Sri Swami Shivananda
In the village of Choti Khatu there lived Thakur Sri Balawant Singhji Jodha Rajput. This ruler had only one son, Sri Savai Singhji, who was a brave young man of great strength and keen intelligence. On meeting Bhagwan Sri Deep Narayan Mahaprabhuji, the nobleman's son became a faithful and regular visitor to the ashram.
It is said that your nature will develop according to the company you keep. For example, if you associate with drug-takers they will soon pass on their drug habits, but if your companions are holy men, the result is likely to be an increase in your own holiness. And in the presence of a true Saint, the most wonderful things will definitely happen to you. Spiritual awakening and development takes place of its own accord. Liberation begets liberation. All hidden power is revealed and awakened in the disciple through the grace and mercy of the Master.
I must stop here for an aside and ask you to consider one thing. Suppose you think you have discovered the legendary paras stone, with its ability to transform iron into gold. You fetch a piece of iron and touch it with this stone, but nothing happens.
We can draw two conclusions: either the paras stone is not genuine or it was not touched properly. It is just the same situation when meeting a holy person or Master and nothing happens to you in the way of enlightenment, or an awakening. Either the holy person is not a true Master, not perfectly Realized, or else within you there are doubts which hinder contact with that real Master. Blind faith and belief is never demanded of you, instead you must work to improve your inner qualities. Constantly strive to purify yourself. Meditate, pray, serve, think of God and then patiently look for the real results!
So to continue my story, as a result of his virtue and good deeds, Sri Savai Singhji came to meet Mahaprabhuji. The radiance of that Divine Master penetrated so deep into his heart, that immediately he felt the intensity of Divine love and his spirituality was awakened. He realized the transience of this world and was able to attain complete detachment from all worldly pleasures - where all desires of the heart are replaced by a single yearning for union with the Supreme.
It was with great respect but firmness that Sri Savai Singhji spoke to his parents.
"I will no longer be living at home with you, for I wish to renounce the world that I may serve all mankind by showing the true path to those who have lost their way."
"You are our only child," was their shocked reply. "How can you possibly do this to us? Who will carry our family line?"
They were even more distressed because they had already planned the wedding of their son. In India, the role of the eldest son is a very important one and if the son is the only child, he has the responsibility for the continued existence of the whole family and for the care of aged or helpless family members.
"If you have no son to take care of you," Sri Savai Singhji replied gently but firmly, "then you must look to God as your helper, the great protector of all. If you have as much love and attachment for Him as you do for me, then that will be your door to liberation. If it is so important for the family line to continue, then you may rest assured that my uncle will have a son who will take care of the family. You must make your peace with my decision for I will not change my mind. I have promised and I will keep this promise even if it costs my life."
True to his word, Sri Savai Singhji steadily resisted all attempts to interest him in worldly life. Having passed this test of tenacity, he was found worthy to be taken into the sannyas order. On this occasion, a great celebration was prepared and Mahaprabhuji gave initiated him in the traditional sannyas diksha, bestowing a new, spiritual name, Sri Swami Shivananda. Filled with the richness of Mahaprabhuji's grace, he spontaneously offered the following prayer in dedication to Mahaprabhuji:
SRI GURU ATMA MA PARAMATMA
The Atma in everything is Immortal, it is God,
O Gurudeva! As this Atma you live in everyone.
You are the soul of all creatures,
The perfect, pure Atma, the true form,
All-embracing as the sky,
Meditation upon you opens the eyes
To the knowledge of that which has no beginning nor end.
The Atma is without limit,
Standing beyond everything, it is the Supreme,
The Atma is indescribable and Infinite,
O Protector of the Bhaktas!
Happy are those who can approach him,
Above all elements, truly the Supreme dwells among us.
All Yogis and Saints meditate upon him
To attain the highest bliss,
My greatest veneration to you, my
Satguru Mahaprabhu Deep!
Through your mercy, your devotee can leave
behind the burden
of the world and cross the ocean of ignorance.
This is Swami Shivananda's prayer to you,
O' Omniscient and Omnipresent.
