The branches of The Divine Life Society are actually the ramifications of the spiritual, cultural and social aims and objectives of the headquarters, for which the venerable founder, Revered Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, stood and lived his life as a great example before us of the practical implementation of the ideal. Whatever the headquarters stands for, that the branches also stand for. The ideals of The Divine Life Society are pervasive, and they apply equally to the headquarters as well as the branches, as also to the members and whoever is associated with The Divine Life Society in any manner whatsoever.
It has to be mentioned at the very outset that the objective of divine life is not any kind of activity for the sake of activity, but activity for a higher purpose, towards which it has to be directed. All work is a means to an end and not an end in itself, though work can become an end in itself when it gets divinised and universalised. Then it reaches the status of God, which is a far-off ideal; and as far as we as human beings are concerned, it is a means to an end. This is the great goal that is ahead of us.
Therefore, the programme of The Divine Life Society branches should be such that it should include, to the extent practicable, humanitarian ideals which comprise all that human nature requires. What man needs essentially is not easy to explain. We require food, clothing and shelter; it is true. But it is not true that we require only this much. There are other things, perhaps more important things, than food, clothing and shelter, notwithstanding the fact that these are essentials. So, while it is true that members of The Divine Life Society and the branches of the Society should work in the direction of the amelioration of poverty, disease and ignorance in their various aspects, they have also to work for the great ideal for which the Society ultimately stands.
We work for existence in this world. Finally, we will realise that all activity tends towards an assurance that we should exist in the world, that our life should not be cut off or abolished. But we do not wish to exist as trees or stones. We ask for an existence with a quality, and not merely an existence without any meaning or significance. Our activities tend towards helping people in the direction of fulfilling this aim of existence, not merely in a comfortable way from the physical or material point of view, but in a valuable way from the point of view of the ideals for which humanity exists and which humanity seeks.
We have hunger and thirst, we feel heat and cold, and naturally we have to work for protecting ourselves against these odds of nature. But we have also secret aspirations from within us, which cannot be stifled in the name of a mere physical satisfaction. We have physical needs, we have vital needs, we have psychological needs, we have rational needs, we have social needs, we have political needs, we have spiritual needs. What is it that we do not need? Our aspiration is all-comprehensive and engulfs everything that one can think of, and in the effort towards the fulfilment of these requirements of human nature, we must always give preference to the more pressing needs first and the general ones may be taken care of later on. We may say that hunger is the most pressing need. Remedying disease is a pressing need no doubt, but there is a conditioning factor behind all these so-called empirical needs. We do not wish to die of hunger. Yes, it is perfectly true; but we also do not wish to live as idiots knowing nothing. There is a necessity to get enlightenment, together with the needs we feel for physical existence by means of fulfilment of hunger and thirst, etc. The cause is more important than the effect, though, while we are engaged in the effect, it appears to be important enough, and it attracts our attention as an all-in-all. When we are in the midst of a particular environment or circumstance, that appears to be the immediate reality and, perhaps, the only reality. But there is a cause behind it, a foundation on which it is rooted, which should be regarded as more important because it conditions this appearance of the immediate environment. The physical needs are the least important things from the point of view of a larger comprehensive approach to human nature in general. More important than the physical needs are the vital, the psychological, the rational, and the spiritual.
The word 'spiritual' is a hard nut to crack. One cannot easily understand what it actually means. 'Spirituality' is the most abused term anywhere and the most misunderstood, and it is difficult to believe that many people understand its true significance. We suddenly get thrown into a fit of emotion the moment we hear the word. Most youngsters, in their juvenile enthusiasm, go out of gear when they hear the words 'God' or 'spirituality', and they get into a mood of renunciation, a throwing off of responsibilities and cutting themselves off from duties, services, etc., in the name of the God that they have in their minds and in the fulfilment of the idea of spirituality that they are entertaining.
Every level of life is important in its own way. God, the Ultimate Spirit, reveals Himself in various degrees, and every degree is equally important as a necessary stage in one's progress. The importance of a particular experience can be judged only when we take into consideration the atmosphere in which it is generated. There is a relationship between the subject and the object, as we know very well. The subject is yourself or myself—any experiencing unit. The object is the atmosphere, the environment. It may consist of human beings, it may consist of physical nature, or it may be anything, for the matter of that. That which is immediately present around us and has some impact upon our personal life is a degree of reality which we cannot ignore—it may be social, it may be natural. To imagine that God will take care of us and to reject the immediate reality would be a folly, because God is not merely a transcendent reality but He is also an immediate reality. That which is present under our nose is also God's manifestation. And so we should not be under the erroneous notion that God is above and not below.
With this comprehensive approach of realism blended with idealism we have to live, and the life of Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was a practical demonstration of this coming together of realism and idealism. He was not merely a dreamer in the idealistic sense, though he was the foremost among contemporary geniuses who held God-realisation as the goal of life. In that we may say that he was the topmost idealist of modern times. But he was not merely an idealist, he was aware of the present realism of the physical circumstances and the social life in which man is placed. And no one could be more realistic than Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. He would take care of even the smallest things. The littlest needs of man were his concern, and not merely the realisation of the Absolute. There was nothing unimportant before his eyes, nothing that he disliked, nothing that he condemned, nothing that he regarded as not his own. He lived a life of fraternity with all and he followed in letter, not only in spirit, the great gospel that we have in the Bhagavadgita, sarva bhuta-hite-ratah: one who is intent upon the welfare of all beings, not merely human beings, but even beings other than human.
The great man that he was, it is difficult to know what he was thinking in his mind, and it is even more difficult to know the significance of the kind of life that he lived as an example before us. Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj's life was a commentary on the principles of divine life, as we often say that the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna is the best commentary on the Bhagavadgita. Our life is a commentary on our principles, our ideologies and our aspirations. Divine life, truly speaking, is a practical living of the ideal that one holds as supreme in one's life, and is at the same time a torchbearer to others in their higher evolution.