Even a child can tell us what is right and what is wrong; but even the wisest among men might fail to do the right and to resist what is wrong. Anyone who knows anything about Yoga and Vedanta, knows too, that the ego is the only thing that keeps us from realising that we are, in truth, the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent Self! But it needs Surgeon Sivananda to give us the details of the most delicate operation–Ego-dectomy–that is the vital part of spiritual endeavour.
This happened on a pleasant August morning. A young foreign student of Yoga was chosen as the instrument to convey this lesson. Swamiji elicited the information from him that he had with him, a few hundred rupees which he had meant to utilise “in case of need.” He was a zealous worthy and earnest spiritual aspirant; a ripe case for “egodectomy.” “Give away all your money in charity. Now you identify yourself with the money. Your ego feeds upon it. That money is your strength; you lean on it and not on God. You feel that it is yours; and not that all humanity is your own Self. Give it away. Your ego will be curbed. The pride of wealth will go,” said Swamiji. But that is not all. It is like removing cancerous tissue. You cut it off in one place; it grows in another! So, Swamiji continued “But, you have to be careful. The ego will take the form of pride of renunciation. This is worse than pride of wealth. People will admire your spirit of renunciation. Your reputation will grow. Name and fame will come. You will become a famous Yogi.
Money orders will come. The old pride of wealth also will return by and by. The ego is ever ready to assume new forms–sometimes gross, sometimes subtle, but ever dangerous.”
How is success assured then in this operation?
Swamiji is as thorough and practical in this as in every other aspect of his teaching. A positive, vigorous, thought-force is to be built up within: “I am Akarta, Abhokta, Asanga, Sakshi.” During a recent discourse, Swamiji himself remarked: “There is a great power in these four words: Akarta (I am non-doer), Abhoktha (I am non-enjoyer), Asanga (I am unattached), Sakshi (I am a witness only).”
And, then there is the negative but equally potent aspect which Sri Swamiji exalts very often and of which he sings: “Bear insult; bear injury: (this is) highest Sadhana.” This forbearance is the touchstone to ascertain the extent to which the inner personality has been purified by reflection over the Four Great Words of Power. These two–positive and negative–aspects are inevitable counterparts of this highest Sadhana. Without the positive aspect, the negative one of bearing insult and injury might make one effeminate and cowardly, weak and weary of life, a walking-talking beast. Without the negative aspect, the positive one might merely be wishful thinking, without the least actual progress.
If the saint says “I am Akarta, Abhokta,” how does he work?
Swamiji lives and serves, not because, in the words of the Bhagavad Gita, he has anything to gain thereby, but because it is His Will, calculated to promote the welfare of all beings. A thousand times he has declared thus. Not when fortune smiles on him and on the Ashram, but when the cloud of ill-health and financial break-down blurs the vision of everyone else. “It is His work; He will carry it on as long as He wills.” When his radiant physical body emerges triumphant after a serious accident (as in January 1950), or a serious illness (as in August 1954), he re-iterates that the precious life has been prolonged to do His Will and to carry on His Work.
Is this resignation or surrender, entirely passive? No, that would be vegetation! The Divine Will will not choose a human instrument, merely to vegetate.
Swamiji recognises that he himself and the institution over which he presides are instruments chosen by the Lord to do His work. The instruments have to be looked after; they are to be kept in working order; but they should not be allowed to rust, and the maximum use should be made of them. A significant incident comes to mind.
It happened during the All-India Tour of Swamiji in 1950. The first procession (on arrival in the town) had been elaborately planned and advertised in one of the centres. The organisers wanted Swamiji alone to travel in an open car; but Swamiji wanted two of his disciples to be also there. The organisers consented, but were reluctant to starve these disciples. The procession had commenced. All eyes were focused on the holy car. The organiser was whispering to the two disciples, a request to drink a cup of cocoa. The disciples were unwilling.
Through the corner of his eye, Swamiji noticed this. “Bring it here,” said he. The organiser joyously passed the cup on to him. Swamiji merely took a sip: but only to say to the disciples: “Take it. You know your body needs it. Why are you afraid of public criticism? It is here you should apply the dictum. ‘There is no world in the three periods of time.’ Take it, because you have to work, to serve humanity.”
The vital lesson came later. When, at the Vani Mahal at Madras, Swamiji running high temperature, went on addressing the audience, even though his throat was hoarse with acute inflammation, the organisers had to plead with him to have a little more mercy for his body. The doctor-Mayor of Colombo (the late Dr. Kumararatnam) begged of Swamiji to give his throat complete rest for three days, and “merely give Darshan to people.” Swamiji smiled: “Even if the worst is to happen, I shall not cease from singing His names and delivering the Message of Divine Life.”
Even so with the institution. It is an instrument. It should be run efficiently. But it has no use for its own sake! It is good, because it serves humanity, it fulfils His Mission. Therefore, no consideration whatsoever will persuade Swamiji to close its doors upon anyone seeking refuge in it. People come; people go. Swamiji says: “When the Lord sends some persons here, He will also send the necessary bags of rice and atta (wheat flour), clothes and money to maintain him. We need not bother about that. We should serve the new-comer and make him serve humanity. That is our foremost duty.”
The activities of the Ashram should be conducted very well; the Ashramites should be looked after well and their comforts provided. But, laziness is not encouraged. The instrument should not rust. Food should not be denied to anyone; but food should not be wasted. Money should be spent freely on every useful item; but it should not be wasted. Comforts should be provided. But luxury should be avoided.
Swamiji would most enthusiastically approve of any scheme for increasing the income of the Society; but at that very moment a parallel scheme would be taking shape in his mind in what direction it could be most profitably spent,–and spent immediately! For he cannot bear with idle money, even as he cannot bear an idle man. The institution kept at the verge of financial crisis prevents ‘institutional egoism’ cropping up in anyone of the authorities of the Ashram; and whatever service is rendered is quickly consumed in the Divine Fire of Akarta-Abhokta-Bhavana, of Nimitta-Bhavana (feeling that you are an instrument).
Prosperity and adversity have spun round the institution; but have never really touched the heart of the Ashram, i.e., Swamiji. To him prosperity is an opportunity to serve even more; and adversity is a period of intense self-analysis to find out the degree of success achieved in egodectomy. “I came to Rishikesh with a single cloth on my person. Even today I am ready to go a-begging for alms,” says Swamiji whenever financial crisis creeps into the institution. He is equally indifferent to honour and dishonour, pain and pleasure, gain and loss.
A disciple running away from the Ashram after an embezzlement of every pie there was in it proved this recently. Swamiji would not even utter a harsh word against the disciple; “What if he has taken away a few thousands? He has rendered great service to the institution. He has also brought out two books which are appreciated by all.”
And, at the possibility of the Ashram-authorities having to go to the Court to give evidence, etc., Swamiji surprised all by his remark: “Ohji, don’t feel shy to go to the court. Don’t be afraid that the Ashram’s reputation will be spoilt. If that is the Lord’s Will, we should welcome it. Have not thousands all over the world praised the institution and its glorious services to humanity?”
The sage’s actions are, therefore, inscrutable. He and he alone can sing, as Swamiji always does:
Nothing exists; nothing belongs to me;
I am neither mind nor body; Immortal Self I am. And the egodectomy is complete.