the last traces of the deep-seated complex dropped from him. He began to see God in people of every caste.
The Master saw God in women. He saw, not sex, but Goddess Durga in every female form. One Vijaya Dasami day, he felt the urge to worship the visible manifestations of the Divine Mother. Immediately he sent an Ashram worker to the Rishikesh market to procure fruit, flowers and silk for the worship. And who were the Goddesses? They were the little girls of the school run by the Ashram. Aged three to ten, they were seated in a row on a long mat. It was a most entrancing sight to see the tall, burly Swamiji bend down with feeling before each little girl, applying kumkum on the forehead and offering worship with flowers. Then he gently waved the camphor Arati before them and served them with sweets specially prepared as offering. Such was the Master’s worship of the Divine Mother.
The Master saw God in enemies and in dacoits. On January 8, 1950, during the evening Satsang at the Ashram, a disgruntled inmate, Govindan by name, aimed three blows at the Master’s head with a crude axe. But in the dim light of the oil lamp–electricity had not come to the Ashram then–he missed his mark and hit the door and the wall instead. Only the wooden handle struck on the heavily turbaned head. The assailant was caught and the police were called in, but the Master would not let Govindan be prosecuted.
“Do you mean to say that anything would happen without the Lord’s Will behind it?” he argued. “God alone prompted Govindan to do what he did. Are the words of the scriptures: ‘I am the gambling of the fraudulent’, and ‘prostration to the chief of the robbers’, mere words? Does not the same omnipresent Lord indwell the robber and the dacoit, the murderer and the burglar? No, no, I will not let the police charge Govindan. The Lord has spared my life as there is still some service to be performed through this body. I must go on with that service. That is all this incident indicates to me.”
So saying, the Master went to the police station the next morning with fruit, books, clothes and rosary. With his own hand he applied kumkum and bhasma to Govindan’s forehead, and then prostrated to him. He gave him books with his autographed blessing, and initiated him in the Om Namo Narayanaya Mantra. After imparting some simple instructions, the Master sent him to Salem, his home town, with two Ashram escorts to accompany him as far as Agra.
On February 19, a letter addressed to the Master came from Govindan, stating that he had reached Salem safely, and that he was grateful to the Master for what he had done for him. He prayed that any pitfalls that may beset his path of life be removed by the Master’s Grace, and that he regarded himself as the Master’s disciple.
On seeing the letter the Master smiled and requested Muruganandaji, “Put Govindan’s name on the magazine free list. Include his address in the prasad register also. All free literature should be sent to him. I will send books to him also. I will write to him to come again.” Such was the Master’s glorious heart!
The Master remarked to the disciples, “I hold Jayadeva as my ideal. He was robbed by dacoits, who cut off his hands and threw him into a well. When the Gods arrived with a celestial car to take him to paradise, he refused to ascend it till the dacoits who had cut off his hands were also taken. That is my ideal.”
Exactly ten years later, on January 8, 1960, at evening time, a stout young man was brought on a stretcher to the Ashram hospital, accompanied by two policemen and a small crowd. The man was badly wounded. Blood was oozing from all over his swollen face. He was virtually unconscious. The doctor administered first aid and dressed the wounds. The policemen explained how the wounded man had been waylaying people and robbing them, and how he was caught after a chase, during which he fell into a deep pit and got badly injured.
Within minutes, Dilip Kumar Roy, for that was the name of the man, became a showroom exhibit. Curiosity-mongers came from every direction. Some took pity on him, some scoffed at him and said that he deserved what he got, while others made many remarks about the helpless man.
It was now dark. The Master was coming on his way to the Satsang. They told him about the injured man. The Master changed direction and turned towards the hospital ward. He went near the patient’s bedside and stood still for awhile as the onlookers eagerly awaited his reaction.
“Let us now chant the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra for the health and speedy recovery of Dilip Kumar Roy.” With the announcement, the Master began chanting the Mantra. He called for a tin of biscuits and placed it on a bedside stool. He instructed the attendants, “Lord Narayana has come in this form. Please give him the biscuits in the morning with tea or milk.” The gossiping devotees were silenced!
The Master saw God in animals, nay, even in inanimate things. He bowed mentally to ants and asses, to stones, trees and rivers, to the sky, the sun and the moon, to chairs and tables, to pillars and posts. He talked to them. He told his students again and again, “Practise this Sadhana and see. Do this for some months and mark the change in yourself. You will be a different and changed man, a God-man with God-vision.”
“First, I bow to the Ganges through the window, then I salute the Himalayas. I salute the door, the window, the commode,” he told a stunned Swami Krishnananda, then general secretary of the Ashram.
The Master then went on to recite stanza after stanza of Sanskrit verses in praise of the numerous Deities beloved of the devout Hindu, saying that all these hymns he recited while in the toilet.
A direct result of this habit of seeing the Divine in everything was that the Master could not suffer to see even an insect injured. While he was bathing in the Ganges, if an insect came floating by struggling for life, he would at once take it into his palm and leave it on the bank. He revealed to his disciples, without the least trace of repugnance on his face, “If a worm or an insect were struggling for life in faecal matter, I would remove and protect it.”
In the summer months the Ashram is full of flies. A sanitary inspector suggested an insecticide. “Swamiji, it will kill the flies.”
The Master looked at him in studied silence. The inspector repeated his promise with great solicitude. This time the Master returned a mystic smile and said, “Inspector Saheb, it should prevent flies from coming, not kill them.”
As the Master was returning to his room one day from the office, he noticed crowds of large, black ants cutting across his path. He tried to proceed without hurting them. It was impossible, so he retraced his steps and went to his room by a circuitous way.
During Kirtan time one night the Master saw a visitor suddenly crush a scorpion with the butt of his torch. After Kirtan he asked the person why he killed the creature.
“It stings people,” replied the visitor.
The Master retorted, “By killing one scorpion are you able to save people from the stings of scorpions of which there are millions all over the world? To kill this creature it took you only a few seconds, but can you give its life back again? When you have no strength to give back life to the dead, what right have you to take life from the living? You are the worst kind of scorpion. The scorpion has poison only in its tail, but you have poison all over the body; you are full of hatred, anger, pride and other evil qualities. You should be crushed now!”
The visitor was taken aback and promised the Master that he would never kill a creature again.
It was October 4, 1948. “What a nice cottage! Is it for meditation purposes?” wondered a visitor, gazing as he was in the direction of the Master’s dwelling, beyond which on the river bank stood a small shed.
“No, no, it is not a cottage in the sense that you take it to be. I shall explain it to you,” said the Master, and took the visitor along. And what was there inside? An old, emaciated bull in a dying condition.
“My God!” exclaimed the visitor.
“Yes, you have just said it,” put in the Master. “It is your own God. Don’t you see your God in this bull, too?”
Two Ashramites were there tending to the bull. In the evening the poor creature died, despite all attention, and under the Master’s instructions was consigned to Mother Ganges with Maha Mantra Kirtan.
A bull in a dying condition, a dog with an ulcer on its head, a crow mauled by a monkey–they all found a ready helper and sympathiser in the Master. No creature was too mean to merit his attention.
In 1949, opening a cupboard, the Master’s attendant found a bedsheet bitten by a rat, and inside the sheet were four of its newborns. They had hardly opened their eyes. He took them to the Master. When the Master saw the baby rats, his heart was flooded with compassion. He felt greatly pained that they should have been disturbed. He asked the attendant to put them back immediately in the same place and condition, lest their mother should miss them. This was done. But in a day or two, the mother rat got killed by a cat. Soon after, the little ones also died. When the Master saw the dead rats, he felt sad and did Maha Mantra Kirtan for a pretty long time for the peace of the departed souls. His attendant also joined him in the Kirtan.
The Master fed ants with sugar, birds with rice, monkeys with gram, fish with bread. He kept water in pots for birds. “This will develop mercy and cosmic love,” he said. “It will soften the stony heart and instil the sense of oneness or Adwaita. No one can hope to attain oneness without doing such service. Mere study of Vedantic books without practice is absolutely useless.”
