During the Thanksgiving Satsang, devotees honoured and paid homage to our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda and beloved Pujya Swami Sahajananda for the bountiful spiritual and material gifts bestowed upon us, the protection during the coronavirus pandemic which saw our Ashrams and Branches closed for a considerable length of time, and for our spiritual sustenance.The Society deemed it appropriate to host this special Thanks-giving Satsang, before the full re-commencement of our Satsangs and Yoga Camps at SICC in 2023. Indeed, during the recent past, the world has seen major devastations by the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest, flooding, war and other calamities. Many lost their lives. We experienced our share of calamities as alluded to, but on this day, all came together to offer their deep gratitude to Sri Gurudev, Ganga Mata and Pujya Swamiji for taking care of us. The lessons learnt were poignant and direct, and taught us that life should not be taken for granted. Our time on earth is not determined by age, status, wealth, etc. Anything and everything can change in an instant. The message of our saints and sages, namely, for us to develop dispassion and turn to God and to use this life to promote positivity and grow spiritually, reigned supreme. Pujya Swamiji often said that if we don't turn to God willingly then we will be forced to turn to God through suffering. We are glad to note that many have heeded this call and intensified their Sadhana.
By the Grace of our Divine Master and Pujya Swamiji, the Society's activities continued during most of the lockdown and the pandemic. Our poverty alleviation projects, printing and distribution of spiritual literature, food hamper distribution, Satsangs and activities at Sivananda Ghat did not lose momentum. It is through the guiding hand of Sri Gurudev and the inspiration of Pujya Swamiji that devotees did not need motivation to offer themselves to do the Master's work. Today we offered gratitude to our Master and Pujya Swamiji, and appreciation to our selfless devotees who worked fearlessly and tirelessly, with courage, fortitude and resilience.Their selfless efforts have brought a miracle – COVID was not able to claim the life of a single devotee that was engaged in the Master's work, not even those stationed at Sivananda Ghat, who had to serve at many COVID funerals, or while involved in any other Ashram duty or activity. This is a material manifestation of our Master's words: "You take care of my mission and I will take care of you!" We offer our reverence and gratitude to our Divine Master and to Pujya Swamiji for all this.
During this Thanksgiving Satsang the Society also paid gratitude to those who served tirelessly during the pandemic in some of our activities. These persons were:
1. Sewing School Mothers who worked with zeal using off-cut fabrics to sew thousands of face masks for free distribution.
2. Projects' Committee for supporting Hindu temples that were financially affected during the pandemic. As part of our Hindu Dharma campaign, the Society assisted temples in KwaZulu-Natal with much-needed maintenance to get their facilities in a suitable condition for re-opening. It was through the assistance of our Branch committees that such temples were identified and assisted via our Projects Committee. We also assisted impoverished schools with maintenance and construction of classrooms, constructed crèches in deep rural areas, set-up hydroponic gardening tunnels and refurbished facilities for NPO's who care for the terminally ill, the aged and vulnerable children. Our total number of projects completed during the lockdown was 60. Of the 60 projects, 13 were temple projects. Our Projects' Committee comprises some of our senior devotees who are pillars of Divine Life Society of South Africa and who work tirelessly even at advanced ages.
3. Sivananda Ghat volunteers: The Sivananda Ghat remained open throughout the pandemic, necessitating increased operating hours as the number of funerals increased. Pujya Swamiji had foreseen these events and had stated that a time will come when Ghat volunteers would need to work double shifts. This came to fruition during a period of the pandemic when the post cremation ash disposals commenced early in the morning and continued well into the night. The team of devotees at the Ghat were our front-line workers who served our Master fearlessly and with distinction. They put themselves in the front line and served those who came to the Ghat, mostly distraught and broken by the sudden loss of dear ones.
4. Grocery hamper distribution teams: Our communities faced many hardships during the lockdown because of the economic downturn of Covid, the unrest in Kwazulu-Natal in 2021 and the floods in April 2022. In excess of 17000 grocery hampers, thousands of face masks, health tonics and hundreds of blankets were distributed throughout KwaZulu-Natal.
