by Swami Krishnananda
The writings of Swami Sivananda cover a vast range of subjects, in accordance with his plan of approaching man from every side and every aspect. These works treat, in detail, such diverse topics as anatomy and physiology; health, hygiene and sanitation; physical exercise, first aid and treatment of diseases; the discipline of the physical body through the technical Hatha Yoga processes of asanas or bodily postures, pranayama or the regulation of the vital force and of breathing, bhandhas, mudras and kriyas—all intricate methods of the perfection of the body to prepare it for withstanding the onslaughts of nature’s pairs of opposites such as heat and cold, hunger and thirst; an exhaustive psychological analysis of the composition, working and behaviours of the inner man—the mental, volitional, effective, moral and rational natures, which so much influence and decide the values of life as a whole; the duties of man, his relations to family, community and nation; his position in the world and the universe; his national, international and world relations; the social, ethical and political structure of individuals; the assessment of the values, both religious and spiritual; and a comprehensive and penetrating discussion of the characteristics of the ultimate goal of human life, as well as an intensive treatment of the nature of the way leading to this goal.
In his expositions of these subjects, so very widely spread in apparently isolated universes of discourse, Swami Sivananda appeals not merely to the rational and the scientific man or the intelligentsia of society, but also to the devout, the faithful and the believing, to the common masses ignorant of higher laws, to spiritual aspirants, Sannyasins, householders, recluses, businessmen, women and children, alike. It will be observed, on a careful study of his writings, that his appeal is more to the heart and the feelings, and his admonitions are mostly of a practical nature adapted for an immediate application in the day-to-day life of man in every class of society.
His works are, strictly speaking, lengthy gospels on the different yogas: such as, (1) Jnana Yoga or the philosophical technique of the rational and the scientific intellect in unravelling the secrets of nature and living a life of the wisdom, truth and justice of the law of the Absolute; (2) Raja Yoga or the psychic and mystical way of analysing, dissecting and inhibiting the constituents and modifications of the mind-stuff, thus enabling man to overcome its tyrannies and come to a comprehension of his position in a universality of the Spirit or the Purusha; (3) Bhakti Yoga or the way of spiritual love and devotion directed to the majestic Sovereign of the universe, the merciful and compassionate Father of all creation, by which emotions, such as those fastening man to relations with his parents, his children, his masters, his friends and his partner in life, are sublimated and ennobled by being centred in the universal nature of God who promises man, when he has surrendered his self completely to Him, with the hope of salvation; (4) Karma Yoga or the science and the art of spiritual activity, a splendid manner of converting every action and every duty in life—physical, mental, moral or spiritual—into a Yoga of the Divine, by linking it up with a ceaseless consciousness of the omnipresence of the Absolute, of the surrender of one’s personality to God, or of one’s standing as an unaffected witness of the movements of the internal and the external nature; (5) Hatha Yoga or the disciplining of the physical body, the nervous system and the vital forces with a view to preparing the individual for the practice of the higher yoga of inner discipline and meditation; (6) Kundalini Yoga or the bringing into activity of a highly occult force dominant and latent in the individual, by a rousing of which through a training of the prana and the mind the illimitable resources of nature are spontaneously placed at the disposal of man, and he becomes possessed of a consciousness of his true at-one-ment with the universe; (7) Mantra, Yantra and Tantra Yogas or the ways of certain purely mystic processes of generating spiritual forces and vibrations within, as also of relating these to the without, through the symbology of specific sounds, formulas, diagrams and rituals intended to free man from confinement to the lower nature and raise him to the regions of the higher nature; (8) Japa Yoga or the spiritual practice of the chanting of the Divine Name or certain significant letters, words, phrases or sentences in order to bring about a condition of harmony and illumination in the inner nature of man; (9) Laya Yoga or the method of the dissolution of the mind in the Spirit by the recession of effects into causes, the merging of the grosser in the subtler, and the raising of one’s consciousness and force from the lower to the higher. Swami Sivananda displays a great mastery in the synthesis of these various Yogas for the benefit of men of weak will, and assures the aspirant-world that success is bound to come when practice is backed up by sincerity, firmness and patience.
It is said that a sage of Self-realisation is like a pure crystal which has, by itself, no colour, but appears to assume the tint of any object that may be brought near it. Such a sage is supposed to behave, speak and act like a child with a child, an adult with an adult, an old man with an old man, a scholar with a scholar, and an ignorant one with an ignoramus. The idea behind this spontaneous self-expression, uninitiated by any particularised motive, intention, effort or will, is a close following of one’s true nature with the Divine Will, which is immanent and active in all beings, and which has neither partiality nor prejudice, neither preference nor ill will with regard to anyone.