It was a hot day in 1955. “Let it drink,” the Master’s voice suddenly rang out, as an Ashram monk tried to frighten away a monkey which wanted to drink water from a mud-pot kept near the office for drinking purposes. The man who ran with a stone halted; the monkey had its fill.
“You cannot judge a man’s heart from the big charity that he does, and the huge hospital that he builds,” commented the Master. “Watch for such little incidents. When you have brought water from the Ganges and a monkey spoils it, how do you react during the first split-second? What is the first impulse? That determines whether you are a saint or not.”
If the Master showed such consideration and compassion for animals and insects, his thoughtfulness and love for human beings was no less. His every word and gesture reflected his deep, unexpressed love and concern for those who suffered.
“To me the world appears as a ball of fire,” he wrote. “To me the whole world appears as a huge furnace wherein all living creatures are being roasted.”
At a meeting that he addressed during his Indo-Sri Lanka tour, the Master repeatedly drew the attention of listeners to the magnitude of human suffering. This thought about suffering, and the need to alleviate that suffering, engaged his attention all the time.
His special concern, of course, was his own disciples, within sight and out of sight, who looked to him for support and sustenance. They were a large number with varied problems of their own.
Someone was seeking employment. Another desired to get his daughter married. A third had failed in his examination and was feeling miserable. A fourth was to undergo a major operation, and wished that the Master would pray for him. A fifth wanted success in a prolonged legal battle over a large estate. One had lost his only child and was about to go mad with sorrow.
Death, disease, misery, psychological torture–a suffering, seething, strife–torn humanity turned to the Master, ever calm and serene, an ocean of compassion and love, of humility and transcendent wisdom, for solace and succour. Many came to him in person; many more wrote to him from where they were. The Master gave them help and guidance in various ways.
A lady from South Africa came and prostrated. The Master enquired about her welfare. She started weeping. She had lost her son in an accident.
“Do not weep. All here are your sons and daughters,” assured the Master. The lady felt comforted.
A young woman, out to commit suicide, came and wept. Unmarried, she was yet carrying a baby. The Master did not gave her a sermon on ethics, but gave her a room in the Ashram, deputing an elderly woman, an inmate, to attend to her needs. When in due course the unwanted baby arrived, the Master thoughtfully passed it on to an issueless couple who had long been in correspondence with him over their singular misfortune.
The Master was ever on the watch for opportunities to serve. Even small instances stood witness to this eagerness to serve. One night in the Ashram Satsang, a child stood up from its mother’s lap and started toddling towards the male group. The Master at once guessed the child’s intent, and flashed his torch in such a way that the child could spot its father easily.
By virtue of his long medical experience, the Master was sometimes able to notice in visitors lurking diseases of which they themselves had no inkling. His timely advice saved many from future trouble.
The Master’s watchword with regard to selfless service was that service should seek the needy person. Thus, during the Sankirtan tours in North India, at the end of the day’s programme, he invariably announced from the platform, that all those needing medical attention were welcome to avail themselves of his free services.
Since his Swarg Ashram days it was a habit with the Master to carry three bags wherever he went. One would contain spiritual literature, another fruit and sweets, and the third medicines and utility articles like candle, matchbox, scissors, thread and needle, etc.
Once, the car in which the Master was travelling came to a halt on a trunk road. It was night time and the driver required a light to see what was wrong with the vehicle. The Master immediately opened his bag and pulled out matchbox and candle.
The Master delighted in doing personal service. If anybody came to him in the hot sun, he often fanned him and gave him some refreshing drink. Sometimes he hastened to hold the umbrella over the head of a sick or aged person. At other times he hurried to untie the bootlaces of stout or aged people, when they found it difficult to bend down. To him no service was menial; all was sacred.
When H.H. the Dowager Maharani of Mysore visited the Ashram in 1949, the inmates brought chairs and benches, and placed them outside the Diamond Jubilee Hall, but the austere Maharani said that she preferred to sit on the bare ground. As soon as she said that, the Master stooped down and removed the stones and pebbles on the terrace, making room for Her Highness to sit.
The Maharani began to protest, “Swamiji, you should not trouble yourself to do all this.”
Quick came the Master’s reply, “No, no, please do not stand on formalities. ‘Ghar ka ladka–I am your own son’!” “What is my duty?” was the question the Master asked himself constantly, not “what will others think?”
Once, he carried Sadhu Leik, a European Sannyasin, on his head in a rope-cot, and admitted him in the Punjab Sindh Kshettar Hospital in Rishikesh. On a different occasion a Sannyasini fell down unconscious. The Master carried her on his back to the hospital.
On another occasion the Master went to Ganga Sagar. The water was rough and the ferry-boat heaved alarmingly. While all the pilgrims somehow got onto the steamer from the ferry, an old woman, a member of the Master’s party, was frightened beyond her wits. She was at the same time too full of the instinctive feminine modesty to accept the Master’s aid. He immediately saw her plight and did not waste time to argue. In a trice the protesting woman found herself gently and reverentially lifted up, and safely deposited on board the steamer, good-naturedly riled by her daughters, laughing merrily at the Master’s effective tactics!
While he did not hesitate to act thus in an emergency, the Master warned his followers that they should at all times be uniformly decent, delicate and courteous.
“Always have consideration for the feelings of others,” he would tell them. “Never be discourteous and rough in the name of service.”
How great an importance the Master attached to the service of God’s children was revealed by a small incident. On the evening of November 25, 1949, R. Anantakrishna Sastri, a well-known Oriental scholar, arranged to perform ceremonial worship of the Ganga at the Ashram waterfront. It was nicely washed, and the Ashramites and visitors seated themselves comfortably on the clean steps. The Master was also there. Sastriji and his wife began the worship. The Master watched it all intently and then commented, “One year of daily ceremonial worship of the Ganges like this is equal to one week of whole-hearted service of a typhoid patient–washing his clothes and cleaning his bed-pan. Such service will at once purify the heart and bring about inner illumination.”
After a little reflection he added, “Nurses serve patients in the hospitals, but there is no inner purification for them, because they do not have the proper feeling when they serve.”
The Master then noticed that some Ashram inmates had also joined in the Ganga Puja and were offering bael leaves to the holy river.
“Each person is offering only his own bael leaves to the Ganges. How grand it would be if one had the feeling that he alone was offering the worship through all hands! How much more effective that worship would be!” he remarked.
A most effective way in which the Master served people was to pray for them. He had great faith in healing through prayer and through utterance of the Lord’s Name. He called it “Namapathy.”
Noticing a sick person, or reading an obituary report, or observing a lame dog, or an ant accidentally trodden underfoot, the Master would breathe a hidden prayer with a feeling heart. In the Ashram he regularly conducted Kirtan and collective prayer on behalf of devotees on their birthdays, or when they were sick, or when they desired success in some undertaking. After invoking the Lord’s aid for the specific purpose, the Master would invariably pray in a general way for the welfare of the person concerned.
“May Lord bless Sri … with health, long life, peace, bliss and prosperity; with health, long life, peace, bliss and immortality.”
And most importantly, after listing the persons for whom prayers were being conducted on a particular day, the Master would never forget to add at the end, “And for the whole world at large.”
The Master asked his disciples to always pray for the welfare of the whole world, and would ask sweetly, “Are you not included in the world?”
The tender feeling that he had for all mankind was also made apparent when he once declared, “I take a dip in the Ganges in the name of all those who are longing for a bath in the holy river.”
Again, it was the Master’s habit before he went to bed each day, to pray for the welfare of a number of people whose names he kept in a special list, which he revised from time to time. One devotee might be suffering from a disease, another from mental worry, a third might be fearing an impending crisis in his business. The Master prayed on behalf of these sufferers. It was his way of practising love for others.
Whenever there was a calamity, or threat of calamity, like famine, flood, war, rail accident or earthquake, in some part of the world or the other, the Master organised collective prayer.
