Prior to my coming to Swami Sivananda in 1943, I was already connected to many teachers of tantra. I was practising meditation, other spiritual practices and various sadhanas. I had learned the modern systems of yoga therapy, psychotherapy and tantric practices in the burial ground. I also had some training with a tantric yogini for some time, and lived with an old man who was a master of tantra, but I was not satisfied.
I already knew very well by then that family life was not meant for me. I always wanted to live alone and wander alone. I never wanted anybody with me, to protect, help or sympathize with me. I did not like money, property and friends. In my early days, I thought that society was a bundle of idiosyncrasies. Even now I hold the same opinion, therefore, the only way left for me was to take and accept sannyasa.
With the help of some people whom I had met earlier, I came to Rishikesh and to Swami Sivananda. His influence was spontaneous. I did not have to assess him. I did not have to decide whether to stay with him or go away. In his presence my analytical mind became stupefied. In fact, it was only after many years that I was amazed at what I had done: to live with a person for twelve years without having to analyze or without having to assess. If you want to have a good job, or purchase a house, you always think whether you should or should not. That is because of the analytical mind, but if your mind shuts down, you will not think. That was my first experience of my guru.
In the presence of the guru, the intellect is stupefied. Only the heart grows; you don't have to think through the power of reasoning. That is called surrender. Surrender does not mean prostrating flat before a person. Surrender means surrender of ego and intellect, but you cannot do this on your own. If there is anything really hard in life, very difficult, it is surrender of the ego.
I come from an affluent background, prosperous, wealthy, from a great family and with social prestige. I had never seen poverty. I knew nothing but comfort and luxury. In fact, I did not know that we could eat vegetables. I only thought those who were poor ate vegetables. We had many villages, cultivations, thousands of sheep, hundreds of ponies. Yet, when I came to Rishikesh I did not even have a place to sleep or anything to eat. There were a lot of mosquitoes, scorpions, serpents and monkeys. The Ganga waters were really cold. For many years in Rishikesh ashram, I suffered from diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis, paratyphoid and typhoid. Still, I did not think to leave.
I used to work very hard. That was the beginning period of the ashram. In order to have my food, I had to walk four to five kilometers in the hot sun everyday. I never noticed it. That was the second experience, for when you have love for somebody, there are no difficulties. You become aware of the difficulties when you have no one to love. If you love your guru or if you love anybody, even if the whole world kicks you, criticizes you, you don't care. The personality of Swami Sivananda was so compassionate, so peaceful, that I never knew the disease and sickness that I suffered from.
If I look back on those years, I am surprised as to how it happened. Was I dreaming or was I under hypnosis? My ashram in India is relatively better than that ashram, but still there are people who have their own ego and complain about it. When you have love for somebody how can you be aware of extraneous experiences. When you are in the warm embrace of a young boy or young girl, you do not even notice the passage of time. When you are under the grip of passion and violence, you do not think of anything else. When you are in the presence of your guru, how are you aware of your own self? I stayed like this with Swami Sivananda for a full period of twelve years.
Swami Sivananda's fundamental philosophy of life was seva. He placed the singing of God's name at the top of his priority list and meditation at the end of his list, a long way off. Whereas most practitioners start their spiritual life with meditation, Swami Sivananda's spiritual life started with service and culminated in meditation. The beginning of spiritual life stems from service to humanity. Swami Sivananda's life was an example of compassion, charity and generosity. He was simple, devout, kind and compassionate. He was happiest when he was feeding and giving to people. His philosophy in life was that God is real and everything else is unreal. He was a generous and large-hearted man.
Swami Sivananda's heart was completely open, without any doors or windows. He was not at all interested in accumulating wealth. He used to say, "Spend more than you have. Feed the poor and give them medicine. Give blankets to the pilgrims. Make arrangements for drinking water during the summer, and extend all possible help to the sadhus and sannyasins." He always thought about others. Whenever he met people he did not give spiritual lessons, but said pleasant things to them and gave clothes, food and medicine. He could remember the names of each one of his acquaintances from thirty-five to forty years ago. If a man had become old, he would ask, "How is your grandson? He was in the eighth class. Where is he now? What is he doing? He had a mole here. Is the mole still there?" He cared for people, so he knew everything about them, especially their difficulties, problems, ambitions and desires.
Here is a story of Swamiji's unquestioning and unconditioned love for one and all. One day Swami Sivananda was showing a wealthy devotee around the ashram. The wealthy devotee had just spent some rather uncomfortable nights in one of the rooms in the ashram, with a lot of mosquitoes and no mosquito nets, and the toilets far off.
While Swami Sivananda was showing him around the ashram, the guest noticed a very attractive looking kutir on a hillock. He said, "Swamiji, that kutir looks very comfortable. That is the type of kutir we should be building for the residents and guests who come to stay here." Swami Sivananda said, "Yes, but the money is in your pocket." The man replied, "Could I have a look at the kutir? I'd like to see the inside and see who is being housed there." Swami Sivananda said, "Of course, let's go and have a look."
Inside the kutir an old bull was convalescing. The visitor got a shock as he was expecting to find some VIP residing there. So when he saw the bull he could only exclaim, "My God! My God!" Swami Sivananda said, "Yes, exactly."