The Great Awakener
by Dr. Sarat Chandra Behera
This article is a chapter from Swami Chidananda’s biography “The Holy Stream”.
Cheer up. Be bold. I am by thy side. I dwell within thee as part of the eternal Antaryamin, the Supreme Indweller, with whom I am ever one in spirit. This is the thrilling assurance of Chidananda to the countless devotees all over the globe struggling to move in his care from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to Light, from the mortal to the Imperishable. He is a cosmic friend, a world teacher, a unique inspirer and a dynamic divine messenger, improving the lot of humanity through his infinite compassion, radiant purity, soulful Bhajans, and the solemn admonitions which constitute a sort of electrifying shock-treatment to the materialists of the modern age.
Right from 1949, when he donned the ochre garb and assumed the office of the General Secretary of the Divine Life Society, he has given himself entirely to the colossal task of awakening the masses from inertia and heedlessness, and making them develop the right resolution and tread the right path for attainment of Self-realisation. The story of his epic efforts as a great awakener began rather innocently. As has been told earlier, Sivananda one day sent for him and asked him to proceed to Patna in Bihar to inaugurate a Branch of the Divine Life Society. It was only a simple mission incidentally thrust on his shoulders. But his visit had such electrifying impact on the masses that thereafter he was to have no respite. As the years went by, more and more people began vociferously demanding his gracious attention and he has continued to remain an itinerant messenger of God ever since.
(Going over to Patna he came to know that one of the dedicated organisers of the Branch Mrs. A.K. Sinha was lying with high fever. He paid her a visit and to the great solace and surprise of everybody by the very touch of his healing hands she was absolutely normal the next day and took part in the proceedings with her usual zeal. The visit of Swamiji furnished a wonderful experience to the vast concourse of people who came to the Conference from far and near. The young Swamiji was so inspiring that the Governor of Bihar, His Excellency Mr. M.S. Aney who went to inaugurate the function was profoundly moved and invited him to the Governor’s House with great reverence and accorded him a very special honour.)
Swamiji’s Patna visit, which ended as an extensive tour of Bihar, was followed by the epochal All-India Tour in the company of the Master. Seekers all over India soon realised Chidananda’s greatness and came to look forward to hearing his sermons and instructions as priceless things. At the Parliament of Religions at Rishikesh in 1953, he played the role of the prime mover on all the sessions. Through the persuasive power of his logic and intense spiritual fervour he brought home to the listeners the fundamental message that religion alone can unite humanity. Observing the impact he registered on the masses, the Holy Master felt the necessity of sending him out more and more frequently to do spiritual service of the people. He was the one to be always deputed as his personal representative to preside over the various Divine Life Conferences.
(Gurudev had conceived the idea of spiritual Conference as a modern need for mass awakening. He announced that a Divine Life Conference in Kali Yuga tantamounts to a hundred Rajasuya Yajnas or Soma Yajnas. Being inspired by the Master, Dr. V.S. Mani organised the First All-India Divine Life Conference at Villupuram in the end of 1939. Subsequently six such Conferences were held at Salem, Venkatagiri, Rajahmundry, Rishikesh, Hyderabad and again at Salem.)
When the eighth All-India Divine Life Conference was held at Kolkata, Swamiji was brought down by the Holy Master from Badrinarayan where he had been on pilgrimage and asked to proceed there to elevate the masses. His very first words of address at the Conference, calling the assembled seekers ‘Visible manifestations of the one ever-perfect, ever-pure, all-blissful Supreme Spirit, the One Almighty Being’ sent out a wave of thrill as had done Vivekananda’s words to the audience at Chicago. It is not so much the words as the palpable spiritual force and divine grace behind them that at once produced a magnificent impact. Solemn, radiant and penetrating, Swamiji went on to clarify that the prime purpose of the Divine Life Conference was to produce in the hearts and minds of men waves of Divine Bhav, the sublime spirit of Atmic unity, universal oneness, devotion, brotherhood and love. The Conference had nothing limitingly institutional about it. He held that it should be a springboard for designing a glorious new vision for the world of today that is rent by conflict and confusion. It was to bring forth a new humanity perennially oriented towards spiritual advancement.
