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
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
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
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
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 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."
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
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."
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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