Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj – A Rare Genius of Spirit
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on April 25, 1972 during night satsang)

All our loves are really dispersed forms of divine love. You have all come here, rushing to this spot, on account of that tremendous magnetic spiritual influence of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. The individuals, the personalities that he has prepared, are only vessels which he has charged with his force. Whatever little meaning, significance, worth or any value that you may be in a position to discover in people like us here is all a modicum of the greatness of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. Whatever is beautiful here, whatever is good here, whatever is of worth here is his spiritual presence working dynamically even at this moment; otherwise, this ashram cannot run. Human beings cannot run ashrams of this kind, and this ashram is not functioning due to human effort. It works like the flow of the Ganga, flowing perennially due to a presence, and not due to an activity. The ashram exists not due to an activity, but due to a presence. That presence may not be visible, but it matters little whether it is visible or not. It is there.

The running of an ashram of this kind is a miracle in itself. Sadhus and Sannyasins cannot be expected to run huge institutions because they have no personal interest in any kind of organisational activity, and if such persons are to be pushed into activity, a mighty presence should be there behind it. Every sincere observer would have deeply felt that there is some uncanny, unveiled presence in this atmosphere. People who come here go weeping with joy. It is not because they see something with their physical eyes, but because they see something in their hearts which they themselves cannot explain. You may see nothing with open eyes, but yet you will go as a changed person with a tremendous difference in your feeling. There is no doubt about it. All this is because mighty sages lived here.

This is Rishikesh, Muni-ki-reti, the sands trodden by the mighty Masters, from Vasishtha onwards. Vyasa, Suka, Sri Ramachandra and others, all these mighty beings moved across this place; and this beautiful, hallowed spot was chosen as the venue of tapasya by Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. The power of his tapasya works this ashram. Wherever there is success of any kind, it is tapas that is working. Interest, enthusiasm, desire alone cannot lead to success. You may be bubbling with enthusiasm, but lacking tapas-shakti. Then success is doubtful, and not a certainty.

All success is tapas manifesting itself. It is the tapas of Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj that is this ashrama. This is an embodiment of his personality. For twelve years he did vigorous tapas before this ashram ever existed, before we were all here, when this was a jungle infested with wild animals. Not a single building was here, they say. The place was very cold, much colder than it is nowadays. A handful of sadhus were living in Swargashrama on the other side of the Ganges, and Gurudev was there as an ideal tapasvin. He possessed nothing—no money in his hand, no paper to write on, no friends to talk to—and yet he was an inspired God-commissioned soul, so his life itself was a miracle. A few of the mahatmas who had the opportunity of seeing Swamiji during those days were eyewitnesses of his greatness even then.

Sometimes, on occasion, he humorously told us what tapasya he used to perform. He was known as a very generous-hearted doctor, and sadhus suffered from ailments of various kinds. Diarrhoea, dysentery, and other things are common among sadhus who do not have ghee and milk in their diet. They suffered very much. They had to eat dry bread and dhal without oil, ghee or milk, and did not even have medicine when they fell sick. There was no hospital here. At such a time a swami came here who was a doctor, and so he was a godsend and a panacea to these mahatmas. They used to tell us how kind and good he was.

Gurudev never had any money. Those days money had much more value than it does these days. We used to have a share of rice for one anna, perhaps even less. At that time he used to receive a one-rupee money order per month from Hari Ganesh Ambekar, who was known as Swami Hariomanandaji Maharaj. He used to send one rupee per month out of his salary, and with that one rupee Swamiji used to purchase some medicine and some curd. And what would he do with this medicine and curd? He silently left it in the kutirs of sadhus, without making it known that he had kept it for them. Then he would slide away to the sands near the Lakshmanjhula bridge.

He used to stay in a kutir in Swargashrama. Many of you might have seen that kutir. But he could not stay there on account of people troubling him constantly, so after sunset he would go and sit across the bridge on the sands of the Ganga, and there he used to perform his meditations. We never knew what meditations he practised, or what his sadhana was. It was all difficult for us to understand, as he was not interested in speaking about these subjects. For twelve years in Swargashrama he lived such a hard, austere, self-controlled life of a serious God-loving, God-inspired sage.

