The official opening on Saturday morning, done traditionally with lamps, was significant as it symbolised aptly the light that was to be shed over the next two days in the form of inspiring messages, video presentations, a play, classical dances, Bhajans and Kirtans, etc. In the opening address on "Sri Swami Sivananda on Hinduism", our presenter quoted Sri N. Ananthanarayanan by stating, "Sri Swami Sivananda blasted old superstitions about God and religion. In equal measure he exploded old fairy tales about Yoga and Yogis. By teaching and by personal example, he made it plain that there was no easy road to Moksha or liberation, no short-cut to God. The laborious way was the only way. It was the way of service and love, of abstraction and meditation, of dispassion and discrimination". Sri Swami Sivananda has, through his lucid and enigmatic literary style, given a freshness to Hinduism, ideal for modern man. The presentation was concluded with a poem by Sri Swami Sivananda, entitled "Power of Hindu Dharma". Herewith a few lines from the poem:
A Hindu will give up his life
But he will not give up his principles and Dharma;
He won't be tempted by woman or wealth for conversion,
He would rather prefer death than conversion.
The organisers agreed that the Conference should have many "Take Home Messages". It was with this in mind that they chose various topics that attendees will find useful in their daily challenges. Solving the problems of youth, parenting and health & wellness were some of the topics included. These are some of the points our young presenters presented. If the youth wish to successfully meet their daily challenges, they must strengthen their nervous system through exercise, relaxation, pure food and regular prayer. "If you wish to make rapid progress in life and overcome the difficulties we mentioned before, then perhaps the most powerful antidote Sri Gurudev recommends is to maintain a spiritual diary; a diary to help us keep track of our lives, where we have come from, and where we are going".
It must be said that one of the most challenging responsibilities of the 21st century is the task of parenting. Despite this daunting and challenging task, the reward of their innocence, purity and divinity overshadows all other notions. "Swami Sivananda says that we must start by ensuring that a firm foundation is built right from childhood. It is said that the first years of a child's life is critical–and you, the parent is seen as the primary teacher. Around 80% of the brain is developed by the age of 5." Some profound thoughts on this topic: It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults; to change their behaviour, we need to change ours first; Love and discipline always go together; learn the art of praise and appreciation; Use the power of free, sincere and open communication; Silent, positive suggestions must be given to the child when he or she is asleep. The best medicine for all children is love.
The congregation was also impressed by the presentation on Health and Wellness by one of our young devotees. In his take-home message he outlined the following four components: wholesome diet, pranayama, physical exercise and mental well-being. Pure thoughts lead to a healthy body. Bad thoughts cause disease. Ill-feelings towards anyone like hatred, bitterness, jealousy, anxiety, destroy the cells in the body, drain energy and result in premature old age. The solution: Meditation. Sit quietly, free yourself from thoughts and emotions and focus on God.
Regarding Swami Sivananda's impact on education in South Africa, our presenter outlined the effects of our school building projects and our book distribution programme. When one of its former students, from Sivananda Technical College, Percival Buthelezi (Masters Student-Linguistic KZN), was appointed as a lecturer in Massachusetts University, USA, he wrote this message, "I am forever indebted to Sivananda (College) for the recognition they have given me, and also appreciate the platform they have given me to plough back what I can, back to the students." This message confirms that education attained at schools built by Divine Life Society in South Africa, had a ripple effect on social and economic upliftment of society, especially previously disadvantaged communities.
Copies of the book, Enlightened Education have also been distributed freely to schools with great success. An educator at one of the schools in the Chatsworth area informed us that after receiving a copy of the book he read it from cover to cover and it transformed his entire life. It gave him purpose and direction. It was such an inspiration to him that he became a Moulana (Muslim Priest). The book gave him a deeper insight and faith in his own religion, which is Islam.
It must be remembered though that education does not only apply to children, and neither is it confined to secular education. Of far greater importance is spiritual education. The main aim of education is the realisation of God. Swami Sahajananda wrote: "Your heart will never be satisfied until you unite with God. Even if you are the emperor of the whole world and a multi-millionaire, you will not be satisfied. Once you realise God, you enjoy unbroken bliss and peace. The bliss cannot be described in words. It is so superb, intense and marvellous. If you were to get a little glimpse of this bliss in your present state, your whole nervous system may collapse, due to the intensity of the bliss. Many years of intense Sadhana has to be practised to build up the nervous system and purify the mind so that the bliss will settle permanently. Then you will be in the state of God-consciousness in the waking, dream and deep sleep states".