It was the first week of November, 1946. Tension ran high in most North Indian States. There were countless rumours that the Muslims were coming to Rishikesh to murder Hindu Sadhus. The Master called the Ashramites to the Viswanath Mandir and suggested that everyone should do Japa of Om Namasivaya, and that a Homa be performed after five lakh repetitions, to restore Hindu-Muslim unity. Even before the Japa was completed, order was restored in trouble-ridden Bengal and Bihar, and the relationship between the two communities started returning to normal.
The Master’s compassion was not confined to beings on the earth-plane alone. On January 13, 1949, he confronted the Ashramites with a suggestion, “From now onward the first of every month will be observed here as ‘All-Souls Day’. We should offer special prayer for the peace of all departed souls. In this modernised, materialistic world, Dharma has long since been lost. Many religions have come into being in India itself which condemn ancestor-worship, Shraddhas and Tarpana. The departed souls are in great grief. They look to us for help. We must do this.”
The Master continued, “The programme will be that in the morning we should arrange for consecrated food-offerings for the departed souls. There will be a special Ekadasa-Rudra-Abhishekam at the temple. We can have feeding of the poor and Sadhus also. In the evening there will be special Ganga worship, when lights will be floated in the waters of the Ganges in the names of the departed souls. There should also be special illumination in the temple.”
An Ashramite put on a wry face, “More expenses.”
“Ohji, don’t worry about funds,” said the Master. “They will come. When the ancestors are pleased they will goad their descendants to contribute to the Society. When old people hear of this arrangement they will allot some portion of their properties to the Society in their will. Our motive should be pure; we should always endeavour to serve all with selfless love. God will look after us.”
The Master was a person of unrestrained, spontaneous generosity. Just as he gave himself to others, he gave a myriad things as well. Flowers, money, eatables, clothes, books–whatever offerings the devotees brought to him–found their way to others. The Master acted as a centre for collection and redistribution. He knew who needed what, and always offered the right gift to the right person.
The Master often bought fruit, peanuts and ice-cream from roadside vendors and distributed to people, just to help those poor vendors. The pilgrim who lost his purse, the convict just released from jail, the penniless Sadhu needing a blanket, the poor student wanting money for his school fees–all of them found a ready helper in the Master.
The Master gave without embarrassing the recipient. Maybe a distressed man came to him with a plea, “Swamiji, I am a poor Sadhu. I am in need of a blanket. The cold wind is freezing me.”
The Master would say, “Achcha Maharaj, kindly sing a Kirtan. You have a very good voice.”
The Sadhu would sing or chant “Ram, Ram, Ram” or “Radhe Shyam” for a few minutes. The Master would then quietly give a ten-rupee note to him, saying, “Kirtan bahut achcha hai–the Kirtan was very nice.” The money took on the colour, not of a lofty gift, but of a present, a token of the Master’s earnest appreciation of the Kirtan. What mattered more than the money was the heart. The Master had a large heart.
A small instance: In the thirties, when the Master had just settled at Ananda Kutir and was living on rations–mostly rotis and a little rice–from the Rishikesh Kalikambliwala Kshettar, a forest ranger from the South came to stay with him. The ranger was not accustomed to wheat diet, and so the Master and his disciples gave all their rice to him. After eating all that the guest still felt hungry. The Master went to the jungle and came back with some big bael fruit in hand. The forest ranger could not eat the fruit. He said it was tasteless. Undaunted, the Master brought sugar from the kitchen and, asking the guest to try the fruit with the sugar, quoted a Tamil proverb: “Chakkarai pottal kambaliyum thinnalam–when mixed with sugar even wool is edible!”
In 1950, on a visit to Dehra Dun, the Master went to the teachers’ quarters in the Mahadevi Kanya Pathasala. Seeing some bundles on the table he asked one of the teachers, “What are those? Answer papers? You value students’ examination papers also?”
“Yes, Swamiji,” said the lady.
“Be gracious,” suggested the Master. “Give more marks so that more students may pass in the examination. In every man and woman all potentialities are latent. Even wise men and women sometimes falter, and scholars often fumble for words. Platform fright, examination fright and stage fright sometimes cloud the minds of people and they are not able to answer some points even though they know.” Again, the Master’s heart!
If a generous disposition was one of the hall-marks of the Master’s personality, self-reliance was another. He believed in a life of hardship and endurance. He would never entrust to others a work which he himself could do. When on tour people would garland him as soon as he stepped down from the train. Immediately, without waiting for a coolie, and without giving a chance to his devotees, the Master would carry his bedding or trunk on his own head and come out of the station.
“Rely on your own self,” he would say. “Be humble. Do not be puffed up with the pride of Gurudom.”
Gurudom? No, not with the Master. He was dead against it. On Guru Purnima day in 1944, the devotees gathered in the Ashram to offer the traditional worship of the Guru. The Master was reluctant. He somehow gave the slip and briskly walked to a rest-house a few yards away. The devotees found him out. The Master then tripped over to the nearby Ram Ashram. The group went after him. Again he retraced his steps to the rest-house. There the people literally besieged him. Helpless, he stood with his back to a wall, with his eyes glistening with embarrassment, and a liquid look into the vast beyond, as the devotees worshipped him with offerings of flowers and fruit.
Again, during the occasion of the Master’s Golden Jubilee more than a hundred devotees assembled in the Ashram and made their offerings to him, with shouts of “Sivananda Maharaj Ki Jai” rending the air.
This time the Master chided them, “Don’t be emotional in anything, even in your prayers and praises of the Lord. Have full control over your feelings and emotions. The bliss of the Self cannot be fully manifested in dancing and bawling out.”
The Master suffered no pride of Gurudom. In his book, Joy, Bliss, Immortality, he made the significant remark, “I am a thirsting student. I am not a teacher, but God has made me a teacher; the students have made me a teacher.”
The Master himself considered everyone as his Guru. He tried to learn from whomsoever he could, in whatever little way he could. He often declared openly that his own disciples were his Gurus. “I have learnt many lessons from them,” he would say.
During the Yoga-Vedanta classes at the Ashram, the Master listened to the lectures of even baby souls. Frequently he pulled up a slumbering aspirant, “Do you keep notes of the important points that you hear during the class?”
Perhaps the aspirant did not, but the Master did. When he returned to his room, he reflected over the ideas thus gathered by him in the class. This gave rise to other sublime thoughts. He incorporated all the ideas in a nice article and presented it to the world through a book or magazine.
Experience was the Master’s greatest Guru. From every experience that he passed through, and saw others pass through, he drew a lesson. For instance, in his youth he had seen a whole bazaar being reduced to ashes because the shops had thatched roofs. He never forgot the lesson. He would much rather let a person live in the open than in a thatched cottage.
Similarly, the Master had experienced in his wandering days the pains of hunger, thirst and privation. He knew what they meant, so even after becoming the head of a big institution with a large following, he always ran to the aid of a starving man and a destitute even without their asking.
If the Master considered everyone and every experience as his Guru, he had a special veneration for his Siksha Guru and his Diksha Guru. On enquiring about the progress of the music class in the Ashram, he once told the students, “You should all greet your music teacher with folded palms and ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’. You should revere the Guru who teaches you the art. Only then will the learning be fruitful.”
The students were a little apologetic, “Yes, Swamiji, we are all doing that though we sometimes forget.”
“No, no, you should never omit this,” said the Master, and added thoughtfully, “See, I had Swami Viswanandaji’s company only for a few hours, yet I remember him daily in my Stotras in the morning. I include the name of Swami Vishnudevananda also, as it was he who performed the Vraja Homa for me. It is very necessary, only then will the spark of intense desire for liberation burn brightly in us.
And the Master relapsed into memory of his boyhood days. “Once, I learnt fencing from an untouchable,” he recalled. “It lasted only for a few days. He was an untouchable, yet I used to greet him with coconut and betel leaves. Guru is Guru, to whatever caste or creed he belongs.”
