Swami Sivananda (1887–1963)
His mission: to serve humanity
Swami Sivananda (1887–1963) was one of the great yoga masters of India. In his life he pursued two careers, that of a successful physician and that of a yogi and sage. His work always centred on serving others: “Every type of work that served to heal and relieve human suffering filled me with great joy.” For him, service was “love in expression”. After starting work as a doctor in India, he went to Malaysia where thousands of Indian workers were living under difficult conditions. As the director of a local hospital, he spent much of his time treating the poor, who needed his help the most. Not only would he provide medical care free of charge, but he was also known to send them home with enough pocket money to make up for their lost earnings.
The search for lasting happiness
The feeling of having a ‘higher calling’ in life was always at the back of the young doctor’s mind. Amidst all the fleeting and shadowy pleasures of life, he constantly sought a higher form of lasting happiness and peace. The physical and mental distress he observed in the people he met was a source of profound sadness for him. Through the teachings of Vedanta he gradually understood the real goal of life. It became his innermost desire to follow the path of the sages and to help people, not just their physical bodies as before, but their minds as well. In order to completely dedicate his life to yoga, he renounced the world and spent many months as a penniless, itinerant monk, finding his way to the solitude of the Himalayas. There, Swami Sivananda practised yoga and meditation intensely and attained self-realisation.
The yoga of synthesis
In his ashram, the Divine Life Society in Rishikesh, Swami Sivananda taught a form of yoga that integrated all known yoga systems. This yoga of synthesis is the basis for the modern yoga practice in the West. In Rishikesh he trained many outstanding students, who would be instrumental in giving classical yoga the great reputation it now has throughout the world. In 1957, he instructed one of his closest disciples, Swami Vishnudevananda, “Go to the West. People are waiting” and sent him first to America and then to Europe to spread the teachings of yoga.
The greatest gift is knowledge
Writing became Swami Sivananda’s next mission. Writing enabled him to do people more lasting good. His goal was to disseminate as much spiritual knowledge as possible. For him, the gift of knowledge was the greatest gift of all. The printing press was more important to him than the pulpit because words heard are quickly forgotten; only the written word lasts. Swami Sivananda continued this mission until the end of his life, publishing more than 200 books on all aspects of yoga.
Students around the world
Swami Sivananda wrote all of his books in English because it enabled him to reach the largest audience around the world. He also maintained regular correspondence with hundreds of his yoga students worldwide, who turned to him seeking answers and advice. In this way, from his simple house on the banks of the Ganges in the Himalayas, Swami Sivananda spread the light of divine knowledge to all four corners of the earth.
The enduring power of his thoughts
This great sage of the twentieth century, Swami Sivananda, lives on. He lives on in his books, in his disciples, in the atmosphere of his centres and ashrams. Swami Sivananda was a prince among men, a jewel among saints. Service and love were the weapons he used to conquer the hearts of men. Swami Sivananda did not found a new religion, nor did he develop any new rules of ethics and morality. Instead, he helped the Hindu become a better Hindu, the Christian a better Christian, the Muslim a better Muslim. There was an enduring power in Swami Sivananda – in his thoughts, his words and his deeds. He was the divine power of truth, purity, love and service.