By Vandana Jhangiani
Swami Chidananda, international president of the divine life society, turns 91 this month. a devotee pays tribute to him
There is one Ganga that flows in Rishikesh purifying the fields and lands, gladdening the hearts of all who have the good fortune to see her. And there is another Ganga that flows in the heart of our beloved master, Swami Chidananda, International President of the Divine Life Society, who completes 91 years on September 24. This is the Ganga of compassion, of universal love and understanding, the Ganga of spiritual knowledge and wisdom.
It was at a satsang in a devotee’s home where I first had his darshan. Addressing us as “Radiant immortal souls and my beloved friends in the spirit,” he began his discourse, “You are divine, therefore your life also should be divine. Therefore, be divine 100 per cent in everything you do, everything you think and feel. Wherever you go, the whole atmosphere should become uplifted, divine.” The high ideals of his words seized my imagination, but even more inspiring was his conduct. Swamiji personally distributed prasad to everyone, from a woman in a rich silk saree to a simple maid servant, with the same devotion he would extend to an old friend.
That was the beginning of my friendship with Swamiji. There were many doubts and queries initially, but through his presence they were all answered.
I recall an occasion when he shared the stage with Dada Jashan Vaswani, head of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission. While welcoming them, the host said, “We are privileged to have two great souls together in one place.” To this, Swamiji riposted, “We are not two separate beings, we are only one light in Dada’s body and in this body.” Having been initiated by another spiritual master in my youth, I had often wondered whether following two gurus would hinder my spiritual path, but Swamiji’s through-provoking statement set my doubts to rest.
Swami Chidananda was born in the year 1916 in the illustrious and spritually enlightened Rao family of Mangalore. He was named Sridhara by his parents, and from an early age the signs of saintliness were clear and unmistakable. When he performed aarti before the family idol of Kodandarama, everyone would stand in rapt attention, and pray along with him. If anyone were to fall ill or get hurt, Sridhara would nurse them back to health with the loving care and affection of a mother.
The loss of his loving and devout mother, Sarojini Devi, at the tender age of 10, made him deeply aware of the ephemeral nature of existence, and he became even more withdrawn and prayerful. Nevertheless, he completed his school and college education with distinction. His classmates in school and college noticed his indrawn nature and realised that he was different in his approach to life. They would very often take instruction from him, and respected him greatly.
Quite early in life, although born in a wealthy family, he shunned the pleasures of the world to devote himself to seclusion. In the matter of study it was the spiritual books which had the most appeal to him, more than college books. Even while he was at college, textbooks had to take second place to spiritual books. The works of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Swami Sivananda, his future guru, took precedence over all others. He shared his knowledge with others, so much so that he virtually became the guru of the household and the neighbourhood, to whom he would talk of honesty, love, purity, service, and devotion to God. He would exhort them to perform japa of Rama-Nama. While still in his 20s, he began initiating youngsters into this mantra.
Swamiji was deeply influenced by the teachings of Christ while studying in Loyola college, Madras. The noble qualities of service and compassion, empathy for the suffering and downtrodden which he observed in the brothers of the Catholic institution, were already sown in his heart; and they flowered soon after. An appointment of the Royal Airforce had not the power to tempt him as his heart was set on becoming a sanyasi. Meeting saints like Ramana Maharshi and Swami Ramdas only strenghtened his resolve.
Finding his path
In the year 1943, he was initiated by Swami Sivananda, founder of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, to serve, love, give, purify, meditate and realise, which were the main tenets of the order. By a happy coincidence, the great Sivananda shared his birthday month, being born on September 15.
This institution started by Swami Sivananda was gaining ground in the country and abroad as an institution for the dissemination of spiritual culture, yoga, and the ideals of the age-old rishis and munis. Swami Chidananda built on the work of his predecessor in this, as well as in the service of the leprosy-afflicted. He cleaned the sores of lepers with his own hands, and selflessly worked towards their welfare. Soon the first Leprosy Relief Association of the district of Tehri Garhwal was formed. The patients were given special quarters, and a trained paramedical worker was sent for them by the government, who recognised and appreciated the selfless seva done by Swamiji.
As a spiritual mentor, he has had a remarkable impact on his devotees. Their lives have taken a turn for the better, and their faith in God and the guru strengthened. One such experience is firmly etched in my mind. At the start of the new millenium, the Divine Life Society had organised a New Millenium Meet at Mumbai. Saints and spiritual stalwarts from all over India as well as other countries had been invited to enlighten seekers.
On the evening of December 31, Swami Chidananda commenced his speech with a prayer. He prayed for all humanity, and we prayed along with him. Then he lifted up his heart to God in an earnest request that the hostages of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC 814 be released. The entire congregation prayed. To our joy and relief, the next morning we learnt that the hostages had been freed! Swamiji had proved not merely by preaching, but by practise, the efficacy of prayer in a world filled with violence and strife.
He has written a number of books on yoga and spiritual ethics. To read them is to be blessed with a deeper understanding of the Reality and of our great cultural and spiritual heritage. Ponder these Truths, God as Mother, Yoga Asanas, Awake, Realise Your Divinity, Path Beyond Sorrow, are some of his enligntening works. He repeatedly tells us, “You are divine immortal souls, you are not this body, not this mind, you are atman, radiant immortal atman. Realise this and be free.”
If there is one positive force in this universe which has inspired me to lead a beautiful life, filled with peace and enriched with realisation, it is the spritual energy, presence, and guidance of my guru. May He bless us all!
Contact: Vandana Jhangiani: email@example.com
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