Devotion was deep-rooted in the Master, whether for his Guru or for his Ishta-Devata, whether for saints or for sacred places. He would never take his lunch without doing worship at a small altar he had in his own room. In this one act he claimed total privacy. Only once did his personal attendant by accident witness a spectacle the Master was lying on the ground in full prostration before the Deity! This prostration was not a mechanical one, nor was the worship. To the Master his Deity was intensely more real than all worldly phenomena.
On a Sivaratri night, when the Master came to the Ashram Mandir to offer worship, Swami Venkatesananda watched him closely. He thereby learnt the difference between real worship and ritualistic worship. Venkatesananda described in vivid detail what he saw:
“I was watching. Hardly on one face could I detect real, living faith. Some threw the bael leaves on the Linga; some half-sleepily allowed the leaves to drop on it; and a few pious devotees performed this ceremony as a mere religious duty. To them the Siva Linga was but a stone which somehow represented God they did not know how. Last of all came the Master himself, with bael leaves in hand. The radiant face shone with an extraordinary light. He let a few leaves drop at the foot of the Holy Bull, Nandikeshwara, seeking his permission to worship the Lord. When he gazed at the Linga before offering the bael leaves which he held in his hand, he did not pray or recite hymns or repeat Mantras. His eyes spoke to the Linga. It was a living Presence to him. What is the expression of your friend’s face when he meets you? That was the expression that adorned the Master’s face as he gently offered the bael leaves to the Lord–gently, in order that even the tender leaves might not hurt Him.
“A greater wonder was in store. In the twinkling of an eye and unnoticed by anyone, he turned round and threw a few leaves on all those who were there conducting the worship. The Master worshipped them; he worshipped the Lord in all, the Virat Swarupa. The keynote in this Virat worship is to perform it unobserved, or else it degenerates into a mere empty show.”
People were amazed at the singular devotion displayed by the Master whenever he happened to touch a holy place or meet a living saint. This aspect of his personality also came to the fore when troupes of devotees from outside places visited the Ashram and staged a Rasa Lila, a Hari Katha or a Divya Nama Sankirtan.
Simplicity, spirit of service, compassion, cosmic love, unrestrained generosity, deep devotion–these were but a few of the many facets of the integrated personality of Swami Sivananda. There were others, like fearlessness, serenity, humility, wisdom. One or the other of these diverse aspects of the Master’s personality predominated at a particular time. When devotees offered worship to his feet, he sat with an indrawn look radiating serenity. When the Master conversed with his dear disciples, he spoke like a loving mother. When he delivered a public discourse, wisdom flowed from his lips, and the admonishing finger was often raised to warn the audience of the dangerous consequences of pursuing sense pleasures. At the time he gave Sannyas initiation, he inspired awe and reverence in the novice. When he exchanged innocent pleasantries with his guests, he bubbled with humour and good cheer.
Underlying these many facets of the Master’s personality was his spirit of renunciation. One day, when he saw his disciple, Savitri Asopa, gaze with wonder at a particularly arresting portrait of his, he himself commented, “You can sit like that only if you have renunciation.” Renunciation was the key to the Master’s personality. It was his very essence. He was a Sannyasin first and last.
Sharada, one of the Master’s many biographers, put it beautifully in her Vignette of Sivananda: “His is a face of renunciation,” she says, “and to understand that face is to understand Hinduism.”
But to the Master, renunciation did not mean untidy dress and unkempt hair. He was scrupulously clean and showed by personal example that decency should be maintained even in the standard of a Sannyasin’s dress. To him renunciation meant renunciation of the ego, of “I” and “mine”. It meant giving up attachment. True renunciation belonged to the mind.
In this view of renunciation no torturing of the body was involved. On the contrary, the Master took pains to keep his body always healthy, so that it could be put to efficient use in the service of God’s children. In the early years of his mission, he used to go for long evening walks. In the winter months he used to play badminton in the Ashram itself. When work increased, he could not find sufficient time for these. So he got a tennis ball and racket and played on the wall for a few minutes, whenever he felt the need for relaxation. After those few minutes, the Master would be ready again for another spell of work. As he grew old he did some simple exercises on the bed itself. He never missed his Asanas and Pranayama. These practices kept his body fit for work.
“Bodily mortification alone cannot lead to enlightenment. There should be the calming of passions and discipline of the mind,” wrote the Master. “Just as striking at an ant-hill will not destroy the snake within, so also no amount of physical torture can kill the mind within.”
Likewise, while remaining a true Sannyasin, the Master retained a good aesthetic sense. He would give matchless appreciation for a German bag, an exquisite coffee set, a beautiful coat, a lovely cloth, or delicious eatables. In him one saw, not a cynical rejection of the world, but acceptance of it as the form of the Divine.
This was a remarkable feature of the Master’s personality. While he could resist the temptation of sense-objects, he could with equal facility enjoy them without getting attached to them.
His disciples once stealthily took him to a cinema in Dehra Dun. As the car suddenly stopped in front of the theatre, two devotees opened the door, and with a garland in hand said, “Swamiji, ‘Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’ wants to meet you, who look like his reincarnation.”
Like the Master, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1553), the famous Vaishnavite saint of Bengal, popularised Kirtan Bhakti far and wide. Because of this common feature in their lives, some devotees of the Master liked to think that he was Chaitanya reborn. A film on the life-story of this great saint was being screened at the Dehra Dun cinema.
Without a word of protest, the Master went in and saw the picture. But he commented meaningfully when the car sped back along the midnight road from Dehra Dun to Rishikesh, “How calm and quiet the roads are now!” It revealed the sage’s love of silence.
Talking to a visitor in the Ashram one day, the Master showed him his several notebooks, pens and watches. “People think that a Sannyasin should not have this or use that,” he said, tapping a call-bell playfully. “But I have no such notions. Service is the thing. Work, work and work for the welfare of humanity. Keep the instruments–the body and mind–in a fit and healthy condition for the work. I am a different kind of Sannyasin. I like to serve. People imagine that a Sannyasin should always be grave and sit like this (here the Master actually closed his eyes and sat erect), and thus give the impression to them that he is a liberated sage. But I am of a different type. Work should be your meditation. That is my method.”
With regard to work, too, the Master was guided by certain principles. D.I.N.–do it now. When he wished to do a thing he would do it immediately.
It happened during the Indo-Sri Lanka tour. The Master and his party were proceeding in bullock carts from the Rameswaram railway station to the temple. While on the road thus, he heard that a lady, who had been following him from Andhra, desired to be initiated into the Rama Mantra while at Rameswaram.
“If you wish to do a good act, do it at once,” said the Master and, stopping the cart, sent for the lady and gave her the Mantra initiation on the spot.
It was in the Master’s tradition. He once narrated the story of his grandfather. The latter was in danger of losing a plot of land to the law twisters. The decision was to be reached the next morning. That evening itself the old man brought all the building materials and engaged all the labour. They worked through the night, and the next morning there stood on the disputed plot a neat little building; and with that the old man’s ownership of the land stood, too!
The Master never forgot the lesson. He never postponed action. When the Siva Linga was to be installed in the Ashram Mandir, a discussion arose between two groups of Pundits about the auspicious hour for the performance of the Pratishtha ceremony. The Master came upon the scene.
“Devotees cannot wait for the conventional hour,” he said. “Start the Akhanda Kirtan today. There shall be no obstacle in the way.” Thus was born the non-stop Maha Mantra Kirtan in the Ashram Bhajan Hall, and the sacred installation in the Viswanath Mandir was gone through without further ado.
Whilst at Swarg Ashram, two of the Master’s disciples decided one day to request him to give them Sannyas. They wrote their wish on a piece of paper and stuck it on his Kutir. When the Master saw the message he said to himself: “There is not a moment to be lost. They might change their minds if I delay even a little.”
He brought a barber immediately and, locking him in his Kutir, went in search of his disciples, his idea being that the barber should not go away while he himself went looking for the disciples! He found the two soon enough, brought them to his Kutir and gave them the desired initiation.
