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My Life

Autobiography of Swami Krishnananda

To go ahead with the story, it was surprising to me that I actually met Swami Sivananda on the third day when he summoned me to his own Kutir and uttered some persuading words of great encouragement. My intellectual capacities rose up and I wrote rapidly essays in good English, with vocabulary that stunned Swami Sivananda himself. One of my colleagues, then known as Balan Menon, who later became Swami Chinmayananda, showed my first essay on the Gita written in my own handwriting (or as told by me and written by him) to Swamiji. "Is this Swami Krishnananda who wrote the article?" "Yes, Swamiji." "Or you wrote it? Did this Swami write this essay, or is it a recording by you?" I myself could not understand how I wrote books in such rapidity, a thing which I never did earlier. To my memory, my first writing was a commentary on Swami Sivananda's Moksha Gita, a testimony to my ability to write.

One day when I was living in the Music Hall, Swami Sivananda peeped in through the window and asked, "What are you doing? You know that T.M.P Mahadevan of Madras University has written a book called The Philosophy of Advaita, for which he has earned laurels. What are you doing, you are also sitting here. Why don't you also write like that?" I told Swamiji I would try my best. From that day I decided to write a book that has gone under the title The Realisation of the Absolute. The fame that this book has attained is well known to people, and it would well be a thesis for a doctorate. I wrote the book with my own hand rapidly in about 14 or 15 days, and the whole manuscript was typed by Swami Omkarananda, who was then living in this Ashram and later went abroad. The manuscript was read again by the then Vice-President of the Ashram, called Swami Mownananda, who told Swami Sivananda, "Here is a well-written book." That was enough to please Swami Sivananda that I was able to write well and attract the appreciation of a literary genius like Swami Mownananda. The book was printed in Rishikesh itself and is now available (though not for sale) in the beautifully printed form.

However, my first literary work was The Philosophy of Life that I dictated offhand with the help of a typist who readily came to help me. He typed it first as notes and the second time as a fair-copied literary piece. People who read this book will know how I advanced into the literary field from what I was, a beggarly individual searching for a meal, and so came many other books, more than two or three dozen of them, some of them conversations with people and some actually dictated compositions.

I am now dictating these lines when I am seventy-nine years of age, as my memoir and a rumination of my trudging through the track of ups and downs that I pursued, the aim being the seed sown by my grandfather on whose lap I used to sit and ask questions of great people such as Krishna, Vasishtha, etc. This seed erupted gradually into a vast vision of a determined life of meditation and a substantial literary contribution to the work of Swami Sivananda - administrative, literary and spiritual. My memoir here is quite different from Roses in December of Justice M.C. Chagla, Chief Justice of Bombay High Court, who was later to become Minister for External Affairs in the Government of India. He wrote his memoir under the title Roses in December. He wrote well of course, but all political. There was a little uproar in his career as Minister of External Affairs, caused by the escaping of an important Russian lady through an American jet plane. Chagla describes this incident picturesquely. As I am dictating all these ideas in a hurry, it does not have the charm of Edward Gibbon's masterpiece. My masterpieces are indeed The Philosophy of Life, The Philosophy of Religion, The Ascent of the Spirit, Essays in Life and Eternity, The Problems of Spiritual Life, Your Questions Answered and the like, a few others of the same category. All glory to Swami Sivananda who made this acorn of a struggler to the peepul tree and the banyan. Swami Sivananda left us physically in the year 1963, and left us today what we are in the eyes of God.

