Swami Sivananda’s Unique Way of Teaching



Swami Sivananda accepted the supreme and vital need for what is known as Sadhana-Chatushtaya. Whereas the orthodox Rishis, sages, Yogis or holy men waited for the ripe seeker (one who was ready, who had disciplined himself, who had prepared himself) to approach them, Swami Sivananda said that it is perhaps too much to expect a person living in the modern world, assailed on all sides by distractions and temptations, to develop discrimination and dispassion. He said that even in the case of a person who runs away from failure it is possible to find a spark which could be fanned into a big flame. Sometimes if the spark didn’t exist he even ignited it. That was the extraordinary beauty in Swami Sivananda.

One of the methods adopted by him was massive dissemination of spiritual knowledge. It was absolutely and totally indiscriminate. Viveka is often translated into discrimination. Here was a master who performed indiscriminate charity and undertook indiscriminate dissemination of spiritual knowledge in the hope that one of these pamphlets or books, dropping into the hands of a man at a certain psychological moment, might ignite true Viveka, true aspiration, in him. I’ll give you just one or two instances. He used to send lots of free books to devotees and non-devotees. Among the recipients of these free books were Sir Winston Churchill (Prime Minister, London, Great Britan), President Truman (Washington) and Marshall Stalin (Moscow). Once somebody said, “Swamiji, these will never reach those men.” He replied, “Never mind, they are books after all and they are parcelled and addressed to Moscow, London, Washington. They have got to get there. Somebody has got to open them to find out what the parcel contains. He will read them.”

Now another rather interesting incident which is relevant to the discussion. One day an official letter had been received from a government department. On top of it there was the name and address of the head of that department. Immediately Swamiji autographed a book, “May God bless you, with regards, Prem and Om, Sivananda”, and sent it to this address. That man’s name was also put on the Divine Life Magazine free register. He received the book and a couple of days later a copy of the Divine Life Magazine. Probably he threw it away. Next month again there was the Divine Life Magazine, so he asked his assistant to write a stiff letter to the Divine Life Society saying, “Do not waste time sending these to me, I don’t like them. I can’t bother to look at them.” When this letter was received Swamiji said, “Ah, he doesn’t want, all right. Take his name off the magazine free register. We don’t want to impose a thing upon him.” It looked as though the story was completed there. No, two years later this man wrote to Swamiji a letter that moved all of us: “I received a book from you two years ago, heaven knows how you got my name and address. At that time I was so arrogant and haughty–I was occupying a position of power and prestige–that when I received your book I threw it away. I was on top, then a little later I came down–I lost my job, my money, everything went wrong. One day I had suicidal thoughts and wandered into my study. Sitting dejected in a depressed mood, I happened to look up and there I saw ‘Sure Ways for Success in Life and God-realisation’. Almost mechanically I pulled out that book, opened a page and there was ‘Never Despair’. I saw this and suddenly I remembered that I had received this book two years ago from you and had callously thrown it into the waste paper basket. But my servant who cleaned my room had emptied the basket and thought I might have accidentally dropped that book into the basket, so he took it out, dusted it and put it on the shelf without my knowledge. So I am thankful to him and I am thankful to you. That book saved my life. Then he pinked up the threads of what was left and made a success of his life.

That was Gurudev’s method. I am quite sure that of the thousands and thousands of people who received books, pamphlets and magazines from him, only a few made use of them in this manner. But it might strike a sympathetic cord in the heart of somebody, somewhere, at sometime. In Swamiji’s case it was indiscriminate dissemination of spiritual knowledge. If you bestow some thought upon it you’ll probably feel (like me) that he must have been a divine incarnation, because only God adopts this attitude. Only in God’s nature you find such an approach. If you look at a fruit tree (or any tree which bears fruits and berries with seeds) you’ll understand this philosophy very beautifully. Can you count the number of seeds that one single tree produces in one single season? Imagine what would happen if all of them germinated and became trees. There wouldn’t be space even for one species of tree to exist on this earth! But it does not happen. (I’m not interested in explanations, I’m only looking at the truth.) God has created a fruit-bearing tree; that tree yields thousands of fruits every season and not all of those seeds germinate. This omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God is quite satisfied with that. You may argue that the rest of the fruits become fertiliser. Excellent, that suits me! That is precisely what Swami Sivananda did. He went on sowing thousands and thousands of seeds. A few of them germinated and became mighty trees in themselves, and the others acted (or act) as fertilisers for the preparation of the soil for a future growth. People whom Swami Sivananda loved and trained, served and guided, people in whom Swami Sivananda sowed the seeds of spiritual aspiration–and who perhaps did not respond as zealously as you might have expected them to respond–are now with different Gurus, and there they shine as great Yogis, great Mahatmas, great seekers.

So the seeds that he planted have germinated and become mighty trees in the case of some; in the case of others they probably fertilised the consciousness of other non-seekers and made them seekers. When they were inwardly awakened they found some holy man and followed him. That was his beautiful approach. He was an extraordinary optimist who felt that given this indiscriminate dissemination of spiritual knowledge, eventually each one will find the path and the goal.

So he agreed that Sadhana-Chatushtaya–or Viveka, Vairagya, Shatsampat (or divine qualities) and Mumukshutva, (a keen yearning for liberation) are the essential prerequisites for Sadhana; without these you are not going to get anywhere–you would not even be able to recognise your Guru and any training that you undertake would be useless, fruitless. But he insisted that it is the duty of enlightened people (or even senior spiritual aspirants) to plant the seeds regardless of the readiness of the soil to receive these seeds. That is our service. These seeds will germinate sometime or other.