On July 11, 1950, a devotee was introduced to the Master. “This Is Banibai, Swamiji. For the past twenty years she has been doing Hari Katha Kalakshepam in South India. In fact she wanted to conduct a Kalakshepam here also…”
The Master did not wait for him to complete the sentence. “Yes, yes, I will arrange for it tonight. She must conduct the Katha here. This is the holiest place, on the banks of the Ganges. It is a rare opportunity. We will all be elevated and inspired.”
The devotee hesitated. “But Swamiji, we have to leave this evening.”
“Then I will have it arranged now itself,” said the Master, and called out, “O Rajagopalji, ring the bell. Call Palji to play the tabla. Get the harmonium and tanpura. Call everyone. Purushottam, bring some sugar-candy and black pepper. Keep some water here. Vishwanath, spread the carpets. Call all the neighbours also. Nityanandaji, get some prasad for distribution after the Katha.”
Within a short time Banibai had commenced her Katha Kalakshepam. The Master had issued detailed instructions to ensure its total success.
It was another principle which the Master adhered to in all his work–attention to details and thoroughness of execution. If something was to be done at all, it should be done well, not in a slip-shod way, no matter what the work was, and how big or small it was. Then only will such work become worship of God.
On August 3, 1956, the Master laid the foundation stone for a market in Rishikesh. After he returned to his cottage, his disciples discussed the way in which he had done the stone-laying. Many felt that the Master need not have taken the trouble to do the actual work of the mason.
“Swamiji, generally big individuals, when they lay the foundation stone of an important building, merely place a little bit of mortar as a formality.”
“But I am not a big man,” remonstrated the Master, and explained his attitude in the matter. “All that we do should be done with all our heart and soul, and to the maximum perfection possible. As the saying goes, ‘Even if the dead person is a sweeper woman, the obsequies should be done well’. If I am to be a mason for a moment, I should do that work well and to my satisfaction. There is no formality for me. Every bit of work allotted to me I should do well.”
One night, in the winter of 1949, the Master came out of the Bhajan Hall after the night Satsang.
“Did you take the temperature of Balammal in the evening?” he questioned an Ashram worker. The latter replied in the negative.
The Master at once went to the patient’s room, and would not leave the place until every minute detail in connection with the patient’s requirements had been attended to.
He then said, “Put yourself in the patient’s place. That is the best way to ensure attention to the minutest detail. If you consider that you are the doctor, you might neglect some things. What are all the items you would require? See that all those are available to the patient. You must enter into the patient’s spirit. That is the meaning of real service.”
The Master then went on to instruct, “There must be a bed-pan. This is most important, especially in the case of aged patients like this lady. There should be light, matches, water in a bucket and a glass. All these things should be neatly arranged in the room so that the patient can reach out for them without much difficulty. You should pay particular attention to the arrangement of the bed. Even the slightest carelessness in this regard will deprive the patient of nature’s most powerful remedy–sleep. A haphazard making of the bed won’t do. What would be a mild discomfort to a healthy man would be unbearable horror to a sick man. Bear this in mind always.”
Nothing that was to be done should be left undone. That was the Master’s principle. Once, the Ashramites were about to perform the last rites of an inmate, Ramananda by name, whom they declared dead.
The Master came upon the scene, and observing the calmness on the face advised them, “Don’t be hasty. First give some artificial respiration, administer a couple of injections. Make sure that he is not merely in a swoon.”
Aspirants rushed here and there. Two persons rubbed Ramananda’s feet with liniment turpentine; two others administered artificial respiration. One Swami gave injections. The Master himself sat beside the body and rubbed the chest with Hare Rama Kirtan.
When one of the persons giving artificial respiration let go Ramananda’s hand, it fell limp on the ground.
“All right, now say ‘Krishna Bhagavan Ki Jai!'” said the Master, satisfied that everything possible had been done. He then permitted the Ashramites to go ahead with the last rites. He himself poured a vesselful of Ganges water over the body with the Om Namasivaya Kirtan.
Do your best, then leave the rest to God. Action is thy duty, fruit is not thy concern. This Gita philosophy governed the life and actions of the great Master.
In January 1956, Swami Poornabodhananda, a dearly loved disciple, was severely bitten by a rabid dog. The Master rushed him to Kasauli, doing all he could to give him the best medical treatment. The wounds healed but the disciple died after some time, maybe as an aftermath of the suffering he had undergone. The Master, who did so much to treat the disciple, did not even care to look at the dead body before it was lowered into the sacred Ganges. The Master believed more in serving the living than in needlessly moaning for the dead.
The Master loved everyone, and intensely, too; but this love was not tainted by attachment. It was pure love. It was Shuddha Prem. His love was rooted in divinity.
It was this divine love of the Master which made Dr Sutherland, the New Zealand missionary who spent many years in the Jagadhri Hospital, remark with folded palms and a voice choking with emotion, “Swamiji, I am very, very grateful to you for your courtesy and kindness during my brief three hours stay at your Ashram. I have today spent the most fruitful hours of my life in India.”
It was this overflowing love of the Master which made the saintly Ma Aparna of Calcutta call him a “God of Sympathy”. It was his cosmic compassion which made Shuddhananda Bharati say that the Master “had all heart and no body.”
Swami Sivananda was a living commentary on the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. His life was a fulfilment of that noble prayer. The Lord made him an instrument of His peace. The Master shed love where there was hatred, forgiveness where there was injury, faith where there was doubt, hope where there was despair, light where there was darkness, joy where there was sadness. He lived but to comfort others.
Dr Max Borkman, a Frenchman, called him bon papa, a “good father”. But was the Master just another good man? Good men there are many in this world, but they, too, have their flaws. The Master had none. He was immaculate. He was a perfection of virtues. He was a God-man.
The Master was not so much a person in flesh and blood; he was a sacred presence, a pure spiritual radiance.
“The real Swamiji is not just the person you see and hear at Satsang,” said Leslie Shephard, an Englishman and an earnest student of Yoga. “The real Swamiji is an uncanny force, affecting you by thought-currents, and moulding your spiritual development, often without a single word being spoken.”
The human side of the Master was like the lantern–and a beautiful lantern it was. But within the lantern burned the unquenchable spiritual Light, and it was this Light which radiated through the lantern, not only to those in the immediate vicinity but to the whole world.
While even the human side of the Master made a deep impression on those who came in contact with him, the Divinity in him left an impact which was more enduring and lasting.
“It is impossible to think of the world and its petty little pleasures, material gains, earthly ambitions and fame in his flaming presence,” wrote Swami Chidananda, in his World-Guide Sivananda. “Swami Sivananda is a fiery blaze in whose vicinity all the little ideas of sensuality and worldliness curl up and shrivel away into ash and nothingness.”
The Master did not discuss. He did not make an attempt to impress, but the visitor got enveloped by the calmness of his presence. The force of his magnetism was irresistible.
The Master was a phenomenon. He was described as a “symbol of holiness”, “a walking, talking God on earth”. The Bhagavat-Bhava or the divine mood, was imprinted on his serene, benign, tranquil countenance. He radiated love and spirituality in a mysterious manner. No one who went to the sage with an open mind failed to be benefited by the soothing vibrations of the God-man’s love and wisdom. Those who benefited thus described their experiences in words of poetic beauty.
“At last I was at the holy abode of Swami Sivananda. He welcomed me with a divine smile. His simplicity was too great. His kindness was shining. I was at once put at ease and spoke to him as if I knew him all these days.”
“When I had Swamiji’s Darshan for the first time, the joy I felt cannot be described in words. I felt absolutely carefree, as a child feels in the mother’s lap. The mind became absolutely calm, as the river becomes calm on reaching the sea.”
“When I met him in May 1951 at Ananda Kutir, I was transported to a realm of indescribable and inscrutable bliss. I tried to analyse and express the experience of that ineffable joy, but failed, miserably failed, even to touch the fringe of that mystic and hallowed charm.”
