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Sri Swami Sivananda and His Mission


Chapter 5: An Embodiment of Tapasya

Tapas which is an adoration of God is different from austerities which merely subjugate the senses or restrain the mind from its normal operations. In an honest presenting of oneself before the Almighty, which is the greatest tapas, these operations automatically take place. The life which is saintly, austere and devout is, in a way, a great enigma—a difficult enterprise which has many sides that look like many different features of approach, yet form a single endeavour for a concentrated purpose. The way in which one looks at things through the eye of the mind is the portrait of one’s true personality. The personality of a saintly figure is thus pictured by the inward operation of the psychological perceptive faculty which sees things with the mind and not merely with the physical instruments with which one looks at the world of persons and things.

The aim of austerities and performances of tapas in yoga sadhana is a collecting of oneself—a gathering up of oneself—into what one has to be. Does it mean that we are not ourselves normally, so that in a religious mood or while performing a spiritual exercise we have to collect ourselves as if we have been scattered? We are indeed dismembered personalities—a thing which is not noticed by us in our busy hours. We may be physically sitting in one place, but we are really in many places at the same time. Wherever our interest is, there we are, and it is not necessarily on the physical chair or the seat on which the body may be perched. The human person is basically a psychic entity, not a physical body. What happens to the psyche happens to the person, and it is not that all occurrences to the body are really occurrences to the person. Even if the body is affected in some way, a person may be unaffected. Do we not see physical operations taking place—medical treatment being administered that causes changes and transformations of various kinds in the physical system? Yet, the person is intact and unaffected even though changes take place in the physical system, in the organism, in the limbs of the body. Sometimes the body may be put to hard work, yet the mind may be very happy if this work is a means to the satisfaction of the mind—all which show that we are not exactly what the body is. We may even put ourselves to the condition of physical starvation for the sake of mental happiness. We may walk long distances in order that we may be mentally secure and psychologically happier. We may not eat for days and not sleep at all—which is a great discomfort to the body—if it would enhance the satisfactions of the mind. There are ardent longings of the inner man which will not mind any kind of physical hardship. Thus, we may try to understand the difference that seems to be there between what we really are and what our physical framework appears to be.

Hence, it is not necessary that we should be regarded as located in just one spot merely because the body is in one place. What the body does is not what the person does; and where the body is need not necessarily be where the person is. The person is a different subtle mystery inside, which cannot be intelligently identified or equated with the body. This is all the more true in the case of a religious exercise. Bodily exercises are not necessarily the exercises we perform. We cannot say that we are doing what the body is doing. We may simultaneously be doing something quite different from what the body’s actions and operations, and whatever the body may be doing would be immaterial to the man inside. The body may be comfortably seated, well-fed physically, but the mind may be tormented inside; or the body may be put to hard work which is voluntarily undertaken for the sake of satisfaction of the mind. These are interesting principles of psychology. If this is the case, anything that we do is not to be mixed up with what the body does, because what we do need not necessarily be the same thing as what the body does; and, alternately, the body’s actions need not necessarily be our actions.

Thus, our bondage and our freedom may be said to consist in what we do and how we are related—not in what the body does or the manner in which the physical body is related. A physical body may be placed on the throne of an emperor. It does not mean that the person has become a king—because the king is not the body. Therefore, the enthroning of the physical body does not make that person a king. If the body is not the king, what else is the king? Here is the mystery of man. The rich man is not the physical body; the poor man is not the physical body. He who cannot get what he wants is poor. He who feels that he has everything that he needs is rich. These are all interesting pictures of our inner subtleties, giving an insight into what we really are and what is expected of us when we place ourselves in the exalted position of what is expected of a spiritual seeker—or a yogin, so to say.