There is another very interesting feature. Now the Ashram is modern, life is fairly comfortable. It’s not easy in such an atmosphere to understand what the seekers who came here in the early 40’s felt. Some of them had read Swami Sivananda’s flaming words. Some of those original writings of Gurudev were so inspiring that if you read them you wanted to tear off all your clothes and run away to the Himalayas and practise Tapasya (austerities) and attain Self-realisation at that moment. That was the peculiarity of his style. Many of them were inspired by his writings and came here. Usually they came without even a change of clothing because in Swami Sivananda’s ‘How to Get Vairagya’ they had read “Renounce everything”–and so they renounced everything; “Seek solitude”–and so they came to seek solitude here. Some of them on entering this place might even have discovered that others who had joined earlier had a nice coat. There was a tendency to feel, “Ah, they have lost the path, they have fallen away. Look how dispassionate I am. My aspiration is far greater than the aspiration of these people who have been with Swami Sivananda for such a long time. They don’t know what Tapasya, Vairagya and Mumukshutva (burning aspiration) mean. Every morning I am sitting here at 4 o’clock meditating. Look at all these older Ashramites.” Swamiji used to watch them and appreciate them. Whatever you did, first came encouragement. Then he would gently push a little bit. “Enthusiasm is very good. You have got brilliant, wonderful aspiration. You are supreme, you are like a Sukadeva. But juvenile enthusiasm is no good.” First a lot of butter and then a little bitter pill–that was his method. You should never be discouraged, you should never feel that what you are doing is totally wrong. No, do it, it is wonderful, but make sure that it is not only juvenile enthusiasm, something which might lead to a reaction. Burning aspiration is necessary, but it must be steady, not quickly going up and quickly coming down like a balloon. If it is true aspiration it will continue to stay with you throughout your life. If there is some kind of juvenile enthusiasm it not only disappears, but it leads to a reaction which is usually equal and opposite. For instance for six months you walk about naked and you don’t talk, eating very little. God knows what your motives and intentions are. God knows what goes on in your own mind and in your heart. If, somehow, after those six months you discover that that was useless, then you would never stop talking, never stop eating, and you would go to the opposite extreme.

Swamiji was extremely cautious, and he cautioned the disciples also to be cautious. There was one instance which illustrates this: When I came to the Ashram there was another young man also with me. This young man is quite a wonderful person; there is nothing wrong with him. While here, even though he was very devoted to the Master and his work, he also developed an extraordinary friendship with one of the senior disciples of Swami Sivananda. This is natural if you stay here for six months or one year you feel drawn to one or other of the senior Mahatmas here. Some time later this senior Swami decided to leave and go away. Suddenly my friend also decided to leave. He was disappointed with the Ashram because the Swami he admired was leaving. He sent word to Swamiji that he intended to leave, and he even wanted me to go back with him. I told him, “Though I came with you, I’m not going to go back with you.” I used to be in the Bhajan Hall in those days and Swamiji lived down below right on the bank of the Ganges. Three or four times on a single day he came up and down. At that time there were no steps, so he had to negotiate a hill-side. The first time he came he said, “I believe he’s going. Ask him not to go. He has lived this life for one year now and if he goes back there will be a great reaction. He might lose all this.” I told my friend and he said, “No, my father is not well, my mother is not well and I have to go to support my family.” I went down and told Swamiji this. He came up again later and said, “How much will he earn? We will send money to his mother.” The Ashram was living a hand-to-mouth existence in those days, but he said, “We will support you. We will support the family. The spiritual wealth is so precious.” Gurudev realised that Sadhana-Chatushtaya Sampat, the wealth of aspiration, is so delicate. Spiritual aspiration is not found to be a natural thing in the heart of man. It is there, deep within you, but it is so deep and the dust and the ash that cover this aspiration are so thick that it has become precious. The Master has to plant the seed and only he knows how precious, how valuable it is and how necessary it is to safeguard it against reaction. That was Gurudev’s extraordinary love, and extraordinary attitude towards this Sadhana-Chatushtaya.

Since the students were not only raw, but not even awake, even the awakening influence had to come from the Master. The people who came often came with their own bad habits. I know on some occasions very senior disciples of Swamiji (who were also authorities in the Ashram) would go to him with all sorts of complaints. Gurudev had to please the authorities also. He would pretend to be really angry. The secretary was satisfied and went away, thinking that Swamiji would deal with the young seeker. On the contrary, the man against whom the complaint was filed would first of all get a couple of bananas–there was a little boy serving Gurudev in those days who would come running to you and say, “Swamiji gave you some fruits, Prasad.” Half an hour later somebody else might come running to you, “Swamiji gave you some coffee.” An hour later you might have his Darshan. He’d say, “You’re shining, you’re radiant. You’re meditating nicely. You’re doing Japa–good. You’re studying Vedanta? Very good.” What happened to all the complaints? He would watch to see if this encouragement works. Instead of telling you that you are a bad man, Gurudev insisted on concentrating on the good qualities in you, telling you that you were a great worker, even if you had no spiritual aspiration or devotion at all. There are some good qualities in each person, so why not promote them? He would say, “You are a tremendous worker. There is nobody who works as hard as you do.” He would throw one seed there–it is planting the seed that is important–then gently add “Whenever you work, see God in all. Why don’t you go and serve food in the kitchen? You’re a tremendous man, you’ve got a nice body and a fine voice. When you serve Roti (bread), say ‘Roti Bhagavan, Roti Narayan, Roti Maharaj’.”

In this manner the seed of aspiration was planted.

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