“I felt dwarfed before his majestic personality, and I muttered a few words unintelligible even to me. For a journalist who had had the good fortune of meeting varied personalities, it was indeed a novel experience. Swamiji’s personality was overpowering, and his spiritual radiance so dominating that I was completely overwhelmed. The long training that I had failed me in this hour.”
“Our first gaze at his cheerful and kindly face made us forget ourselves. It was like gazing with an unseeing look at the starry silence of the sky, the deep blue ocean, or the great snowy peaks of the Himalayas, which strikes a note within your heart, evokes a mood in your mind, and makes you feel one with the universe, while time itself halts in its march onward in your reverie.”
“Almost unannounced Sri Sadgurudevji came in, a stately figure, of simple bearing, of suave manners and straight looks. He slowly came towards us. Strangers for the day that we were, he enquired of our welfare. We felt like little babies–speechless. He smiled sweetly. I, a grief-stricken and broken man till then, felt enormous strength and encouragement. An indescribable joy surged over me.”
The real Sivananda was inscrutable. He was a marvellous person, with his head in the heavens and his feet on the ground. He believed that the world was God writ large, and saw His manifestation in nature, in everything. He saw the world charged with the splendour, glory and grandeur of God. He took the universe as a dream, yet appeared to evince keen interest in the activities of the dreamland.
The Master always eluded the reach of the human mind. Sometimes the devotees felt he was their most intimate friend; at other times, the same devotees feared that their Guru was beyond their reach.
“He is so like us, but a little beyond us. But when we reach that little beyond, again we find that he is still a little beyond, said Tunhla, a journalist from Burma, in a speech at the Ashram on September 26, 1955.
Omkarananda, a disciple of the Master, characterised him as “an impersonal personality”, “a transcendental individual”. The human and the Divine were so inextricably mixed up in the personality of the Master. He was verily a divinised human being.
That was why people by the thousands venerated him. They visited him from far and near just to have his Darshan. Strangers from distant lands wept like children in his presence. Young men and women deserted their kith and kin and gave themselves up entirely to him.
Those who were not very fortunate to see the Master personally, treasured a letter or a book, a rosary or a photo received from him. The photo was an inspiration to many.
Said a Benares Hindu University student of the Master’s portrait, “Gazing at it I sat transfixed for a moment. The spirit of sanctity, peace and poise that pervaded the picture explained to me the meaning of spiritual life much more vividly than any book on philosophy could. The picture radiated subtle spiritual suggestions which were as convincing as they were powerful. It did not take me long to discover the difference between a saint and a mere scholar.
Many felt, like this Benares Hindu University student, that there was something quite extraordinary about the Master’s photo, just as there was that extraordinary something about his writings, which one missed in other spiritual literature. Maybe the Master’s Divinity found special outlets for manifestation in these two media. Incredible as it may seem, letters were received in the Ashram saying how the Master’s photo came to life in one place, how it danced in another, and so on. People have heard the Master himself tell a spiritual seeker, “Keep my photo and concentrate. You will get answers to your questions,” or “keep my photo, it will speak to you.” Again, he was very particular about his picture appearing in books and magazines, especially on the cover, where it would at once catch the reader’s eye. It could not be vanity or self-praise. The Master was too far from that; all who had anything to do with the Master knew that. His attitude could only be explained as stemming from his intense desire to serve people through this apparently inanimate medium of his photo.
Yes, the Master was a perfect saint, a saint among saints–a Sirius in the spiritual galaxy. Other saints loved him with all their heart and all their soul. Many of them visited him at his Ashram. Venerable souls like Swami Naradananda of Naimisharanya, Purushottamananda of Vasishta Guha, sat in his presence with tears of love bedimming their aged cheeks. Lofty souls like Sati Godavari Ma of Sakori did Pada Puja to him in the customary manner. Pontiffs like the Shankaracharya of Dwaraka Peeth, embraced the Master in boundless love. Adorable saints like Ananda Mayee Ma and Parvatikar Maharaj, sang in divine ecstasy in his Satsang. Some well-known saints like Swami Ramdas of Kanhangad, Sadhu Vaswani of Poona, and the Shankaracharya of Kancheepuram, exchanged loving letters with him.
Sri Satya Sai Baba of Andhra Pradesh, also visited the Master. Materialising a rudrakasha mala with gold links, he lovingly presented it to the Master.
In one letter, Sadhu Vaswani wrote: “I think of you oftener than you may know; and as I think of you, I think of the angels around you. Methinks, I see your picture before me, and I bow to it with love in my heart; and the prayer of a saint rises within me: “Beloved, come thou in the temple of my heart, and let me touch thy feet in pure, gentle love.”
The Master in turn adored all these saints. He loved them and served them as only he could. “Narayana, Narayana, Narayana” thus he would hasten to greet and embrace the visiting saints with the Name of the Lord on his lips, almost exactly as a child would run to embrace its mother. He was overjoyed when he saw them, when he spoke to them, when he offered them food.
The Master identified himself with all saints, with all Ashrams, with divine life activity everywhere on earth, no matter by whom it was carried on and under what label. He sang their glory as if they were his own. He wrote an entire booklet on the Ashrams and saints of India, in which he paid respectful adorations to all the Sadhus and Mahatmas in the country, praising the divine work they were doing. Not only that, in one of his earliest books, he gave an exhaustive list of dozens of contemporary saints, declaring that the very utterance of the names of these saints would purify the heart of the reader. He exhorted the reader to have the Darshan of as many of the saints as possible.
One so humble, the Master never discussed his own spiritual attainments. A Christian evangelist from America, Rev. Stanley Jones, visited the Ashram in 1956. At a small round-table discussion on the morning of March 14, the Master, Rev. Jones and others narrated their “experiences”. When it came to the Master’s turn, he simply said, “Seek, find, enter and rest. I sing this formula. I live this formula. I try to be good. I try to live in God. I cultivate virtues. This is my experience.”
On his visit to the Ashram, an American philosopher, Dr Thompson, put the Master a straight question, “Have you seen God, Swamiji?”
“I see nothing but God,” replied the Master. “In the food I take, in the water I drink, in the people I greet, in animals I meet, and in you Dr Thompson, I see nothing but God.”
The Master’s disciples were nevertheless eager to know the outstanding landmarks in his spiritual journey. One of them made bold to ask the Master himself about this. He gave a straight answer, “I had no such landmarks or outstanding spiritual experiences during my period of spiritual practice. There was no obstruction, either external or internal, in my spiritual progress. That was the only outstanding feature. I made meditation–deep meditation–the keynote of my inner spiritual practice. It gave smooth and continuous progress and rapid arrival at the ultimate experience.”
Emboldened by the Master’s answer, the disciple asked a further question, “Can Swamiji be pleased to give out the place and date of the final illumination?”
Once again the Master replied without hesitation, “The Upanishads are positive on that subject. None should talk of the place and date of illumination. If anyone says that he got illumination at such a place and on such a date, it is not proper, I can’t believe him. It is a secret of God. I am not authorised to divulge it.”
And the Master never divulged the date and place of his Self-realisation. As for lesser spiritual experiences of his, from chance remarks that have fallen from his lips, his disciples could gather that during his periods of deep and intense meditation, he had the Darshan of Lord Krishna and the sages of the Upanishads.
Sri Krishna was the Master’s chosen Deity. Unto the last he worshipped Him daily at his private altar.
That Lord Krishna had showered His Grace on the Master and asked him to spread Kirtan-Bhakti is also clear from the following passages, culled out of two poems addressed by him to the Flute-bearer of Brindavan:
Lord Krishna, my Lord, Krishna, my love–
We both are only one from now;
Thou art I and myself art Thou,
I am thrice blessed,
It is all Thy sweet Grace.
You ordered me to do Kirtan
And disseminate Kirtan-Bhakti,
I came before Thy Presence, my Lord,
As a Sankirtanist;
I sing the Maha Mantra daily;
I know Thou takest pleasure
In my singing;
I touch Thy Lotus Feet
Through the sound-wave of my Kirtan.
