Life of Swami Venkatesananda

14. Sivananda, the Divinity Personified

The Divine Life Trust Society

Om Namah Shivaya

Om Namah Venkatesaya

Swami Venkatesananda

It is indeed difficult to appreciate a divine personality during the period of His presence amongst us. Very few recognised Lord Krishna as a divine being when He was 'alive'. This vision to recognise the Avatara is itself His Gift to those few whom He chooses for fulfilling His purpose.

Who is an Avatara-Purusha?

Avatara itself means 'descent'- a descent from the Supreme Seat of Godhead. It is as though God gives up His Param Dhan, in answer to the prayer of the devout, and descends into the realm of the humans, in human garb, to live as a Man amongst men, and thus to lead men along the Divne Path, to the Goal of human life, God-realisation. Avatara is willing and voluntary subjection of God to the laws that govern human beings, over which ordinarily He has transcendental control.

The Avatara-Purusha may not be conscious that He is the Supreme Being. Lord Krishna was fully conscious of His Divinity. Yet this Poornavatar, too, following th laws of physical being, took food, drank to quench thirst, rested, slept, etc. Lord Rama seemed to be not conscious at all. Whether it is conscious pretence or an unconscious, momentary, identification with the role assumed, it matters very little. The momentum given to the Avatara by Himself is supremely divine. The 'content' of the Avatara is exceptionally divine. And, the Avatara achieves the purpose surely and certainly, whether or not the consciousness of Godhead persist. The charm of the Lord's Lila is none the less for the seemingly momentary unconsciousness of His Ideatity.

Consciously or unconsciously, the Avatara for the time being becomes almost entirely human (e.g., Sri Rama). But, as the Divine Birth is with a purpose, He is not lost in the human garb. There apparently seems to be a dual current in Him - one, the divine which is very much more manifest in the Avatara-Purusha than in others, and the other, the human. Inasmuch as there is a very great proportion of the Divine in the Avatara, it rules the human aspect also. The human qualities, too, have the colouring of the Divine. Therefore, we find ethical perfection and moral excellence, as well as an abundance of Daivi Sampatti, in him.

If an Avatara-Purusha is a man amongst men, how shall we recognise Him?

When you look for an Avatara, do not search for supernormal, superhuman, features - e g., Narasimha Avatara, or for miracle-making. If only miracle making and supernormal features were to be the marks of an Avatara, then we ought to regard the ten-headed, twenty-handed Ravana, with powers over cosmic beings like the sun and the moon, Kubera and even Lord Siva, as an Avatara, in preference to Lord Rama. On the contrary, we consider that Ravana was a demon.

If you reflect for a moment on the Nine Avataras, you will see that the days of Freak Avataras are past. The Fish, the Man-Lion, the Dwarf, yielded place to Rama, the pious and virtuous man, and Krishna, the cowherd. They were both as human as they were divine. It is, therefore, essential that we are not deceived by the human qualities of an Avatara. Lord Krishna was as fond of butter as any child today. Sri Rama was as much grieved at the loss of His wife as any loving husband would be today. In fact, even here the Avatara-Purusha has His own Divine Purpose. By such manifestations of human weaknesses, He gives His devotees opportunities galore to adore Him in a variety of ways. How many Bhaktas have entered into Bhava Samadhi singing the glory of the childhood pranks of Lord Sri Krishna! To what heights of poetic ecstasy Valmiki has risen in describing the pangs of separation from Sita that Sri Rama suffered! No action of an Avatara-Purusha is, therefore, ultimately without significance.

An Avatara is to be recognised by His Deeds. Has He fulfilled the Lord's Promise - Dharmasamsthapana? The more effectively this has been done, the greater are the chances that man is an Avatara.

A man may be ethically perfect, a very good man - but he is only a saintly person, not an Avatar, unless he influences the world and causes righteousness to be established in the world. It happened in the case of Lord Rama that His mere conduct came to be regarded as a salutary influence which, without His having to preach, profoundly influenced humanity. However, but for the fact that He killed Ravana, the greatest perpetrator of Adharma, and established the Rama Rajya, the perfect Government based on righteousness, He would not have been considered an Avatara. Dharmasamsthapana had to be done; that has ever been the criterion of an Avatara.

Take the case of Harischandra. If personal moral excellence alone were to be the criterion for Avatarahood, he ought to be an Avatara. But, not so; though he placed himself as an eternal example of a perfectly truthful man, he had not done any Dharmasamsthapana, as Lord Krishna and Sri Rama had done.