The enactment of the play, "The Four Letters" was very well received by the audience. Perhaps, the thoughts from one of our devotees, says it best: "The play, The Four Letters, was, to echo Pujya Swamiji's words: "Rombo first class". I have seen this play several times over the years, but the mothers took this play at least twenty-five thousand levels above what I have seen since 1971, when it was first performed as a reading by a hastily arranged cast. We have come a long way in our professionalism and in our offerings to the Divine Master. The mothers gave a life to this play, that was perhaps far beyond even the Divine Master's wildest dreams, when he penned this play."
In the presentation on "Swami Sivananda's literary Charity to the World" we heard of the intense passion that the Master had to share his knowledge with all. He wrote, "I cannot stop writing. I will write till I become blind. If I become blind, I will dictate and somebody will write for me. Thus, I will continue my Mission of dissemination of spiritual knowledge till the end of my life". This is the intense passion that our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda had for sharing spiritual knowledge to all, not only in India but to all parts of the world. About Charity, the Master himself wrote in Bliss Divine, "Sharing generates cosmic love, sharing purifies the heart. The best form of charity is the charity of knowledge". It is in this spirit, the Master gave thousands of books, free of charge, to seekers the world over. Because of his unlimited generosity in various forms of charity, he was often called Givananda".
The programme on Sunday morning began bright and early at 6am. Once again, the thoughts from a devotee has relevance, "The highlight of the entire Conference for me was the recitation of the Sri Hanuman Chalisa eleven times on Sunday morning. The whole atmosphere was so electric. The hour that it took for the full eleven recitations, sped by like five or ten minutes. I had a tingling feeling in my body at its conclusion."
After the Havan, so professionally conducted by our pundits, we had breakfast and then moved to the Sivananda Stadium where the branches commenced with a March Past. This Lap of Honour, was an expression of gratitude to the Divine Master and Pujya Swamiji for the bountiful spiritual and material gifts he had bestowed upon this country. In the welcome address, our Programme Director paid homage to our Divine Master and Pujya Swamiji for their inestimable contribution towards the growth and development of spirituality in this country. He also expressed gratitude to the countless devotees who supported Pujya Swamiji in this divine mission. Their love, devotion, loyalty, sincerity and spirit of obedience laid the foundation for the future. They made tremendous sacrifices and endured many hardships as they silently and sincerely promoted the mission. He concluded by saying, "They have done their share, now it is up to us to walk in their noble footsteps."
In the reading on a "Message from the Master", a devotee asked: "If the soul is immortal, why does Swamiji celebrate his birthday, which relates to the body? The Master responded as follows: "I do not celebrate my birthday. It is the devotees who do it. Celebration of such birthdays is equal to worship of Para Brahman. Worship of the Guru is worship of Para Brahman. The devotees take delight in celebrating the birthday, and they are uplifted and benefited. A spiritual wave is created year after year when the birthday is celebrated, and more and more people get a chance of knowing the existence of the Divine Life Society and my teachings. The celebration of the birthday is an annual reminder to aspirants of the purpose of their life. It is a fillip to their spiritual practices. The pious, receptive attitude prevalent on such an occasion draws forth the Grace of Guru and God upon the devotees. The thoughts of peace, devotion, love, etc., sent out by the innumerable devotees that assemble together to celebrate the birthday, go a long way to promote peace, harmony and spiritual well-being in the country."
Our Guest of Honour, Dr C.P. Yogi, Director of the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre at the offices of Consulate General of India in Durban, spoke ex tempore. "In the holy presence and energy of Swami Sivananda and Swami Sahajananda, I want to congratulate all of you on this occasion of the 132nd Birth Anniversary of Swami Sivananda and 70th Anniversary of Divine Life Society of South Africa. In this atmosphere of serving and enjoying, we are all fortunate enough to be here to dedicate our lives to the Universe. There is a sloka in the scriptures which says, "I don't need money. I don't need people, I don't need poetry, or any melodious song. I don't need any beauty. I need only the selfless devotion and Bhakti for births and births. This Bhakti is the great invention of human kind which took birth in India through many sages and ascetics, devotional lovers and saints. This Bhakti made them immortal. Swami Sivananda and Swami Sahajananda gave us a great path of becoming immortal, of becoming light and of becoming the Divine Self. We are all here today to express our gratitude to them for creating this atmosphere that we are enjoying. I extend my gratitude to Divine Life Society for inviting me today, for giving me the opportunity to experience this divinity and devotional love."
Dr Yogi also released our latest publication, Ambrosia, an offering at the feet of our Divine Master and Pujya Swamiji on this auspicious occasion. An excerpt from the Publishers note, read out by the Programme Director, goes as follows, "In the first issue of the magazine in 1909, the Master wrote, "The mission of this magazine is to stimulate scientific knowledge, to help the weak and the ailing, to spread happiness, to bring prosperity, high vitality and longevity, and impart instructions on the various branches of healing and medical science. This will enable us to ward off diseases and to keep up a normal standard of health". It is hoped that readers would heed the advice given in this book.
