FOUNDING OF DIVINE LIFE SOCIETY OF SOUTH AFRICA
EARLY BEGINNINGS

We are not tired of reiterating that the formation, growth and present status of Divine Life Society of South Africa is due entirely to the Grace of our Master, Sri Swami Sivananda. Divine Life Society of South Africa is unique in spiritual history, because it was founded by a spiritual Master who forced his disciple—in this case, Swami Sahajananda—to obey him and carry out his commands.

In our most informative publication, Sivananda's Gospel of Divine Life there are many instances recorded, where the Divine Master gave his disciples full freedom to choose their way of life or make decisions. He did not force any of them-even the most senior disciples-to obey him. In the case of Swami Chidananda also, the Master did not compel him to take care of his mission, when he insisted on going to Uttarkasi to practise Sadhana in seclusion. The case of Swami Sahajananda was an exception.

Regarding the activities of the Society, the Divine Master gave his assurance in his own handwriting:

"God will look after the divine work. Lord will look after everything".

BEGINNINGS OF SPIRITUAL LIFE

Swamiji had a very promising academic career. In primary school, he used to be invariably amongst the top three in class. At Sastri College he had a first class pass in the Junior Certificate. In Matric he came out first. When he took the teacher's training exam the next year, again he came out first in class.

At Estcourt, Swamiji's home town, children had to walk several kilometers daily to the old school, from the Zailaager farm to town. If pupils were absent from school a teacher was sent to round them up. Once, when Swamiji played truant, he was rounded up, taken to school and punished. A second time when he played truant again, he bolted away to the hotel where his brothers worked and escaped the teacher who had come searching for him!

But when the new school, now called Drakensberg Secondary School, was established, Swamiji was very regular. From standard four until he passed his teacher's exam at Sastri College, that is, for a period of 10 years, he was absent from school for half a day only. Strangely, if at all he felt unwell, mainly through gastric trouble, it occured during weekends and lasted only for a day or so. So his presence at school was not hindered.

As already stated, Swamiji was highly ambitious in the pursuit of his academic career, but the Master had other devastating plans in store for him and his intervention came at the appropriate time.

While at Sastri College Swamiji wished to complete his Matric, then take B.Sc. and finally Ph.D. He was sure of securing a first class pass in Matric as he had in J.C. Mathematics was his favourite subject, in which he used to spend many hours, even up till midnight. But in the Matric exam he could not solve the intricate geometrical problems in which he was so proficient. After answering the mathematics paper, Swamiji felt quite disappointed and disgusted with himself. He knew that he would not get a first class pass. He obtained a second class pass and, because he was annoyed with his performance, he refused a bursary offered to him to take B.Sc. at Fort Hare. He wanted to pass his teacher's exam and then take up teaching. After that he would pursue his degree through correspondence. Therefore, after the teacher's course in Sastri College, Swamiji went to teach in his school in Estcourt.

WORKINGS OF THE MASTER'S GRACE

Now the Master's Grace started working according to Swamiji's Prarabdha Karma. His failure in the Matric, which appeared to him as a great tragedy then, turned out to be the greatest blessing. It was during his first year of teaching that he came across the Master's enlightening book, Practice of Karma Yoga. At that time Swamiji's mind was extremely restless and he was searching for some technique by means of which he could control it. Reading in some Theosophical books that a spiritual master was necessary for such a pursuit, he turned to Yoga. He was fascinated to learn that not only can one control the mind through Yoga practice, but one can also realise God in the bargain.

While browsing through the books at the Vedic Bookshop in Durban, Swamiji clearly remembers picking up In the Vision of God by Papa Swami Ramdas. Closing the book and putting it back on the shelf he moved on. The next book he touched was the Master's Practice of Karma Yoga.

Even though Swamiji did not know the meaning of the words, "Karma Yoga" at that time, the book sent a strange thrill through him. Glancing through its pages he instantly realised that he had found the Guru he was searching for. He came to know that a God-realised Guru was absolutely necessary to guide and lead one to the realisation of God. He at once lost interest in his academic career in which he was highly ambitious. Henceforth, the realisation of God became the goal of his life.

The first great Tapas that Swamiji did at Estcourt, after reading the Master's book Practice of Karma Yoga was to bundle up all the lecture papers he received for the pursuit of his degree and send them back to where they had come from! From now onwards, his only aim in life was to realise God. He also gave up sports and games, which he loved so much. It was an overnight change. He was very good in tennis, soccer and swimming. Except for tennis, which he missed very much, his renunciation of sports and games did not bother him much. In cricket his score was invariably a zero!

Swamiji began practising Asanas, Pranayama and meditation. He soon realised that Sadhana was truly an uphill task and, that God-realisation was tremendously difficult. It was this great challenge that fascinated him.

