(1887 – 1963)
Born in 1887 in Pattamadai, Tamil Nadu, South India, Swami Sivananda whose name was then Kuppuswami, was a brilliant boy at studying as well as gymnastics and naturally inclined toward spiritual and religious practices. His natural selfless spirit lead him to a career in the medical field.
The young Dr. Kuppuswami felt a strong urge to go to Malaysia where he felt there was great need. In a short time he was given the responsibility of running a hospital. During these years Dr. Kuppuswami was renowned as being both an excellent doctor and a true humanitarian. Very often he waived consultation fees for patients too poor to afford his services and on many occasions provided medicine for free to his neediest patients.
One day Dr. Kuppuswami had the opportunity to cure a wandering Sannyasin (renunciate or Monk) who then gave the doctor instruction on Yoga and Vedanta. From that day on his life changed, and gradually Dr. Kuppuswami became more introspective and could not stop pondering the great questions of life. Now he felt the need to help people on a more profound level, not just healing their physical body, but helping them to find a cure for all suffering.
Filled with a tremendous desire for spiritual growth and enlightenment Kuppuswami went to North India in search of his Guru. After spending time in Varanasi (Banaras) he travelled north to the Himalayas. There in the holy town of Rishikesh (which means “the abode of the sages”) Kuppuswami discovered his Guru who gave him Sannyas (a monk’s vows of renunciation). After taking these vows, Swami Sivananda Saraswati, as he would be known henceforth, started an extremely intense daily Sadhana (spiritual practices) and Tapas (austerities) for the next 10 years or so.
From that time Swami Sivananda became one of the most prolific Yoga teachers who has ever existed. Although he rarely left the little town of Rishikesh (with only 2 India tours and no visits abroad) Swami Sivananda’s teachings spread quickly throughout our entire planet. He has written more than 200 books on topics connected to Yoga and Philosophy.
Many who read his books felt their lives deeply touched and transformed and so came from all of India, all of the world, to learn from him directly, and to bask in his holy presence. The teachings of Master Sivananda are summarized in these 6 words:
“Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realize”.
In 1957, Swami Sivananda sent his devoted and industrious disciple, Swami Vishnu-Devananda to the West where he then established the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers.
Words of wisdom from Swami Sivananda
Life is the greatest of all teachers and this world is its school. Truly, the world is the best school. All its lessons are taught through the books of nature. Nature everywhere abounds with such lofty lessons which alone are quite sufficient to bestow the highest wisdom to man. Each day is a valuable page in this book and each thing and natural phenomenon embodies a lesson to one who observes and reflects. And if you carefully analyse and reflect upon every phenomenon of nature, you will find that they all speak of the glory of God, the grandeur of the inner spiritual life; a life of unalloyed peace, bliss and perennial happiness—yes; it urges you to launch upon the actual Sadhana to make you happy and to free you from grief, affliction and sorrow.
All the ancient saints and seers—the men of God who have had intuition—have been declaring to all the mankind the great bliss, the vast power and knowledge that can be experienced if only man would turn from the sensual, sinful life and strive for the higher divine life. Yet we see today that man is as much immersed—if not more—in worldliness as he was centuries ago and the state of mankind is as apathetic and lethargic towards these questions of a ‘life’ in the spirit as it was in the beginning of creation. Why is it that in spite of the clarion call of very many great seers, of the confident assurance of the scriptures, of the repeated experiences of man himself in failing miserably to attain happiness amidst external physical world, you are again and again being deceived? Because man does not have a deep and abiding faith in the admonitions of saints in the scriptures, in the words of those who have trodden the path and attained the goal. If only man did really believe in these great ones, he would certainly be induced to act up to their words. It is this basic lack of faith in man that is at the root of his failure to do Sadhana.
Thus if only man has faith in spiritual course of action, he will act up to it. If man has to take up Sadhana, if he really wants to obtain this bliss which is not mixed with pain, he will certainly have to repose faith. The entire social structure and order upon which mankind smoothly runs is based upon faith and trust. And when you are prepared to put faith in mankind which is but a passing phenomenon, why should you not put faith upon the very Creator of these things? Thus you see that the first quality you have to acquire is faith.
Now comes the question that having first of all full faith in the words of the seers and realised the necessity of Sadhana, what is the procedure; what is to be done? You may have faith, but if you do not put them into practice—if you do not begin to translate them into action, they will ever remain plans in the blueprint stage. So after the faith in Sadhana comes practice. You must set about doing. No question of believing. A belief must become an act. Having reposed faith in the words of sages and scriptures, you begin doing Sadhana.
Once you commence Sadhana, the next important thing you should bear in mind that you should not give it up. Perseverance is of the utmost importance. All processes in this universe are gradual. They have got stages. If you want to go through all the stages of Sadhana and attain the goal, you must have patience and perseverance. Therefore, you should have to always persevere, exert and plod on till the goal is reached.
