Swami Sivananda was born on 8th September, 1887, in the village Pattmadi in Tamil Nadu. He had studied Medicine and went to Malaya as a medical doctor to do service. In the year 1923, he renounced the life of ease and money-making and took the life of a mendicant, a true seeker of truth. He left his luggage in malaya with a friend and returned to India. On 1st June, 1924, he received the holy initiation from Paramahamsa Viswananda Saraswati on the banks of the Ganga at Rishikesh. He learnt a lot from the lives of Yogis, mahatmas and great sages. Swami Sivananda paid special attention to simple living, high thinking, deep study and meditation. He started “ The Divine Life Society ” in the year 1936 for the spiritual uplift of mankind.
“ This blessed earth ”
I am born on this blessed earth from which alone one can strive for and obtain Mukti, in which even devas wish and have to be born for getting their final beatitude, appear, from time to time, some rare great mahatmas, whose sole object of existence is to radiate love, light, joy and mercy all around, to serve the poor and the helpless, to bring solace to the forlorn and the depressed, to uplift the ignorant, to disseminate spiritual knowledge among the people and to bring unalloyed felicity and happiness to suffering humanity.
“ My birth-place ”
‘ Pattamadai ’ is a lovely place with green paddy fields and mango groves all around .. it is ten miles away from Tinnevelly Junction (in Tamil Nadu). A beautiful canal from Tambraparni known as Kanadiankal encircles Pattamadai.
I was born to Srimati Parvati Ammal and P.S. Vengu Iyer, as their third son, on the 8th September, 1887.
“ My school .. college studies ”
Born in the family of devotees, saints and philosophers, as a pet child, I was brought up carefully by my parents and received very good training.
In the School Annual Prize Distribution, I used to get a lot of books as presents ! Once, I got the Globe Edition of William Shakespeare and Macaulay’s Speeches and Writings.
I passed my Matriculation Examination in 1903 from the Rajah’s High School, Ettiapuram. Then I joined the S.P.G. College, Trichinopoly.
I was interested in dramatic performances in the College. I passed the Madurai Tamil Sangam Examination creditably.
During my studies at the Tanjore Medical Institute, I never used to go home in holidays. I would spend the entire period in the hospital.
At home, my mother and brothers would persuade me to take up some work in some other line, but I was adamant in my resolve to stick to the medical line, as I had a great liking for it. All my leisure hours were spent in studying all kinds of medical books.
“ A medical journal ”
I hit upon a plan that I should start a medical journal. The ‘ Ambrosia ’ journal was successfully run for four years until I sailed for Malaya.
A significant spiritual touch could be felt in the pages of the ‘ Ambrosia ’. Unlike other medical journals, the entire outlook was based on the teachings of the sages of yore. Spirituality was ingrained in me even in my youth !
I was not satisfied with the running of the journal. I, therefore, left Trichinopoly and went to Madras (Chennai) to join Dr. Haller’s Pharmacy. Here I had to manage the accounts, dispense medicines and attend on the patients. Very hard work I had to do. I would finish all these, and yet find time to continue the editorial and circulation work of the ‘ Ambrosia ’. I brought the old copies from Trichinopoly and dispatched them to high officials and people of distinction in order to enlist their support.
I resolved to seek a better position somewhere else. Finally, I decided to try my luck in the Straits Settlements of Malaya.
“ Doctor in malaya ! ”
I was unaccustomed to such long travels. I had no idea of the food I was to take on the way. I belonged to an orthodox family and was frightened to take the non-vegetarian food on board the ship and so I carried a good quantity of sweets. Throughout the voyage, I managed to live with the sweets and drank plenty of water ! Being unaccustomed to this diet, I reached Singapore almost half dead !
It was a bold adventurous bid to throw oneself on the high seas of uncertainty. I had no money to fall back upon in case of a reverse in my expectations. However, I had tremendous hopes and took a plunge to test the mettle of my destiny. Strength of will and a fiery determination played a lot in moulding my life and spiritual career. I had to start from the very scratch and encounter disappointing setbacks in the beginning. But the later events turned out much in my favour and I felt my position secure.