Reading in the Master's book that selfless service was very important, Swamiji began thinking how to go about it. The first thing he did was to purchase some groceries for some poor Coloured children of his school.

The teachers from Durban, about 4-5 of them, were all bachelors and used to live in a cottage not far from the school. Swamiji stayed with them. Their life-style, though different from his, did not trouble him at all.

Every Saturday evening all his teacher friends used to go to the cinema. Then Swamiji would get about cleaning their rooms, kitchen and all their unwashed meat pots, etc. He used to make their beds and leave everything neat and clean. He remembers spending two hours on a Saturday night cleaning the bedrooms, kitchen, utensils and meat pots. He was extremely meticulous in all that he did. He used to make the pots shine. He loved the task and enjoyed it immensely. His friends made no comments on his service but they deeply appreciated it. Many years later, when they left Estcourt, some of them would talk about what Swamiji had done for them. One of them, who is still living, is appreciative even now when he talks about Swamiji.

One significant event took place at Estcourt before he left for India. During his childhood days, due to wrong training given by his parents and brothers and sisters, Swamiji had a great fear of ghosts and darkness. Even in his home, he would fear to venture into an empty room alone. But when he read in the Master's book that we are really the Self or Atman and not the body, Swamiji thought that he should now somehow get over this fear of ghosts and darkness.

So one evening he took a blanket and trudged about 6-7 kilometers from his cottage towards Weenen. He spent the night sleeping on the roadside. It was winter and there was frost. Besides the cold and frost that kept him awake, fear was also still there. But he conquered it to a great extent and was no more its slave. Swamiji always feels that all problems should be faced bravely and not evaded. This precept he has been striving to practise for the last fifty years or more.

Incidentally, Papa Swami Ramdas, the great God-realised saint of modern times, also had fear of ghosts. He overcame it through his arduous spiritual practice and God-realisation. During his itinerant days, he loved to resort to secluded spots and cremation grounds for his meditation.

FIRST VISIT TO THE MASTER

Like many spiritual seekers the young seeker thought that realisation of God was an easy matter. Coming to know that the Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda, resided at Rishikesh, Srinivasan, as he was called then, at once wrote to him that he would like to come and stay at his Ashram to practise Yoga.

The Divine Master, knowing that it was only a kind of "bubbling enthusiasm", advised him to remain where he was and perform his spiritual practices. Seeing a Mantra in one of the Master's books, Srinivasan began repeating it. But the Master gave him a different one to repeat, though Srinivasan did not ask for it, nor knew anything about Mantra initiation.

But Srinivasan was adamant that he should come to be with the Master at Rishikesh. So the Master allowed him to come to the Ashram, as experience is often the best teacher. The "bubbling enthusiast" forthwith resigned from the teaching profession and proceeded to India.

On reaching the Master's feet and remaining there only for a fortnight, Srinivasan's "bubbling enthusiasm" subsided at once! Everything was strange at the Master's abode. The food was different, the climate was too cold for him, and he was even shedding tears for friends he had left behind!

The Divine Master, too, treated the young aspirant in the most unconventional manner. He asked Vishnu Swami to give him instructions on some basic Yoga postures, but Srinivasan had already learnt them from the Master's book. The only other instructions he gave were: "Learn to type and to make tea!"

The youthful seeker accepted the advice passively and did not question why the Master was giving him such instructions instead of teaching him how to do Japa, meditate and practise other aspects of Yoga.

However, Srinivasan did get hold of an old typewriter-one that was fit more for an antique shop than an office-and tried his hand at it. But within a day or so he got bored and, giving up the typewriter, began spending his time reading the newspaper in the nearby Ramashram!

Years later, Srinivasan, now Swami Sahajananda, understood that the Divine Master's cryptic words, "learn to type and make tea" were pregnant with deep spiritual meaning. It meant dissemination of spiritual knowledge through his literature, and service of the underprivileged.

Srinivasan now frankly admitted to the Master that he did not have the qualifications to reside at the Ashram and expressed a desire to return to South Africa. The all-merciful Master readily gave his consent, adding, "The qualities will come."

After visiting some well-known South Indian saints, like Sri Ramana Maharishi, Swami Ramdas and Mother Krishnabai, in South India, the "bubbling enthusiast", now greatly chastened, returned to resume his teaching profession.

One thing, however, fascinated Srinivasan while he was at the Ashram at Rishikesh-it was the beauty and grandeur of the celestial Ganges. All through his trip in South India thoughts of the sacred river haunted him, sometimes appearing even in his dreams.

When Srinivasan came into contact with the Divine Master through his book, Practice of Karma Yoga, he asked himself whether his Guru was God-realised or not. The answer came instantly from within that the Master was a God-realised saint. Then and there Srinivasan resolved that thenceforth whatever the Master did would be correct to him. In later years many criticised the Master. His own disciples did so. During Srinivasan's first visit he found one such disciple indulging in criticism of the Master. Criticism of their Guru were made by disciples of many contemporary saints.

