"Be good, do good, be kind, be compassionate, bear insult, bear injury. This is the highest sadhana".
Swami Sivananda, the founder of Divine Life Society, was one of the noblest representatives of gurutva or our unique tradition of spiritual teachers. The term "guru" denotes something much more than its exact English counterpart, "Teacher". A teacher is one who teaches; a guru is one who trans-forms. It is no ordinary imparting of knowledge that is involved in the guru-shishya relationship. A basic change takes place that transforms the student into a disciple. The institution of guru is both old and honoured; it has been an ancient practice with us irrespective of our creed to honour our sages, saints and our gurus. We, in fact, equate guru with God:
Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu
Gurur Devo Maheswara:
Guru Sahshat Param Brahrna
Tasmai Sri Guruve Namah.
(Guru is Brahma, Guru is Vishnu, Guru indeed is
Maheswara; verily Guru is the living Lord Supreme; to the Guru I bow in reverence.)
Swami Sivananda was also a medical doctor but with a difference. The modern system of medicine churns out doctors who manage to heal wounds on the physical level, but somehow they are not too successful with the scars that mar the psyche. But Swami Sivananda, though he started his professional career as a doctor of medicine, gradually realized the depth of the anguish of humankind and involved himself with the soothing and healing of the soul. In this way, Swami Sivananda proved to be the true modern guru.
Swami Sivananda was the son of P.S. Vengu Iyer and Parvati Ammal. Vengu Iyer was a revenue officer, a great devotee of Shiva and a descendant of the sixteenth century saint and scholar, Appayya Dikshitar. His mother Parvati was a great God-fearing lady. The couple christened the last and third son of theirs as Kuppuswamy. The child was born on September 8, 1887 on the banks of the sacred Tamaraparni at Pattamadai in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, south
Kuppuswamy studied in Rajah's High School located in Ettayapuram. He always topped the class and won prizes every year. He was excellent both in his study and sports. Good health to him was as important as learning. He used to practice gymnastics and fencing. He would get up as early as 3 am to do his exercises. He had a melodious voice and wonderful memory. When His Excellency Lord Ampthil, Governor of Madras, visited the Kuru Malai Hills in 1901 for hunting, Kuppuswamy welcomed him with a song while standing on the Kumarapuram railway platform.
After completing his matriculation, he studied at the
Kuppuswamy completed the medical course and earned the degree of MBCM. He started practice at Tiruchi. While practising, he started a medical journal called The Ambrosia. His mother paid him Rs.100 to start the journal. Later, when his mother wanted Rs.150 for celebrating some festival, Dr Kuppuswamy had the money ready for her. He even used to distribute the journal freely. He was quite hesitant to ask people for contributions.
Dr Kuppuswamy had an adventurous spirit. In 1913, after the death of his father he left
In spite of his busy schedule, Dr Kuppuswamy served sannyasins and beggars. He attended marriage functions, parties and other social gatherings. Once a sadhu gave him a book, Jiva Brahma Aikyam by Swami Satchidananda. Study of this book ignited the dormant spiritual feelings in him and he started studying the books of Swami Rama Tirtha, Swami Vivekananda, Sankara, the Bible and literature of the Theosophical Society. He was quite regular in his daily worship, prayer and yoga asanas. He pursued the study of sacred scriptures, like Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana with great devotion. Sometimes he sang bhajans and kirtans. He practised Anant Laya Yoga and swara sadhana. High-class dress and collection of fancy articles of gold, silver and sandalwood always attracted him. At times, he would purchase various kinds of gold rings and necklaces to wear them all at the same time. He used to wear a ring on each of his fingers. When he entered shops, he never wasted his time in selection, haggling and bargaining.
He purchased all that appealed to him. His heart was as pure as the Himalayan snow. His immense philanthropy and spirit of service and renunciation endeared him to everybody who came in touch with him. People lovingly called him the "Heart of Love".
After sometime, he wanted to renounce the world. He had enjoyed a lucrative service for a long time. Finally, in 1923, he renounced the world like Prince Siddartha and left
Rishikesh on May 8, 1924. On June 1, he met Swami Visvananda Saraswati. Dr Kuppuswamy saw a guru in the monk and the monk took him as his chela (disciple). After a brief exchange of words, Swami Visvananda initiated Dr Kuppuswamy into sannyas (renunciation). Swami Vishnudevananda Maharaj, the Mahant of Sri Kailas Ashram, performed the Viraja Home ceremonies. The guru named Dr Kuppuswami as Swami Sivananda Saraswati.
