Chapter 1: Gurudev Swami Sivananda
I told you that Swami Vivekananda gave a new turn to the order of Sannyasa. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj gave another turn to it. This is something very interesting. A few of us are very blessed in the sense that we lived with Swami Sivananda and studied all these things. We have never lived with Swami Vivekananda, and I have never even seen him. But we lived with Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, so we know some of his peculiarities and his idea of Sannyasa.
A very difficult man was Swami Sivananda. Do not think that he was very soft, like butter. He was not. He used to tell us, "I am Vishnu and Rudra combined." 'Vishnu' means very considerate, taking care of you. But 'Rudra' means that he will simply finish you! He used to say, "I am Vishnu and Rudra both." He would chastise us before all people and make us cry, and then give us an apple or an orange. We would not know whether to laugh or to weep. He would say things that would make us feel ashamed, but afterwards he would say, "Take this orange, and do japa." It is impossible to describe the training that he gave to us. These interesting things are not found in books. They will not be found in any biography or autobiography of Sivananda. They are only in my mind and the minds of some of his oldest disciples.
I came to the ashram in 1944, and I know almost everything from the beginning of this ashram's foundation. There were very few people at that time—not even twenty people. Swami Sivananda chastened me very terribly. I now wonder how I stuck to this place. Without him, I would have run away. Some spirit made me stay here; otherwise, one cannot continue like that. An awful life it was. We had to do so much work. I remember having to work for fourteen hours a day, and I was suffering with asthma even then. Swami Sivananda would purchase injections and give them to me, but I had to work also. "No asthma," he would say. "Work!" I was in charge of all the departments. Now we have five people in each department, but at that time only one man, me, was doing the work of ten departments. I was in the Membership Dept., the Divine Life Magazine, the Vishwanath Mandir, and I was lecturing, etc.
Swamiji was very fond of lectures. He would say, "Today you will speak in Satsang." We would think, "O God, what will I speak? I will have no sleep at all tonight." Before all people he would say, "You speak." "Swamiji, I don't know," we would say. But Gurudev would insist, "Nothing doing; today you will sit here and speak. Say something. Suppose you are angry, will you not be able to say something at that time? You have so much to say when you are angry, but now you cannot utter even a few words? Will you speak after God-realisation? Now itself you must speak. You need not speak after God-realisation, but now you must. Today you start lecturing." We could not utter even a few words. What could we speak? Ideas must come, and language must be there. If neither the language is there nor the ideas are there, what could we speak? But he was a great man. See how kind he was. Even in several lives I cannot pay the debt for the training that he has given. He has made us something not only in the eyes of people, but also something in our own hearts. When I first came, I was a small boy. The first thing that Sivanandaji said to me was, "Why did you come here?" I said, "I want to study Yoga." And he said, "Stay here till death. I will make ministers fall at your feet." I was laughing, thinking that he was joking. Ministers did not even know my existence; how could they fall at my feet? But his words have slowly come true, to some extent. It is a great thing.
Well, I mentioned to you how Swami Sivananda gave training to us. His philosophy was the humility of Sannyasa. The Sannyasin is the cheapest of persons. Anybody can beat him without any kind of retaliation from him. A Sannyasin is the property of everyone, the humblest of persons, the last man to ask for anything and the first man to serve people. This is what Gurudev insisted upon. The Sannyasin is the last person to ask for anything and the first person to serve where the opportunity arises, all the while remembering the great goal of life.
