In 1942, at the age of nineteen, I left my home in search for a guru. First I went to Rajasthan and lived with a tantric guru for some time. He taught me different branches and aspects of tantra, theoretically and also practically. But I realized that it was not my destiny, so I left his place. After wandering for several months I arrived in Rishikesh in 1943.
At that time the ashram was not more than a few kutirs in the wilderness amidst scorpions, serpents and tormenting mosquitoes, but it was beautiful, on the banks of the pure Ganga.
When I arrived at Sivananda Ashram I went up the stairs and entered the bhajan hall, the place where akhanda kirtan had been going on since 1943. The vibration of the hall is still very clear in my mind. It was the most divine atmosphere that I had ever experienced in my life.
Then I was led to Swami Sivananda. He asked me where I came from and I told him. He asked what I wanted and I told him of my difficulty. I explained that I had been meditating since thirteen years of age. I had started my meditation when I was six years old. I was able to come to a point of shoonya but I was not able to go beyond that. There was no experience, no revelation and nothing transcendental. He said only one thing: that I should stay in the ashram and serve the ashram, while purifying the mind and body.
So, from 19th March 1944, I started to live in the ashram and participated in almost every sphere of service. It was a time which cannot be compared with life in paradise. It is difficult to explain my experiences. I am talking about the totality of experience for a period of twelve years, not one day’s experience, not a moment’s experience, but the sum total of experience which cannot be compared with what one imagines even in one’s wildest dreams.
Kabir Das said, “If you place the pleasure of swarga, paradise, and moksha, spiritual liberation, in one balance and the guru’s presence in the other balance, there is no comparison between the two.” That is to say, to live in association with guru, to work for him and give all your love, dedication and devotion, and your idiosyncrasies also to him is such a wonderful experience that you can never get it even if you go into samadhi. That was my experience also.
It was not that ashram life was easy and comfortable, because it was a life of great hardship. There were myriads of mosquitoes but no mosquito net. There was no mattress to sleep on, no place to sleep, no money to fulfil some petty requirements like bidis, toothpaste or pan. Even the food was so simple that most people could not live there for one week. For twelve years I enjoyed hardships, sometimes falling ill with dysentery, hepatitis, etc., and sometimes not taking proper food or rest. But still, that life was like heaven.
Once I was going to Rishikesh when an aged swami met me on the way. He said, “Hey Satyananda, what happened to you?” I said, “Nothing.” He said, “No, you are suffering from jaundice.” I said, “But I have no mirror to see and no time to see.” I did not understand what he was saying. I knew what hepatitis and jaundice were, but what he told me did not even affect me so I forgot what he said. I only remembered after some years what he had said and I don’t know what happened to that jaundice, but I survived.
That I survived so many incidents which took place in my life in the ashram was solely due to the spiritual guidance and blessings of my guru and my total devotion to him.
Those who have not seen Swami Sivananda will never be able to understand that such a man could ever exist on this planet. Today we see many sadhus, mahatmas and gurus, but very few of them measure up to his natural compassion, wisdom, dynamism and saintliness. He never directed the ashram, but the ashram blossomed. He never took care of the property and money, yet the ashram prospered. The ashram was full of people of nineteen or twenty years of age. We were all boys when we came to the ashram; we all worked very hard and learned a lot. We evolved ourselves only under the able inspiration and guidance of our guru.
In my opinion, as time went by, Sivanandaji lived in a totality of consciousness, operating on every sphere of consciousness at the same time. Simultaneously, he experienced samadhi and the world, maya (illusion) and moksha (liberation). Everything seemed to be operating in him. I cannot say that he was a total vairagi (renunciate), but I also cannot say that he was a total ragi (enjoyer). He lived a life of completeness.
His teachings to us were simple and direct. He said, “Do not be disturbed and don’t disturb.” I never saw him fretting and frowning. I never saw him worried. I never saw him over-jubilant. I never heard him criticizing anyone and never saw him refuse anything to anyone.
There was a man, Danavira Karna, son of Kunti, who was born during the Mahabharata era, five thousand years ago. He was the greatest, most generous man in India of that time. When you saw Swami Sivananda, you could remember Karna. If anyone came to the ashram, he would receive them unconditionally; not only a brahmin or a sadhu, not only a beggar or a sweeper, not only a good man, but even those who came into the ashram to harm him, or to cause damage to the ashram. All would receive his blessings, assistance and support.
With me in particular, Sivanandaji was very kind. I used to work very hard. Many times I used to keep awake during the day with work, and also during the night I used to look after the ashram property by taking rounds at 1 a.m., 2 a.m., and 3 a.m. in all the buildings and all over the forest. He knew of my busy timetable and he used to send me coffee even though he personally never drank coffee in his life. He used to keep coffee for me and tell everyone, “Keep it for Swami Satyananda, because he keeps awake for many hours in the night.”
Once I went to him and told him I was going back, not intending to take sannyasa because I had realized by then that for God-realization, sannyasa was not necessary. Anyone can attain samadhi or moksha, whether a householder, a brahmin, or a non-vegetarian. I had realized this, and without telling him, I had written to a newspaper applying for a job as sub-editor and received my letter of acceptance.