Swami Chidanandaji, who was General Secretary, went abroad on invitation from some well-wishers. There was no General Secretary in the Ashram. As the post of the General Secretary was considered unavoidably important, the residents in the Ashram went to Swami Sivananda Maharaj and told him that myself, who was the Secretary, may be made the new General Secretary. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj wrote a note that from a particular day I should be the General Secretary. Though there are stipulations on appointing a General Secretary, the Founder-President had the power to overstep all these constraints and directly appoint suitable incumbents for a post. So I became the General Secretary. When Swami Chidanandaji returned from America, he found himself in a most inconvenient and embarrassing situation, that his position had already been occupied by another. But he stayed wisely in the Ashram for a while and, taking the permission of the Founder-President Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, went away to unknown places as a retreat, for a purpose which was in his mind alone. This action had a dubious meaning, which was happy and unhappy at the same time. Happy because someone was the General Secretary, unhappy because it was done in a rather hurry, affecting the personal responsibility of another in the same position. I too felt that I was in an embarrassing position, and there were some people who wished to pour salt on the wound created by this peculiar condition of a person occupying the same position that another was already occupying, though under the order of the Founder-President. Swami Chidananda returned to the Ashram about three weeks before the passing away of the Founder. His returning became some solace to people in the Ashram and placed me in an uncomfortable position, so that the official relationship between Swami Chidananda and myself was indescribable. Swami Chidananda knew this very well, and distanced himself from all managemental affairs until he was forced to enter into the mainstream when the Founder-President left this world. After the election of the new President, consequent upon the vacancy created by the demise of the Founder-President, I became the General Secretary de jure as well as de facto.

The whole weight of management of The Divine Life Society came upon me as the General Secretary of this internationally famed Institution. There were troubles that arose from all directions at the same time, many of which were unknown to me and of which I was entirely unaware. One well-intentioned but totally unwise individual pressed upon the Trustees the necessity of having a movie film prepared on Swami Sivananda, and manoeuvred to take acceptance from all the Trustees, though this was done without the full knowledge of the person chosen who was preparing the film. As could be imagined, this led to a case in the court since the filmmaker refused to hand over the film with the negative unless the Ashram paid him another some 2.5 lakhs of rupees for some work that he assumed he had done. The Ashram rebutted all these arguments of the filmmaker and found itself in the pit of a long legal battle that lasted for about ten years. The case went from court to court and then it reached the High Court, and finally to the Chief Judicial Magistrate. In this battlefield of ten years' legal scene, a very able resident of the Ashram known as Sri Jaya Kumar played an essential role as a practical representative in all matters legal concerned with this film affair. Finally it was impossible to decide what would happen. Then, suddenly the Chief Judicial Magistrate passed a judgment closing the case, which went well in favour of The Divine Life Society, especially as the filmmaker himself had had enough of it and gave a written statement that he would like the case to be closed without any harm either to The Divine Life Society or anyone concerned. The ability of this Jaya Kumar in handling these legal issues is indeed worth appreciating.

When a piece of land got acquired on lease from the Forest Dept. thirty years ago was to expire, I mentioned to Sri Jaya Kumar that the application had to be made for the renewal of the lease for at least another thirty years. Sri Jaya Kumar went and contacted every source of official importance and finally succeeded in getting the order of acceptance on the part of the Government, though with many conditions imposed on it.

Swami Chidananda again went abroad on cultural grounds and stayed away long. In the meantime we received a copy of the ordinance passed by the Governor of the State of Uttar Pradesh that all the Ashrams should come within the administration of the State Government. At that time I had no one to consult; I had to scratch my head myself and either let the Government take away everything or to oppose it directly from my part. I took upon myself the latter decision, addressing a letter to the Governor that his proposal to make Trustees of institutions Government employees is a futile attempt, and the Government would not achieve any benefit out of such an attempt. In my letter to the Governor I detailed all the consequences that would follow from trying to convert Trustees into Government employees, since no Trustee, more so who were Sannyasins, would agree to such a sudden pouncing of the Government on them. My letter touched the heart of the Governor and he exempted The Divine Life Society, along with two or three others, from the operation of the ordinance.

There were many other legal issues and official matters in which Jaya Kumar was a great help, and his name cannot be forgotten in any attempt to write a history of The Divine Life Society. Thirdly, I had the responsibility of seeing to it that residents in the Ashram, who were the prime pillars of activity, maintained a friendly and a cooperative relationship among themselves, for which purpose I used to see each one of them frequently and take such necessary steps as to enthuse them, please them and convince them that all was well in the Ashram. It was also necessary to maintain good relations with the public, especially of the locality, to which I had to pay special attention, together with our relations with the Government. Apart from this there was the need to send replies to the daily incoming of letters from people within India and abroad on matters galore, all of which took practically all my time in work only, telling upon my health to a great extent. In dealing with any person, it was necessary to know the sanity of the person, together with the verifiability of what the person was representing.