Yoga is self-control. It is the control of ourselves. Now, who are we that have to be restrained? Self-control is the restraining of the various relations in which we have been placed and severing the relations which we have established—mark the word ‘we’, the real we, the real me—and the maintaining of our own real status so that all the energies that have been channelised in relations are brought back, as forces in an administrative organisation are summoned back to the centre under conditions of necessity. When a frontal confrontation for a specified purpose is requisitioned, all energies are centralised. And the greatest confrontation is the practice of yoga. Here all the forces are centralised in oneself, and no permission is given to any part of the personality to move outward for any other purpose than the chosen one—the great religious engagement we call austerity, tapas.

By controlling the mind through the exertion of force or the power of the will, its strength can be enhanced. As we know, a particular intensified action results in its opposite: hunger increases by starvation. The more we eat, the less we feel appetite; the less we eat, the more is the appetite. This is how things work. So here, the less we concern ourselves with what is not us, the greater is the strength that is generated within us, because if we distribute all our wealth in a thousand directions, we become poor. When we withdraw all this distributed wealth and concentrate it in ourselves, we have the satisfaction of having all the possessions. It is difficult to practise tapas because it is not easy to know what exactly is meant by the restraint of oneself.

Many a well-intentioned seeker can miss the mark here in this practice because the objective, the aim, the purpose of the practice may not be clearly placed before the mind. Once it is clear as to what is meant by these processes of restraint, we have to be in one place only, not in many places. We may say, “I am always in one place. I cannot be in two places at the same time.” But it has been pointed out that we can be in a thousand places even if we are physically in one place only; and perhaps every one of us is in many places, or at least in more than one place, because that which we think of is the place where we are. Now it is not difficult for anyone to appreciate where work is located at a particular time. We have distributed ourselves in a thousand ways by scattered interests and segregated occupations which pull us in many directions; and we place ourselves in the very condition of a man who has to dole out his wealth to many children, many relations and many enterprises, thus having practically nothing for himself. Why should we be in many places? How can we be spatialised?

Here is another difficulty, and it is very intriguing indeed. How can we become individuals, spatial entities—without being which, we cannot scatter ourselves in this manner? How can space cut us into pieces and locate us in one thousand centres unless we have become the non-we—or to put it more precisely, the Atman has become the anatman, the Self has become the non-Self? Such a situation cannot arise. It is impossible for us to have multitudes of psychic locations of interest unless we have divided ourselves spatially into bits so that we have become bits of psychic action rather than a single person. Certainly in this state of affairs we are poorer than the poorest, psychologically, because all the strength has gone out. It has gone out; it is not within us. The outwardness of the particular centre in which we are interested is the explanation for our being scattered in that manner. The isolation of our psychic components in this way can be accounted for only if we have become other than what we are, because if that has not taken place, we cannot have any interest outside ourselves. The outsideness of interest is the segration of the Self into the not-Self. This is the foundation of the very art of understanding mental operations, the very root of the study of psychology. A seeker of truth, a student of yoga, has to be a very good psychologist, at least in the sense of knowing one’s own mind and its operations. Psychologically, we are not actually as we appear.

Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was a master in the knowledge of the subtleties and the tricks of the mind. He was not concerned about the reputation he had during the days that he lived in the Swargashram. We can imagine how hard it is for a single person to live in one place for twelve years continuously, unbefriended by people, unspoken to, unattended by anyone, having no one and nothing to call his own. Any one of us may try this art of living alone, having nobody who will speak to us. The sadhus in Swargashram were independent persons. They would not speak to one another; they lived in their own worlds. They had their own problems and aspirations, and one had no occasion to speak to another. In that state of affairs it was a wilderness of humanity, literally. In that condition of human isolation, how could one expect a person to live with all the aspirations, emotions, impulses and propulsions characteristic of human nature? Yet it was done, and it was done with one single intention: the summoning of the divine spirit for the mission for which he appeared to have come to this world.

