Sri Swami Sivananda and His Mission
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 6: Transforming Our Understanding of Spirituality

There is a general feeling that godmen and saints come to take people to the state of salvation, enabling humanity to attain moksha—liberation from the turmoils of earthly life—and instruct them in the art of renouncing the world. There is also a tradition which has entered the very blood of all religious thinkers and participants—that the apex of human achievement is the entry into the order of Sannyasa. All this has an associated aspect, which is the insinuation that this world is not so very meaningful, valuable, significant and requiring consideration as one is often made to feel in regard to it. There is a consequent conclusion that the world is not as real as God; or perhaps it is not real at all in any sense of the term, because we cannot abandon that which has even some reality. We cannot throw away even ten cents, though its value is less than a million dollars.

But why should it be necessary for us to be taught that the world has to be renounced, unless it has no significance at all? Even one cent has some value; no one would like to throw it away. The world is not worth even one penny—is it so?—but for which peculiar attitude of the mind, the tendency to the renunciation of the world is inexplicable. The world has no substance, no value—nothing we can call real. If this is not established, there would be difficulty in accounting for the deification of what people consider as the total renunciation of everything in the world. It will be found that the answer to this question will not easily come forth, because under conditions which engender feelings of a religious renunciation—a feeling for the life of a hermit and the like—we may be cornered into accepting that the aim of all life is the renunciation of all life. But, we do live in the world. This is something that cannot be gainsaid. We are not living elsewhere.

The renunciate is not outside the world. The renunciate has to plant his feet on the Earth and in the world in order that it may be possible to renounce the world. Segregation, isolation, renunciation, abandonment, tyaga are bywords in religious circles everywhere. Very rarely does it occur to anyone’s mind that there is a mix-up in this attitude—a kind of hotchpotch conclusion arrived at by a hasty analysis of the conditions of life, due to not being clear as to what it is that we are aiming at, or where it is located. The child’s philosophical outlook is also, many a time, a mature religious devotee’s outlook, as far as the final issues of life are concerned. We may be grown up intellectuals, educated geniuses in one way, but when crucial situations arrive and confront us, there is a difficulty in meeting the realities of life face to face and we will find that we are not much better than little children.

When a monkey screams and tries to attack, rarely do we see a difference in the reactions of people—mature or immature, grown up or otherwise. Confronted by a tiger in a jungle, the educated and the uneducated, the learned as well as the unlearned, may react in the same way. These are the realities. The structure of the human mind is partly responsible for difficulties of this kind. There were metaphysical philosophers, as we are sometimes prone to call them, who went into the very depths of these psychological backgrounds of the very art and the system of human thinking. It is impossible for the human mind, made as it is, not to imagine the goal of life as something above the Earth. Whatever that ‘above’ be, in that concept of the so-called above, we are little babies. We may look up without actually knowing the significance of this looking up. What are we gazing at or looking up to when we fold our hands and turn our gaze upwards?

The idea of God being above is a crude notion of the basic conditions of human thinking. What are these fundamentals of the psychic? They are spatialisation of everything, temporalisation of everything, localisation of everything, and externally connecting one thing with another thing. This is social life. This is also a philosophical way of thinking—but even if we are philosophers, we cannot actually jump out of our own skin. We stick to the skin of our psyche and then philosophise sociological ideas, personal feelings, instinctive promptings and conditions to which the whole humanity is subject. We cannot jump out of the conclusions that we draw from conditions which are basic to the very anatomy of our minds. Hence, we are willy-nilly compelled by a force of habitual thinking to feel that the Creator of this world is outside the world, because we have never seen the manufacturer of something being anywhere but outside the manufactured goods. The cause is always outside the effect from which it has come. We never see the carpenter inside the furniture that he has made. He is outside.

Anything that is made, is made by someone or something which is not in the thing that is made. This is common knowledge, simple common sense. Philosophy cannot be wiser than this, as we have never seen two things becoming one. We cannot see a coalescence of ‘A’ and ‘B’. In logic this is called the law of contradiction. ‘A’ cannot be ‘B’; ‘A’ is ‘A’, and ‘B’ is ‘B’. I cannot be you, and you cannot be me under any condition—whatever be our friendship and family relationship. We may be the closest of friends; nevertheless, I am I, and you are you. We have seen that one thing is one thing; one thing cannot be another thing. The exclusiveness of the items of the world, human or otherwise, conditions everyone and everything in this fashion, and we cannot but place ourselves outside the purview of God’s jurisdiction.