Swami Sivananda used to impart to others his own methods of meditation. Some people used to ask, "Swamiji, how do you meditate? What is your technique?" He would give simple answers to these questions. Sometimes he would joke with us by saying, "Krishnananda Swamiji, do you know what sadhana I am doing?" I would reply, "I don't know what sadhana you are doing." This happened during later years, when he was physically incapacitated and could not walk. "The first man that I see in the early morning is the sweeper who comes to clean the bathroom," he said. That sweeper is still in the ashram, and he served Swami Sivananda for years together. "And what do I think at that time? That a sweeper has come to clean the bathroom? No. The Lord has come; I am seeing one of the heads of the Virat Purusha. And I offer a flower at his head and chant mantras from the Vedas which describe the Cosmic Being. How can the Cosmic Being exclude a sweeper? It cannot. The sweeper is a part of the Cosmic Being. So do you know what I see? Not a sweeper. Then what do I see? I see the cook, and I offer a flower. Then what do I see? I get down from my bed and say, 'Oh, I am keeping my foot on Mother Earth. I prostrate to you, my dear Mother; excuse me for keeping my foot on your chest.' Then I go for a bath and take three dips in the Ganga. Why do I take three dips? During the first dip I think: blessedness to all those who have left this world. Another dip: blessedness to all those who are in this world. And the third dip: salvation for this soul."
The training we received is beyond explanation. You will understand what training we received only by seeing us here and observing our way of life. We cannot explain all this by writing articles. It is a life of several years of vicissitude, ups and downs, socially as well as psychologically. But we feel Gurudev is still alive spiritually. Otherwise, what strength do we have to run such an organisation and to attract you all? It is a very difficult job. Why should you come here; who can attract you? You will go somewhere else. It is all a wonder.
Some devotees used to ask Gurudev: "Swamiji, how do you get so much money to run the ashram? Every day you are feeding so many; food is flowing like water. Where from do you get money?" Generally the answer would be that donations come from outside, people send money, and so on; but his answer was something quite strange. He used to say, "Rain drops from the heavens. It drops from the skies." His ideas were really wonderful. He did not say that it comes from people, and so on. And sometimes when we used to tell him, "It is very difficult to manage this ashram, Swamiji," he used to reply, "This is not your ashram. Who are you to manage it? This idea also must go. He who has started this ashram will run it; and if he does not want it, he will close it. What is your botheration?" Even in great difficulties, he used to calm our minds by such answers. We would go to him in great distress, and this was the answer he gave. Then we would go back, and everything would become all right. He used to give very simple, homely and prosaic answers, in one sentence, and everything was calm.
Nowadays we do not have debts; but then we had debts. At that time, the income was very poor and the debt was more; a very awful situation it was. The Secretary would go to Swamiji and complain, but Swamiji would not say anything. Instead he would order certain extra things and make matters worse, and the Secretary would be weeping because the shopkeeper would come only to the Secretary for payment, not to Swamiji. Gurudev used to tell us, "I will not allow any bank balance, because attachment will come afterwards. I won't keep even one paisa in the bank, because otherwise you will be thinking of that. I don't want you to think of it."
But he was very kind. When he was about to depart, he made some arrangements to clear the debts. That was another wonder. Suddenly the whole atmosphere of the ashram changed after he passed away. Many people thought that everything was over and that the ashram would close, that it was finished; who can manage it? But that did not happen. A month before his passing, all the debts were cleared, and he made all provisions for his burial, his consecration, the feeding, and so on. Various types of help came, and the debts were cleared. Everything was stabilised, and only then did he leave. The ashram was stabilised in every sense.
So, this is the drama of monastic living, if you want to call it a drama, for the sake of God-realisation, and that idea Swami Sivanandaji drove into our hearts. In the midst of all these jokes and humour there is the idea that has been driven deep into our unconscious level, not merely the subconscious, that God-realisation is the goal of life. The first sentence in all his books would be: "The goal of life is God-realisation." Then he would go on saying so many things. He has told us this so many times that we can never forget it: The goal of life is God-realisation, and everything else is a preparation for it. Service to humanity, service to Guru, and everything else are preparations for it. They are not obstacles.
I must conclude by saying that God-realisation is the goal, and no other thought enters us except that. Even when we are suffering in any way—physically, socially, financially, or in whatever way—the idea that God-realisation is the goal of life does not leave us. That keeps us happy. The spirit of God is present in the worst of suffering. In the greatest calamity, God is present. God is great! That idea never leaves us. God bless you.