My conversations with people, my writings and my articles in the monthly magazine of The Divine Life Society made me sufficiently famous, which was enhanced by the website of my books and discourses, the success in which my close assistant Narayani (Swami Narayanananda) was responsible. The website made me rather world-famous beyond my expectations. I remember how the first words that Swami Sivananda uttered when I met him many years back fructified into its flowering in the glory that the website brought.

After the passing of the Founder-President Swami Sivananda Maharaj, I had to face one more difficulty in playing my role while electing the new President. I vigorously proposed the name of Swami Chidananda as the President, with which every one of the Trustees present agreed, except one or two on their personal grounds. The election of Swami Chidananda as President of The Divine Life Society was confirmed. All went well.

One of the duties, I felt, was to have citizenship obtained for my assistant Narayani (Swami Narayanananda), who was a Canadian national, for which I had to work hard, and in which I obtained staunch support from some of the mighty bigwigs of the Government. The citizenship was granted and the same was ratified by the District Magistrate of Tehri-Garahwal. This I thought was necessary to avoid the painful exercise of approaching the District Superintendent of Police every year for renewal of the visa.

All through my adventure of managing The Divine Life Society, I had kept in my mind not to omit any aspect unnoticed, but bring into the fold of my consideration every aspect - financial, social, ethical, and spiritual, all at the same time. In my meditations I adopt the same method, leaving no thought aside as unworthy, because the rejected thought also is a thought and so it will refuse to be so easily rejected, since every thought is connected with its opposite; the synthesis of all these thoughts would amount to a cosmic thought, a total thought. Every possible thought of the universe will resound with equal status, and there will be an all-glorious universal meditation. This should keep one perpetually in the positive mood of complete attunement with God Almighty.

Both Swami Chidananda and myself are Madhva Brahmins, and both believe that Moksha is the ideal, though with some difference in the way of its operation in daily life. Though we are one in our idea of attaining Moksha and preserving social unity in our attitudes, yet we can see differences if we really want to see them. Often we can see things if we want to see them, and we may not like to see them if they are not really there. The Bhagavadgita is an instance on this point. "The real cannot become the unreal, and the unreal cannot be the real." Here what are we to understand from the words "real" and "unreal"? This is mostly a subject of perceptional psychology, like seeing a rainbow while it is really not there, and seeing the mirage water while it is really not there. Here a question arises: are things that we see with our faculties of perceptions realities, or they may not be realities? When a person is going for a walk on the main highway and he sees two women coming in front of him, and cannot differentiate between them in the beginning, but notices that one of them is his sister and another is his wife, what is the difference between a sister and a wife? Here lies the whole problem of human relationships in which one can be involved and has been involved. The famous Panchadasi of Swami Vidyaranya explains how one and the same woman can be the mother of some, a wife of another, a sister-in-law of a third one, and so on, all which are really there as facts of difference, yet they are not there. How does a woman who is the mother of someone become the wife of another? These differences, though they are poignantly visible and can create hell to one and heaven to another by a wrong annotation attached to perception, even as there is no such thing as my land and another's land, because what is today my land may become another's land tomorrow by a negotiation of sale deed. The song of the earth, which is recorded for us in the Vishnu Purana as well as the Srimad Bhagavatam, both deny that there was anyone who ruled the earth. This is independently existing even now, though many egoists trod over her thinking they are the rulers, and the possessors of the land. "Fie on the kingdom of both Rama and Ravana", says the Vishnu Purana, because walking over the earth does not convert it into an object of possession in any way. More detail in this regard I have endeavoured to give in the last pages of my book Your Questions Answered. So, while Swami Chidananda and myself are one in primary issues, we were also two in their interpretations.

Religion and spirituality are the two defining factors in the determination of the higher values of life. These two functions of the inner call of a human being correspond to life in the world and life in God. The relationship between the world and God is also the relationship between religion and spirituality. It is said that God manifested Himself as the world. Then, equally, we may say that spirituality manifests itself as religion. Here we come face-to-face with the necessity to describe the characteristics of God. It is generally believed that God is all-pervading, all-knowing and all-powerful. But these three features usually associated with God are connected with space and objects in time, while space, time and objects are subsequent to God's Original Being prior to creation. This would mean that no quality or attribute can be associated with God, even with the farthest stretch of one's imagination. Nevertheless, it should be accepted that every conceivable quality or character should have its potential existence in God Himself. Or, else, from where did these qualities arise? Here we have a hint at the nature of religion and the nature of spirituality.

