Essays on the Upanishads and Other Essays
A Souvenir released on Swami Krishnananda's 33rd Birthday
PHILOSOPHY AND LIFE: THE VEDANTA OF SWAMI SIVANANDA
by Sri Swami Krishnananda
The aim of philosophy is right living. Genuine, real philosophy, worth its name, is expected to enable one to live the truest life possible—a life of wisdom, free from the imperfections by which ordinary unphilosophical life is characterised. Philosophy is neither an intellectual diversion nor an academic pedantry overlooking the facts of experience in the world; neither a feat of empty scholarship nor a mere hobby of the care-free mind; but the intelligent analysis of the immediate facts of life as a whole, an examination of the implications of experience, and a scientific theory evolved out from such wise meditations for the purpose of regulating the functions which are responsible for the various phenomena of the individual's consciousness. Philosophy is, therefore, the great art of the perfect life, a life where the common notion of it is transcended, and the Supreme Being, which is identical with existence itself, is realised.
In Swami Sivananda we find a powerful exponent of such a philosophy, the grand philosophy of the Vedanta, and we also find in him an ideal personage rooted in the experience of the Goal taught about by the Vedanta. His life and teachings are aglow with the beautiful synthesis of the different aspects which make up life in its integrity. The Vedanta of Sivananda is neither a dreamy, subjective, world-negating doctrine of illusion, nor a crude, sense-bound, world-affirming theory of societarianism. His philosophy is the one of the divinity of the universe, the immortality of the soul of man, which is identical with the Absolute Self, the essential unity of everything in the universe with this Reality. Towards this end, he steered the course of the lives of people, bearing in mind the various degrees of Reality in which human life is wound up from beginning to end.
The most unique and impelling feature in his teaching, which he always exemplified through his daily life, is that no part of life's experience is neglected or turned a deaf ear to by his philosophy. A philosophy which overlooks some aspect or aspects is subject to the charge of being partial and incomplete and therefore not worthy of being regarded as a science of life. Swami Sivananda exhorts the aspirants after the highest end of life not to fight shy of the objective realities which stare at the face of even the majestic idealist. Every degree of Reality has to be paid its due; else it would rebel against the proud aspirant who has trodden over it with his eyes turned upwards. Swami Sivananda is the meeting point of the Upanishad wisdom with the practical man of the workaday world. The Vedanta does not shut its eyes to the heart-rending conditions filling earthly life, nor does it pass uncircumspect about the body and the mind with their downward pulls towards empirical life, though the province of the Vedanta is supermundane. The Vedanta is supermundane, not because it looks down in any way on the dreary earth with a transcendental egoism, but because it transforms and then embraces its fallen brother, the mundane life, in its bosom of an all-inclusive knowledge and love. Only, it will not embrace the brother unless he is transfigured by the magical touch of Divine Life. The universe is included in Brahman, when it loses its limiting characters of being a universe.
Swami Sivananda, with the stupendous experience of one who has dived into the core of life, teaches that the one Brahman appears as the universe in all the planes or degrees of its manifestations, and, therefore, the Sadhaka has to pay his homage to the lower manifestation before he steps into the higher. Sound health, clear understanding, deep knowledge, powerful will and moral toughness, are all parts of the process of the realisation of the ideal preached by the Vedanta. The importance of this picturesque life is well brought out when the Swami insists on an all-round discipline of the lower self. He has a song of "a little," whereby he teaches that a simultaneous development of the diverse sides of human nature is imperative. His Vedanta is not in conflict with Yoga, Bhakti and Karma. All these are blended together in his philosophy, as elements constituting a whole, in the several states of its experience. "To adjust, adapt and accommodate", "to see good in everything", and to bring to effective use all the principles of Nature in the progress of the individual towards Self-realisation along the path of an integrated fusion of the human powers, are some of the main factors which go to build his philosophy of life. He was one of the most practical of persons that could ever be found, though he had his stand on the loftiest peak of absolutistic metaphysics. He was an idealist-realist, a philosopher-humanitarian, a strange mixture of contraries which seemed to find in him a loving mother who brings together her quarrelsome children. To love all, and to see God in all, to serve all, because God is all, to realise God as the identity of all in one fullness of perfection, are his main canons. His Vedanta is the culmination of wisdom, an expression of the realisation of Brahman attained through philosophical analysis which is made possible by the absence of the distractions of the mind, consequent upon devout worship of Ishvara. This devotion, again, is hard to attain without self-purification effected through the selfless performance of obligatory duties incumbent upon all persons without exception. He prescribes methods for overcoming and mastering the physical, vital, mental and intellectual planes of consciousness, in order to enable the aspirant to proceed with his sadhana, without impediments, towards his great spiritual destination, the realisation of the Absolute.
The Vedanta philosophy which the saint Sivananda propounds is a practical, living one, and not simply a 'theory' of the universe. It is not a theory, but the exposition of the nature of one's practical life. We find this kind of spiritual life brought to its ideal perfection in the life of Sri Krishna, and explained in the Bhagavad-Gita. Swami Sivananda is an example of this type, a type of exalted beings, to whom the Vedanta is a commentary on life, far from those who think that philosophy is divorced from life, that the Vedanta is unconnected with the concerns of existence in the world. The Vedanta, to Swami Sivananda, is the science which teaches the method of spiritual realisation, the direct experience of the Self, which is the same as Brahman, where the universe is realised as identical with one's Self, where nothing second to the Self can exist, and as the result of which realisation, the sage becomes the saviour of all beings: Sarvabhutahite ratah.