Swami Sivananda (1887 – 1963)
Swami Sivananda’s life was a radiant example of service to humanity, both during his years as a doctor and later as a world-renowned sage and jivanmukta. To serve all, to love all, to mix with all and to see God in all beings were the ideals he taught and lived by. Born on September 8, 1887, to an illustrious family in Tamil Nadu, South India, he displayed spiritual tendencies even as a young boy. He had a natural flair for a life devoted to the study and practice of Vedanta, along with an inborn eagerness to serve, and an innate feeling of unity with all.
Though born into an orthodox family, his piety was balanced by an unusual broad mindedness and lack of prejudice. Even as a young man, his driving force was the service of humanity which led him to become a medical doctor. He served the poor in Malaysia for many years, but soon felt that this was not enough. Divinely blessed, he gave up his medical career and took to a life of renunciation.
He returned to India and spent a year wandering before settling in Rishikesh, Himalayas in 1924. There he practiced intense austerities, found his guru, Swami Vishwananda, and was initiated into sannyas. For the next seven years, Swami Sivananda spent most of his time in meditation. From the early 1930s onwards, he embarked on frequent and extensive tours of India and Sri Lanka, stirring the hearts and souls of thousands with his spiritual magnetism, strong vibrant voice and public speaking abilities. Wherever he went, he conducted sankirtan (chanting), delivered lectures and taught people how to stay strong and healthy by practising yoga asanas, pranayama and kriyas. Above all, he urged his audiences to strive constantly for spiritual development.
In Rishikesh, meanwhile, an increasing number of disciples had begun to congregate and an ashram grew up around him. With his unrestrained generosity, spirit of service, deep devotion, and his constant good humour, Swami Sivananda set a supreme example to his students. In 1932, he started the Sivananda Ashram; in 1936 the Divine Life Society was born. The Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy was organised in 1948, all with the aim of spreading the teachings of yoga and vedanta.
Swami Sivananda’s teachings crystallised the basic tenets of all religions, combining all yoga paths into one – the Yoga of Synthesis which he summed up with, ‘Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realise’. His own life was a shining example of the ideal wish to spread his message of love and service. He had disciples around the world, of all nationalities, religions and creeds. Swami Sivananda entered mahasamadhi (left his physical body) on July 14, 1963.