The Master’s worship was not confined only to Lord Krishna. He saw the same attributeless Lord reflected in all Deities and had their blessings in abundant measure. He had the benign Grace of Devi, for instance.
When the Master was in Swarg Ashram, there was a neighbour of his called Rajarajeswarananda, who was a worshipper of the Divine Mother. His worship of Devi went on for twelve years, but he attained no perfection. On a Durga Puja day the Swami longed to worship the Goddess with silk and ornaments, but he had no money. The day before the worship was to begin, there was a knock at the door. He opened and saw some Punjabi girls. Each one carried a plateful of silk cloth, fruit, ornaments and money.
“Swami Sivananda, your neighbour asked us to give these to you for your Navaratri Puja,” they said. The Swami believed their words and accepted their gifts.
“Whose plates are these?” he asked.
“They belong to the alms-house,” replied the maidens, taking the empty plates and departing from the place.
The Swami could not contain himself. He went to the Master’s Kutir. As usual, it was bolted from within. He knocked and the Master opened the door.
“Who were those Punjabi ladies, Swamiji?”
“Those that you had sent to me with silk cloth and ornaments for the Durga Puja.”
“I did not send anyone.”
The Swami was mystified. He ran to the office of the almshouse. The maidens were not there.
With tears in his eyes, Rajarajeswarananda himself narrated the above incident to a friend. “I had been doing intense spiritual practice for the vision of the Mother for so many years. This Swami Sivananda, for all that I know, knew no Tantrik spiritual practice, and yet, when the Mother did choose to grace me with a sight, it was at Sivanandaji’s prompting. She gave me ornaments and silk cloth and gave him Self-realisation.”
This was true. The Master did not do any formal worship of the Divine Mother. He himself clarified this point when a learned Pundit of South India remarked that the Master must have attained perfection in Sri Vidya Upasana and that was why he succeeded in all this undertakings.
“I have not done any formal Sri Vidya Upasana,” the Master told him. “I repeat the Mantra along with several others after bath daily. I repeat the Mantras only once. But perhaps you are right when you say that I have done Sri Vidya Upasana. It is of a different kind. Whenever I see a woman, I mentally prostrate to her and mentally repeat some Devi Mantra, like ‘Om Sri Durgayai Namah’. I look upon all women as the embodiments of the Divine Mother. When I apply the sacred vermillion to my forehead, I repeat, ‘Om Hrim Om’. This constitutes my Sri Vidya Upasana.”
The Master taught his disciples what a Sannyasin should be, what a saint should be. He was a living example of a Sthitaprajna–a man of unbroken serenity. He had a mind which nothing could shake; nothing could cause a ripple or ruffle in it. It was indeed an extraordinary mind.
There is a saying: Learn by doing; teach by being. The Master taught by both doing and being. “Bear insult, bear injury; this is the highest Sadhana,” was his favourite saying–and he was the very personification of it.
In the early days of the Ashram there were hardly ten aspirants. Some of the disciples of the Master at that time were from Kashmir.
There was a young man from Kashmir, Sri Kaul, who was influenced by the Master’s teachings and came to the Ashram. He was a post-graduate.
Another young man named Brahmachari Vishweshwar Chaitanya was serving the Master. He had a sandow-like body–short, square but very muscular. He had a wonderful physique and was an expert in Yoga Asanas.
The Master entrusted the young Kaul to Brahmachari Vishweshwar Chaitanya. This Brahmachari was so well conversant with the Master’s teachings that he had pages and pages of his writings memorised. He did all the typing for the Master. He acknowledged receipt of donations, and would include a paragraph of the Master’s instructions, too, in letters to donors. So Kaul was struck with admiration for him.
Over some months, a gradual change began taking place in the Brahmachari’s nature. If Kaul approached the Master after Satsang and asked any question, or got his doubts cleared, or if he asked for some spiritual instructions, this Brahmachari would not like it. He began resenting the Kashmri approaching the Master. He would tell Kaul, “When I am here, why should you go to Gurudev?”
No one noticed this change. It went on within like a glowing ember covered by ash. It went on for several months.
One evening, as the Master was coming on his usual walk, some disciples were chatting in front of the present post office. It was twilight and soon became semi-dark. They knew that the Master would be coming now, so they stood respectfully outside to have his Darshan.
Soon they saw a swinging lantern, the signal of the Master’s approach. But they began hearing a very unusual, high-pitched voice. They were puzzled as to what was happening. As the Master came nearer and nearer and reached the road approaching the disciples, they heard the voice at its highest pitch–very angry, furious and talking non-stop.
The Master was walking along, and the person, raging and shouting, was walking along with him. When they came quite near the Ramashram Dharmasala, the disciples were stunned and tongue-tied seeing the party–Brahmachari Vishweshwar, the Hatha Yogi, was coming with the Master’s lantern!
The Master was silent and his countenance appeared very serious. The Brahmachari was raging at the Master at the very top of his voice, “Who are you to instruct him? Why should you instruct him? Am I not here?”
The Kashmiri was trailing along saying, “Vishweshwar Swamiji, Gurudev is my Guru.”
The Brahmachari shouted back, “I am your Guru. You should take instructions only from me.”
The Kashmiri had left everything to the Master, and here was a man saying, “Where is the necessity of going and asking him?”
Brahmachari Vishweshwar appeared completely off his proper senses. In this situation all three came near the office. The secretary came out of the office in an angry mood. He enquired of the Master what the matter was. The Master calmly replied, “Ask him.”
The secretary was a very intelligent person, and some words from the Brahmachari had already reached his ears. He sized up the situation and went to the raging man. Taking the lantern away from his hand, he said, “You may go now. I will accompany Gurudev. I will talk to you later.”
So he took over and escorted the Master to his Kutir. Even while the Master was going to his Kutir, the Brahmachari was raging at the top of his voice. The disciples who were witnessing the scene were wondering how such a thing could happen.
The next day the secretary told the Brahmachari, “You may take to some other department. You need not go to Gurudev’s Kutir anymore.” From that day onwards, his going to the Master’s Kutir stopped.
After a few weeks he went to see the Master for seeking permission to go to Sri Badrinath. The Master did not take any offence or show any displeasure. But he warned him as an aspirant, “Look here, if you don’t control your temper, one day you may commit murder.”
This made Brahmachari Vishweshwar break down and he began crying. He was afraid because whatever came from the Master’s lips used to come true. He started crying before the Master like a child.
So the Master said, “No, no, I am not telling you that such a thing will happen. I am simply advising you to get rid of anger somehow or the other. All murders and acts of violence are due to fits of uncontrollable anger. Anger is demoniac. It leads one directly to hell. So you should control it. You have my blessings. Go to Sri Badrinath and come back.”
The Master gave him some money and other useful things. The Brahmachari went on foot to Sri Badrinath and stayed there for many months till the temple closed for the winter season. When he came back to the Ashram, he was a totally changed person. There was a peculiar transformation in him. He was previously a Hatha Yogi and Vedantin. Now there was a great change: he had become a Sankirtanist. It was a complete transformation.
He had a very strong physique and always wore a turban. “Narayana! Narayana!” he would chant, sing and dance for hours on end, with sometimes tears rolling down his cheeks. Later on he became well-known and people called him “Mahapurusha” or “Jivanmukta Maharaj”.
This incident was indeed something very strange and wonderful. His own disciple, who was supposed to regard the Master as Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara, berated him right and left in a fit of towering rage. And yet the Master did not utter a single word! He was absolutely calm and silent. If there had been anyone else in the Master’s place, he would have probably taken a club and given the enraged Brahmachari a blow.
Another incident bears out vividly that the Master was the very embodiment of his saying: “Bear insult, bear injury.”
In April 1953, a Parliament of World Religions was held at the Ashram. Major-General A.N. Sharma, an admirer of the Master, was an important personality at that time. He was a London trained cardiologist and had his residence in the Defence Colony, Delhi. He had very good contact with most of the Embassies.