In his elevating discourses Swamiji applied himself to the task of impressing upon his listeners the necessity and ways of bringing about the evolution in the human character by helping it annihilate its lower, impure, egoistic self and realise the higher divine nature within. He held that all things in the universe manifest their true natures. Man alone was the offender. Man, the crown of God’s creation, His supreme handiwork, endowed with the grand faculty of intellect, was not true to his nature. His intellect was prostituted for self-aggrandisement. He had made himself the slave of his sensual urges and converted this world into a vale of sorrow and suffering. The garden of God had been desecrated. Swamiji made it clear to one and all that DiVine Life was not a mystery. He said, “Know the Divine Life to be selflessness, and Self-realisation, service of man and worship of God.” He wished that the Conference may carry this message into every home not only within the great city of Kolkata hallowed by the memory of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda but also in all parts of the world.
His fervent message produced an indelible impress on the people of Kolkata. The impact could be seen even a number of years later when the Silver Jubilee of the Divine Life Conference was organised at Kolkata in 1974. Tens of thousands of seekers then rallied round the banner of Divine Life, unfurled by Chidananda. Saints like Thakur Sitaram Das Omkarnath, Swami Vedavyasananda, Kavi Yogi Suddhananda Bharati and Swami Chinmayananda graced the platform as a mark of their personal love and regard for Swamiji. Omkar Baba described Chidananda as the visible Sivananda and Vedavyasananda characterised him as a modern Vivekananda. In his discourse Swamiji urged upon all an integrated movement for God-realisation. He held that no part of life should be allowed to hamper this movement. He showed how every bit of man’s action could be a further step towards God. This has to be the religion of today, he affirmed—not rejection of this life, but transformation of it.
The upsurge of interest in Swamiji now spread from Bengal to Gujarat. In various spiritual Conferences in that State over a period of ten years, Swamiji applied himself to the task of bringing about spiritual regeneration and social amity. His impact on the masses at Patan and Rajkot, in particular, was admirable. His divine personality attracted other towering spiritual leaders like Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Dwaraka and Baba Ranchod Das to those functions. That is always the case with Swamiji’s Conferences. In awakening the masses to the divine life, Swamiji not only exerts on his own but also liberally draws upon the vast fund of goodwill he has accumulated of other distinguished holy men of the country.
In course of his tour Swamiji has had often to pass through Delhi. The fortunate devotees there are always alert to take the opportunity of meeting him and hearing him whenever possible. Those frequent Satsangs have had a very great influence on the devotees and seekers in the Capital and its neighbourhood.
Being inspired by Swamiji the devotees of Delhi organised the sixteenth All-India Divine Life Conference only a few months after the Mahasamadhi of the Holy Master. Swamiji imparted to them the great lesson that the Guru is never dead and the devotees and seekers on their part realised that the Master continued to work through his chosen successor. They were inspired to erect a building to house the Swami Sivananda Cultural Association and thus perpetuate the sacred memory of Gurudev. On the occasion of its inauguration, Swamiji graced the function in the company of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Justice J.R Mudholkar. When the twentyfourth All-India Divine Life Conference was held there, Swamiji again sanctified the holy premises in the company of revered Omkar Baba and other distinguished men of God. On such occasions Swamiji exerted great spiritual impact on the sophisticated intelligentsia of the capital.
