(Spoken on December 31st, 1972, on the anniversary of the consecration of the Vishwanath Mandir)
Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was a veritable spirituality incarnate. This is a very inspiring and ennobling aspect of his personality which blessed persons who had his darshan and those who had the fortune to be with him and serve him would realise. He was a man of God, and his vision of things was throughout spiritual in the sense that he had a uniform attitude to things, whatever be the type of the mission for which he came and the kind of work that he did through this institution, The Divine Life Society. His vision was spiritual, godly, divine; and the only motive, intention or purpose of his life on earth was to revive the human consciousness into a higher reach, to shake up mankind from its slumber, to wake people from their sleep and make them rub their eyes and see something new before them.
Therefore, his vision was vast, which comprehended the good, the ultimate blessedness and solace of mankind. There was nothing which he did not commence with a prayer. Every writing commenced with a mantra such as Om, or Om Nama Sivaya, Om Namo Narayanaya. Everything was to be consecrated. If a small room was built, it was to be consecrated, and if a visitor came, he had to be greeted with a consecrating mantra. He gave farewell with a mantra, with a prayer, he sat for lunch with a prayer, he got up from bed with a prayer and went to bed with a prayer; every activity, necessary or otherwise, was taken as an opportunity or a medium of the expression of the spiritual ideal in this wondrous life of a great saint.
It was on the 31st of December in the year 1943 that he conceived a novel idea of working for the good of mankind in a very silent manner, because the good is not necessarily the visible. He was, as I mentioned, a man of God, and therefore his modus operandi was also godly. How does God work? That was the type of vision he had in respect of things in the world. Among the many institutions that he created for implanting the divine consciousness in the world, one was the commencement of the akhanda mahamantra kirtana yajna in this hall. It was started on the 3rd of December in the very same year, 1943, for the peace of mankind, and this installation of the divine symbol of Lord Vishwanath on the 31st of December was also done with a similar purpose. The world should be charged with an aura of spirituality, prayerfulness, and goodness of heart and feeling; that was his intention. And this particular context of the founding of the temple and the commencement of the regular worship or puja of Lord Vishwanath, Lord Siva, or the Lord of the Universe, this a spiritual ritual of daily prayer, recitation of mantras and worship of God has been done specifically also for the good of the sadhakas living in the ashram and the visitors that come here with an aspiration to go transformed into a higher form of life.
Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was not essentially a ritualist; he was a philosopher-saint, but his philosophy was not armchair philosophy or the academician’s logic-chopping system. It was a philosophy of living, of humanity, and a vision of truth; hence, in his philosophy nothing could be an alien element. There is no rejection in the philosophy and teachings of Swami Sivananda, nothing foreign in the philosophy which he enshrined in his heart. Anything could be accommodated into it, like the bowels of the ocean. We can throw anything into it and it will go in, because it was a real philosophy of the vision of Truth. It was not an intellectual system or a method of argument of logic, but a system of living, a darshana as we usually call it in our country. The philosophy is a darshana, it is a vision of reality. It is not a thought process or a logic of the understanding. We see Truth and then proclaim it. A proclamation of the characteristics of Reality after having had a vision of it, that is real philosophy, and such a philosopher he was. He lived that philosophy, so he was a saint.
The philosopher-saint that he was came as a balming incarnation to this century, to this context of modern times, and he created this atmosphere. This is not an ashram that he founded or buildings that he erected, but an atmosphere that he created. A psychological, cultural, human and spiritual atmosphere was initiated when he made up his mind to work for the life supernal.
We are here as humble followers of his footsteps, observing the ceremonies, chanting the mantras, doing worship, taking God’s name, doing service, contemplating and meditating, all for a single purpose. The universe has one purpose before it, not multitudes of purposes. Whatever be the activity of the world, it is directed to a fulfilment of the evolution through which it passes. This single purpose was to be introduced into the mind of mankind, which ordinarily gets distracted by the visions of objects, sensate things; and man being what he is, he easily mistakes poison for nectar, death for immortality, his own doom for his blessedness, like a moth falling into fire, as they say.