Swami Sivananda, in his personal life and example, as well as in his writings and speeches, reflected spontaneously, as it were, the nature manifested and exhibited by the environment around him, and acted in close keeping with a purely impersonal life. His works are not so much enunciations of principles for the guidance of the intellect and the reason—as is the case with several rationalistic works of metaphysicians—as practical instructions on the methods of the life spiritual, meant to go straight into the hearts of aspiring individuals, whether or not they have carefully thought out beforehand the conditions and the inner circumstances under which they have been prompted to take to the spiritual way of living by the inner call to discover what seems to be hidden in and is above nature. There is no circumlocution, no periphrasis, no superficial statements or throwing of unnecessary sidelights in his writings, but a clear-cut, well-defined and open path free from all mystifications and ambiguities is laid before the seeker with an intention not merely to give information but to enlighten and guide him at every step of his sadhana. His style and expression are remarkably simple, surging from the heart and the feeling of one who has had not only a vision of the perfection and the delight of God-Being but who possesses an insight into the sufferings of man, the depth of his ignorance which is hard to circumvent, and the need for illumination in the human world to lead a normal life—not only physical, mental and moral, but also spiritual, extended outward in the society, the nation and the world. The entire mass of his teachings is powerfully charged with the dominant spiritual note that all forms of life in society, whether individual or collective, have ultimately to be based on and derive meaning and inspiration from the recognition of a boundless existence deeper than all the visible and the conceivable orders of nature. Fired with a deep anxiety to relieve the world of ignorance and pain, Swami Sivananda girt up his loins to face the situation in the best possible manner open to him, and spared no pains in harnessing all his energy for the noble divine purpose which he set before himself. His works are illustrative of almost every way of contacting man through literature—metaphysics, ethics, religion, mysticism, psychology, parables, stories, catechism, yoga, prayer, and ritual.
The student qualified to approach his spiritual literature is, as with the Yoga Vasishtha, neither one who is totally ignorant of spiritual values nor one who has attained to the apex of spiritual life. The aspirant endowed with the ethical and the moral qualifications of yama, niyama and sadhana-chatushtaya, who has, by his purity of mind, received monitions as to the existence of a higher life and is stirred with the zeal to grasp it and realise it in his own life, but is at the same time troubled by incapacities, doubts and lack of knowledge in regard to the proper method of approaching it and the spiritual way of conducting himself, should turn to the works of Swami Sivananda. As is usually the case with eminent spiritual philosophies and yoga techniques, most of his writings begin with a vivid and clear portrayal of the presence and the nature of suffering in the world, the detection of which is the first prerequisite and the fundamental stage of a spiritual way of life. Like Sankara, the philosopher, Swami Sivananda boldly affirms the existence of a Supreme Absolute, second to which there can be none; and like the Buddha, he gives a colourful picture of the character of pain in life, makes a careful diagnosis of the cause of this pain, a detailed analysis of human psychical conditions, and delineates the laying out of the path running up to the ultimate perfection and peace of man, together with a dignified description of the characteristics of his final destiny.
Swami Sivananda emphasises that life is the working out of a philosophy, and philosophy is the unravelling of the mystery of existence, an all-round consideration of the deeper implications of experience and not merely an arising of the mansions of logical systems. Philosophy is more a digging deep into the abyss of life than a flying into the air of abstract speculation. Swami Sivananda recognises that any philosophy divested of human concerns is, in the end, doomed to failure and can never appeal to the restless and inquisitive spirit of man. Philosophy, religion and life mean to him one and the same thing, and they signify not any unworldly or otherworldly concepts, but move in close association with man’s demands for hunger and love, fame and power, value for life, concern for others and regard for oneself, and his ultimate aspiration for immortality in Brahman. The ringing tone of Swami Sivananda’s life and teachings is that of a supernal love based on proper understanding, a love in which the obstructing barrier between man and man is broken open, and in which one easily discovers a happy way of participating in the life of others in the world.
Endless hope, which seems to be the only foundation of all human enterprises, bespeaks the remote possibility, if not the immediate fact, of a union of the personal will with the Universal Law of God. It is this love and this meaning of hope and aspiration that can assure a world brotherhood, a world government based on universal sympathy and altruistic considerations. It is this principle of humanitarianism, this relevance to the ultimate good of the human individual, and an acute perception of the necessity of rousing mankind to the presence of an Absolute, an Almighty God, that characterise the life and teachings of Swami Sivananda.