Swamiji visited the Punjab for the first time in 1964 to join the seventeenth All-India Divine Life Conference at Chandigarh. This visit is still remembered by the devotees as one imbued with extraordinary spiritual power. When Swamiji reached Chandigarh, at the station itself he stood motionless and deeply withdrawn for some time offering fervent prayers to the Lord Almighty for the spiritual awakening of the people of the sacred Saptasindhu region. Going to the place of Conference when he stepped out of his vehicle to proceed to the dais, the people felt impelled by a new sense of wonder and fervour. They saw him shining with majesty and serenity of an exalted kind. The atmosphere was at once charged with worshipful emotion. Swamiji greeted all with a sweet smile and Namaskar. All eyes were fixed on him. He sat down immobile for a minute like an image, perfectly indrawn. And, then, as soon as he chanted Om, peace and quietude appeared to have palpably descended and kept the audience enthralled. On the first day of the Conference, about 8000 men and women had assembled there. On the next day the crowd rapidly swelled to about 15000, all eager to have a glimpse of the saint of Sivanandashram and hear his elevating sermon. It was felt by all that the spiritual fervour generated by Swamiji there was of an extraordinary intensity and inexplicable authority. Swami Nirmal Maharaj of Amritsar, who also participated, himself experienced and commented on this impact.
Similarly, Swamiji’s public appearance in 1965 on the platform of the eighteenth All-India Divine Life Conference at Mysore (Seekers of South India had organised a similar Conference in Mysore five years before.) was a memorable one. Fifteen years after the epochal tour of the Master, Swamiji appeared for the first time on a platform in South India as his spiritual successor. The large number of South Indian devotees of the Master who went there were all overwhelmed to find that Chidananda was only Sivananda in a slim, radiant frame. Here the pontiffs of Sankara Pithas of Puri and Dwaraka also very graciously extended their co-operation to His Holiness in the noble task of dissemination of spiritual knowledge. After the Mysore Conference Swamiji participated in several regional Conferences in the State.
Soon after his return to India from the three-year global tour in 1971, Swamiji presided over the twenty second All-India Divine Life Conference at Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh. On the eve of the Conference he was taken in a procession with other saints through the main roads and streets of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, to the accompaniment of loud chants of the Divine Name. Apart from a number of saints many distinguished men from the secular field such as His Excellency Khandu Bhai Desai, Governor of Andhra Pradesh, and General Cariappa were deeply impressed by Swamiji’s thrilling prayer and elevating discourses. Swamiji called upon the seekers to realise the spiritual secret that God is ours by Divine Right. He gave his clarion call: “Wake up from the sleep of self-forgetfulness; your Sadhana should be simply never to forget the sweet relation with the Lord.” In a ringing voice he declared, “God is ever in me. I am ever in God”, and then added, “to be divine and to live divinely is natural to you. Be yourself and refuse to be anything other than yourself”.
Such simple words of wisdom, saturated with sincere appeal and graciousness, had an incalculable impact on the listeners. Many in the audience felt that the shower of spiritual instruction was not merely refreshing and stimulating, it also directly transmitted Swamiji’s divine grace to them. In his concluding address Swamiji cautioned the listeners not to waste the rare human birth which is meant for God-realisation. In a solemn voice Swamiji said, “With every sunrise and sunset time is fleeing. Every moment is passing away. All jubilation is, therefore, misplaced. Enquire—one year has gone away. What have I done? Having attained the rare human birth what am I doing? Swadharma of the river is to flow towards the sea. Swadharma of Jiva is to flow towards the Source, the Paramatma. The great duty of Jivatma is to return Home, to its Source.”
The Bangalore Conference of 1975 provided yet another memorable spiritual service. Accompanied by venerable Mahatmas like Worshipful H.H. Sri Swami Visvesvara Tirtha, Revered Siva Balayogi and Worshipful Suddhananda Bharati, Swamiji shone on the dais with a rare effulgence. He unveiled the portrait of the Holy Master and characterised this unveiling ceremony as the unveiling of Sadachara in human heart and the Yoga Parampara of Bharatavarsha. He said, “The one Supreme Being, who is adored by the common family of humanity as Allah, Khuda, Ahura Mazda, Tao, as simply ‘That beyond all’, the Being who is denied by the atheists, is the Ocean into which all religious streams flow. He is glorified in the Bible, the Koran, the Grantha Sahib and the Vedas. He is worshipped in synagogues, churches, mosques and temples. But His greatest temple is the human heart. He pervades, penetrates and interpenetrates all. He is the very essence of our existence”. Swamiji held that the key to liberation is compassion to all creatures. Compassion should be extended even to plants and the grass that grow around us. We must live only to love and serve. Secondly, the individual soul should feel the pang of separation from the Universal Soul. He should have the spiritual hunger which drives him to sit silently, do Japa and read the scriptures. All the aspects of Yoga are the outer manifestations of this inner hunger. This yearning cannot be purchased in the market. That only God and the Saints can give.