We can never feel that somehow or the other we are involved in God. Such an involution is not possible, even by intense exercise of thought. Though God is the Creator, we are the created and we are the thinkers of God. We conceive of God, we pray to God and we practise meditation on God, so that God is an exclusive object—in the same way as a tree is different from a stone. These are psychological conditionings of the human mind. And if one object cannot be another object, man cannot be God. This is so much so that there is an excluded remoteness required to place God as far as possible from the horizon of the Earth, partly because of the extent of the visible creation which appears to cover the entire space; therefore, God should be above space. Are we not told that God is above space and above time? One thousand times we have been told this. How wide is space and how long is time? If that is the case, how far is God? Far! Far, as far as the reach of the sky or the end of time. As time’s end is inconceivable and the height of the sky cannot be thought by our minds, we do not know how far God is. He is far, unthinkably far, and it is difficult to reach Him.

The difficulty in reaching God arises out of the extensive distance that obtains between us and God. This is a frightening feature in the conception of God: the immense distance. And there are other difficulties in wholly devoting oneself to God—namely, the impossibility to exclude attention being paid to things which are also existent. The world is not non-existent to our eyes. It is as real as our own selves. To the extent that I am real, what I see is also real. There is a compressence of the subjective side and the objective side: the world is as much real as we are, and it is as much unreal as we are unreal.

Now here, incidentally, we may say that to consider the world as less real than ourselves would be a false attitude, because we are involved in the world as part of the world. At least that much we have to concede. The renunciation of the world as an unreal phantom by a person who is not unreal is an irreligious mix-up of emotions, sentiments and unrelieved problems. Many times we make this mistake of not conceding as much reality to the things of the world as we give to ourselves. The food that we eat is as much real as the reality of our hunger. We cannot satisfy real hunger with unreal food. That is to say, the seer and the seen are on par. This is one issue of the matter.

Hence, it is to be accepted that the renunciation of the world by any particular person is not so easy an affair because in the renunciation of the world, oneself is also renounced simultaneously. It is beyond one’s capacity to imagine how oneself also can be renounced. Who has done that? It is not possible to throw oneself out of oneself in the manner we try to throw the world and the relations with things outside in a fit of renunciation. So here also it must be logically accepted that the world cannot be renounced as long as we do not renounce ourselves in equal proportion. To what extent it is possible to renounce one’s own self is for anyone to imagine; and to that extent, one can renounce the world. But this is beyond ordinary possibility because it is not easy even to think what it all means, let alone actually do it. What on earth does it mean that we should, in percentage, renounce ourselves along with that with which we are connected and which we renounce in the spirit of religious renunciation? The things of the world insist on being recognised as some sort of reality. Their insistence is so vehement that no person with a little sense can deny that. The body is intensely real to us. If that is the case, anything that is connected with the body also becomes equally real.

The world is, therefore, an interconnected arrangement of relationships which are partly physical, partly social and partly psychological. The psychological aspect of human relation is not less real than the physical or social family relations. We cannot say that what we are related to in our minds is comparatively less in the degree of reality than our physical, economic and social relations, because we had an occasion to observe that our minds are stronger and more real, and what the mind affirms should be regarded as a higher reality and of greater consequence than the so-called physical contacts. Physical contacts will amount to nothing if the mind revolts against associating any meaning to them. All this is to say that the world is not as simple a thing as it appears, or it is made to appear, before us.

However, mistakes are made even by great men; and in the greatest pursuit of life, which is the religious pursuit, we can make a terrible blunder—just as we can make a mistake in a little calculation of arithmetic in school. The susceptibility to commit mistakes is what is important, and not the kind of mistake that we have made. There is an old saying that a person who steals a pencil is as great a thief as one who has stolen an elephant. So we cannot say he has stolen only a pencil and not an elephant, and therefore he is not a thief. The character of being a thief is important, and not the object that is associated with that act. Hence, the susceptibility of our inner constitution is to be taken notice of, and not the actual physical consequence that follows from it, because it is a weakness; and a weakness is a kind of illness. It is a weakness of a difficult type—namely, the impossibility and incapacity on our part to judge things correctly. Considering this impossibility on our part, we have been told: “Judge not lest you be judged.” Who are we to judge? We always make a mistake in judging things.

Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was a great religious leader and a veritable incarnation. He was a teacher of religion, spirituality and yoga. What sort of religion did he preach? What was the yoga that he taught, and what was his interpretation of the renunciation of the world—or rather, being a Sannyasin, which he himself was? Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj—Gurudev—was a Sannyasin par excellence. He renounced, and therefore we would also like to renounce as he did. He was a religious stalwart. We also would like to become religious stalwarts. He was a spiritual seeker and a spiritual seer, and we also would like to be like him. Now, what does all this imply? The great role that this unique master played in the field of religion and philosophy is the rectification of these blunderous involvements of the human mind even in its asking for noble things such as religious ideals. As I mentioned, we commit the same mistake in large things that we make in small things. The capacity to commit mistakes is what is to be considered; and we carry this susceptibility always. A reluctant worker is always reluctant, even in the face of God Himself, because reluctancy is a peculiar trait of the mind, and so are the traits and incompatibilities in which it is involved.

The philosophy and the teachings of Sri Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj are difficult to understand unless the entire compass of his writings is covered in a research mood and in the attitude of a sincere and earnest student. It is not possible to understand any scripture or the work of any great philosopher by reading only a few lines of what he wrote here and there, because their teachings comprise a compact presentation of the values of life. We cannot fully receive what such towering teachings hand down to us unless we are prepared and are capable of receiving the teachings. The teacher and what is taught are important, no doubt. We ask for big gurus and large teachings; but we have to be so made, burnt and burnished that this lofty instruction should pass through the medium of our personalities.

We never pay sufficient attention to this unavoidable and imperative condition that the preparation of the mind for the reception of knowledge is as important as the nature of the knowledge that is communicated. We have some idea as to what this knowledge is. It is something that is, on the one hand, totally different from the knowledge we acquire by means of empirical studies in the world; and, on the other hand, it includes every kind of learning, art and knowledge. The little I mentioned just now about the conditioning factors of the human mind will make it clear that it will not be easy for one to get out of this condition—which is necessary to do in order to absorb and imbibe the significance and meaning of this imparted knowledge, or even to understand the significance of the life of a saint. The completeness of the teaching also involves its many-sided variegatedness.

This also applies to the very life of the teacher himself. It is such a many-sided presentation that, for a casual onlooker, it may appear to be a bundle of contradictions. When looking casually, we sometimes see irreconcilable statements even in the Bhagavadgita. We do not know what it tells us, finally. The behaviour of these great masters, geniuses, religious heads is like God’s behaviour in this world. It is not a uniform, rounded ball that is presented to us. The multifacetedness of the very meaning of life is the explanation for the incongruence that we often see in the lives of these great masters—because we have a streamlined, blinkered perception. We cannot see all sides of any particular issue. This is due to the lodgement of our thinking faculty in certain crucibles into which it has been cast. It will take the shape only of those crucibles, and there is no other way of thinking. We have been cast in that mould. A human mind will think only like a human mind, and a human mind will think only that which a particular impulse pressing itself forward under a given moment would permit.

Therefore, it was laid down that a student that approaches a teacher should be prepared to undergo the required purificatory process—namely, the practice of the canons of what are known as the yamas and niyamas, and the well-known Sadhana Chatushtaya system—in order to prepare the mind to receive it. The light of the knowledge will then reflect itself as expected by the student. The teaching method in this field called religion or spirituality is not the method that is followed in schools and colleges. We do not sign an application form or an admission form and go and sit at a desk and listen to a lecture to get this knowledge. This is not a commodity that can be transported from one brain to another brain. There is no means of communicating this knowledge. Therefore, here the way of teaching is spiritual.