So through his help, Swami Paramananda managed to get Buddhism represented by the Thai Embassy, Islam by the Afghanistan Embassy, and Christianity by some other Embassy. Mahatmas and eminent people were also invited. The parliament was inaugurated by Sri C.P. Ramaswami Iyer.
At that time there was the Atma-vijnana Bhavan, run by the Kalikambliwala Trust of Ramnagar, Rishikesh. A Swami residing there permanently was also invited. Except for one or two speakers who spoke in Hindi, all read their papers or gave talks in English. The Master also spoke in English, which was the common language at this parliament.
At one of the sessions it was the turn of the Ramnagar Swami to speak. He was a stout, forceful and aggressive personality. He started thundering in Sanskrit and went on for about fifteen minutes. To make sure that all would understand him, he afterwards switched over to Hindi. In his forceful, thundering speech, he abused the Master outright in the presence of about a thousand distinguished people.
He said, “It is utmost foolishness, a big blemish, and an action quite contrary to Hindu religion and tradition for a Sannyasin staying in Uttarkhand on the banks of the holy Ganga to speak in a foreign, alien, polluted language.” Like that only he went on.
He did not speak on religion nor even on any particular subject. It was a direct tirade against the Master. The Master was regarded with such high reverence by all, that within a few minutes the whole audience became restless, and some of the invited Mahatmas were also scandalised by the speech.
A few people from the audience even went to the wings of the stage and sent word to Swami Paramamanda, “This speech must be stopped. If necessary you should even call the police to forcibly remove this man from the stage, or cut off the microphone connection.”
Swami Paramananda was fuming with rage, but Swami Narayanananda kept quite cool, saying, “Nothing doing, absolutely nothing. Gurudev will be very much displeased if we do anything like that.”
So the persons suggested, “When the Mahatmas speak later on they should refute this Swami.”
After the Swami had spent all his force panting and fuming, he resumed his seat. Before anything could be done, the Master immediately got up, went to the microphone and said in Hindi, “We are most grateful, most thankful to the honoured Swamiji Maharaj for having told us the right thing. Sanskrit is the Devabhasha, the divine language. There is no other language in the whole world equal to Sanskrit. Verily all religious discussions should be in the Devabhasha. We congratulate him on his command over the Devabhasha. Hindi being the national language is next to Sanskrit in importance. His suggestion is indeed very, very correct and timely. We are most grateful to him for giving us this valuable advice.”
The Master went on praising the Swami and expressing gratitude and thanks!
It was as though a fully inflated balloon was pricked by a pin. All flight was taken out and this Swamiji was hanging in the air. He felt most uncomfortable. He had expected some applause, some reaction. Both of these would have satisfied him. But nothing came. Instead, it had a judo-like effect–a fellow comes with full force to hit you, and you just step aside and the charging fellow falls, due to the force of his own vehemence.
During the entire fifteen minutes that the Swami was holding on, the Master’s face was absolutely calm and serene. There was not a single ripple or ruffle on his face. He was seated like a Buddha, completely unperturbed and serene.
One felt that this was what Lord Krishna referred to when He spoke of the Sthitaprajna–man of calm mind–in the Bhagavad Gita.
Once, a Swami came to the Ashram to stay for a few days. No sooner was he admitted than he began quarrelling with everyone for fruit, milk and other necessities.
The Master’s office was above the old kitchen. One day, the Swami was in the kitchen, fighting and making a lot of noise. He then came up to the Master. In a fit of rage he broke his rosary into bits and threw them at the Master’s feet. Then, uttering abusive remarks about the Master and the Ashram he walked out.
The disciples seated in the office were stunned. They were boiling within but could not express their feelings.
The Master was all the while absolutely unperturbed and calm, with the usual beatific smile on his face, as if nothing had happened.
Except compassion, the Master had no other feeling for the arrogant Swami. Without a word the Master taught the most important lesson which he proclaimed all the time: “Bear insult, bear injury.”
The Master never gave long lectures, nor talked on high philosophy. He demonstrated the teachings of the Gita and Upanishads in every action of his daily life. That is why his teachings and writings have such an impact on the minds of people.
As a true Bhakta, the Master worshipped all Deities, respected and adored all saints, celebrated all festivals. As a Vedantin, he was always established in the non-dual God-conscious state. As a Karma Yogi, he served the Lord in all creation in whatever way he could. As a Raja Yogi, he exercised, consciously and unconsciously, various psychic and supernatural powers but again, only for the good of others.
Beneath his simple looks and unassuming answers to the questions of curiosity-mongers, lay a wealth of spiritual experience. During his days of spiritual practice–and it must be noted that he continued to practise them even after he became a sage–he appeared to have undergone a myriad spiritual practices, reaped as many experiences, and also acquired as many powers. All these experiences he gave out to the world through his writings, not under the title, “My Experiences”, but in the form of spiritual lessons. He gave the minutest instructions on even the most subtle problems that arise in the course of spiritual practice. These lessons cover every field of Yoga, every known variety of spiritual practice. They fill more than a hundred volumes.
But here and there in the Master’s writings, one does come across ebullient expressions of his spiritual experiences.
In Cup of Bliss, the Master gives an indication of his exalted spiritual stature:
Sorrow touches me not,
Pain affects me not,
All joy, all bliss I am,
Eternal satisfaction I am.
The silvery moon, the brilliant sun
Are my eyes,
The rivers are my veins,
The stars, mountains,
The herbs, trees and plants,
The Vedas and Devas,
Are my expression, my breath.
My exhalation is this universe,
My inhalation is dissolution,
The world is my body,
All bodies are mine,
All hands, ears, eyes are mine,
The fire is my mouth,
The wind is my breath.
Energy, time proceed from me,
All beings throb in me,
All hearts pulsate in me,
Causation I am,
All quarters I am,
Quarters are my garment.
All time is now,
All distance is here,
I fill all space,
Where can I move?
No space to move,
Infinite I am,
Unconditioned I am,
Bhuma I am,
In The Great Bhuma Experience, the Master attempts a description of what it is alike:
I merged myself in great unending joy,
I swam in the ocean of immortal bliss,
I floated in the sea of infinite peace,
Ego melted, thoughts subsided,
Intellect ceased functioning,
The senses were absorbed,
I remained unawakened to the world,
I saw myself everywhere.
In The Dawn of a New Life, the Master makes a further attempt to express the inexpressible.
All my sorrow is over,
My heart is now brimming with, joy,
Peace has entered my Soul,
All doubt, fear and delusion have vanished,
I was suddenly lifted out of myself,
There was dawn of a new life,
I experienced the inner world of Reality,
The Unseen filled my heart and soul,
I entered the vast, luminous Silence,
I bathed in a flood of effulgence ineffable,
I came on the hidden spring of all life,
I am the Light that illumines the entire universe.
Mysticism breathes in almost every line of the Master’s poem entitled, Speechless Zone.
In the perfect, nameless, formless void,
In the unlimited expanse of bliss,
In the region of matterless, mindless, joy,
In the realm of timeless, spaceless stillness,
In the infinite zone of speechless, thoughtless peace,
In the transcendental abode of sweet harmony,
I united with the Supreme Effulgence,
The thought that we are one or two vanished,
I crossed the sea of birth for ever;
This is all due to the Grace of the Lord,
Who danced in Brindavan with rhythmic, jingle,
Who raised Govardhan as umbrella for the cowherds.
Having attained the goal, the sage still moved among men as an ordinary man. But who could hide the aroma of a Self-realised soul? It wafted everywhere, around the world and across the seas. People were drawn. They were magnetised. Those who came thus under the spell of the God-man, absorbed and carried away with them as much light as they were capable of. The God-man Sivananda stood serene, calm, impartial.
“I give myself to whosoever claims me,” he declared. And they claimed him by the thousands and tens of thousands as their Guru, as their redeemer, as their saviour.