What Life Has Taught Me
Swami Sivananda Saraswati
It was by a flash that I came to the conclusion early in my life that human life is not complete with its observable activities and that there is something above human perception controlling and directing all that is visible. I began to perceive the realities behind what we call life on earth. The unrest and feverish anxiety that characterize man’s ordinary existence here bespeak a higher goal that he has to reach one day or the other.
When man gets entangled in selfishness, greed, hatred and lust, he naturally forgets what is beneath his own skin. Materialism and scepticism reign supreme. He gets irritated over little things and begins to fight and quarrel; in short, man becomes miserable.
The doctor’s profession gave me ample evidence of the great sufferings of this world. I was blessed with a new vision and perspective. I was deeply convinced that there must be a place – a sweet home of pristine glory, purity and divine splendour – where absolute security, perfect peace and happiness can be enjoyed eternally. Therefore, in conformity with the dictum of the Srutis, I renounced the world, and felt that I now belonged to the whole world. A course of severe self-discipline and penance endowed me with enough strength to move unscathed amidst the vicissitudes of the world-phenomena. I began to feel the great good it would do to humanity if I could share this new vision with one and all. I called my instrument of work ‘The Divine Life Society’.
Side by side, the stirring events since the advent of the twentieth century had their effects upon all keen-minded people. The horrors of the past and possible wars and the consequent suffering touched people’s minds. It was not difficult to see that the pains of mankind were mostly brought on by its own deeds. To awaken man to his errors and follies, and to make him mend his ways so that he may utilize his life for attaining worthier ends, was felt to be the urgent need of the time. As if in answer to this need, I saw the birth of the Divine Life Mission, with its task of rescuing man from the forces of the lower nature and raising him to the consciousness of his true relationship with the cosmos. This is the work of bringing man to an awareness of his essential divinity.
Not by mere argument or discussion can religion be taught or understood. Not by precepts or canons of teaching alone can you make one religious. It requires a peculiar affinity with one’s vast environment, an ability to feel the deepest as well as the vastest. It requires a genuine sympathy with creation. Religion is living, not speaking or showing. I hold that whatever one’s religion, whoever the prophet one adores, whatever one’s language or country, age or sex, one can be religious provided the true implication of that hallowed term ‘tapas’, which essentially means any form of self-control, is made capable of being practised in daily life to the extent possible for one, in the environment and under the circumstances in which one is placed.
Real religion is the religion of the heart. The heart must be purified first. Truth, love and purity are the basis of real religion. Control over the baser nature, conquest of the mind, cultivation of virtues, service of humanity, goodwill, fellowship and amity constitute the fundamentals of true religion. These ideals are included in the principles of the Divine Life Society, and I try to teach them mostly by example, which I consider to be weightier than all precepts.
The beauty of divine life is its simplicity and applicability to the everyday affairs of the ordinary person. It is immaterial whether one goes to a church or a mosque or a temple to offer one’s prayers, for all sincere prayers are heard by the Divine.
The average seeker after Truth is very often deceived by the caprices of his mind. A person who takes to the spiritual path is bewildered before he reaches the end of his journey. He is naturally tempted to relax his efforts half way. Many are the pitfalls, but those who plod on steadily are sure to reach the goal of life, which is universality of being, knowledge and joy. I have laid great emphasis in all my writings upon the discipline of the turbulent senses, conquest of the mind, purification of the heart, and attainment of inner peace and strength, suited to the different stages in evolution.
It is the foremost duty of man to learn to give, to give in charity, to give in plenty, to give with love and without expectation of any reward, because one does not lose anything by giving – on the other hand the giver is given back a thousandfold. Charity is not merely an act of offering certain material goods, for charity is incomplete without charity of disposition, of feeling, and of understanding and knowledge. Charity is self-sacrifice in the different levels of one’s being. Charity in the highest sense I understand to be equivalent to Jnana Yajna, the sacrifice of wisdom.
Similarly, I consider that goodness of being and doing constitute the rock bottom of one’s life. By goodness I mean the capacity to feel with others and to live and feel as others do, and be in a position to act so that no one is hurt by the act. Goodness is the face of Godliness. To be good in reality, in the innermost recesses of one’s heart, is not easy, though it may appear to be simple as a teaching. It is one of the hardest things on earth, if only one would be honest with oneself. There is no physical world for me. What I see I see as the glorious manifestation of the Almighty. I rejoice when I behold the Purusha with thousands of heads and thousands of eyes and feet, that Sahasrarasirsha Purusha. When I serve persons, I see not the persons, but Him of whom they are the limbs. I learn to be humble before the mighty Being whose breath we breathe and whose joy we enjoy. I do not think there is anything more to teach or to learn. Here is the cream of religion, the quintessence of philosophy that anyone really needs.
The philosophy I hold is neither a dreamy, subjective, world-negating doctrine of illusion, nor a crude world-affirming theory of sense-ridden humanism. It is the fact of the divinity of the universe, the immortality of the soul of man, the unity of creation with the Absolute that I feel is the only doctrine worth considering. As the one all-pervading Brahman appears as the diverse universe in all the planes of its manifestation, the aspirant has to pay his homage to the lower manifestations before he steps into the higher. Sound health, clear understanding, deep knowledge, a pure, powerful will and moral integrity are all necessary parts of the process of the realization of the ideal of humanity as a whole.
To adjust, adapt and accommodate, to see good in everything, to bring to effective use all the principles of nature in the process of evolution towards Self-realization along the path of an integrated adjustment of the human powers and faculties are some of the main factors that go to build up a philosophy of life. To me, philosophy is not merely a love of wisdom, but actual possession of it. In all my writings I have prescribed methods for overcoming and mastering the physical, intellectual, mental and vital layers of consciousness in order to be able to proceed with the sadhana for self-perfection. To behold the Lord in every being or form, to feel Him everywhere, at all times and in all conditions of life, to see, hear, taste and feel everything as God is my creed. To live in God, to melt in God and to dissolve in God is my creed. By dwelling in such union, to utilize the hands, mind, senses and the body in the service of humanity, to sing the names of the Lord, to elevate devotees, to give instructions to sincere aspirants and disseminate knowledge throughout the world is my creed, if you can call it one.
To be a cosmic friend and cosmic benefactor, a friend of the poor, the forlorn, the helpless and the fallen, is my creed. It is my sacred creed to serve the sick, to nurse them with care, sympathy and love, to cheer up the depressed, to infuse power and joy in all, to feel oneness with each and everyone, and to treat all with equal vision.
In my highest creed there are neither peasants nor kings, neither beggars nor emperors, neither males nor females, neither teachers nor students. I love to live, move and have my being in this realm indescribable.
The first step is often the most difficult one. But once it is taken the rest becomes easy. There is a need for more courage and patience. People usually shirk, hesitate and are frightened. All this is due to ignorance of one’s true duty. A certain amount of education and culture is necessary to have a sufficiently clear grasp of one’s position in this world. Our educational system needs an overhaul, for it is now floating on the surface without touching the depths of man. To achieve this, cooperation should come not only from society but also from the government.
Success is difficult without mutual help. The head and heart should go hand in hand, and the ideal and the reality should have a close relation. To work with this knowledge is karma yoga. The Lord has declared this truth in the Gita. I pray that this supreme ideal be actualized in the daily life of every individual. I pray that there be heaven on earth. This is not merely a wish – this is a possibility and a fact that cannot be gainsaid. It is to be realized if life is to mean what it ought to mean.