“ Service to humanity ”
I specialised in microscopical study and tropical medicine. Subsequently, I moved to Johore Bahru, near Singapore, to join Drs. Parsons and Green, and lived there for three years.
I carefully attended on all patients. I never demanded fee from my clients. I felt happy when they were free from disease and trouble. To serve people and to share what I have is my inborn nature.
I used to cheer up people with my wit and humour, and elevate the sick with loving and encouraging words. The sick persons at once felt a new health, hope, spirit, vigour and vitality.
Everywhere, people declared that I had a special gift from God for the miraculous cure effected in the patients and acclaimed me as a very kind and sympathetic doctor with a charming and majestic personality. In the company of the sick, I understood their feelings and endeavoured to relieve their sufferings.
I became a Member of the Royal Institute of Public Health (M.R.I.P.H.), London, a Member of the Royal Asiatic Society (M.R.A.S.), London, and an Associate of Royal Sanitary Institute (A.R.San.I.), London.
During my stay in Malaya, I published some medical books such as “ Household Remedies ”, “ Fruits and Health ”, “ Diseases and their Tamil Terms ”, “ Obstetric Ready- Reckoner ”, “ Fourteen Lectures on Public Health ”.
I gave shelter to many people during their days of unemployment and gave them food and clothing and fixed them up in one office or another.
I was liberal in my views. The spirit of sanyasa was ingrained in me. I spent all my energy and time in relieving human sufferings by serving the poor and the sick, day and night, with a sympathetic heart. This kind of selfless service gave me purification of heart and mind, and led me to the spiritual path.
Whenever I enter a book-shop, I purchase a lot of books and add them to the Forest University Library for the benefit of the students in the ashram.
“ Transitory pleasures ? ”
“ Is there not a higher mission in life than the daily round of official duties, eating and drinking ? Is there not any higher form of eternal happiness than these transitory and illusory pleasures ? How uncertain is life here ? How insecure is existence on this earth-plane, with various kinds of diseases, anxieties, worries, fear and disappointments ! The world of ‘ names ’ and ‘ forms ’ is constantly changing. Time is fleeting. All hopes of happiness in this world terminate in pain, despair and sorrow. ”
… Such were the thoughts constantly rising in my mind. The doctor’s profession gave me ample evidence of the sufferings of this world. True and lasting happiness cannot be found merely in gathering wealth. With the purification of heart through selfless service, I had a new vision.
“ Renunciation ”
I frequently remembered the shruti vakya :
“ Yadahareva virajet tadahareva pravrajet ” … “ The day on which one gets vairagya, that very day one should renounce the world. ”
I constantly thought of : “ Sravanartham sanyasam kuryat ” .. “ For hearing the srutis, one should take sanyasa ” .. the words of scriptures have great value !
I gave up the life of ease, comfort and luxury, and reached India in search of an ideal centre for purposes of prayer and contemplation, study and a higher form of service to the whole world.
In the year 1923, I renounced the life of ease and money-making and took to the life of a mendicant, a true seeker after truth. I left my luggage in Malaya with a friend.
“ A wandering mendicant ! ”
From Singapore, I reached Banaras, then I proceeded to Nasik, Poona and other important religious centres. From Poona I walked to Pandarpore, a distance of seventy miles. On my way I stayed for a couple of days in the ashram of Yogi Narayan Maharaj at Khedgaon. Then I spent some four months in Dhalaj on the banks of Chandrabhaga.
During my incessant travels, I learnt how to adjust and adapt myself to various types of people.
I learnt a lot from the lives of yogis, mahatmas and great men. The life of a mendicant during pilgrimage helped me to develop in a great measure ‘ titiksha ’ … forbearance, equal vision and a balanced state of mind in pleasure and pain. I met many mahatmas and learnt wonderful lessons. On some days I had to go without food and walk mile after mile. With a smile, I faced all hardships.