I went to Swamiji and told him of my intentions. It was 5th September 1947. Swamiji said, “Your destiny is sannyasa and self-realization is not your problem. You have a duty to perform. Get yourself well-equipped. I want you to be a sannyasin.” On 12th September, three days after his birthday, many people were to take sannyasa diksha. My name was on the list.
That morning I returned and told him that I had decided to proceed with my plan. He said, “No. You have things to do and you are not meant for that life.” He said stubbornly, “Sannyasa,” and I was given sannyasa on 12th September 1947. Swamiji said, “You are serving here as a part of your training. Even as the saplings of a tree are removed and are planted elsewhere, so shall be your destiny.” I remained in Rishikesh for many years and served him.
Then, in 1956, I went to him. By that time I was completely exhausted. I wanted to leave every type of work; I wanted no sweeping, no keys, no money, no bank account, nothing. Physically, emotionally and mentally I was tired. I can say that I was in a state of depression. I wanted to get out of the ashram and stay somewhere calm and quiet with no work and no responsibility, just eat a little and do some sadhana, that is all. I wanted to sleep for six months. I was totally exhausted in every way.
I went to Swamiji to tell him I was going. He did not tell me not to go. He gave me 108 rupees. Then he called me into his room and said, “I will give you some instructions on a very old tantric practice, kriya yoga.” He started teaching me and it took hardly seven or eight minutes to learn all the kriyas. He just looked at me. In my life I have never bent before anyone, never, not even in a temple as many people do. No, it is not my nature. That day when I touched his feet, at once a point came into my mind: “Find a mission for yourself.” I left the ashram, and from 1956 to 1963 wandered throughout the Indian subcontinent on foot, by bullock cart, by car, train and plane. I lived amongst the people and experienced their joys as well as their suffering.
On the night of 13th July 1963, I was in Munger and I had an inner awakening. I had a dream as if something was happening inside, but it was as real as if it were happening physically in front of me. In that dream I saw Swami Sivanandaji traveling on a steamer from Sivananda Ashram to Swarga Ashram on the other side of the river Ganges. From the steamer, conches and bugles were being blown and drums were being beaten. Sivanandaji was sitting alone on the steamer. He was the only passenger. I was witnessing the whole thing from the bank in front of the Darshan Maha Vidyalaya, which is a little above Sivananda Ashram. The flywheel on the steamer splashed a little bit of Ganga water on me and my experience finished.
I came out, my dream was finished. Immediately I understood that Swamiji had left his body. At the time when the water was being splashed on me, he was sitting in the chair and looking at me. Otherwise he was looking to the other side. When my dream was finished, firstly I understood clearly that he had left his body, and secondly that I had been anointed, I had been appointed. His grace was upon me, and I would have to start working for the propagation of yoga.
On 19th January 1964, Munger ashram was declared open and the first ahuti, oblations, were offered to the fire. That was the day of Basant Panchami. From that time, every now and then my soul opens and I find him there and he tells me what to do. I do not know how to open myself to his presence; I cannot do it, it happens by itself. Some mornings or evenings my spirit opens and he is there. He tells me what to do.
You should understand that the work Bihar School of Yoga has done in the last seventeen years is not an outcome of my intelligence or my efforts. It is not an outcome of my experience or of anything that belongs to me. It is because of his instructions and the guidance which he whispers to me from time to time.
You can now perhaps understand the relationship which a disciple and guru have with each other. A guru may leave his body, but he will continue to live in the heart of every disciple. Disciples may go away, but the guru’s grace follows them. Whether or not you realize that grace is a different matter. Blind people can’t see the sun even though there is sunlight. Often disciples become blind through avidya, ajnana (ignorance), and maya moha (worldly attachments) and they do not realize the blessings and benedictions of the guru.
Now, of course I have passed through that period of life when passions and ambitions assailed me, when I could recognize and was influenced by greed, anger, jealously, name, fame and money. That time has passed very gradually and of its own accord. I do not feel that I have done anything because my simple philosophy is that everything is an expression of guru’s will.
Everything, not only in my life, but also in your life and in everybody’s life is an expression of divine will. Only God knows what is to be wished for and what is to be desired. I don’t know anything. If I am a criminal today, it is Your wish. If I am a saint today, it is only because You wanted it. If I am going through a period of passions and ambitions, You wanted it. If I succeed in the work that I have undertaken, You wanted it. And if the whole drama that is being played by me is destroyed, it is Your will. Thy will be done.
This firm conviction is becoming more and more clear in my mind because I am a human being and naturally I must express my human behaviour. Even if I don’t work, the work will go on. Even if I don’t live the work will go on, because, as it is said in the Bhagavad Gita, “O Arjuna, Bhishma, Drona, Jayadratha . . . , they have already been killed. They are not standing here; they have already been killed by me, but you have to play the part of an instrument.”
Destiny is there and the destination is also already fixed. It will happen, but we have to participate as a witness, as a medium and as an instrument. And that has always been the philosophy of Sivanandaji.
If you are a disciple you should be dedicated and devoted to your guru. You should direct your effort and endeavour to carrying out and furthering his work, whatever it may be. For you are merely an extension of your guru, in body, mind and consciousness.
—Divine Life Society, Madras, 1982, first published in YOGA Vol. 21, No. 7 (July 1983)