Swami Shivananda: A Living Light
The Vedanta Kesari|March 2021
(Continued from the previous issue...) In this article, Swami Shraddhanandaji reminiscences about his interaction with Swami Shivananda, one of the direct-disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and the 2nd President of the Ramakrishna Order. From 1957, Shraddhanandaji served in the American centres of San Francisco and Sacramento until his mahasamadhi in July 1996. This article was sent to The Vedanta Kesari by Lali Maly, a devotee of Vedanta Society of Sacramento, USA.
Swami Shraddhananda

It continued for about a fortnight. Brother monastics urged me to go and apologise. But I said, “No. I don’t know what I have done. But I shall bear it, because I know he is my well-wisher.” Then one day suddenly he spoke, and he smiled saying, “My boy. You see, Self-knowledge, the knowledge of Atman, is, after all, the knowledge of God. God can give you Self-knowledge, but it cannot be wrested from Him. So humility must be practised. Every day you should go to the shrine and in all humility pray to Sri Ramakrishna to give you humility, and then you will be ready for Self-knowledge. It isn’t merely studying the Upanishads or just some vain arguments and vain reasoning. Self-knowledge will come when the heart is ready. For you it is necessary to go on that path of devotion. Don’t think Self-knowledge won’t come. It will come, but it will come through devotion.”

There were other swamis present, and they said, “Oh, Maharaj. You have been so hard on him.” “I am his guru,” replied Swami Shivananda. “I have to correct him. I knew the boy was going on the wrong path, and was going astray.”

Gradually his health, weakened by high blood pressure and asthma, deteriorated. He used to live on the second floor of the monastery. The doctors forbade him to come down, even to climb two flights of stairs. However, sometimes he would come outside and walk on the terrace slowly. Physically he was almost an invalid, but when we went to him, we found his mind was far above his body. It was as though he was bodiless while in his body. If someone would ask, “How are you, Maharaj?” he would reply, “Are you asking about my body? Body is aching, body is old, but I am all right. I am all right. I am not the body. I am the Self.” It was a very natural mood with him. He would often quote the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita where the body is subject to six changes. “I am well. I am always well,” he would say. “Body is old and body is not going to live many days, but even after my death, I shall go on. I am not despairing. I am here. Sri Ramakrishna wants me here.” Whatever be the topic mentioned to him, his mind soared up to a spiritual subject.

I remember one day it was Sri Ramakrishna’s birthday, about three years before his mahasamadhi. His day began at 3 A.M. even at that age. He would get up, sit down, meditate, and chant and sing. On this day he was in an especially inspired mood. Then from 7 o’clock or so, people began to come from the city in great numbers. Naturally, they wanted to see him. The swamis, however, wanted to have some restrictions, to protect him in his weakened condition, knowing that without precautions being taken, he would go on all through the day. Toward afternoon, one of the swamis said, “Maharaj, you should rest a little.” Swami Shivanandaji became very excited. “What do you say? Rest a little? People are coming, and they want to see me, a child of Sri Ramakrishna?” “But, Maharaj, I am speaking so out of concern for your body.” He grew more excited. “Don’t you remember how he shed his blood day and night? He did not care for his body, even when he was suffering from cancer. I being his child, can I be concerned just with this body and seek bodily comfort, and all that?”

That was his attitude. When you are standing before that person and he is saying these things, and you are looking at his face, you feel that you are studying a living Upanishad, and you also have a glimpse of what spiritual life means.

He had very little sleep. The night would be spent in ecstasy, as he chanted or someone read from a book to him. After his early morning meditation, he would have a light breakfast of milk and shredded wheat. At 4 o’clock he would say, “Oh, now they will come to open the shrine,” and he would wait for the songs to be sung in the shrine. He had introduced the custom that two of the sadhus, who could sing, would sing at the opening of the shrine. He would listen from his own room. Of course, some other swamis were disturbed, because they wanted a quiet meditation. “What is this?” they complained. “A song this early in the morning?” But they could say nothing because Maharaj himself had introduced it.

I remember he was very fond of a verse from The Hundred Verses of Renunciation [Vairagya Shatakam] : “Everything is accompanied with fear. If you have wealth, there is fear; if you have honour, there is fear —fear of its opposite. Only in one thing there is no fear, and that is in vairagyam.” He was very fond of quoting that verse, and he would strike his hands together saying, “Vairagyam alone is fearless.”

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