From the very beginning Srinivasan had unflagging faith in the Master. Although he disobeyed the Master when he insisted on visiting him, and later resisted and rebelled, his faith and love for the Master never wavered. Srinivasan clearly remembers how, in the early years, he was so overwhelmed with gratitude on being rescued by the Divine Master from leading a worldly life, that he took a resolution that his entire life in this birth would be spent in serving him. As time went on, however much he served the Master, Srinivasan felt that it was inadequate. He felt that even millions of births of such selfless service will be insufficient to repay his debt of gratitude to the Master.

When Srinivasan had his first Darshan of the Master on his arrival at his Ashram in 1948, he instinctively went and prostrated before the Master, although he did not know anything about prostration. At that time the Divine Master was taciturn. If he took a walk, no one could accompany him. In the evening Satsang the person handling the harmonium had to hold down only one reed while Kirtan was in progress.

After a few days at the Ashram, Srinivasan began using the dhoti. The Master saw him in that garment and remarked, "Now you are like an India Indian."

Swamiji wanted to borrow the book, Concentration & Meditation from the library, but the Master himself presented him with one.

As soon as he arrived at the Ashram, Srinivasan offered the Master 17 pounds, practically all the money he had with him. He had just enough to pay the train fare to South India to see Swami Ramdas. When Swamiji was leaving, the Master asked him whether he did not want his money back. Such was the kind and merciful heart of the Master!

One day there was a ceremony for a new building. Only a few devotees were present. When it was over the Master's Prasad was being distributed. While Srinivasan was taking it, some dropped on the ground. He did not want to pick it up, feeling that it was dirty. A devotee quickly picked it up and ate it. That day Srinivasan learnt how precious the Lord's Prasad was. In later years he read how saints like Sri Ramakrishna, Saradamani Devi, Swami Ramdas, Mother Krishnabai, Sri Aurobindo and Mother Mirra emphasised the glory of Prasad.

Swami Sahajananda visited the Master, Sri Swami Sivananda, at Rishikesh in 1948. He returned the following year. Sri S.R. Padayachee, a great devotee of the Master from Umkomaas, had visited him a few months earlier and, on his return, was doing some work in propagating the Master's teachings. However, the Master wrote to Swami Sahajananda in 1949 to open a Branch of the Divine Life Society.

As Swamiji was very nervous and shy, he did not feel competent to take up the task. He was a young man of 24 at the time. He did not respond to the Master's instruction and kept silent. The Master wrote a second letter, dated 18th October, 1949, with the request: "Kindly start a Branch of the Divine Life Society there. I recognise you as the Secretary".

Swamiji was in a fix and thought that since he was a disciple he should at least obey the Master now. So he sent the affiliation fee to register the Branch.

The Master was evidently impatient to get the Branch opened, for he sent a third letter before the affiliation fee could reach him, in which he commanded: "Kindly open a Branch of the Divine Life Society at once. Do some silent work". This letter was dated 11th November, 1949.

It was indeed a queer situation, with the Master, the founder of the Society in India, and his Secretary, Swami Sahajananda, in South Africa as the only member in this country. However, the drama did not end, for the Master wrote a fourth letter dated 5 June, 1951: "Kindly open a Branch of Divine Life Society and do some silent work."

WORK BEGINS

Swamiji commenced the publication of a quarterly journal entitled Light, Power & Wisdom, which later changed to Path to God-Realisation, and now to Divine Life. He used to finance it himself and distribute it free, often selecting names at random from the telephone directory for his mailing list.

Soon two other devotees joined him and the three used to have their weekly Satsang at the Umgeni Road Temple in Durban. Often, when the other two failed to turn up, Swamiji used to go to the temple all alone and conduct the service. He used to go through the whole procedure of singing Kirtan, reading the Gita and performing Arati, even though there was no other soul present except himself.

When the Master was informed of this he commented, "If one is sincere many would join." This truth is evident today when thousands are following the Divine Life Society.

SEARCH FOR PREMISES

Not long after the formation of the Society, Sri K.G. Pather, a most noble soul, offered his premises at 47 North Street, Durban, for conducting Satsangs. After functioning there for several years, the centre moved to 38 First Avenue (also in Durban), where Sri V.S. Pillay graciously provided a suitable place.

A third move then took place, this time through the generosity of the Shree Sanathan Dharma Sabha, which provided a spacious place in Crabbe Street. Here the Society installed its first Heidelberg printing press.

After three years, as the Sabha wished to renovate its premises, the Society was forced to find a place to house its printing machine. A one-hectare site was purchased at Reservoir Hills, then a remote undeveloped suburb of Durban. The Master himself requested that another one and half hectare of adjoining land be acquired, and also instructed that a larger cylinder printing machine and a typesetting machine be purchased. This is how the present two and a half hectare site of the headquarters of the Society was developed.