The shreyas, or the blessedness of mankind, had to be taught, apart from the pleasant sensations which man pursues. The pleasant sensations are not the blessedness of man. His good is something different. Sreyas ca preyas ca manuṣyam etas tau samparitya vivinakti dhiraḥ (Katha 1.2.2). Only a truly enlightened person can know what the good is, apart from the pleasant, and this enlightenment had to be brought. During the passage of time, Godmen occasionally come like this to awaken the slumbering soul when it goes into sleep. We had Buddha, we had Christ, and we had a pageantry of great Masters who occasionally come like remedies to the ailing souls of mankind and give us a message suited to the context. While the message of Christ was that particular thing necessitated by those characteristics of the time, and the gospel of the Buddha was that which was needed for that time, these modern times require a new kind of approach because the modern mind is too sophisticated and has taken a direction which is so self-complacent that it is difficult to teach it. A satisfied mind cannot be amenable to teaching of any kind, and when the mind is satisfied with its ignorance, no knowledge will be of any use to it.
So the method of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was befitting the context of the modern mind; hence, it comprehended approaches diverse in nature—religious, scientific, psychological, personal, social, and of course spiritual—so you will find that in his writings all aspects of human nature are portrayed and given their due in the proper form. It is a huge encyclopaedia of teaching on human nature, human aspiration and the goal of mankind.
One of his insistent methods was to bring the element of God into our life even if we are busybodies engaged in our own professions and vocations. Among the many methods he suggested, one simple but effective method was the acceptance of the fundamental minimum of spirituality, namely, the existence of God. This acceptance involves an imbibing of certain characteristics of God’s existence, a daily recapitulation of these ideas and processes which we generally call the worship of God. The worship of God is different from other types of approach in the world because here the acceptance of the existence of God implies the acceptance of the sole supremacy of Truth, which can be invoked with difficulty. The invocation of God into one’s life is a hard job because our present conditions and circumstances should be trained to receive those conditions of worship and to make one’s life properly tuned to the reception of this higher light.
The worship of God is not merely a physical performance in the capacity of worshipping through flowers, incense, etc., but a mode of dedication. Worship is a form of dedication of spirit, atma samarpana, and this dedication is done by a recitation of mantras and the performance of the regular routine of formal invocation, together with a soul-filled prayer for the descent of God’s grace. All this was in his mind when he instituted this daily ritual of worship in the temple and made it a regular sadhana for inmates of the Ashram.
We may, as seekers of Truth, try to bring to our memory how best we could utilise this opportunity for our spiritual uplift, how this Vishwanath Jayanti can become a sadhana for us, and how it could be a very advantageous and beneficial technique of invocation of God.
This method of worship is common to all religions. We will find that various forms of worship are instituted in every religion of the world irrespective of their different concepts of God, but it is this concept of God that makes the difference in the religions that we observe. Whatever be our idea of God, that is also our notion of things in general, and it has a direct impact on our social relationships; but the concept of God as Vishvanatha, as Lord Siva, as God in principle with us is an inclusive one, so that religion becomes mankind’s attitude to God. It is not my attitude or your attitude, it is the religion of mankind, the religion of humanity, because though human beings as individuals are many in number, the character of mankind is single and human nature is uniform. Thus, the religion of humanity can only be one, inasmuch as it is the religion of human nature. Human nature is the same wherever we go, whichever country we approach. So this religion got founded on a psychological basis and it became a sadhana naturally because when it assumes a universal character, a comprehensive nature, it becomes fit enough to become a spiritual technique for any human being. We may take the name of God as Christ or Buddha or Mohammed or Allah or Vishnu or Krishna, but what is our concept in the mind? That is what makes the difference, and that is what is going to determine the extent of success that we can achieve through that practice.
For example, in our temple we have the daily routine of avisheka through the Rudra Namaka and Chamaka, the great, powerful mantras of the Yajurveda known as the Rudradhyaya, which is chanted every day, but very few would have found time to contemplate on their meaning, the purpose of this invocation through the Rudra and the Purusha Sukta, through both of which avisheka is performed daily to Lord Siva, Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna. It is a powerful invocation. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was very fond of the Rudradhyaya as well as the Purusha Sukta. He himself used to make it a personal sadhana of his. Those who have enough time and patience to study these sections of the Veda would find in them a wealth of meaning and a very effective means not only of self-transformation into the good but also a means of bringing about social security and prosperity.