Swami Sivananda Saraswati now lived to serve humanity. A small-dilapidated kutir (hut), not resorted to by others and infested with scorpions, just protected him from rain and sun. Living in that kutir, he did intense tapas (austerities), observed silence and fast for days together. He would keep a stock of bread in his room and for a week depended on it. He took it with
It is my sacred creed to serve sick persons, to nurse them with care, sympathy and love, to cheer the depressed, to infuse power and joy in all, to feel oneness
with each and everyone, and to treat all with equal vision. It is my highest creed that there are neither peasants nor kings, neither beggars nor emperors, neither males nor females, neither teachers nor students. I love to live, move and have my being in this realm indescribable.
Swami Sivananda practised different yogas and studied the scriptures. After years of intense sadhana, he enjoyed the bliss of Nirvihalpa samadhi. From bits of paper and used envelopes he prepared small notebooks. He entered some self- instructions in them. As a wandering monk, he visited important places of pilgrimage in south
In 1936, Swami Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the bank of the holy
The world was in the grip of the Second World War. To help the distressed minds of the people, on December 31, 1943, Swami Sivananda started the Akhanda Mahamantra Kirtan (non-stop chanting ofthe mahamantra): Hare Rama, Hare Rama; Rama Rama Hare Hare; Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare. Lord Sri Visvanath Mandir was established at the same place where daily worship was introduced. He believed in synthesis in everything, in yoga as well as in the alleviation of human sufferings. He felt the need to serve people with Ayurvedic preparations out of the rare Himalayan herbs. He, therefore, instituted the Sivananda Ayurvedic Pharmacy in 1945, which now has developed substantially to cope up with the increasing demand from the people. There is now a regular hospital with X-ray and other facilities.
He organized the All World Religions Federation in December 1945 and established the All World Sadhus Federation on February 19, 1947. The year 1947 witnessed a great expansion in the activities of the Divine Life Society. It, was the year of the Diamond Jubilee of the Great Soul, when a number of buildings sprang up. In 1948,
Through the Divine Life Society, Swami Sivananda preached that the Atman and the Brahman are the same and that one can realize it even when following the routine, ordinary life of a householder. He did not preach to his disciples to remove themselves from society and environment but insisted on their observing certain principles while living a normal life. He thought that in modern society, people had neither the time nor the patience to perform rigorous and austere tapas or religious practices and that in order to give the present generation the benefit of real tapasya, it was necessary to reveal to them the concept of the unity of God and
To behold the Atman in every being or form, to feel Brahman everywhere, at all times, and in all conditions of life, to see, hear, taste and feel everything as the Atman is my creed,
Swami Sivananda had an incisive mind. He was a prolific writer. He wrote over 200 books on yoga and philosophy. He wrote profusely on Vedas, Upanishads, Brahrnasutras, Bhagavad Gita and so on. He was master of both physical and spiritual yoga. He wrote on all aspects on yoga in daily life to Kundalini Yoga and Yogic and Vedantic Sadhanas. It is said that even at the time when he was meditating for ten years and observed strict austerities, he still used to write on the inside of envelopes or on any other scrap of paper which he came across.
The Publication League of the Divine Life Society brought out almost all the writings of Swami Sivananda and research work is being carried on. With this in view, Sivananda Literature Research Institute was established in 1958 which decided to get the works of the Master translated and published systematically in all the regional languages in
Swami Sivananda devoted his entire life to raise the material men to the heights of a spiritual being. He tried to disabuse the minds of the people of the orthodox practices and obscurantist beliefs. He said:
Mortifying the body is not Divine Life,
Physical nudity and matted locks have nothing to do with Divine Life,
Divine life is not rejection of life and its activities, but a transformation of it into the Divine Life.
Swami Sivananda's teachings were simple, and he believed in doing good to others. He saw God as omnipotent and believed that sacred texts of all religions were the same in essence. He believed that God resides in oneself and that one could find Him by leading a simple, selfless life, always ready to make sacrifices for others without expecting anything in return. He used to say, "One can find God in one's own heart by being honest and leading a simple living." In this way, he reinforced the basic doctrine of Bhagavad Gita that "the path of duty is the path of righteousness".
Swami Sivananda was simple and childlike in his attitude, yet he had the bearing of an ancient sage. He prostrated before saints and scavengers and even bowed to stones, bricks and donkeys. He addressed even little children with courtesy and respected the rights of animals showing them extreme love and compassion. Divine wisdom flowed from his lips in a continuous stream. His powerful, inspiring thoughts influenced people all over the world. Such was his unparalleled literary charity that most of his books were given away free. He is remembered as the greatest yoga master of the twentieth century and the inspiration behind the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. He was the author of more than 200 books on yoga and philosophy. They are written in readable style. His teachings are summed up in six words: "Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, and Realize". He sent his disciple, Swami Vishnu Devananda, to the West where he established the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre. He also established the True World Order with its headquarters at the Sivananda Yoga-Vedanta Ashram at Val Morin in