“ Holy initiation ”
The spiritual path is beset with many obstacles. In search of a guru, I reached Rishikesh and prayed to the Lord for His Grace.
From the sacred hands of Paramahamsa Viswananda Saraswati, I received holy initiation on the bank of the Ganga on 1st June, 1924. The religious rite of ‘ viraja homa ’ was done for me by my acharya guru, Swami Vishnudevanandaji Maharaj at Kailas ashram.
“ Grace of the guru ”
A personal guru is necessary in the beginning. He alone can show you the path to attain God, who is the guru of gurus, and obviate the snares and pitfalls on your path. Self-realization is a transcendental experience. You can march in the spiritual path only by placing implicit faith in the words of sages who have realized the truth and attained knowledge of the self.
Guru’s grace is needed by the disciple. This does not mean that the disciple should sit idle and expect a miracle from the guru to push him directly into samadhi ! The guru cannot do sadhana for the student. The guru can guide the student, clear his doubts. But it is the disciple himself who has to walk every step in the spiritual path.
“ My sadhana ”
A deep study of the ways of mahatmas opened my eyes and gave me strength to stick to rigorous sadhana in the right direction. I felt the grace of the Lord. I derived strength and guidance from within. I found ways for an all round development. I had the goal of my life as self-realization and determined to spend every bit of my energy and time in study, service and sadhana.
Thousands of pilgrims to Badrinath, Kedarnath also needed medical help. Therefore I started a small dispensary, ‘ Satyasevashram ’ , at ‘ Lakshman-jhula ’ on the way to ‘ Badri-Kedar ’ , and served the devotees with great love and devotion. I arranged special diet for the serious cases and provided milk and other requirements. Spiritual evolution is quicker through service done with proper ‘ bhav ’ and attitude.
I paid special attention to simple living, high thinking, light food, deep study, silent meditation and regular prayers. I loved seclusion and observed mouna. I did not like company and futile talk. I devoted some time to study every day.
Rest and relaxation gave me enough strength to carry on intense sadhana. I moved closely with some mahatmas but I never indulged in discussion and debates. Self-analysis and introspection were my guide.
“ Intense sadhana at swargashram ”
With a view to devoting more time to prayer and meditation, I moved to the Swargashram. I lived in a small Kutir, 8 feet by 10 feet, with a small verandah in front, and depended on the Kali Kambliwala Kshetra for my food. I spent much of my time in meditation and practised various kinds of yogas in my sadhana.
I did not spend much time in cleaning the teeth, washing clothes and bathing. I quickly finished these when I was a bit free from my sadhana, study and service. I never depended on any one though there were a few disciples who were awaiting opportunities to serve me. I had fixed times for all items of work such as study, writing notes and letters to sadhakas, exercises, going out for bhiksha, etc. Gradually, people came to me in large numbers.
I kept a sign board at the entrance of my compound :
“ INTERVIEW .. between 4 and 5 p.m. .. only for five minutes at a time.” For some days, I would not come out of my kuteer. For my food, I used to keep some dry bread, remnants from my daily alms. Thus intense sadhana was my goal.
My joy was indescribable when I spent hours in the evenings on the sand banks of the Ganga or sitting on a fine rock and gazed at wonderful nature. I became one with nature.
“ Sadhu sangha ”
During this period, I established the “ Swargashram Sadhu Sangha ”, to obtain redress for the grievances of the mahatmas, and registered the institution.
I invited great mahatmas and organized weekly discourses and daily bhajan and Ramayana for some time. We had discourses on the Yoga-Vasishtha, Tulasidas Ramayana and Upanishads also.
I trained my students in organizational work through the “ Swargashram Sadhu Sangha ”.
“ Traveling through the country ”
Once during my parivrajaka life, I visited Rameswaram and saw the sacred places in South India. During this period, I stayed in Sri Ramana Maharshi Ashram for some time. I reached the Ashram on the day of Sri Ramana’s Birthday celebration. I did bhajan and kirtan in the big hall before Sri Bhagavan Ramana.