Sri Swami Shivananda had been familiar with yoga since his childhood and so his inner Self was well prepared. As soon as Mahaprabhuji blessed him, he entered samadhi, that transcendent state of consciousness and God-realization where knowledge, the knower and the subject of knowledge unite as one. At that moment when the individual consciousness is merged with the Divine, all worldly suffering and misery naturally falls away and one realizes everlasting joy. The ego is dissolved into the Cosmic One and becomes free from all karma.
Swami Shivananda built himself a small underground cell near the ashram and isolated himself there for one month. He closed himself in and gave specific instructions that no one open the door until they heard him chant OM. Without food or drink he remained there in solitude, in the state of samadhi, also called the breathless state.
After one month the devotees waiting outside heard the sound of OM, which informed them that the yogi's consciousness had again entered this world.
Hundreds of people had gathered and were waiting to receive his blessing when he emerged. Bhagwan Sri Deep Narayan Mahaprabhuji opened the door and ordered two disciples to help carry Swami Shivananda out. His body was stiff and he had lost weight, but otherwise he was quite alright. Mahaprabhuji gave him orange juice and after a few days some milk and the whole grain of wheat. For some time he had to follow a special diet prescribed for such situations and after eight days he regained his original physical strength. Surely this is emphatic proof that it is not by food or drink alone that our lives are sustained!
Swami Shivananda was asked to explain why he had made such a great sacrifice and he answered in one bhajan:
HELI MERI DORA MANA SAM JANA
My brothers, it is extremely difficult to control the mind,
It is only possible with the Guru's blessing.
The mind moves faster than the swift black snake,
Creating many waves and forms,
But Gurudeva lives in the lotus of the heart,
It is there you should direct the mind —
Let the waves break there.
The whole form of the Perfect Self is hidden
in the four letters,
Without them your vision is clouded by ego
And you will see many different things, but not the One.
When Prana and Apana rise and rest at the tenth door,
There you will see the Divine One, your true Self,
And the flame of your consciousness will pass into
The great enlightenment.
I came to this realization through my Satguru, Sri Mahaprabhuji,
Swami Shivananda received immortal life through his direct guidance.
Many recognised that Swami Shivananda had attained Self- realization and came to him to ask for instruction. Some asked what "mercy of the Guru" meant and to explain Swami Shivananda sang another bhajan:
ESE HAM GURU GAM SEN BICHARI
The Mercy of my Master I understand like this:
He is a tree without roots or branches,
laden with sweet fruit.
He is infinite, formless and indescribable,
His blossoms show the path of Truth,
He is invisible, eternal and unchangeable,
A tree covered with blossoms that bear heavenly fruit
Beyond human understanding.
Exuding love in all directions
He stands alone and grows without water,
Beyond origin and emptiness, unfathomable.
Many great souls, wise men and Saints chant his glory.
I found Mahaprabhuji, the perfect, merciful Guru,
To realize him means to change yourself.
The Guru is the door to bliss,
With his gracious look
He revealed the secrets of the Supreme to me.
A visitor who had known Swami Shivananda for many years asked why he had given up his comfortable life to become swami.
"Like a man who leaves his home village to build a house in the city," Shivananda answered with a smile, "I too left my palace to build a house in brahma loka."
"Where is this house? Please show it to me," the visitor asked and again Swami Shivananda chanted:
BANGALA ME AJABA SURANGA PAYA
I discovered the unique and wonderful abode of my Guru,
I saw its radiant brilliance reside in Itself
Without sun or shadow, enlightened by Divine Light.
The house is beautiful and priceless,
Only a few great souls can find it,
Its splendour is indescribable —
Not even the Vedas or Puranas can describe it,
The sound of OM SO HAM fills this house —
Formless, free and transcendent.
Mahaprabhuji, my merciful and perfect Master,
Showed me the path to this house,
Due to his mercy, Swami Shivananda found the house of Reality.
The listeners understood what Swami Shivananda meant by the house in brahma loka, as material property is but a transient illusion. Many kings and princes, even Buddha, gave up their worldly wealth in order to reach that spiritual abode which is beyond birth and death.
Swami Shivananda's Father Receives Sannyas Diksha
As Swami Shivananda promised, a son was born to his uncle, thus ensuring the continuation of the family line. His name is Sri Raj Singhji and he lives today as a faithful devotee of Mahaprabhuji. Due to the extraordinary happenings within his own family, Swami Shivananda's father was also inspired to begin the practice of yoga. His faith in Mahaprabhuji steadily grew and later he also became a swami. Mahaprabhuji initiated him and gave him the name Sri Swami Sukhdevananda Puri and he became a great siddha yogi. Unfortunately he did not become a swami until very late in his life. One should try to realize one’s spiritual calling earlier.