The sadhana of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was of a double or a dual nature: salvation of the soul, and also the prosperity of mankind or human society. They go together inwardly and outwardly. The charged recitations of the Rudra mantras invoke God in a variety of ways. We do not know to what extent the religion of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj itself was influenced by this supreme concept that we have in the Rudradhyaya and the Purusha Sukta. Every blessed concept is God’s concept. We have to study it to know what it is. It is vibrant with force. Veda mantras are all charged with tremendous potency, and the avisheka that is offered to the Lord with the recitation of these mantras is always done through some medium, such as Ganga jal or milk. The article that is offered gets charged, and that is why it becomes prasada; it becomes a tirtha, a holy sacrament. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj never used to take his lunch without tirtha from the temple. Every day he must take the tirtha first. Whatever be the time of his lunch, the tirtha should come first from the temple.
He was an exemplar, though he was a great idealist. He was a follower of the philosophy of the Bhagavadgita: na buddhibhedaṃ janayed (Gita 3.26). Never would he disagree with anyone. He would always agree with people in everything, because why should he disagree when there is some good point in everyone? There is no person or thing in the world without some good in it, and Swamiji was a person who could see the good in things. While we always see the wrong and the error in things and say that it is not all right, he would say that it is all right because there is some good in it. That is the difference between we people and people of his kind. There is the good and the bad mixed in every person and every thing in the world. We should not see only the good or only the evil, as they are both mixed up in certain proportions. The difference is, he saw the gold part of it while we see the iron part of it.
Thus, in this modus of worship, prayer and recitation of Veda Mantras he gave us a great chance of self-evolution, to regard God not only in one of His aspects. There are people who are philosophers, who will not believe in saguna. They say that we are only in nirguna, that God is formless; and there are others who deny His formlessness and think God is only corporal and embodied. God can be worshipped in any capacity because all forms have to be God, inasmuch as He is accepted to be omnipresent. Any kind of bigotry and fanaticism in religion is not good. There is no such thing as ‘my religion’. There is only religion. The very purpose of the rise of the religious consciousness in our mind is to remove this idea of ‘mineness’ and ‘yourness’, but if even religion is to become mine, then there is the end of it.
There is a saying, anyakshetre kritam papam, punyakshetre vinashyati; punyakshetre kritam papam, vajralepo bhavishyati: The sins committed in other places get washed out in holy places, but the sins committed in holy places stick to us like a diamond coat. So if religion itself becomes a source of bigotry, fanaticism and ‘mineness’, it becomes a ‘my religion’ apart from ‘your religion’; then that would be a vajralepa on our body, worse than the other mistakes that we could commit elsewhere in other fields of work. Religion is a remedy that has come to us. It is not another illness that has come to our mind. We should not convert religion into a kind of disease, but it can become a disease when it becomes a handmaid or tool of selfishness. Religion can be used for destruction, as we had religious wars. Millions were destroyed because of religion. There is jihad and the argument of faith which always sets itself at naught in respect of others: “You are not the followers of religion.” And today if religion is crestfallen and seems to be stifled due to other forces working in the world, it is because of this detraction of the religious consciousness through selfish channels of human prejudice and egoity.
The time has come for us to recognise and realise the importance of religion as a saviour. It has not come as an opiate. It is not a drug that we take to stimulate ourselves into a kind of intoxication, into a mood of self-forgetfulness, but it has come as a saviour and a remedy and a panacea for the ills of the mind. Ultimately, everything in the world is related. We can use anything for any purpose. We can use a useful instrument for bad purposes, and something unwanted can also become very useful sometimes, according to the context or the situation. Likewise, our religious enthusiasms may become instruments of self-bondage and suffering, as we see today in the fields of established religions—the religion of pundits, the religion of temples, the religion of the churches. We have churchianity, different from Christianity. This is an established, rigid and inflexible form of conduct that has been socially introduced by people in place of the original blessedness that religion was.