The miracle that Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj worked is its own explanation. That tapas which he performed is the seed and the tree of whose fruit we are tasting at this present time as this vast organisational work and wave of spiritual enlightenment. In our scriptures it is always said that concentrated practice should be carried on for a period of at least twelve years, and there should not be any other occupation during these years of self-discipline. In the case of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, the twelve years were practically years of his utter solitude. We have to struggle hard in our minds to understand, to appreciate and to discover any meaning in the way in which one could have lived for such a long period in such hardship. There was the terrific heat of the sun in summer, followed by the pouring rain during the monsoon season and the shivering cold in winter—when cold winds howl and one had to bathe in the freezing water of the Ganga, sometimes in the rain, for at least six months of the year—and with the diet that I described yesterday. All that is difficult was the legacy of these mahatmas, these sadhus in the Swargashram.

However, as it is said, intense forces become recognised and broadcast by their own powers, as the blazing sun cannot be hidden even by the thickest of clouds. Swami Sivanandaji’s presence was always felt; and the aura or the magnetism, we may say, of this personality must have reached some distance. Seekers began to gravitate to that centre of this austere personality, and there were some old, unknown disciples, swamis, who were the pioneers during the time of the construction of the very idea of The Divine Life Society.

There was an old swami from Bihar called Swami Swarupanandaji. And there was a swami called Swami Atmanandaji, whose physical body hailed from Gujarat. And there was another great lawyer from Gujarat called Advaitananda Saraswati. These were the trium virate—the three brave ones, we may say—that associated themselves with this stalwart of spiritual genius, Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, and lived with him along with a few of a lesser category who served him in their own humble capacities.

There were two other great saints here at that time. One of them was Swami Tapovanji Maharaj, usually known as Swami Tapovanji of Uttarkashi—a towering Sanskrit scholar hailing from Kerala and an out-and-out Advaitin in his outlook of philosophy. The other was Swami Advaitananda Saraswati, a lawyer Sannyasin. These two differed in their concept of Brahman, the Absolute, and Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to describe details of this in his own humorous way. Sometimes Swamiji would be standing outside after completing his office work, and Swami Advaitanandaji Maharaj and Swami Tapovanji Maharaj would quarrel over ideological points. Brahman cannot have power, would be the point of view of Swami Tapovanji: “You cannot say Brahman has power, because power is something that is exercised in a capacity of external motivation, and inasmuch as Brahman, the Absolute, cannot have any motivation outside, you cannot say that Brahman has power.” This was the point of view of Swami Tapovanji. But Advaitanandaji Maharaj said, “No, it is not like that. The potentiality of power should also be considered as power. A strong person need not always express his strength. An elephant is very strong, everyone knows that. But why should you deny that it has strength merely because it is not lifting anything heavy? So the existence of power in Brahman cannot be denied by any kind of argument given by Swami Tapovanji.” These were the philosophical quarrels of these great masters.

There was another saint, Swami Purushotamanandaji Maharaj, in Vasishtha Guha. He was a silent anchorite, a recluse who used to hibernate in a cave. These were some of the contemporaries of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj.

Due to social reasons and reasons of convenience in regard to the housing of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj’s associates who had joined him, the necessity was felt to shift from the Swargashram. Considering all these factors, one day Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji’s little bundle of clothing was suddenly rolled up and put into the rowboat that the Swargashram had in those days, and they crossed the Ganga to this side. But, what was there on this side?

There was nothing. It was all jungle, infested with mosquitoes, and there were some stray cattle dropping dung everywhere. Where to find a place to stay? There was a little hutment near the Ganga. It was a deserted cowshed containing some rotten leaves and stinking hay, and dung everywhere. That place was cleaned up, as there was no other facility available. There these pioneers of The Divine Life spirit—the original pillars, we may say—planted themselves. We can imagine how uncomfortable a stay it was—very uncomfortable indeed. There is a small building near the Publication League, called Ananda Kutir. A first floor was added later on, but originally there was only the ground floor. That particular building was the very spot on which Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj sat. It was the office, if it could be called an office, of The Divine Life Society during its pre-founding days. The spot on which he sat and worked is where dressings are now done by some medical assistants in the hospital. It was a very small, hovel-like place. For some time, in our early days in this ashram, myself and Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj also stayed there. That was Ananda Kutir—the famous Ananda Kutir! It was later known as the Sivananda Ashram, but at that time there was no ashram at all.