In India there is a discipline prescribed for the gradual evolution of the human individual by stages of (1) education, (2) adjustment of oneself with the demands of natural and social living and, (3) an austere detachment from the usual entanglements in life and (4) final rootedness of oneself in God. This last mentioned stage is known as Sannyasa and the first two stages are the religious disciplines preparing a person for the third and the fourth stages.

Religion has its various restrictions imposed on a person, keeping all human activity confined to specific areas of living with its several do's and don'ts - 'do this' and 'do not do that'. There cannot be any religion without these two mandates imposed on man. People in the first two stages of life mentioned above are placed under an obligation to follow these dos and don'ts of religion in social behaviour, in personal conduct and dealings with people in any manner whatsoever. Every religion has these ordinances defining the duties, which are religious, whether in the form of ritual, worship, or pilgrimage and even in diet daily ablution, and an exclusive literal devotion to the word of the scripture of the religion. These restrictions are lifted in the third stage where the life of a person is mainly an internal operation of thought, feeling and understanding and not connected with human society in any way.

Hindu codes of conduct called Smritis have often stuck vehemently to their promulgation of the superiority of the Brahmin (Brahmana) giving lesser importance to the Kshatriya, the Vaishya and the Shudra, a classification characteristic specially to the Hindu religion. As such, the Smritis and scriptures of that kind do not consider people who are not Brahmins as sacred and pure. Foreigners were called Yavanas and Mlecchas, which words mean infidels. Thus, travel to the land of these infidels was considered as contaminating the purity of the Brahmin, and one who took to such foreign travels, across the seas, was debarred from the community of Brahmins.

But, the Sannyasin is an Atyashramin, that is, transcending the caste system, because the Sannyasin transcends social law, and he was even considered to have undergone civil death. He is not anymore one of the four castes. He is rooted in God and he is a man of God and he has no restrictions even as God Himself has no restrictions.

The point is then that those who have a hesitation to feel that they are rooted in God have to follow these rules, but if the Sannyasin is sure that he is fixed in God-consciousness, no rules apply to him. He is free in every way. While the caste system was originally evolved for the necessary classification of human duty in order to preserve the organic stability of society, its original meaning and its philosophical foundation was forgotten through the passage of time, and bigotry and fanaticism took its place through the preponderance of egoism, greed and hatred, contrary to the practice of true religion as a social expression of inner spiritual aspiration for a gradual ascent, by stages, to God Almighty.

Vidura, famous in the Mahabharata, was born of a Shudra woman. But he had the power to summon the son of Brahma, from Brahmaloka, by mere thought. Which orthodox Brahmin can achieve this astounding feat?

It is, therefore, necessary for everyone to have consideration for the facts of world-unity and goodwill, Sarvabhuta-hita, as the great Lord mentions in the Bhagavadgita. Justice is more than law. No one's body is by itself a Brahmin, because it is constituted of the five gross elements - earth, water, fire, air and ether. Else, it would be a sin on the part of a son to consign to flames the lifeless body of a Brahmin father.

It is, therefore, not proper to victimise a colleague by an action plan of any religious community wedded to fundamentalist doctrines.

Through the process of evolution, the world has now become a global village. Sun, moon, stars and the galaxies operate in a cosmic co-operative spirit. The air that we breathe, moving everywhere freely, has no nationality, no ethnic distinction. We live by the free gift of Nature. Any assertion of isolated individuality is not in consonance with the way the Universe is operating. Events have cosmic connotations. Creation is one, even as God is One.

A Spanish professor wrote a doctorate thesis on my writings under the title The Philosophy of Swami Krishnananda. He tried to emphasize that I am a follower of Advaita though I personally told him I am not such. I do not reject any school of thought, because I consider that each doctrine, each philosophy, each phase of religion is a developmental difference in the evolutionary process of every one and everything to the Absolute. Be all and end all. I agree with Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka and Vallabha, the Pratyabhijna system. I agree with Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, as well as Kant and Hegel and their offshoots, F.H. Bradley and Bosenquet, and Josiah Royce. I see no contradiction. Every spectrum of the crystal is beautiful, every petal of the rose is charming, and every ray of the rising sun is a call to life and rejuvenation.