Our keynote address was delivered by Professor Poobhalan Pillay on "Swami Sivananda's Contribution to South Africa and the World." He said, "Gurudev's greatest gifts to South Africa were Sivananda and Sahajananda. Very few people on earth have had the rare and wonderful privilege of having the Darshan of a realized sage. These gifts manifest in the form of their teachings and writings. With very few exceptions, Pujya Swamiji spent 7 days a week, for 58 years, in the press, publishing the Master's writings.
"The poverty upliftment projects that Divine Life Society of S.A. is so famous for, began when the Master told him from within: "God in the form of Blacks is suffering in your country. Why not do something for them?" This happened in 1974. Since then, tens of thousands of Blacks have benefitted directly through the usage of over 500 schools, crèches, clinics, sewing centres, etc. that were built by the Society. In 1974, the possibility of a Black Government did not exist. So, the motive was pure. Post 1994, there was no open violence against Indian South Africans. Was this not the Master's Grace? Through his writings, the Master lit the paths of thousands of South Africans, the path to a higher life, far superior to this mundane earthly existence. Hundreds of thousands of his books were translated into local languages and distributed free of charge to schools across the country. This is, I believe, the Master's greatest contribution to this country and the world".
Dr Muralidhar Panda, who is originally from India, and some of his students including the Society's Yoga Camp participants, presented a Sanskrit recital of the 12th Chapter of the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. Dr Muralidhar recounted how our Divine Master and our Pujya Swamiji promoted the Sanskrit language and how Pujya Swamiji started the Society's Sanskrit programme in South Africa in 2006.
We express our deep gratitude to our principal guest artistes from India, Smt Suparna Adhikary and her talented group of musicians for their soul-stirring Bhajan and Kirtans sung in melodious classical style. The serious-minded music lovers in this country, nodded their heads in great approval and admiration for the vocal skills of Suparna Adhikary. Our deep gratitude to the Office of the Consul General of India in Durban for inviting these talented artistes to our country. We record our appreciation to other guest artistes for lighting up the stage throughout the conference. Sri Manesh Maharaj, for his excellent and professional Kathak presentations, Nateshwar Dance Academy for their marvellous presentations, the Sivananda Dance Academy for their well-rehearsed performance, leading SA vocalist, Isaiselvamani Karthiegasen Pillay and troupe for his highly inspiring devotional outpourings and the young and highly talented Risa Moodley and troupe for touching the hearts of many in the audience. After her presentation our Programme Director remarked, "Wow, to think that South Africa has such talent!"
It would be discourteous and ungrateful not to mention the pivotal role played by those behind the scenes. The resounding success of the Conference must also go to the car guards who managed their parking duties so well, the kitchen team that worked long hours and provided breakfast and other meals timeously to all those who attended the function, and the devotees who gave their time, exerted much effort and made financial sacrifice to set up excellent displays in the stadium arena. Our appreciation to the Prayer Hall team for their efforts to ensure that the prayer hall events (including sound system control) ran smoothly. Words of gratitude are also directed to the team in charge of ablutions facilities for ensuring that proper hygiene standards were maintained throughout the Conference period. The media also, (news and radio) contributed greatly to the success of the event by their constant pictorial advertisements and interviews. Their efforts are much appreciated.
A report on a Sivananda Conference would be incomplete if we do not mention the scintillating Sivananda Gymnastic Drill performances of devotees of Divine Life Society of South Africa who worked many hours over the past several weeks, striving for perfection in this Sadhana. Their efforts were well rewarded as the enthusiastic audience applauded their performances throughout their 30-minute presentation.
Kindly permit us to conclude with the thoughts of the self-same devotee, "The Sivananda Conference, from the very first invocation on Saturday, until I left after the recitation of the Sri Hanuman Chalisa on Sunday morning, was conducted in a stupendous atmosphere. The Programme Directors, to start with, did a splendid job in keeping and linking the sessions together. It requires a lot of coordination and egoless interaction to achieve this, and this is what makes it a class performance by them. The dances and guest artists were absolutely superb. These artists left one breathless. I found all the speeches to have been so well researched, and so confidently delivered. This is what true dedication can achieve. Throughout the period of my stay at the Conference, I felt the constant Presence of the Divine Master and beloved Pujya Swamiji guiding and controlling all the events at this Conference, the natural outpouring of their Grace. Perhaps it would be a good idea to repeat this event every time the Divine Master's sacred birthday falls on a weekend. Unfortunately, I had a plane to catch back to Johannesburg, and could not stay for the conclusion of the Conference. However, judging from the four sessions on Saturday and the one on Sunday, more of the same would definitely have been on the spiritual menu. And what a delicious menu it was!