There they stayed, on a little spot on the ground to sit on; but what did they eat? They had shifted from the Swargashram, so the question of going there and taking bhiksha did not arise. Due to the blessing of Swami Vishudhanandaji Maharaj, the Baba Kali Kamli Wala Kshetra was still functioning. They gave alms to the sadhus, and chapatis and dal were the daily constituents of the menu. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was not required to go there, though every few days he himself went with a small vessel to contain the dal and a bag in which the chapatis were put. Some of his disciples did not want him to take the trouble of walking, but there was no tonga at that time, and even if a tonga was there, they had no money to go in it. They had to walk.

So it was a question of walking every day to Rishikesh town for the little biksha, which was just dry dal without any kind of lubrication—no oil, no ghee—and dry chapatis. By the time it was brought back, it was cold and had lost its taste. Even the little taste that it had when it was warm was lost when it became cold, and it was eaten just like that. And the associates? Stalwarts they were! They were all learned people and very good sadhakas, and they underwent this hardship. The chapatis and dal were brought, and an extra dish was collected from the kshetra for Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. All had to eat the cold dal and the cold chapatis. The number of associates increased by a few, and I am told that one of those who were there at that time was Swami Govindanandaji Maharaj, who is even now staying with us in a little kutir near the Ganga, at the pump house which is being constructed near Gurudev’s Kutir.

There was another swami, called Swami Narayananandaji. He was a thin, villager type who used to paint the doors and windows, so he was sometimes called Painter Swami. They say he was the person who lit the first fire in that little hovel of a cowshed to which I made reference. He heated the dal for Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, as they did not want him to have cold food every day and felt very grieved at this predicament. Many members of The Divine Life Society and the residents here remember Swami Narayanananda—an unknown, forlorn person who lit the first fire. Naturally, his hand must have been a magic hand, as we know very well that the fire he lit in the kitchen continues even today and it is expanding in its capacity in the manner we all see daily with our own eyes. So, the blessed hand of Swami Narayanananda lit the first fire, which was intended only for the single purpose of heating the dal for Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. The others ate cold dal because there was not enough firewood to heat everyone’s dal. From where would they get the firewood? Only a few sticks were brought, which were for Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. There was no hearth. A few bricks were put one over the other and a crude hearth was constructed for the sake of the great master—to heat a little dal for him.

Those were wonderful days, indeed. ‘Wonderful’ is the only word we can use. What kind of life it was—can we imagine it? These things are not found in books. I can tell you many a thing from my own experience which cannot be found in any printed book. These things could not be written down and it was not possible to write them down, because much was known only to those who were actually with Swami Sivanandaji.

However, one day a spurt of religious enthusiasm and spiritual fire caught the great master, and in an intriguing fashion which could not be known in detail by others, he embarked upon a sankirtan tour. I should mention that there was no Divine Life Society at that time; there was no name, and not even an ashram. There was only a hut in which Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj stayed with a few people: Swami Swarupanandaji, Swami Atmanandaji and Swami Advaitanandaji. Swami Tapovanji was usually in Uttarkashi conducting teachings on the Brahma Sutras, Upanishads, etc.

These three—Swami Atmanandaji, Swami Advaitanandaji and Swami Swarupanandaji—went on the sankirtan tour through the whole of northern India. Swami Swarupanandaji translated into Hindi the discourses and lectures that Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj delivered in English. Swami Swarupananda did not translate literally. He did not give a dictionary-like translation of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj’s English words; he would interpret them and add his own comments. Swami Sivanandaji would sometimes say that he would translate something quite different from what Swamiji had spoken. That was the kind of translation that Swami Swarupanandaji Maharaj did. He was a very good man; I saw him for several years when he was in the ashram. He was a specialist in expounding the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva, and was a great devotee of Lord Krishna and Radha. Swami Advaitanandaji was a lawyer, a scientific thinker and a logical type of philosopher.