The case was different with Lord Sri Krishna. Any ignorant man can pick holes in His Conduct. But, besides destroying all the Asuras, He has given to humanity the priceless spiritual treasure, the Gita, which shall remain as a beacon-light of Dharma for all times to come. Therefore, He is considered an Avatara, not because He held up the Govardhan mountain with His little finger, not even because He had four hands and weapons (conch, discus, etc.). Another Rakshasa had exactly the same form and he impersonated Krishna Himself! Dharmasamsthapana was the criterion.

Without Dharmasamsthapana, mere moral excellence or even Self-realisation would make one only a saint. There is this essential difference between an Avatara-Purusha and a saint. An Avatara-Purusha is God-in-human-form. A saint of God-realisation is a Man with God-consciousness. In the former case, it is one of Descent. In the latter case, it is one of Acent. The former is God descending upon us as a ready-made Siddha-Purusha. The latter is a Sadhaka who has achieved Siddhi through great effort - Tapasya and Sadhana. An Avatara-Purusha, too, may indulge in Sadhana and seem to strive for Siddhi, but it is only because

Yadyadaacharati Sreshthah Tattadevetaro janah

Sa Yat Pramaanam Kurute Lokastadanuvartate

The populace is guided by the great man's conduct; the principles enunciated by him are the path which mankind treads.

The Avatara-Purusha, like Lord Krishna, feels 'Mama tartmaanuvartante' - the people will follow My Path, ignorant of the fact that He is an Avatara; they would try to imitate His actions and come to grief. They would expect Siddhi to drop into their lap without effort. In order to prevent this general degeneration, the Avatara-Purusha exemplifies in Himself the conduct that He has come to preach. He indulges in Tapas and Sadhana, too. But in the case of a saint, years of toil are a necessity. It is the ease with which the Avatara-Purusha ascends to the top rung of Perfection that makes Perfection itself seem natural to Him, which He need no more struggle to maintain, as in the case of a saint who has to be chary till Videhakaivalya is attained. The Path and the Culmination are not new to the Avatara-Purusha and, therefore, He walks with firm though rapid and seemingly light steps. He is bold and definite about the Path and the Goal, when He speaks of them to others. The saint speaks on the authority of scriptures. The Avatara-Purusha is Himself the authority, though He might, to justify His human garb, extol existing scriptures. A saint strives to root himself in Dharma. An Avatara-Purusha Whose very breath is Dharma is here to establish that Dharma in the world.

Therefore, an Avatara is to be recognised by this one acid - has he striven for Dharmasamsthapana, has he worked for the solidarity of the world, has he done anything to lead humanity along the path of righteousness? If so, to what measure ? The greater the intensity of his Dharmasamsthapana, the more surely is he an Avatara, and the greater manifestation of God he is. As Lord Krishna not only established Dharma in His own time by the destruction of the Asuras, but gave the Gita for all time to come, He is considered a Purna Avatara.

In the light of the foregoing, there can be very little doubt that Sri Swami Sivananda is an Avatara of the Lord. He embraced Sanyas after a fairly long period of strenuous - in his 'untiring selfless' - service to the suffering humanity in Malaya; he appeared to be a novitiate in the Nivritti Marga at the fairly advanced age of 38. But, with an ardour that was the envy of fellow-Sadhakas who were more youthful, and with a spiritual pace that would prove to be too rapid even for more energetic people who renounce the world earlier in life, in the full-bloom of youth before spending any energy in any worldly pursuit - however good and noble, he ascended the summit of Sadhana. His seniors-in-the-Path stood aghast watching this new recruit to the Order march swiftly past with meteoric speed, reach the Summit and smile at them with compassion and humility; they bowed to Him and said: 'He is not a man.'

Siva had embraced Sanyasa in 1924; in 1936 he was widely known as a Great Yogi, a Siddha-Purusha, a Jagat-Guru. He had already come to be regarded as a Spiritual Guide. He founded the Divine Life Society in 1936 in order to serve humanity more systematically - His service has been none other than Dharmasamsthapanaa. The rapidity with which the Divine Life Mission has grown during the past just over a decade is common knowledge. People who visit the Ashram after an interval of a few years are amazed: 'You have created a heaven in what was a forest.' 'Swamiji entered Rishikesh in 1924 with only a Kowpeen; by his mere Satsankalpa he has created around himself a great institution within so short a time.' 'Surely only Iswara could do all this.'- these expressions have often surged up from the heart of the most distinguished visitor to the Ashram. Those who are nearer to him, who work under his guidance, are often amazed at the way he conducts the affairs of the world-wide institution of which he is the founder. Its very existence is a miracle to them. Financial experts think that the institution should have been wound up long ago. Yet see that it is flourishing from glory to greater glory every day.

