Sri Swami Sivananda
One of the greatest Yoga masters of the 20th century, Swami Sivananda, is the inspiration behind the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. The teachings of Master Sivananda are summarized in these six words: Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realize.
His Early Life
Born in 1887 in Pattamadai, Tamil Nadu, South India, Swami Sivananda whose name was then Kuppuswami, was a brilliant boy at studying as well as gymnastics and naturally inclined toward spiritual and religious practices.
His parents were very devoted to Lord Siva and Kuppuswami was eager to join them twice daily for worship (Puja) and Kirtan (Mantra chanting).
His natural selfless spirit lead him to a career in the medical field. His amazing eagerness and ability to learn and assimilate his studies earned him the respect of his professors who invited him to attend surgeries while still in his first year of medical school.
The young Dr. Kuppuswami felt a strong urge to go to Malaysia where he felt there was great need. In a short time he was given the responsibility of running a hospital. During these years Dr. Kuppuswami was renowned as being both an excellent doctor and a true humanitarian. Very often he waived consultation fees for patients too poor to afford his services and on many occasions provided medicine for free to his neediest patients.
One day Dr. Kuppuswami had the opportunity to cure a wandering Sannyasin (renunciate or Monk) who then gave the doctor instruction on Yoga and Vedanta. From that day on his life changed, and gradually Dr. Kuppuswami became more introspective and could not stop pondering the great questions of life. Now he felt the need to help people on a more profound level, not just healing their physical body, but helping them to find a cure for all suffering.
The Great Sannyasin
Filled with a tremendous desire for spiritual growth and enlightenment Kuppuswami went to North India in search of his Guru. After spending time in Varanasi (Banaras) he travelled north to the Himalayas. There in the holy town of Rishikesh (which means "the abode of the sages") Kuppuswami discovered his Guru who gave him Sannyas (a monk's vows of renunciation). After taking these vows, Swami Sivananda Saraswati, as he would be known henceforth, started an extremely intense daily Sadhana (spiritual practices) and Tapas (austerities) for the next 10 years or so. By the end of that period many co-Sadhus felt drawn to Swami Sivananda for his instruction and his spiritual inspiration.
The World Teacher
From that time Swami Sivananda became one of the most prolific Yoga teachers who has ever existed. Although he rarely left the little town of Rishikesh (with only 2 India tours and no visits abroad) Swami Sivananda's teachings spread quickly throughout our entire planet. He personally wrote - by hand, no computers at the time :-) - more than 200 books on topics connected to Yoga and Philosophy. He wrote in a style that is very direct and bursting with dynamic, spiritual energy. As a result many who read his books felt their lives deeply touched and transformed and so came from all of India, all of the world, to learn from him directly, and to bask in his holy presence.
In 1957, Swami Sivananda sent his devoted and industrious disciple, Swami Vishnudevananda to the West where he then established the International Sivananda Yoga
Before Discovering Yoga
Swamiji was born in Kerala, South India, in 1927. As a young child one of his main character traits was a strong will and determination. His mother, now known as Mataji who later took Sannyas (vows of renunciation) from Swami Sivananda, said that whenever her son wanted something, nothing or no one could stop him. An interesting anecdote tells how as a 5 year old youngster he had the strong desire to go to school and learn. When told that it was not possible since the nearest school was located more than 5 miles away, the child took upon himself to pack and go early the next morning for the long 5 mile walk through the jungle. He walked back that evening and would do the same for many years to come.
As a teenager without financial resources for University, he turned to joining the army to receive the scientific education he yearned for. During this time as he looked for a lost paper in a waste basket, his eyes fell upon a paper entitled "20 Spiritual Instructions" by Swami Sivananda. The pamphlet began: "An ounce of practice is better than tons of theory". The practicality and inherent power of these simple words lead Swamiji to travel across India during a 36-hour leave to meet Swami Sivananda in far away Rishsikesh in the Himalayas.
This short visit left such an impression on the young boy's mind that he resolved to return as soon as possible.
Meeting the Master
On his second visit, the young disciple received 2 powerful lessons from Swami Sivananda. The first lesson came when Swami Vishnudevananda felt too timid and a bit arrogant to bow to the Guru Swami Sivananda. So the Master Swami Sivananda prostrated fully before the young student demonstrating the lesson of humility. The second lesson came during Arati (worship ceremony) to Ganga (Ganges river). Swamiji was perplexed and doubtful as he pondered why intelligent people would worship what scientifically is merely H2O. The Master then smiled subtly and gazed at Swamij who instantly beheld the river as a vast, bright, cosmic light. Swami Sivananda then invited the young boy to remain at the Ashram to study and become a Yogi. Swami Vishnudevananda spontaneously replied "Yes".
For 10 years Swami Vishnudevananda continued at the Sivananda Ashram and was trained in all aspects of Yoga by Swami Sivananda. Swami Vishnudevananda quickly became an exceptional adept in the path of Hatha-Yoga and was a very keen and tireless Karma Yogi. One day Swami Sivananda gave Swamiji a 10 Rupee note (less than a dollar!) and his blessings to travel to the West and spread the teachings of Vedanta. "People are waiting" were the words of the Master.
Swamiji as a World Teacher
Swamiji's limitless energy and profound inspiration lead him to found and direct the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. There are now 20 Yoga centres and 9 Ashrams and many Affiliated centres. Swami created the first Yoga Teachers Training Course which to date has trained more than 30,000 certified teachers in the field of Yoga and spirituality. One of his brilliant touches was to summarize these ancient and vast teachings into five principles of Yoga which are easy to understand and convenient to incorporate in one's daily practice.
The Flying Swamiji and Peace Missions
Throughout his whole life, Swamiji was deeply concerned about the well being of the world and the constant disaster of wars. This lead him to learn to fly and then personally pilot a small plane over several troubled areas of the world. Not only did he create discussion and awareness in the news media, but he also "bombarded" these war torn areas with flowers and peace pamphlets while repeating the peace Mantra Om Namo Narayanaya.
"I have given you all I have with all my heart and love. It is for you to give to others. Sometimes I may not know all the answers, and I know that I have a long way to go. If you didn't get anything, that's because of my lower emotional nature. If there was anything good you got, it came from my great Master Sivananda. I don't say that I'm an unemotional person. I scolded and talked endlessly. I acted like a dictator. If I were like my master, or like Jesus, I could wash the feet of my disciples. But for that one must be very high. It can only be done when the ego is gone. If I were to do it, it would be hypocrisy. I'm not that high. Once, some years ago, I prostrated myself before a man to whom I had been rude and impatient. As I was doing it, I was thinking 'How humble I am.' So don't look for an easy way to overcome your ego. For years I've tried. I watch myself as my ego manifests itself. I analyze. But it clings like a leech. When we can't control ourselves, we should offer it to the Lord: 'Oh Lord, I offer it to Thee!' And now, if in any way I hurt your feelings, I ask you with all my heart to pardon me". - Swami Vishnudevananda