I visited various centres in Bihar, Punjab and United Provinces. I started dynamic centres for sadhana and organised spiritual conferences and kirtans, sammelans and participated in the activities of any educational, religious and spiritual Institutions. Even while travelling in trains I taught yoga exercises to the passengers and gave them simple lessons on meditation.
Important places of my visit were : Lahore, Meerut, Srinagar, Patna, Monghyr, Lucknow, Gaya, Calcutta, Ayodhya, Bhagalpur, Ambala, Ambala, Aligarh, Delhi, Shikohabad, Mathura, Brindavan, Etawah, Manipur .. and many other places in Northern India.
In Andhra Province, I visited the “ Santi Ashram ” in Totapalli Hills, the Mission of Peace in Waltair and also went to Rajahmundry, Kakinada, Pithapuram and Lakshminarasapuram.
During my travels, I carried a bundle containing my ink-pot, pens, pencils, pins, study books like Viveka Chudamani, the Upanishads, the Gita and the Brahma-sutras.
I visited Kedarnath and Badrinath, Tunganath and Triyuginath. Swami Balananda, Swami Vidyasagar accompanied me. I had a dip in the hot-water springs at Badri Narayan.
“ Visit to mount kailas ”
In the early years of my sadhana at Rishikesh, I decided to see Kailas. Mount Kailas is in Western Tibet. On the 12th June, 1931, I started on a pilgrimage to that sacred place with Swami Adwaitanandaji, Swami Swayamjyoti Maharaj, Brahmachari Yogananda, Maharani Sahiba Surat Kumari Devi. We all had a dip in Lake Manasarovar and went around Mount Kailas.
I walked the whole distance. There is no place on all this fair earth which can be compared with Kailas for the marvellous beauty of the everlasting snows ! It is called Mount Meru .. the axis of Mountains !
At the time I went there, Maharajah Saheb of Mysore also visited Kailas.
The total distance from Almora to Kailas is about 230 miles. In two months, one can easily visit the place and return. On August 22nd our party returned to Almora.
“ Spreading spiritual knowledge ”
On the 9th September, 1950, I started on a dynamic mission of dissemination of Knowledge, undertaking an extensive tour all over India and ceylon for a period of two months.
I addressed public meetings and conducted kirtans. I delivered speeches in many schools, colleges and universities on ethical culture and real education and addressed numerous public meetings on general spiritual topics. Several thousands of rupees worth of valuable books
When I was filled with immense joy in the company of devotees, I combined nritya also .. the dance of Lord Siva and Lord Krishna. People were thrilled. Even today thousands repeat my favourite kirtans : “Agada Bhum ”, “ Chidanandahum”, “ Pilade ”, etc.
“ Devotion of masses ”
Everywhere I went, I was overwhelmed by the love of the people ! I bathed again and again in the ocean of the masses’ devotion to the Lord ! I drank again and again the immortal elixir of the Lord’s name, which all people sang with bhava and fervour.
I never demanded money from the organizers of the functions, but I asked them to print a large number of copies of leaflets and pamphlets in different languages for wide circulation during the conference or sammelans.
The whole town, wherever I went, was charged with spiritual vibrations. People felt the wonderful peace and power for days.
The work at the ashram was heavy and I gave up the touring life in 1938. People from Punjab compelled me on various occasions and did satyagraha (strike) at my kuteer and forced me to visit Lahore during their Annual Sankirtan conferences in December.
I never said or did anything to tempt people with promises of grand results like mukti from a drop of kamandalu water or samadhi by a mere touch. I emphasized the importance of silent sadhana, japa and meditation for a systematic progress in the spiritual path.
Invariably, I asked all aspirants to purify the heart through selfless service to mankind.