A few of us had the thrice-blessed opportunity of coming in actual physical contact with him. What it is to be physically present in the vicinity of a mahatma, only one who has been there can know. It is a wonder, and a great blessing. We had the blessing of living with him for some 22-23 years. It was something wonderful indeed to be able to live with a person of his calibre for so many years. We only learned from observing him. He never taught anything to us from scriptures, as Gurus would ordinarily be expected to open an Upanishad, a Brahma Sutra, and give discourses. Nothing of the kind. Occasionally he would say certain things, from which we had to gather the meaning. Sometimes these words would come in the form of praise; sometimes he would censure us, criticise us. If we would exhibit too much vairagya, he would call us false vairagis and say, “These fellows think that these processes of throwing off cloth, etc., will bring God to them.” But if we put on a blanket he would say, “This vairagya he is also wearing these days. These people came with great vairagya, but now they want blankets.” His way of teaching was wonderful.

He was a very kind mother to all of us, and his passing has been an indescribable sorrow to every one of us. We are all left now like fatherless children. We are veritably fatherless children, orphans, as it were. When he was there, we had no botheration, no worries, nothing to think about. This ashram was his business. If we had any difficulty, we had only to go to him and tell him what it was. Now where to cry, whom to tell? We have to stand on our own legs, and our legs are aching.

But nevertheless, he has made it clear to us that he is not absent from our midst. We do feel his presence. Otherwise, wherefrom the energy comes to us? We do not have good food here. But we have had to eat only this for years and years, and yet work without holidays, without any rest. From where do we get this energy? This roti cannot give us this strength, nor can this ashram be said to belong to us. What is the interest, then? The ashram does not belong to us, we have not got good food to eat, we do not get a salary, and we have only problems. People criticise us. There is nobody to praise us; they only find fault with us. Then how is it possible for us to work here? For what do we work? What do we get out of it? Nothing visible. And yet God has kept us alive, and we are happy and contented persons. What keeps us happy?

I am telling this to say that Gurudev is still alive. Otherwise, we would die of sorrow itself; we would perish in three days. We are most unsuited bodies in every respect. We have absolutely no qualification whatsoever to be able to run this ashram because we are all bodies who are worn out, as it were; and yet Gurudev speaks to us in a voice of his own, and the toil of the body is rewarded by the satisfaction of the mind.

It is this spirit, this spiritual presence of Sri Gurudev, that has drawn you, that summons you to this place, and all these beauties, grandeurs, miracles that you see in the name of The Divine Life Society are only the miracles of Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. Before him there was no such institution, no such organisation here.

In the battle of the Mahabharata, the Pandava brothers were only a humorous instrument while the power was something invisible: Bhagavan Sri Krishna, who never wanted to proclaim himself. After the battle, Bhagavan Sri Krishna came and paid his obeisance to Yudishthira and said, “Rajan, due to your virtue, due to your goodness, due to your tapas, due to the dexterity of Arjuna and the might of Bhima, you have won victory.” He never said, “I have helped you. I was behind you.”

Similarly, Gurudev used to say, “You are all wonderful pillars, gems, rubies.” That was his goodness. That was also the way in which he was teaching, and it is the way in which he teaches us even today. Therefore, may the glory go to him; may all the credit be accumulated and be surrendered to him. May his blessings be upon us all. May we be true disciples of this great Master, and may we realise that his devotion truly consists in following his footsteps. It is not merely singing his name, taking his name, which is of consequence. The true disciple does not merely take the name of the Master; the true disciple actually lives the life which the Master would expect him to live.

Gurudev has set an example to us of tapas, fire of renunciation. He was a conflagration of virakti. With all the facilities and the comforts that were materially provided to him by well-wishers, patrons and devotees, he remained a fire within. He had no ashram. In his mind there was no ashram, there was no Divine Life Society. It was only for others that the ashram existed, and exists. He came as a fire of virakti, lived as such, and left us as such an example. Therefore, it is our bounden duty to live as his honest disciples, as fires of renunciation. What we lack is renunciation, virakti. We are likely to become lovers of ease. This is what Gurudev was opposed to.