Swamiji went about thus through the nooks and corners of Bharatavarsha creating a deep spiritual yearning in the mass mind through his persuasive discourses. Orissa had been left out till 1966. Of course Swamiji had paid a casual visit to Cuttack in 1956. A decade later he again set foot on the land of Lord Jagannath. He came to Puri as a second Chaitanya and did ecstatic, elevating Kirtan in the precincts of the temple of Lord Jagannath. He presided over the first All Orissa Divine Life Conference and infused the glory of Divine Name in the masses. Sensitive observers had the experience that purity descended on the atmosphere with his very presence. Swamiji has paid several visits to the State after this, touring even deeply interior regions and disseminating spiritual wisdom to the people there as no one else had done before.
In 1967 he presided over the second All Orissa Divine Life Conference at Cuttack. He again visited Puri, saying that whenever he came to Orissa he would like to have the opportunity of paying homage to Lord Jagannath in His holy sanctum. Then in 1968, again, he visited Orissa to preside over the twenty-first All-India Divine Life Conference at Berhampur. Prakasam Hall, the venue, was packed with devotees and seekers eager to have a glimpse of Swamiji. Attentive eyes discerned how even in the midst of the busy schedule Swamiji sat on the dais motionless, almost in a State of Sahaja Samadhi, radiating joy, peace and bliss to the audience. Through his soul-stirring Bhajans and discourses he injected into the listeners the nectarine potion that had been so carefully prepared in the Sivananda Laboratory. His brief message to the Conference was: “The light of life is Guru’s teachings. The strength of life is the Divine Name. The secret of success in life is trust in God. Dharma is the basis of life. Wealth of life is virtue. The greatest treasure is devotion to the Lord. The key to peace and blessedness is meditation. The way to supreme fulfilment is Divine Life. Reflect over what has been said, understand well its meaning. Follow it in daily life. Thus become blessed.”
Swamiji came to Orissa once again in the summer of 1971, this time to the centre of the tribal belt in Bhavanipatna. Next year he went to Cuttack to preside over the twenty-third All-India Divine Life Conference. About 50,000 people from all parts of Orissa and a number of delegates from different corners of the country had assembled in this great Jnana Yajna to hear the divine instructions of Swamiji. Swamiji gave the clarion call—“Arise Bharatavarsha, and bless the world. Blessed heir to Bharatavarsha’s cultural heritage! Make thy life an effulgent radiance of India’s shining ideals of renunciation and service. Make thyself the living embodiment of our Dharma and personify in yourself the sublime principles of Paropakara and of Supreme Atma Jnana. Let Bharatavarsha’s lofty culture find vital expression through you and your entire life, every moment, each day. Thus through you let India be vibrantly alive, awake and roused. You Are India.”
Gradually Swamiji was drawn into even interior places like Keonjhargarh. He went there to preside over the Divine Life Conference and conveyed his message of Dharma. He said, “Follow Dharma scrupulously. Proclaim Dharma. Out of Dharma cometh untold goodness and benefits to human society. May the call of Dharma sound throughout the land”.
Moving into the rural Bomokai, Swamiji addressed the simple, devout village folk with a supreme simplicity and clarity. He wished that every disciple of the Holy Master should be a Nitya Nirantara Pujari. He explained the esoteric meaning of Japa and asked the seekers to keep on repeating the Divine Name at all hours and on all occasions.
When Swamiji went to preside over the next Orissa Divine Life Conference at Rourkela, he emphasised man’s supreme duty of recognising divinity within himself and expressing the latent divine quality in his everyday life. Have pure conduct, be truthful, remember God constantly and spiritualise all your activities—these were the ringing notes, the fervent appeal, in his call to the busy people of the industrial township.