“ Don’t exaggerate ”
In the year 1933, the publishers in Madras wrote articles on my life and mentioned me as an ‘ Avatar ’. Immediately I gave a reply which explains the attitude I have always maintained : “ kindly remove all ‘ Krishna Avatara ’ and ‘ Bhagawan ’ business. Keep the publication natural and simple. Then it will be attractive. Do not exaggerate much about me. The juice will evaporate. Do not give me titles as ‘ World Teacher ’, ‘ Mandaleshwar ’ and ‘ Bhagawan ’.”
I lead a simple and natural life. I take immense delight in service. Service has elevated me. Service has purified me. This body is meant for service. I live to serve everyone and make the world happy and cheerful.
I had decided to leave Swargashram. For some days, I stayed in a small room at the Ramana Ashram Library. I received my bhiksha through an elderly sadhu from the kshetra. Thus, months passed.
Then I found a small ‘ kuteer ’ in a dilapidated condition nearby. That was improved a bit by fixing doors and windows. I occupied the place and lived there for a period of over eight years.
When devotees gave me some money for my personal use, I utilized it in printing leaflets like “ Twenty Important Spiritual Instructions ”, “ Way to Peace and Bliss ”, “ Forty Golden Precepts ” and other pamphlets, and gave them to visitors.
I utilized the money in purchasing some useful medicines for the treatment of sick mahatmas and for postage to send articles to newspapers and letters to thirsty aspirants. The work grew in a steady pace.
“ Seekers from everywhere ”
True seekers of truth came to me in large numbers seeking my help and guidance.
With the arrival of new and able hands, I started various fields of activities suited to their taste and temperament. I found out the talents and hidden faculties in them and encouraged them to a great extent. Then a small kitchen was started to provide food for the hard workers, the visitors and the helpless who could not get bhiksha from the kshetra. I maintained various kinds of addresses .. of devotees, high schools, libraries, donors and aspirants for the sanyasa line.
“ The divine life society ”
In the year 1936, when I was returning from Lahore after presiding over a kirtan conference, I just thought of a ‘ trust society ’ and alighted at Ambala and consulted an advocate and prepared the trust deed. Then “ The Divine Life Society ” was established for the dissemination of spiritual knowledge throughout the world and subsequently about three hundred branches were opened in all important cities !
Thousands of students received initiation from me into the order of sanyasa. Advanced students start their own missions in big cities or have their own sadhana in the Himalayan caves.
Leading newspapers in all countries published my articles on yoga, health and general spiritual matters. Half a dozen periodicals are published at the ashram in English and Hindi for circulation through out the world. The ashram is now in a position to maintain about four hundred persons, learned and cultured scholars, mahatmas, Yogis, devotees, poor people and the sick, not to mention the school students of the neighbouring villages.
Many foreigners come to the ashram and spend some weeks or months and admire the wonderful work turned out at the ashram. The inhabitants of Shivanandanagar, young and old, men and women, enjoy the peace and bliss of this holy centre and help the world in a variety of ways. They all receive my careful, personal attention. I provide them with all comforts and conveniences and help them in their evolution.
“ Yoga – vedanta forest university ”
The Yoga-Vedanta Forest University trains a large number of students through able and qualified professors and teachers. The students become well-versed in all the scriptures. For the dissemination of knowledge among youth, essay competitions are conducted and scholarships offered to prosecute their studies in colleges and high schools.
“ Collective sadhana .. meditation ”
The systematic work done at this sacred centre in the Himalayas on the banks of the Ganga, attracted thousands of seekers after truth from all distant places in India and other countries. The Divine Life Society, the Yoga-Vedanta Forest University and the Sivananda Ashram .. became ‘ watch-words ’ for all aspirants. Similar work is now organized systematically in various centres with the formation of branches of the University, The Divine Life Society, Sivananda Ashram and Sivananda School of Yoga.
In a short period, a large number of devotees came to me during holidays from Delhi, Madras, Calcutta and other cities in India. Then I introduced a collective sadhana .. a special programme with the important items of sadhana .. a kind of spiritual conference on the practical side of yoga. This took the shape of Sadhana Weeks during Easter and Christmas holidays. And now this has become a regular feature during the last twenty years.