There is another important point that in spiritual Sadhana you should not merely be contented with the positive forces. There are active forces that oppose the Sadhaka, that actually assail him and pull him down. Herein comes the necessity of the fourth important weapon—that is fortitude. While persevering man has to have a little courage, not to be easily shaken by the obstacles that assail him. He will have to brave the storm and proceed in spite of the difficulties and adverse conditions, trying to cow him down, to push him off from the path of Sadhana. It is with fortitude he refuses to be discouraged and relying upon the inner Self he proceeds with the Sadhana, and ultimately he attains the ideal for which he has been born upon earth; and while going through the process he will have to see that he keeps in mind the necessity of giving minute attention to all the small details upon the path, because in every process all such small details of the process are to be attended to, very carefully. If any small detail is left out, thinking that it is superfluous he will find that ultimately he has lost his valuable time and labour. This delays progress. It is the conglomeration of small things that go up to achieve high ideals.
Therefore, with firm faith, practical application, perseverance, careful attention to even small details and fortitude in trials, you must set foot and proceed on the path of Sadhana.
Raise aloft the banner of Divine Life. Feel all humanity to be one and spread the message of man’s divinity, the message of brotherhood and cosmic love, to every home and broadcast them to all. Ever assert your divinity every moment of your life. Ever strive to live in the consciousness that you are essentially divine and you have been given this human birth only to recognise your essential divine nature.
(1927 – 1993)
Swamiji was born in Kerala, in 1927. As a young child one of his main character traits was a strong will and determination. As a teenager without financial resources for University, he turned to joining the army to receive the scientific education he yearned for. During this time as he looked for a lost paper in a waste basket, his eyes fell upon a paper entitled “20 Spiritual Instructions” by Swami Sivananda. The pamphlet began: “An ounce of practice is better than tons of theory”. The practicality and inherent power of these simple words lead Swamiji to travel across India to meet Swami Sivananda in far away Himalayas.
For 10 years Swami Vishnu-Devananda continued at the Sivananda Ashram and was trained in all aspects of Yoga by Swami Sivananda. One day Swami Sivananda gave Swamiji a 10 Rupee note (less than a dollar!) and his blessings to travel to the West and spread the teachings of Vedanta. “People are waiting” were the words of the Master.
Throughout his whole life, Swamiji was deeply concerned about the well being of the world and the constant disaster of wars. This led him to learn to fly and then personally pilot a small plane over several troubled areas of the world. Not only did he create discussion and awareness in the news media, but he also “bombarded” these war torn areas with flowers and peace pamphlets while repeating the peace Mantra; Om Namo Narayanaya.
Words of wisdom from Swami Vishnudevananda
In the beginning it appears that there are four different yogas, but they are one and the same. The only difference is that a certain aspect of mind is involved at a particular time. In Bhakti Yoga it is the emotional aspect, in Karma Yoga it is the active aspect, in Raja Yoga it is the mystical aspect, and in Jnana Yoga it is the intellectual aspect of the mind All human beings possess all these four aspects, but in some of us one aspect is predominant. Eventually you will transcend the individual ego and realize the oneness. Until you find that ‘I’ and realize that oneness there is no way you can find peace and happiness or satisfaction with your life. You will be continually searching for external peace and external happiness.
There is no difference between the yogas. Although the terminology and techniques are different, they all lead to Self-realization. For example, there are rivers coming from various peaks, various mountains – the Ganges is coming from the Himalayas, the Colorado River from the Rocky Mountains. Whatever their name and form and wherever they originate, they always arrive at one common destination, the ocean. When they arrive at their destination, they lose their name and form. So also the various types of yoga and even the various religions are like various peaks from where the knowledge comes down. Eventually the resting place is the same – the ocean, or God, or bliss absolute.
Yoga is not a theory. You can become a psychologist or a doctor but neither a psychologist nor a doctor is required to practice for himself. He can drink, he can smoke, and he can indulge just like everybody else. In yoga everything is practice. The theory is only to bring you to the practical side. And what is the purpose of practice? You have a physical body. Within that there is an astral body and a causal body. You have three bodies. The purpose of practice is to bring you from the physical to the subtle level.
Joy, ananda, is your nature, which is eternal. We seek that joy. That’s the purpose of life, to find happiness or ananda. Pain is illusory; it is not real. If it were real, then suppose you lost a thousand dollars, you would always be sorry, suffering, because of the loss. But as the days and months go by, slowly that pain will disappear; it will disintegrate, like a mist. Even if you lost your most loved ones, your daughter, mother, husband or wife – that sorrow will only last for a period of time. That sorrow will not go on forever.
For example, take a piece of iron and put that iron into burning charcoal. When you take it out, it is red hot. It has got the quality of the fire. But as you hold that iron rod for some time, slowly, slowly, it will lose its heat because heat is not its nature. In the same way, pain is not your nature. No matter what type of pain it is, as time goes by, like the iron rod loses its heat, so also you lose your pain, because that is not your real nature. Your inherent nature is joy, ananda, which is eternal. That is the message of yoga and Vedanta.
Master, Guru, Teacher
Master said ‘I serve the people who criticize me’. He was not affected by the critical words of others. To him it was the same. Consider the words ‘fool’ or ‘sage’. They are two different words. One word will upset me and the other will make me so happy. But to one in this egoless state, they are both without meaning. The only message of these souls’ being is to broadcast the message of the Supreme – purity, devotion, love and compassion. If you become desireless you are the emperor of the universe. Reaching this desireless state, you want nothing and love only for love’s sake.