It is said that the Vedas are infinite, a statement which conveys the idea that knowledge is endless and the wonder of creation impenetrable. The scripture declares that there is no limit to God’s glories and there is no cessation of man’s endeavour to comprehend His nature and the path leading to Him. Swami Sivananda caught the significance of this great truth and so never felt that spiritual teachings can have an end, that one can ever be tired of teaching the spiritual way of life or of listening to spiritual instructions, or that there could be a limit to the carefulness with which the Guru has to look after the welfare of his disciples at every stage. The whole of life is teeming with spiritual import, and hence every moment is an opportunity for sadhana, an occasion to exercise unlimited caution in regard to one’s spiritual practices and the chances of temptations, the thwarting, sidetracking and stagnation of mind and spirit in one’s life. The philosophic life is not a strange way of deportment, but the normal flow of a well-adjusted and perfected activity in the healthy maturity of seasoned knowledge and profound insight into Truth.
The inspiring teachings of Swami Sivananda constitute one long song of liberation—the liberation of the individual, the society, the community, the nation and the world—physically, intellectually, morally and spiritually. The central burden of this eternal song of all-round freedom is peace—peace to all, peace everywhere, by learning and imbibing the lesson that Life is One. Every breath that flows from man, every movement of his limbs, every turn of his behaviour, is a direct or indirect effort towards the reconstruction of his personality to suit a better purpose, to bring about an easier and happier condition of life, with liberty and peace as its emblems.
Man represents a microscopic specimen of what happens in the gigantic cosmos on a colossal scale. The aspirations, the changes in the forms of consciousness, the attempt to reach unity, freedom and happiness, which are seen to be vigorously active in man, can also be seen to be busy in the fulfilment of the purpose of the cosmos. In one’s own personal life, in society and in the state, man struggles to manifest a regular system and order, abolishing chaos and confusion, an intense passion for the firm establishment of which seems to be innate in the very structure of all beings, especially in self-conscious beings in whom the development of intelligence has come to the stage of displaying the ability to know the difference between right and wrong, true and false. The universe does the same thing, with this difference that, while man strives with insufficient knowledge, the universe moves freely with an unrestricted expression of this tendency to realise the highest truth, goodness and freedom in its own bosom.
The changes that take place in the parts are felt in the constitution of the whole. As every cell in the human body organises itself to live in accordance with the law that regulates the whole body, and as every error on the part of a cell in the execution of its meaning brings about a reaction from the entire body with the purpose of setting right the wrong that has entered into its being, so does the cosmic law correct the errors committed by the individuals constituting the cosmos. Small errors cause mild reactions, and great wrongs lead to tremendous upheavals. Even the so-called unobserved acts in the grosser world produce mighty vibrations in the subtler regions.
The entire teaching and activity of Swami Sivananda centres round an untiring stress on the possibility of individual and world peace on the basis of a knowledge and practice of this dharma, this law eternal, this rule of unity in every level of existence, in every grade of society, in every individual, every man, woman and child. This is his clarion call—the ceaseless warning to humanity that peace cannot be had by warfare, by exploitation, by domination or competition, for these bursting waves on the surface are raised by the storms of desire and greed, and that there can be no rest for man until these violent commotions cease through understanding and cooperation. Man’s concept of pleasure is nothing but an outcome of his erroneous judgment of a present good, his desire is the result of a wrong idea of a future good, his pain is the consequence of a false notion of a present evil, and his fear is the corollary of a mistaken evaluation of the nature of a future evil. All passions and their several variations are veritable diseases brought on by erroneous thinking. These are to be eradicated, for they are irrational and founded on ignorance. Man needs proper education of his faculties in the direction of the real and the good in the highest sense. The unfailing working of the classes of society and the stages of life, according to their dharma, is essential for manifesting in everyday life the peace which is at the bottom of man, the law of God which sustains all things, and for bringing Heaven itself here on Earth. For Swami Sivananda, every form of life can be transformed into a Yoga of the Divine, provided the requisite knowledge is acquired by study, contemplation and service.