Thus, there is a dynamic work for spiritual awakening all over the world.
“ The divine life movement ”
The whole world came to me with all divine glory and splendour. That may be due to the intense prayers of thousands of sincere seekers after truth .. coupled with my own inborn tendencies to share with others what I have and to serve the world on a large scale on the right lines, for the attainment of light, peace, knowledge and power.
I was induced to start the Divine Life Society. I carried the message of the sages and saints and taught the world the way for peace and bliss. Because of the popularity of the Divine Life Society, many learned and pious souls from far off lands have come to see me and, sharing with me the love for selfless service, are doing valuable work in spreading right knowledge, which alone can confer lasting peace and happiness.
Many foreign branches of the Divine Life Society are reprinting parts of my writings and distributing them free in their respective regions.
“ All inclusive institution ”
The Divine Life Society is an all embracing and all inclusive institution ; its objects, ideals and aims are very broad and universal. It does not condemn any of the principles or tenets of any cult. It includes all the fundamental principles of all religions and cults. There are no pet dogmas or sectarian tenets. It leads people to the spiritual path. It enables people to take easily to the Divine Life even while living in the world and following the teachings of some particular cult or religion.
The Society has brought about a vigorous awakening throughout the world and has contributed much to a new life of freedom in action, a life of harmony amidst worldly turmoils and a life of bliss through mental non-attachment and mental renunciation of desires, egoism and mine-ness.
“ Yoga of synthesis ”
There is universal appreciation of the principles, aims, ideals of the society and the method of its work. It lays great stress on the practical side of sadhana. It expounds in a rational and scientific manner the yoga of synthesis.
Members belonging to various institutions and organisations in all parts of the world become members of the Divine Life Society and write to me for spiritual guidance. I take special care of them and give them lessons through post for their spiritual progress and welfare. The Divine Life Society proclaims that any man can attain wisdom in his own station of life : divine knowledge is not the sole property of sanyasins, recluses.
“ Sivananda ashram ”
I started The Divine Life Society in 1936 for the spiritual uplift of mankind. I trained many sincere students in yoga. For their quick spiritual evolution, I introduced the morning common prayer classes with Group Asana Class. To the local poor people and thousands of pilgrims I gave medical aid by starting a free dispensary.
Experts were sent to various centres to deliver lectures on bhakti, yoga and vedanta. A small temple was erected for prayers and worship. When a large number of students came for training, boarding and lodging facilities had to be provided for all the students and visitors; and thus “ Sivananda Ashram ” came into being.
Though the Divine Life Society continues to be the central organization to fulfil the various functions that have developed to carry out organized work, many other institutions had to come into existence. Now the ashram … a very big spiritual colony … looks like a huge factory with the wonderful, indescribable peace of the Himalayas.
Spiritual aspirants who come to the ashram and stay there for months or for years, find that there is scope for spiritual progress both as workers in the different institutions of the ashram and as silent meditators in the temple precincts or in the jungle retreats of the neighbourhood, and each chooses his line according to his own bent of mind.
The Divine Life Movement has the willing cooperation of the peoples of all faiths and cultures, a plan of life and a goal that is common and acceptable to all upon earth, who wish to rise above sorrow and obtain lasting bliss. This, then, is the Divine Life Movement.
“ Secret of my energy ”
I am now seventy two (in the year 1958). I keep myself busy. I am always blissful and happy. I can do more work.
I personally attend to hundreds of students at the ashram and manage the affairs of the Divine Life Society, the Forest University, the general hospital and guide thousands of students at far off places through correspondence.
I pay much attention to the printing press and the despatches of useful books to the students, libraries and religious institutions. I can do more. The secret of my energy for the dynamic work is the keeping up of the divine consciousness throughout.
The holy master attained mahasamadhi on 14th July, 1963.
His last written words were crisp and simple :
“ Remember, Forget ”.
He always advised people to ever remember all that was good and true, and forget all that was base and false, and act accordingly.