Why do people in the world celebrate the life of Swami Sivananda? The following quotes will help us understand the stature of the Master. Sri N. Ananthanarayanan in his book From Man to God-man writes:
"Swami Sivananda was unique in more ways than one, which entitles him to pride of place in modern India's spiritual horizon. Whether in physical appearance, intellectual stature or spiritual excellence, he was second to none. But the hallmark of his life was the way he tangibly influenced innumerable individual lives in every corner of the world. This influence crossed man-made barriers of religion, race and colour, of language, country and sex, and even political system. Perhaps no saint in the twentieth century had personal contact with as many followers as Swami Sivananda had.
"Gulzarilal Nanda, twice Acting-Prime Minister of India, remarked years ago: 'When a history of the great religious teachers of this ancient land is compiled, the name of Swami Sivananda would appear at the top'".
In his autobiographical account, the Master narrates the various ways in which God came into his life. In this reading of the evening, entitled, "How God Came into My Life", the Master states: "My father was fond of ceremonial worship (puja) in which he was very regular. To my child-mind, the image he worshipped was God; and I delighted in helping father in the worship, by bringing him flowers and other articles of worship. The deep inner satisfaction that he and I derived from such worship implanted in my heart the deep conviction that God is in such images devoutly worshipped by His devotees. Thus did God come into my life and place my foot on the first rung of the spiritual ladder.
"As an adult, I was fond of gymnastics and vigorous exercises. I learnt fencing from a teacher who belonged to a low caste; he was a harijan. I could go to him only for a few days before I was made to understand that it was unbecoming of a caste-born brahmin to play the student to an untouchable. I thought deeply over the matter. One moment I felt that the God whom we all worshipped in the image in my father's puja-room had jumped over to the heart of this untouchable. He was my guru, all right! So, I immediately went to him with flowers, sweets and cloth, and garlanded him, placed flowers at his feet and prostrated myself before him. Thus did God come into my life to remove the veil of caste distinctions.
"How very valuable this step was I could realise very soon after this: for I was to enter the medical profession and serve all, and the persistence of caste distinction would have made that service a mockery.
"Then God came into my life in the form of the sick in Malaya. I can look back now upon the whole period of my stay in Malaya as a single event in which God came to me in the form of the sick and suffering, People are sick physically and mentally. To some, life is lingering death; and to some, death is more welcome than life. The aspiration grew within me, that if God had not made this world merely as a hell where wicked people would be thrown to suffer, and if there is (as I intuitively felt there should be) something other than this misery and this helpless existence, it should be known and experienced. It was at this crucial point in my life that God came to me as a religious mendicant who gave me the first lessons in Vedanta. The positive aspects of life here and the real end and aim of human life were made apparent. This drew me from Malaya to the Himalaya. God came to me in the form of an all-consuming aspiration to realise Him as the Self of all.
"Meditation and service went on apace; and with them came various spiritual experiences, till body, mind and intellect as the limiting adjuncts vanished and the whole universe shone in His Light. God then came in the form of this Light.
"One more milestone had to be passed in order to know 'Sarvam Khalvidam Brahman' (All indeed, is Brahman). Early in 1950 (on the 8th January) God came to me in the form of a half-demented assailant who disturbed the night Satsang at the Ashram. His attempt failed. I bowed to him, worshipped him and sent him home. Evil exists to glorify the good. Evil is a superficial appearance; beneath its veil the one Self shines in all.
"It was in 1950 that I undertook the All-India Tour. Then God came to me in His Virat-Swarup — as multitudes of devotees eager to listen to the tenets of divine life. At every centre I felt that God spoke through me and that He Himself in His Virat-form spread out before me as the multitude, listened to me. He sang with me; He prayed with me, He spoke and He listened. Sarvam Khalvidam Brahman ─ all indeed is Brahman."
In the pre-recorded message, Pujya Swamiji emphasised the importance of will-power in spiritual life. "Saints are not born, they are made. Every little act goes towards the making of a saint. And, every action will make us stronger. If we think big, and if we do difficult tasks, then we will be able to grow and the will-power will also grow. You will find today, not only in the spiritual field, but in other fields also, people do not have a strong will-power. They give up with a little effort. They don't make a sturdy effort. So that is why when a problem arises when a moral crisis arises, we find that we are completely defeated by the mind. So that is why we are asked to do difficult things, not the small things. There is no purpose in trying to mount a mole-hill. Try to climb the Himalayan Mountains. Then you will grow and the power will come. Because, bliss and peace will not come unless the system is purified and strengthened."
About the Divine Master, Pujya Swamiji assured us: "He is ever ready to serve us. But we have to turn to him within our hearts. So, if you have any problems, and you know if you have problems, no one can help us at all. It is God alone who can give us solace. But he cannot serve us until we turn to him. So, if you find that you are not being helped, it is because you are not placing your problems before the Master within, frankly and with an open heart. So, his power cannot flow. So, whatever you say, there are these spiritual laws. Unless these laws are observed, Grace too, perhaps operates under these laws. Here is a wonderful assurance, given by the Master on his birthday. And, it is good that we should reflect on this on his birthday and try to contact him within."
The DVD featured on the programme depicted scenes of the 70th Birth Anniversary celebrations of the Master at his Ashram in Rishikesh on 8 September 1957. Devotees thronged to get the Darshan of the Master. The DVD also featured Pujya Swami Sahajananda singing the Bhajan "Thou art my life, Thou art my Love" in the background as the birthday celebrations continued in full swing. The Master himself was in a jocular disposition as he exchanged pleasantries with devotees who had the good fortune of getting this rare Darshan. In the background, Pujya Swamiji continued appropriately, "Devotee knows how sweet you are. He knows, whom you let know." We were also privileged to hear the Master sing the "Hare Rama" Kirtan. For us here in South Africa, it was a rare gift to get the Darshan of the Master.
A fitting conclusion about our Master, again from Sri Ananthanarayanan: "Swami Sivananda blasted old superstitions about God and religion. In equal measure he exploded modern fairy tales about Yoga and Yogis. By teaching and by personal example, he made it plain that there was no easy way to Moksha or liberation, no short-cut to God. The laborious, orthodox way was the only way. It was the way of service and love, of abstraction and meditation, of dispassion and discrimination.
"Swami Sivananda shed his mortal coil in 1963, but the popularity of his name and writings grows every day. It is a strange story ─ this story of Swami Sivananda. A story well worth reading ─ and remembering. Nay, a story to live by".