What do you see when you go to temples? Do you feel ennobled, or do you feel dejected or put down, crestfallen, that there is something wanting in your religious field? It is not the mistake of religion; it is the mistake of the understanding of religion. Some people say that science is bad, that it has killed people. It is not science that kills, but the misuse of science. Science is only a principle of knowledge, a coordinated system of understanding of the laws that operate in the world. It is neither good nor bad. We cannot say that electricity is bad because somebody touched a wire and died. It is a principle, and this principle can be used or abused.
It is difficult to live in the world. We should not make a routine of anything. Anything that becomes a routine becomes a source of bondage. Living is different from passing through a routine. Our life has to become a flow of vitality, innovation and understanding. Only then can we be said to be progressing. We cannot literally follow the word of a Master and then be said to be following religion. The letter is different from the spirit, as Christ very wisely said in his gospel, and we should follow the spirit of religion rather than the letter. Because people follow the letter of the Koran, the letter of the Veda, the letter of the Gita or the letter of the Bible, we have religious battles. Hinduism is set against the Muslim religion and Islam is against Hinduism, and Christianity is against that, and this is against that, all because the letter of each one is following the beaten track and setting itself against the beaten tracks of other religions.
Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj came to break this routine of religion and give it a vitality, a new meaning, so that it may come as a saviour of mankind and not as a bondage to man. We should not run from the frying pan to the fire. There was a fly which unfortunately fell on a very hot frying pan. To save itself, the fly rolled into the fire which was blazing underneath, and it became worse. So we are not expected to fall into the fire of bigotry and the procrustean deathbed of the mechanism of religion, but become souls with a consciousness of our aspiration, with a meaning in our life. We are not simply to live a machine-like life of going to the office, signing some paper, eating some lunch and returning to the office again with a dazed head and heavy stomach, coming home late and tired, and then once, on occasion, going to a temple and striking our cheeks and ringing the bells. This is not going to save us, because religion is a lifted attitude of our mind and a recognition of a value in our life, the implementation of a purpose in our living, and not merely doing something or passing through a routine of activity. We think that we are doing many things every day and are very busy. We may be very busy, but we have achieved nothing because we have missed the vitality of our life. We have fallen into a rut. We streamline our activities along the rails set before us by the letters of religion, rather than the spirit that is behind it.
We do not live in ashrams and go to temples or do japa, meditation, etc., for the sake of merely doing it. It is with a tremendous purpose that we live in institutions in human society, and it is even with a tremendous cosmic purpose that we go to our offices and factories. We should remember that even our office-going and factory working is a religion, provided we see a meaning in it. But if the meaning of life is different from our usual vocation or profession in life, then our life will become a dead weight on our head. We suffer because our activities are different from our religious consciousness. For us, religion is only in the puja room or in the temple. Religion is not in our house, it is not in our office, it is not in our factory, though most of our time is spent in offices and factories; very few minutes are left to go to our puja room, and so life becomes a misery. We cry for something which we seem to miss always and cannot get.
So Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj came to us as a godsent teacher to awaken us into the meaning of our life, which we should not miss in our busy activities, which themselves have to become religion. We have to live a godly life in every walk of our life. That is religion. What is wrong with your office? Be in your office as many hours as you want; it is a religion, provided you know the purpose behind that activity. You do not go to the office to make money or draw your salary. If that is your purpose, well, you have missed the aim of life, and you need not do it at all. It is a waste of time. The purpose is to fulfil the ambition and aspiration of the soul that you are.
You are not Mr. so-and-so, a man or a woman. You are a soul. The individual that labours on the roads or digs in a mine or works in an office or sweats in a factory is a soul, and not some labourer, a boss or an officer. It is a soul struggling to recognise a meaning in itself. We should not miss this point. Everything is a soul working. He may be an officer, he may be a servant, he may be a peon, he may be a labourer, he may be a sweeper, but it is soul. Why does he do the work that he does? It is not merely to earn wages for the sake of filling the belly. That is incidental to life. The main purpose is to regain itself. The soul writhes, the soul struggles to regain what it has lost—the integrality of its life, the comprehensiveness that it is—to awaken itself into what it really is. It is for this purpose that we go to our office, though we have missed the purpose. This is the purpose for which we are working very hard and sweating and toiling. If the soul’s purpose is missed, and if the mind gets into a rut of sensory activity and egoistic prejudiced attitude to society in general, religion is a bane; it is not going to save us.