The voice of Chidananda now reverberated through the nerve centre of Western Orissa. Swamiji flew from Malaysia and reached Sambalpur via Kolkata to preside over the twenty-seventh All-India Divine Life Conference there. During the Conference there was a surging crowd on all four days. People in thousands thronged the venue of the meeting, eager to look at the magnetic aura radiating from his divine countenance, to listen to his inspiring words of wisdom and get enraptured by singing with him the thrilling Kirtans. In a practical advice to the seekers Swamiji emphasised the great virtue in performing one’s duty by doing every little thing in an ideal way. Drops of water make a mighty ocean; the daily practice of Swadharma and Sadhana make life an ocean of bliss—these were the suggestive points he made in his message to the Conference.
For the next All-India Divine Life Conference, Swamiji went to Bhubaneshwar. In his searching message to the Sadhaks he said, “Yes, my beloved friends! The divine scales weigh human actions not only by the measures of the prayer recited and Mantras chanted, not only by the measures of candles lit, lights waved, bells rung and books read, but let me tell you clearly that the divine scales measure man by the quality of the feelings harboured in the heart, by the very words with which you speak and address your neighbours and by each and every simple action of yours in your dealings with all those amongst whom Providence has decreed that you live your life.” The compassionate messenger of God through these words revealed the purpose for which God has sent us to this earth plane.
In all these platforms Swamiji’made it a point to highlight the practical import of the Sanatana Dharma. He was prepared to undergo all kinds of hardship in order to elevate the masses and guide the seekers. He has graciously served as a practical guide to the seekers of Orissa in different Sadhana Camps at Bhanjanagar, Bhadrakh, Rourkela and other places. He has encouraged the zonal Conferences of Khurdha Road, Jaipatna and Balangir by his presence. At every place his impact has been unforgettable and intense. The then Governor of Orissa, His Excellency Sri B.D. Sharma, felt so much inspired and sanctified in these Conferences that he requested Swamiji to visit the Orissa Secretariat and inspire the administrative personnel who were in charge of the secular dealings of the State. Swamiji did fulfil this request a few years later in 1978 while returning from the Sunabeda Conference.
When His Holiness completed the sixtieth year of his earthly existence (Diamond Jubilee) and his admirers clamoured for his permission to organise befitting celebrations on the occasion, he advised them to arrange a Sadhana Week and a spiritual Conference to awaken, instruct, and inspire the people of Bharatavarsha from the Tapobhumi of the Holy Master. Towering spiritual personalities graced the occasion and gave their illuminating sermons to the Jijnasus, Mumukshus and Bhaktas. The climax of the Jubilee was marked with the arrival of the holy mother Ma Anandamayi. Her sanctifying Darshan in the company of His Holiness left an indelible spiritual impact on all those present there at Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh.
Swamiji has dedicated his life to awaken humanity at large, and the blessed citizens of India in particular. Through a number of Conferences all over India he has rendered the divine service of awakening the people into a renewed awareness of the true purpose of life—the manifestation of divine perfection and spiritual beauty that lies latent in the real and eternal inner being of the individual souls. He has knocked loud on doors of the bound souls to bring into them a flood of cosmic sunshine. He has strained hard both for the inner unfoldment and its active outer expression which alone can provide the proper corrective to the chaotic and confused state into which mankind has led itself with its blind pursuit of sense-gratification. Whenever he could not attend any of those spiritual Conferences, he unfailingly encouraged and guided the seekers from his distant camps by taking keen interest for the success of such assemblies. For instance, even from the far-off Johannesburg he wrote solicitously to the organisers at Baudh who were feeling dejected on account of his absence, and assured them with his choicest blessings that Lord Jagannath would preside over the Conference and make it a grand success. Such Conferences are a great modern need to dispel the inertia which has enveloped the consciousness of man. Through them Swamiji has launched a world-wide programme to lead the people into the paths of righteousness. No wonder, saints of our times have felt impelled to regard him as a deliverer.