The Religious Conference on Hinduism
Swami Shivananda mostly travelled to the province of Uttar Pradesh or to Punjab to spread the teachings of Mahaprabhuji. Once in Jalandhar he participated in a great religious Hindu conference. His lecture left a deep impression on the audience. One particular bhajan stirred the souls of all those present:
ABA JAGO JI BHARAT KE VASI
Friends, wake up!
Why do you sleep so deeply?
You are enveloped in ignorance and do not realize it!
I will tell you the Truth,
Brothers, listen to me:
If you don't follow the precepts of Dharma,
What is the sense of being born as a human?
Do you not feel remorse and shame?
You are the protectors of all creation
And should not be destroyers.
You could be Gods, but you prefer to accompany the devil
— Are you not ashamed of that?
My Satguru, Bhagwan Sri Deep Narayan Mahaprabhuji,
Awoke me with his word.
Wake up to the real religion!
In the audience was the esteemed Sri Nityananda, who recognised that a transcendent Divine power had spoken to them through Swami Shivananda.
The Form of the Supreme is Sound
Dear readers, rarely did Swami Shivananda give long discourses. He only ever answered questions and did that mostly in poetry and bhajans. His songs had their direct source in that origin of all things, God.
To become a swami means to dedicate one's life to realizing the origin of the Universe, to discover the one reality and return to our original spiritual home. Our existence in this world is only momentary, we belong to Eternity. The swami is dedicated to a voyage of inner discovery whose goal is the inner Self, because the Self is the All-Self, Omniscient and Omnipresent. The swami is no longer attached to any one person or family, his responsibility is for all and his home is the whole universe.
Swami Shivananda was once asked where he was from and this was his answer:
ESA HAM SUNA CHETAN KA VASI
My friends, I descended from the void
Where there is no birth or death, nor destiny,
There where all is blessed, he lives.
Immortal, in the light of the Guru's wisdom,
My being exists in nothing and everything,
I am without fear, for I live in the grace of my Guru,
Fearlessly I unite with Nirguna,
In the formless I found the highest goal,
I recognized the blessing in the look of my Guru.
The emptiness beyond emptiness is full of
Beyond reach of the senses,
Beyond intellectual capacity, I saw the Divine Light,
The all-embracing eternal Brahman,
I saw the invisible brightness, the land of Divine colours.
On seeing this I laughed with joy,
This is the land where I belong,
This is the play of Divine nature,
Through my Guru I realized unity,
Without a second, I am one with the universe —
All is One.
Sri Deep, the merciful and eternal one, led me to this Divine land,
Swami Shivananda took refuge in his Guru
And through him attained the Supreme.
"Ah, yes," replied the people with many wise nods. "We understand now and are sorry to have bothered you with our ignorance, we are grateful to you. Your parents must feel fortunate to have such a son. Of what caste are you?"
With great compassion, Swami Shivananda looked upon them and smiled.
"I see that you still do not quite understand. One should not prize the scabbard but rather the blade of a sword. It is not the race, caste, or religion of a person that is important, but only his knowledge of Truth. My relatives and forefathers are those who understand the Divine word."
"Why are words so important," the people asked, "and what is the Divine word?"
Swami Shivananda sang:
SABDA SANEHI MERI JATRA MERI HELI
My relatives are those who understand these words,
Through words we give and take,
We speak, understand and realize through words,
Wherever we go, we cannot get there without words,
Words bring us together, words unite us,
Words raise our consciousness,
Through words we become yogis,
Through words we achieve wisdom,
Through words we are liberated,
Words are Brahman and words are Maya,
Swami Shivananda says,
Through his Divine words I crossed the ocean.
And so the people came to understand what is written in the Vedas:
NADA RUPA PARABRAHMA - "The Form of the Supreme is Sound."
Swami Shivananda was an excellent musician, an expert player of sitar, tabla, flute and harmonium and he had a magnificent, melodious voice.
