Swami Sivananda’s fundamental philosophy of life was service. His priorities were: “Serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realize.” Meditation was at the end of his list, a long way off. Whereas you start your spiritual life with meditation, my guru’s spiritual life started with service and culminated in meditation. The beginning of spiritual life stems from service to humanity.
The most important thing Swami Sivananda used to say was that just as there is an education system from kindergarten to university, similarly there is a schooling system in spiritual life. The first level is service, the second is love, the third is give. God exists, so you have to think about Him. You have to meditate and pray. You have to purify your heart. I asked, “But how?” He said that the kindergarten of spiritual life is service. What comes next? Loving others. Then the next class is give, give and give. Don’t say, “You give to me,” say, “I give to you.” This is primary spiritual schooling – serve, love and give. This elementary class of spiritual life will prove very useful.
After this, Swami Sivananda said that we should purify the self: purify the mind, heart, intentions and actions. Practice ahimsa, non-violence, satya, truthfulness, brahmacharya, sensual restraint, aparigraha, non-possessiveness, tapasya, austerity, asteya, honesty, shaucha, cleanliness, santosha, contentment, and so on. Purification means that just as you clean your dirty clothes by putting them in detergent, so you put your heart in detergent, soak it and clean it.
Swami Sivananda said, “Suffering and pain is the crucible into which nature throws a man whenever she wants to make him a sublime superman.” You have to accept pain. Don’t be afraid of suffering. Don’t depend on the things of worldly life. Riches will not go with you. Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” You should not depend on wealth as your security in life. Security in life is purification.
After purification, Swami Sivananda spoke of meditation. He said that meditation is like going to college, it is higher education. In meditation or prayer you enter a state of shanti, peace or tranquility, where you become one with God. There is only God in front of you, whether in the form of Rama, Christ, Guru or Govinda, because God is everywhere. He exists in every particle. There is nowhere He is not present. Finally, comes realization.
So, serve, love and give are elementary education. Purify is intermediate education, and meditation is college education. Realization is postgraduate education. This is the curriculum of spiritual schooling. Swami Sivananda gave me the mantra: serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realize, be good, do good, be kind, be compassionate, bear insult, bear injury. This is very difficult, but it is the highest sadhana!
It took me many years to emulate my guru and Practice his principles. He used to say, “Whatever you have, give it to others. It does not belong to you.” I never understood him then, but now I do. Nothing belongs to me, nothing is mine. I am just a medium.