The revered Mahatma Gandhi did a signal service not only in the field of politics but also in religion, philosophy and ethics, when he emphasised the aspect of Truth as God. In the assertion commonly made, viz., God is Truth, the judgment involved is likely to become questionable, for the predicate ‘Truth’ is referred to ‘God’ whose existence is presupposed or taken for granted. Naturally, those to whom the existence of God has not become an article of faith and whose rational attitude has not been convinced of it will take the assertion ‘God is Truth’ as not a demonstrated fact but a hypothetical proposition. But in the asseveration ‘Truth is God’ no such sublime inconsequence is involved, for none can deny that there is such a thing as Truth. And this Truth is identified with what we have to understand by God. Truth is the law of the universe. This law is not blind, but is intelligence itself operating everywhere. Law and law-giver in this case are one. And likewise, to Swami Sivananda, Truth is not merely speaking the truth but ‘That which is’. It is the unchanging, infinite and eternal Substance, which is at once the law and the love governing and guiding man, society, nation and world. The true significance of this Truth and of this Love is not properly assimilated in ordinary man’s life, but is fully realised in the life of the superman who is not only a world ruler but also a Self ruler. It is not Nietzsche’s egoistic elevation of man to power but the Self-realised sage, a veritable embodiment of the Divine, that is the ideal superman, a being who is at one and the same time a man of the world and a representative of the Absolute.
True knowledge is a knowledge of things in their essences, in their relation to the universe, in the relation of Truth. This Truth, this Law, when it is supported and protected, supports and protects everyone. “Dharmo rakshati rakshitah.” It is only when we realise that joy is in the fulfilment of the Law of God that we become truly free and liberated from all bondage. Dharma is the innermost nature and truth of man and of the universe, for it is the body of the Divine Will. This is real duty, and here is the secret of world peace. Swami Sivananda has been living and preaching this deathless truth, this law and order of nature, for the solidarity of the world, for all mankind to emulate and follow, and his divine mission shall be fulfilled when even a modicum of this knowledge shall succeed in throwing light into the dark corners of man’s mortal nature.
Here is the essence of the law and the love that unites the world. This is the rationale behind all the gospels of world peace and the doctrines of universal love and brotherhood. Broadcasting the ancient wisdom of India, the wisdom that discovered the true relation of man to his environment, Swami Sivananda ceaselessly urges humanity to muster in forces for bringing about real peace in the world. All his teachings and messages are lessons in the attainment of unity by the integration of personality in the consciousness of the Absolute. The aim of life is the practical realisation of the eternal spiritual essence which finds itself in man in a very limited and obscure form. Every individual tries to stretch beyond himself by desiring, aspiring, longing. Desire of any kind is a disclosure, in one’s conscious states, that there is something wanting, something lacking, something inadequate. Give the whole world to man; he will not be satisfied. Why? Because there is that something, beyond the world, lying outside the possession of any Earthly individual. Give him the whole of the heavens; he will still be dissatisfied because there is yet an unfulfilled want. This grievous mishap is the direct result of man’s ignorance of his unity with creation. “For the magnanimous, the whole world is one family,” says the scripture. There can be no peace for man unless he begins to recognise, live and serve his vast surroundings as his own Self, until he does his best at least to approximate his conduct in daily life to this sublime ideal. Peace is only in God, and the peace which we can hope to enjoy in this world depends upon the extent to which we have succeeded in reading and manifesting this infinitude of the Spirit in our social, national and world relations. This achievement is not only a consequence of the knowledge and experience of Truth by man, but also a necessary condition of his attaining any success in his endless struggle for perfection. This is the teaching, the religion, the ethics, the philosophy and the gospel of Swami Sivananda to every son and daughter of this Earth, of every station in society. This is the hope of humanity.
Towards this end, Swami Sivananda has urged the philosophers of the world to join hands and work together as a confederation of higher rational and spiritual forces. He sends his message: “If a major world catastrophe is to be prevented in time, the foremost philosophers of the world must come forward. Theirs is this sacred duty; for the Light of Divine Knowledge, the radiance of the Universal Power that holds all beings together, that supports the whole universe and sustains it, shines through them.” “It is not enough today if His Message is delivered on a battlefield, or on a Mount, or in a holy place, and allowed to take its own time to spread far and wide. Simultaneously, all over the world, everybody should hear the Word of God, and take to the right path. This is possible only through the agency of a united body of world philosophers, and therefore Divine intervention might well take that form.” “Without in any way altering the fundamentals of religion, they will be able to bring about a synthesis of all religions, each religion taking what is the best from the others. Thus will a World Order emerge, through a world religion.” “This World Philosophical Congress will provide the correct base for scientists, economists and politicians to build their mansions on. Thus guided by philosophers, scientists will work for the happiness and welfare of humanity; economists will plan for the commonwealth; politicians will discover ways and means of living at peace and maintaining the peace of the world.”