He also dedicated his life to work against drug abuse and helped numerous people to free themselves from drug addiction. He was popular everywhere and his fame spread far beyond the borders of Rajasthan.
Swami Akhandananda from Gujarat was a friend of Swami Shivananda. He was going on pilgrimage and invited Swami Shivananda to accompany him.
"Swamiji, we are visiting the holy places of our country and would be pleased if you would join us. Your bhajans would be a great spiritual inspiration and we would benefit from your knowledge."
Swami Shivananda smiled and thanked them for their kind invitation.
"Let’s first consider a moment the significance of making such pilgrimages," he replied. "A place of pilgrimage is where a Saint once lived and people who were privy to his wisdom would visit him there. But today the Saint no longer lives there! If you are really searching for God and not just taking a pious holiday, it makes no sense to travel from place to place, following the physical footsteps of Saints. Only man himself can be pious, not his journey.
"Better that you would retreat to a quiet place and concentrate on God, meditate upon him, for God is where you live! It is said that if you try to Master many things you will lose all, but if you Master one thing you will gain all. Therefore, concentrate on this one thing and you will obtain the blessing of perfection! Look at a tree. Its leaves, branches, blossoms and fruit are sustained by the roots. If you want water to reach the leaves, you must pour it on the roots, otherwise the water will be wasted."
One of the swamis objected.
"But Swamiji, are we not going to the roots by visiting these holy places? Aren't they the source of spiritual inspiration and awakening?"
"No!" replied Swami Shivananda. "Only by devoting oneself to the Guru will the fruit of spiritual practice become ripe. Without Guru bhakti, all is in vain. One who has realized the Self, himself becomes the fragrant flower of divinity. No statue or stone, no matter how revered, can show you the way to this truth, for such monuments are only relics of the Supreme. It is the Saint himself whom you must seek, the Self-realized one who knows the path to God from personal experience. Only a living Master can lead you from the darkness of ignorance (gu), to the light of knowledge (ru). He is your spiritual Master, your Guru.
"All manifestations of maya are transient and form the empire of ignorance. But the radiance of the Divine Truth shines everlastingly and is unchangeable, in all three chronological dimensions of past, present and future. It is also unhindered by the dimension of space. My friends, when your prayers are heard and you meet the Satguru, you will see that the whole Universe exists within him and that he is everywhere, in everything. You will see that all holy places, all Gods and all Saints are within him. If you find him, you will never need to go elsewhere.
"Especially blessed are those who can live with their Guru. Fortunate are they who are allowed to serve him and those who only meet him from time to time and hold him in their thoughts. My friends, to merely enter a bank doesn’t make you rich and visiting places where the wise once lived in days gone by, will not impart wisdom. Truth must be acquired through practice and experience. To find the spiritual treasure of the inner Self, the right key must be found. It is the Guru who possesses this key."
Then Swami Shivananda sang another bhajan:
GURU CHARANO ME ADASATA TIRATHA HAIN
All scriptures proclaim that the true pilgrim's goal
Is the place where the Guru lives.
There the true disciples gather to bathe
In the sacred stream of knowledge,
There the experienced ones come to convey their wisdom.
There all wishes of the aspirants are fulfilled
And they reach their aim of self realization,
Liberated from birth and death,
they unite with the Supreme.
Praise to Gurudeva Mahaprabhu Deep!
How thankful is Swami Sivananda that
he finds completeness there.
Swami Akhandananda and the other pilgrims abandoned their journey and spent many blessed days in inspirational satsang with Swami Shivananda, for whom they felt a great veneration.
Swami Shivananda Merges with Brahman
For many years Swami Shivananda taught the truth through lectures and satsang, bringing people to the right path. His most beautiful bhajans are collected in a book titled Sri Shivananda Vani Prakash.
At the end of his earthly existence, he took leave of his physical body through the power of yoga and in accordance with the Divine will, united with the Supreme Consciousness.
paras = legendary stone that transforms iron into gold
sannyas diksha = initiation ceremony of a swami
Om So Ham ("I am That") is written with four characters in Sanskrit.
brahma loka = highest level of the Divine
Guru bhakti = devotion to the Guru
Next Chapter: Thakur Revat Singh
Previous Chapter: Meeting with Mahatma Gandhi
Overview: Disciples of Sri Mahaprabhuji