So, this sankirtan tour through the whole of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab was undertaken. One of the pioneers who supported Sri Gurudev in this work was Chand Narain Harkuli of Lakimpur Kheri; and Swamiji remembered C.N. Harkuli and his family for many years. Then the wave moved to Punjab, right up to Lahore and various other places. It was mainly a movement in Uttar Pradesh and Lahore, maybe through the Delhi jurisdiction.

After a few years of this spiritual sankirtan tour, some people who were enthused, inspired, fired up and ignited in their spirits collected together and importuned Sri Gurudev: “Swamiji, we should have a place to sit and work; and it is good that we organise this place of work in an official manner, in a well-recognised fashion, and make it into a Society.” This suggestion was made in Ambala, in Punjab. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj advocated what he called DIN: Do it now. If a thought arises, it has to be implemented now. It cannot be postponed until tomorrow. “A thought has come, so now itself I should do it! Sit. I’ll dictate something.” He could not wait even for a second. He would not go to his kutir until the matter was decided then and there. So as soon as the suggestion was made, Swamiji said, “Yes; and now write.”

The deed of registration was written, and it was registered in Ambala under the aegis of the government of Punjab during those days. Thus the Society was officially registered in Punjab, not in Uttar Pradesh. Then it gathered momentum; the force gathered itself into itself. It became stronger and stronger, and a centre for publishing Swami Sivanandaji’s writings was also found. It was in Lahore, and partly in Amritsar. Later on it was in Calcutta, due to the association of some devotees from Bengal.

Yet, Sri Swami Sivanandaji was the same Swami Sivananda that he always was. I have been told that until the year 1943, he was the same person that he was in the Swargashram—very, very reticent, and not speaking to people at all. He spoke a few words only to the people who were around him, and observed a kind of practical defacto mauna (silence)—never interfering with anybody, never talking, never saying anything, and never showing interest in anything.

It is said that until the year 1943, Swami Sivanandaji was a thorough-going virakta. An old sadhu from the Kailash Ashram who knew him during those days used to come to our ashram for bhiksha. He would say, “He was an agni of virakti”: a fire of renunciation. Swami Sivanandaji used to define tapasya as the process of generating heat and fire inside by the control of the senses. The Sanskrit word tapas means ‘heating’. The whole personality gets heated up by a concentrated centre of energy and capacity, due to the withdrawal of depleting energies by the control of the senses. Such a force was generated in Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj and he became an embodiment of tapas, wanting nothing for himself.

I am told that towards the end of 1943 he called his associates and workers and said, “Listen to me. I shall tell you what I did.” Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj was there at that time, having come in the month of May or so in 1943. I came a year later, in May 1944—a difference of one year. He told me that everyone was called, including Swami Nijabodhanandaji, Swami Vishuddhanandaji, Swami Narayananandaji and Swami Purnanandaji, who were the great personalities there. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj spoke for the first time and narrated, in a vociferous fashion and in detail, what he was and what he did, and gave them some idea of his life. He began to narrate his own life history, and each one of them was expected to take down notes of what was heard. The outcome of what Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj, in his pre-Sannyasa days, took down came out in the form of his book called Light Fountain. Another book, called Saint Sivananda, was written by a brahmachari who is no longer here; and Perfect Master was the book written by Swami Narayananandaji. Swami Nijabodhanandaji and Swami Purnanandaji did not write anything. I remember these two first-rate original biographies of Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. While the writing of Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj, in the form of Light Fountain, is a little more intellectual and more polished in the modern style, the work of Swami Narayananandaji, which is called Perfect Master, is more an emanation of his heart and feelings—a bhakta writing about the nature of his Guru. Saint Sivananda is a very small book by another devotee, written in a very elevated style of English. Well, these people were all seated there.

Thus, the biographies emerged for the first time. How? By listening to what Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj himself said on a sudden brainwave, we may say, that occurred to him sometime in the year 1943. Up to the year 1943 it was one chapter of this whole organisation, The Divine Life Society. The picture changed from the beginning of the year 1944, when it became more expanded in its career of humanitarian services, publications, and its reach to the public in general.