SWAMIJI'S REBELLIOUSNESS

In spite of the Master's keen interest in the development of the Society, Swamiji used to rebel and insist that he did not like the work. He felt that handling money, establishing an Ashram, and mixing with people, especially members of the opposite sex, would be detrimental to his spiritual progress. He longed to go and stay with the Master at Rishikesh. The Master knew that this was not dispassion but only a kind of escapism. So he always persuaded Swamiji not to give up the work.

After about four years, when all methods of persuasion had failed, the Master admonished Swamiji thus: "God knows what is best for each individual. He has placed you in conditions and environments that are suitable for your evolution. Do not revolt. Do not rebel. Overcome difficulties one by one, through surrender to the Lord. All will disappear through His Grace. The mind tempts and deceives through imagination. Beware! Be cautious! You may encounter more difficulties when you come here. You are doing very great service to humanity and to the Divine Life Society. If you come here (to India), the Durban Branch will collapse".

Swamiji's rebellious nature never arose again. He realised that only when one enjoys God's deep abiding peace amidst the worst of turmoils, difficulties and temptations, can one be said to have gained something substantial in spiritual life. He also realised that without perfect obedience to the Guru, God-realisation was not possible. So he later wrote to the Master, "Gurudev, it is more important for me to obey you than to come and see you."

INITIATION

In 1956, while Swamiji was in Rishikesh, the Master wished to initiate Swamiji, till then known as Sri V. Srinivasan, into the holy order of Sannyas. Swamiji was hesitant to accept the offer, thinking that he was not ready for it. However, the senior disciples at the Ashram advised that it would not be wise to refuse the Master's offer. Swamiji thus had the great good fortune of getting Sannyas from the Master on April 1956.

DEVELOPMENT OF THE SOCIETY

Throughout its early history the Master took a very keen interest in the activities of the Society. Some of his directives were often severe. Swami Sahajananda was perhaps the only disciple whom the Master repeatedly forced to submit to his will. From the incidents related in Sivananda's Gospel of Divine Life one notes the Master's attitude of never forcing anyone to obey him, even his seniormost disciples. The case of Swamiji is rare in spiritual history.

The success of the Divine Life Society is due entirely to the Grace of the Divine Master. Our scriptures and saints never tire of singing the glory of a God-realised Guru, and emphatically declare that his Grace can achieve miracles. Only a true disciple can know the mysteries and marvels of such a Guru.

DISSEMINATION OF SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE

The main aim of Divine Life Society of South Africa is dissemination of spiritual knowledge by means of our Divine Master's spiritual literature. The Master himself entrusted this task to the Society, guiding it during its early years with his advice and recommendations. In fact, he himself asked Swami Sahajananda to purchase the first Heidelberg cylinder printing machine and Linotype typesetter. The Jnana Yajna Programme is the highlight of the activities of Divine Life Society.

Readers of our books invariably remark about their very high quality, which is enhanced further by multi-colour pictures. The Society has one of the most modern printing plants in the country, with sophisticated equipment. Printing equipment have been installed at Reservoir Hills Headquarters, Durban and at the Sivananda International Cultural Centre, Sivananda Nagar, La Mercy, which is located in the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal, about 30 kilometers from Durban.

At Reservoir Hills, the Sivananda, Vishwananda and Atmananda Presses house the equipment, which include 10 offset printing presses, several of them are two-colour machines, a new Four-colour Heidelberg Printmaster, 2 folding machines, 2 guillotines, screen printing equipment, a collating machine, automatic Kolbus equipment for the production of hardcover books, a laminating machine, thread-sewing machine, etc.

The computer section consists of scanners, imagesetters, etc. to do typesetting and produce colour separations and duratrans. Through the Grace of our Divine Master, some of the computer equipment and also printing machines mentioned were sold to the Society at a discount of 50% to 75%. This was because of the valuable contribution the Society is making to the country. The Society also possesses one of the finest collection of colour transparencies of birds, flowers, etc. in the world.

All the machines are meticulously maintained. At Sivanandashram, Reservoir Hills, the rishikumaris (female renunciants), operate the machines, including the new Four Colour Heidelberg Printmaster. Printing equipment salesmen and others often remark that our printing plants are more like showrooms because of the cleanliness and neatness.

At the Sivananda International Cultural Centre the printing equipment, consisting of several offset machines, folding machines, guillotines, a sewing machine, etc. are located in Sivananda and Vishwananda presses. A new Four Colour Heidelberg Speedmaster printing machine will be installed by the end of April, 2005. The rishikumars (male renunciants), operate the machines in the two presses. A great deal of the literature produced in the presses mentioned above are being distributed free. Needless to say, the Society does not utilise its printing plants for any kind of business venture, or undertake any outside work.

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