God in His mercy may shower all abundance upon you. Yes, it is wonderful, but your virakti should not wane. “Well, you are a maharaja of maharajas,” Swamiji used to say, “and yet you are a beggar of beggars at the same time.” “Everything is ours,” Swamiji used to say, “and yet you know what we really are. Nothing.” We own nothing. We brought nothing when we came, we can take nothing with us, and therefore, even now we possess nothing. We are only tools in the hands of divine forces who use us for a higher purpose in the mission, for the glorification of God’s name in this world, and in our case, to immortalise the name and the greatness and glory of Master Swami Sivananda.

If we are to regard ourselves as his followers, his admirers, his disciples, we have, at least in a small percentage, to live the life of virakti that he lived. That is tapas. Tapas and virakti mean one and the same thing. All this ashram is the outcome of his tapas, renunciation. Without tapas, one can achieve nothing. And he was a shining example of what renunciation is. To have everything under one’s command and yet want nothing, that is real virakti. When you possess nothing, you may look like a virakta, but that is not the virakti of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. When you are in a position of power, you should not exercise it. That would be your greatness. But we are such weaklings that the moment we are placed on a chair, we try to raise our rods against other people. It is also a form of tapas that when you have everything to enjoy, you do not enjoy it. At your word, anything will come to you, but you do not want it. That is virakti. You are in a good social position commanding tremendous authority, but you do not misuse it. That is tapas. If it is possible for you to do some good, you use that power to do good for people. That is tapas. If you speak, you speak only kind words. That is also tapas. Do not speak harsh, pointed, barbed words to any person, not even to a servant. That is tapas. When you can get on with two pieces of cloth, do not ask for three. That is tapas. People may dump on you hundreds of things, but you must be satisfied with the minimum. People may offer you bungalows, but you must be satisfied with one single room because you want only six feet to lie down on the floor. Whatever be your importance, you do not require more than six or seven feet of ground on which to sleep. Whatever be your greatness, you cannot eat ten mounds of rice or puri in a single day. Your stomach is too small. The beggar’s and the king’s stomach are the same size.

To realise the truth of things and to realise our real position in this world, that is tapas. We do not understand our real position in this world. We usually overestimate our position in life, and sometimes we also underestimate it, which is not proper. We have to properly assess our position in this world. What we can do and what we cannot do, both these we must be able to understand. As a famous Chinese philosopher put it, “Give me the power to change what I can, and the strength to bear what I cannot, as well as the wisdom to know the difference.” If we can change a thing, we should change it. If we cannot change a thing, well, it is very clear. If we try to change a thing which we cannot change, it is called tension. We unnecessarily create tension by trying to do what we cannot do. So the wisdom is to know the difference between what we can and what we cannot do. When we do not have this wisdom, we suffer in life.

Truly speaking, our position in this life is very humble, very simple, and so pitiable. That we look grand and wonderful is really surprising. In a minute, anything can happen to us. Anything can happen to us anywhere. There can be an astronomical catastrophe, there can be a geological catastrophe, there can be a political catastrophe, there can be a social catastrophe, there can be a physiological catastrophe like thrombosis, paralysis, heart attack, of which we hear so much these days.

What is our importance? Where lies our greatness? Our real greatness lies in realising our humble position in this world. We are just small children in every respect. We can only do the bidding of God and our Guru. It is, therefore, our primary duty not to put forth our vanity at any time or pose what we are not, because any kind of pretention of this sort would be self-deception, hypocrisy, and contrary to spiritual sadhana. A spiritual sadhaka is not an important person. He has no importance at all. All importance is transferred to God. God is his friend, his succour, his power. He will simply cry like a child. What does a child do? It simply cries, whatever be the difficulty, and the father or the mother comes and does what is necessary. The sadhaka is such a simple person.

Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was really a rare specimen of a genius of spirit in this age, the like of which we cannot easily see. How should we thank God for this gracious, rarest opportunity that He has provided to us to come in actual physical contact with such a mighty Master?

My prayers be to the Almighty that He shower His abundant blessings upon you all for salvation in this very birth. God bless you all!