These are all miraculous features, superhuman features, no doubt. But the crowning glory, however, is that to Siva all these - the institution, the Ashram, the material resources and the man-power - are but instruments with which to carry on His Mission - Dharmasamsthapana. I will sell the buildings. 'I will lead you all to the Kshetra for Bhiksha, and thus eliminate our expenses on food. But dissemination of spiritual knowledge must go on.' - these very words have been heard from His lips very often, specially when financial crises have threatened to wipe the institution out. Dharmasamsthapana is Siva's life-breath.

If we pause and think for a while, we shall at once discover the divine wisdom that should have prompted him to write in simple English. It is through this foreign language that we received the alien culture. Every Indian is aware of this. And it is in order to counteract this influence alone are our leaders struggling to supplant it with Hindi. Siva has short-circuited the problem itself. 'If English is the language that turns the head of our youngsters, offer them the best spiritual thought in that very language!' It is the English-educated men and women of today who are drifting away from the path of righteousness, often in spite of themselves. Dharmasamsthapana should naturally direct its endeavours towards them. And, that is exactly what Siva is doing. To bring these English-educated round to the path of righteousness is his mission. It is these English-educated people who mislead the good people, and spread Adharma. Siva works amongst them. Thousands and thousands have been transformed. Countless young men and women have been rescued from the clasp of Adharma, and Dharma has been restored to them and so to the land. If we closely analyse Sivas method of work, we shall find that he has placed his books - the spiritual sentinels - at every portal through which Adharma could invade man. Dharmasamsthapana has been the one all-consuming end and aim of Siva.

The All-India Tour furnished ample proof that Siva was the very embodiment of Dharmasamsthapana. He has made it clear at the very outset of the Tour that He was undertaking it in order to serve humanity, to disseminate spiritual knowledge. At every centre people witnessed one heart-rending miracle: Siva's body is weak, his throat had become extremely sore, his vocal chords had all but broken, yet Siva smiled brilliantly - defiantly as the doctors called it, and as he faced every audience he joyously served them with the richest food for their soul. Listeners might have got tired going from one function to another and sitting up listening to Siva's lectures which were throughout thrilling and charming. But Siva was fresh as a morning flower, even when he was running a temperature. A dynamic spiritual propagandist like Goswami Ganesh Dutt Ji admitted and admired it. The organisers and the people sitting around Siva on the dais were often nervous at the extraordinary strain that Siva was imposing on himself; but Siva himself had no thought for the throat. The Divine Will-to-Dharmasamsthapana was the Master and his body the servant. It had to obey. And it did obey.

It was, again, this Will-to-Dharmasamsthapana that attracted millions to him, millions who had never before met him: nor even heard of him. They were there because the Divine Will had to be done. He made them sing the Lord's Name. He talked to them in their own language - in a language simple enough for them to understand. He made thim sing his instructions. This is a very important point to note. Dharmasamsthapana is not done by merely lecturing to those whom you wish to transform! They may forget all that you say, before they leave the Hall. Siva had adopted a very novel method. Often learned Pundits and great men who came to hear Siva expounding Advaita Vedanta were surprised to see that he started singing ''Eat a little, Drink a little, Talk a little, Sleep a little' with a seriousness that they could associate only with Veda Mantra. They were perplexed when Siva asked the audience to repeat this peculiar Kirtan, after him. Little did they know what a profound influence it had upon the audience. The very novelty of the song nailed it to the heart of the listeners.

Children memorised it and began to sing it from that day - because they liked the song, whether they grasped the meaning or not. Visitors to the Ashram after the conclusion of the All-India Tour have uniformly admired Siva for his novel Kirtan. They now admit that these songs had had a most profound influence on the people. Similarly with the other songs - Song of Eighteen Itis', 'Song of Govinda', 'Song of Instructions', etc. A saint would feel nervous to sing such songs in public lest his reputation should be affected! An Avatara-Purusha knows that they and they alone would serve His purpose, viz., Dharmasamsthapana.

He whose very life-breath is Dharmasamsthapana, as Siva's is, is none other than an Avatara-Purusha.