The spiritual way of the communication of knowledge is by living the knowledge—living it. The knowledge of a saint is the same as the life that he lives. It is not a book that he has written. What he thinks, how he lives and what he does is the exact counterpart of the knowledge with which he is blessed. The student is prepared in the same way as an embodiment that lives that knowledge. It is not thinking some thoughts that is knowledge. It is not memorising some texts that is knowledge. It is an infusing of a mode of living and a transfiguration of the psychophysical personality in us—which we are—so that, just as we feel a kind of energising bolt entering into us when we are given a vitamin injection, so do we feel an energising atmosphere within us when knowledge enters us. We have to repeat, again, that knowledge is being of knowledge; it is not an acquiring of something that is from outside.

Hence, it was difficult for many people to live with Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. Thousands must have come here as dedicated ones and with a determination to live here till they attained salvation—but it was not to be. Among the many that came here, even a handful did not find it convenient to stay, because it is not merely staying in a geographical place. It is not listening to what is told; it is not doing some work. It is a transforming of oneself into a higher person, a lofty individual, a stronger embodiment of the very thing that one knows. To live the life spiritual is to make knowledge one’s torch in the movement of the career of our lives.

In the present condition of our minds it would be difficult for us to understand what it means to live the knowledge. It is something that we hear, the meaning of which cannot be very clear. How can we live our knowledge when we make this inveterate conclusion, again and again, that knowledge is an abstract acquisition by way of information gathered by the mind, which also looks like an ethereal something while the body is a solid object? We conclude that the solidity and the substantiality and the beingness of a thing are to be equated with a physical condition of the thingness of anything. Whenever we think of realities, substances, we compare them with bodies—stones, trees, mud, or this physical body of ours—and in that sense, the mind does not look real. We have never seen the mind, and we have never seen knowledge. It is something that is conceived.

Thus, our knowledge seems to be a conceptualisation, an idealisation of certain features of the human psyche, and we are unable to attribute to it as much reality and substantiality as we give to our physical bodies. Even the most learned person in the world will not be able to credit his knowledge with as much reality as he gives to his physical body. This is a tragedy. But, knowledge is not an ethereal abstraction; it is a solid thing. The body is not as solid and substantial as knowledge is, nor is it as hard or concrete as being is. It is not the body that is important; it is the being of the body that is important. Here, again, we are in a difficulty. We cannot conceive being except as some thought process, while being is not a process of thought. It is at the back of even the very way of thinking itself. Just as knowledge is not a concept, being is not an idea.

We who are used to thinking in a totally topsy-turvy fashion will be able to agree that we are not fully prepared for the reception of this kind of knowledge, where knowing is not a property that we own as an outside something. It is something that has entered us and become what we ourselves are. The more we know, the stronger we are. The more we know, the more righteous we are. The more we know, the happier we are. This is a little touchstone, a graph by which we can judge ourselves. To what extent are we powerful and strong in ourselves? To what extent are we men of virtue and righteousness and goodness? In what percentage are we happy in life? In that percentage, to that extent, we are learned people—educated, cultured, men of wisdom. If this is not there, there is something awfully wrong with our very approach to things; and if we are awfully wrong everywhere, we are wrong in our religious practices also.

Spirituality has to be remodelled to suit not the current mindset of the people living in the present-day world, but it has to be modelled according to the requirement of its own basic composition. If we wish to scale the peak of Mount Everest, we have to be competent to reach its top. We cannot bring down the height of the mountain to our level because we are puny creatures. Similarly, the magnitude of this great life we call spiritual life cannot be brought down to our little level, the puny condition of our distorted thinking. We have to lift ourselves to that status.

It is just to bring about a total transformation in the religious outlook of people in general that the incarnation of the great master Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj had to be effected by God Almighty; and he gave what I may call a transforming magical touch to every issue of life. There was a spirit, or the spirit of spirituality we may say, hidden behind every writing of his. Even a line that he wrote on a medical subject—on ayurveda, allopathy, naturopathy, or on such simple commonsense subjects like how to become rich, how to be successful in life, and so on—even these very, very realistic and down-to-earth teachings had the thrust of a spiritual connotation. And he would not forget to implant in these little commonsense teachings for the work-a-day man that God-realisation is the goal of life. But in what sense is the goal of life to be conceived by mortal man? For that Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj lived, for that he worked, and for that he dedicated his life.