By Swami Yatidharmananda
“The legacy of Swami Chidananda lives on in his teachings and his sublime effect on the lives of the millions that he touched.” A disciple pays tribute to Swami Chidananda Saraswati, the spiritual head of the divine life society, who passed away recently
A beacon of light and a living example of the simplicity that lies at the heart of Indian spiritual practice, of Swami Chidananda Saraswati, the spiritual head of The Divine Life Society, was the embodiment of the teaching of his revered master, Swami Sivananda: “Serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realise.”
He succeeded Swami Sivananda as the president and spiritual head of the Divine Life Society in 1963.
His mahasamadhi on August 28, 2008, has left thousands of disciples and admirers bereft.
Swami Chidananda was born as Sridhar Rao in Mangalore, South India, on September 24, 1916. Devotional songs and stories from the scriptures, as well as the lives and teachings of modern saints such as Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi and Swami Ramdas, awakened in him a fiery aspiration for the spiritual life. He graduated in 1938 from Loyola College, Madras.
In 1943, he joined the Himalayan ashram of Swami Sivananda, founder of the Divine Life Society, whose dynamic spiritual writings had long attracted him. On Guru Purnima, 1949, he was initiated into the holy order of sanyasa.
A simple monk
Although the spiritual head of a global institution, at heart he remained a simple monk, whose aim in life was to do as much good for as many people as possible. His life became one of endless service and the dissemination of spiritual knowledge.
Swami Chidananda set the example of employing discipline and self-control, together with the help of dedicated practice in meditation and yoga, to go beyond the senses. In his words “I am not this body, not this mind, Immortal Self I am.” He inspired all to emulate him, and addressed all as “Radiant Immortal Atman…” to remind us to live, in thought, word and deed, as the divine beings we truly are.
The legacy of Swami Chidananda lives on in his teachings and his sublime effect on the lives of the millions that he touched. His messages were, as he himself said, from the ‘universal to the universal’. People of all religions, races and ideologies gravitated towards him, for he taught that which could be practised, no matter who you are and where you live.
Spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen wrote: “I remember being instantly struck by his countenance upon seeing him for the first time. He exuded a natural air of dignity that was commanding and made me sit up straight. He also radiated a rare quality that I had never seen before in any human being – purity. In the presence of such a being, one becomes instantly aware of one’s own lack of development and of how far there is to go. One understands for the first time what unselfish love, spiritual freedom, and pure motivation look like. He was gentle yet strong, and in every word he spoke and every gesture he made he seemed to be bearing witness to the presence of a higher and deeper dimension of reality that he was constantly referring to as the ‘Divine.’ It was impossible not to take him seriously and difficult not to be deeply moved by his powerful transparency and authenticity. It’s only in the presence of such a being that the very notion of shadow, of human darkness, disappears as a reference point, inspiring a quality that is generally unknown in post-modernity — humility.”
Devotee Abha Suchak recalls an incident that highlights the essence of Swamiji. “It was Swamiji’s 75th birthday and thousands had gathered in the ashram to wish him. He asked, ‘Will you be generous enough to give me something if I ask today? Give me a promise to put an effort toward these five actions:
I will always be 100 per cent truthful – come what may.
I will practice total non-injury – in thought, word and deed.
I will bring discipline into all aspects of my life and do daily sadhana.
I will love all life and living beings and I will serve everyone around me.
I will stay cheerful.
Can you give me these gifts? Not all today, but at least start cultivating these qualities and someday they will become a habit. Always be watchful.’ I got seriously thinking. Slowly I realised he had set us off on a path that was tough but also attainable at the same time.”
Another devotee, Mayu Chulani, writes: “I am in darkness; he lights a lamp: ‘Radiant Immortal Atman, you are!’ I hesitate; he pushes me forward: ‘Do it now! Do it now!’ I am lost; he shows me the way: ‘Take the path to liberation!’ I reach for dross; he gives me gold: ‘The real treasure is the bliss Divine!’ I sleep; he ends the dream: ‘Arise, awake, having reached the wise become enlightened!’ I am abandoned; he comforts me: ‘I am with you, I am forever here!’ I tread the path towards the goal, knowing my beloved and revered guru is ever at my side.”
In Aparajita Sigman’s experience; “Swamiji called my parents, en route from Delhi to Ahmedabad, asking if he could stay the night with us. Swamiji was known to the family, but he wasn’t my guru yet. This was his first visit to our home. I was two years old and sick with high fever. After he retired to his room at night, my fever steadily rose to 107 degrees, until I slipped into a coma. Despite all medical treatments there was no improvement. My parents had lost all hope. At 5.30 am, before leaving for the airport, Swamiji unceremoniously entered the room, laid his hands on my forehead and blessed me. Something happened in that instant. Within seconds my eyes opened to see Him before me. There was no trace of sickness; I was as fresh as a daisy. The first words out of my mouth were ‘Hi, Swamiji!’ Ever since then, my guru consumes my being with the deepest love and brightest light.”
Summing it all up perfectly, devotee Moo Briddell shares her feelings about Gurudev: “What a great privilege to have known such an exquisite being, who turned so many lives towards God, yet once said ‘a spiritual life should be like the flight of a bird at night’, so that no one would know you had ever been there. Always wanting to be ‘nobody’, he changed the world. In his light and love, his example of how to live on this earth is forever etched in my soul.” He was an emissary “sent from God, to support, inspire and protect sincere seeking souls and to challenge them to take to the spiritual path and never, ever give up.”
Such was the effect of Swami Chidananda. He was intimately connected with every single devotee. He answered before the question was asked, gave before the need arose, loved before he was loved back. His presence made all our hearts sing with joy, his cheerful disposition uplifted one out of any darkness. He laughed and loved without restraint. His boundless being took so many into his care and showered unconditional love upon all equally, affecting each one profoundly.
Someone once asked Swami Chinmayananda, the founder of Chinmaya Mission: “Is the ideal jivanmukta of the Bhagvad Gita a mere scriptural representation or a living reality? Is there anybody today who may fittingly be called a sthitaprajna?” He answered, “Yes. There are such great ones. One is Ma Ananadamayee and the other is Swami Chidananda. One should behold them and get sanctified.”
The late Swami Venkateshananda, the brother disciple of Swami Chidananda, once said, “Who is Chidananda? I will tell you the truth. Chidananda is … Don’t try to describe him you will fail. Silence is God’s name.”
Most significantly, his own guru, Swami Sivananda, lauded him unstintingly: “Chidananda is a jeevanmukta, a great saint, an ideal yogi, a param bhakta and a great sage. Swami Chidananda is much more. Chidanandaji’s lectures are the outpourings of his saintly heart, the revelations of his intuitive wisdom. His lectures must be printed in gold.”
As devotees, children and students of this great master each one of us will miss being graced with his physical presence. However, Swamiji taught us well that the “the guru never dies; he lives on in his teachings and through his disciples.” We do not grieve for him for we know that He is Immortal and is all around us, inside us: He is us, we are Him – for all is one. Through us, his disciples, Swami Chidananda lives forever.
Our gratitude for having Swamiji as our guru can never be fully expressed. He is always here, and, through his words of immense wisdom, his divine presence, spiritual insight and guidance, humility, wit and sense of humour, continues to guide us toward self-realisation.
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