Unfortunately, it is this that it has come to be. We have student revolt, officer revolt, teacher revolt and communist revolt. What is all this? It is all the result of missing the soul in life. We have gone only to the machines, and missed the vitality of life. The machine is not necessarily made of iron and steel. Any kind of meaningless routine is a machine. Absurd, purposeless routine of work is a machine, into which we have entered and got stuck. If this machine is to come on our head like the monster Frankenstein, our life is bound to a misery. The corruption and the revolts and the strikes and the brickbat hits that we hear of these days, and all the insecurities that we see in every walk of life from not knowing what will happen to us tomorrow has become the fate of mankind because it has missed its soul. “When the soul is missed and the whole world is gained, what avail will it be?” said Christ many years ago. What avail will it be if we have the whole world of these machines but have lost our soul?
So we once again hear the ringing notes of Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj: “Soul, Self, God. This is your goal.” It is not outside you, far off. It is you, and that is your goal. You yourself are your goal. You have missed that itself, and then you are busy with some other thing. Wonderful. How can you be happy in this world?
Such a majestic message we have before us to bring to our memories, to recapitulate, and to recognise the soul, the vitality, the significance, the meaning, the purpose, the energetic evolutionary goal of the universe in totality that is throbbing through every one of our veins. Every pulse that beats in our body is a movement towards this recognition of this soul consciousness. The cells work, the body functions, and we breathe, we live with a single purpose: to revive the soul consciousness, to come back to ourselves, to gain what we have lost in ourselves, to be what we are, and then work. Then work becomes worship. That is what is called karma yoga.
So life is a great opportunity and a blessedness, a beauty and a grandeur. It is also a hell at the same time if it is misunderstood. Hell and heaven are here within this hall itself. That which we call Indraloka—the blessedness, nectar flowing, swarga of Indra—is within this Bhajan Hall, and that torturous Yamaloka or hell is also here itself. They are two attitudes, two sets of movement of consciousness, and so we need not either be exulting over the world or cursing it. We can make it what we want it to be because it is a part of ourselves, as we are a part of it. The evolutionary process of the cosmos is inclusive of every bit of activity, and religion is thus all-comprehensive, a Godward movement of the soul of mankind to Self-recognition. This is religion. How can we be without it? A religionless life is a dead life. There is no life without religion because religion is this Godward movement for which the soul is working hard every day, the soul of every person high or low, educated or not, lettered or unlettered. The vitality and the living element even in the ant and the moth and the insect, of every blessed thing, of even an atom, is moving evolutionally towards this ultimate Self-recognition of the universal Reality.
Wonderful is this religion, wonderful is the opportunity for us, and we are blessed to be in this world. The world is a blessedness, not a curse, provided we understand it properly, use it as an instrument for evolution of the human soul, and do not miss the soul.
To put it concisely and to conclude, I may add that religion is the recognition of the soul’s value in life, and the woes and the sufferings of mankind are the outcome of missing it. Introduce the soul into your work, and then you can turn out better work. If the soul is not in the work, you will be a failure. Introduce your soul into your studies and you will pass the examination, become first; but if the soul is not there, if the heart is elsewhere, and if your activity continues in a mechanistic fashion, you will not be a success either in this world or in the other world.
The religion of God is the religion of man, and it is religion of the soul. This is also the way to success. With this philosophy and with this religious mode of teaching, Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj gave us an opportunity of praying to Lord Siva, Asutosh. Very easily is God pleased. He will give us anything that we want because He is the Reality. If the real cannot help us, what else can help us? We cannot get help from unreal things. It is the real that helps, and He is the Real of reals, satyasya satyam, satyamev jayate. He is the nearest to us—the most real, and nearest to us, to make all the facilities available to bring this invocation of spirituality into our life and become blessed rather than weeping. Be happy and positive because religion is the art of living. It is not a routine of the temples and the churches, it is not a business of old people or sannyasins, it is the science of living; it is the art of existing as perfectly as possible. Such is divine worship, such is religion, such is mankind, and such the purpose of human life.