5. Online Satsang Contributors: together with the various outreach projects, we were fortunate to be able to host online Satsangs, Havans, Bhagavad Gita recitals and Yoga Camps throughout the pandemic. We gave special thanks to all devotees who compiled Satsang programmes, announcements, pre-recordings, collated the Bhajans, arranged the readings, did recordings, and compiled programmes for broadcast. The feedback from devotees was most encouraging. We had devotees from across the world who joined our online Satsang programmes.The total listenership from the commencement of the online programme in April 2020 until the completion in December 2022 was a mammoth 520 000 tune-ins. Our profound gratitude goes to Pujya Swamiji who in his Divine Vision requested that our songs be recorded on CD's. These recordings became invaluable for our online programmes.
6. Printing and publishing team: our printing and publications also continued unabated during the pandemic. Our editors, printers and administrative staff ensured that not a single edition of our magazines was missed. These were published and posted online, and to the thousands of devotees and school children who eagerly await these publications.
7. All officials and devotees who manage various aspects of our Ashram: Appreciation and gratitude went to our Satsang and singing team, Arati and Ganga Rani teams, security team, fund raisers, cooking and catering teams, audio and video teams, branch officials, cleaning and maintenance teams, employees and all devotees and well-wishers who contributed to the successful re-opening of all our Ashrams and centres.
During the Thanksgiving Satsang, the guidance of our Divine Master on the administration of the Ashram was quoted. He said, "Do not try to disrupt the atmosphere of the Ashram. If you free the secretaries from problems and worries, how much good work they will be able to do." Further, Sri Gurudev stated in Sivananda's Gospel of Divine Life, "When you start an Ashram, do some good work and attain some fame, then the forces of reaction get active. All kinds of stories are set afloat to poison the public mind". In this regard the advice given by Sri Gurudev is to respectfully ignore this type of criticism and joyously undertake and continue the good work being done.
Pujya Swamiji's audio message resonated with advice to devotees on self-transformation through Karma Yoga. Pujya Swamiji said,"...and what wonderful lessons Gurudev gives us! He teaches us that the first lesson that you learn is that that you are absolutely nothing. That we cannot do anything at all unless that power works, and that whatever work as I said that we should do, we should do for God, should be done with all our love and with all our heart. It should be done as perfectly as possible. Because that is devotion. Devotion means to put your full mind to something—to be devoted to it. So, there is no difference between Bhakti and Karma Yoga, because your whole mind is devoted. In any case we are doing work for the Master, and if the Master wants to give, well, let him give. He will know what to give and when to give, because we are doing his work. But when you really love the Master then you don't care – you don't expect anything at all. It's love of the highest kind. We never demand anything—we don't expect anything. So that can also be Bhakti. There's no desire for any fruits."
On inner spiritual progress and change, Pujya Swamiji continued, "... because it's not what you see outside. The real person is inside. Even if the whole world praises you, you know that within you have not gone very far, because here we have our relationship with God. We don't care what people say, whether they praise us or blame us, it's not going to make any difference in any case to me. If people praise me, it's not going to make me a better person. If they blame me, it's not going to make me worse, but it's the inner relationship that we have to see, and Gurudev is very, very, very demanding. He wants us to have perfect balance of mind under all circumstances and conditions."
Despite the inclement weather on this Thanksgiving Satsang day, devotees from various parts of the country attended in great numbers – indicative of the spiritual thirst of devotees, their Guru Bhakti and unconditional love for and loyalty to Gurudev, Sri Swami Sivananda and Pujya Swami Sahajananda. This is also ample testimony of devotees, well-wishers and donors to follow the path of goodness and virtue, of righteousness and Dharma, truth and justice, and their support of the Mission. No doubt, the acknowledgement of those who participated diligently in the Society's activities during these trying times, would not only serve as encouragement to them alone, but will also inspire others. Indeed, Divine Life Society of South Africa continues on the irreversible trajectory of spiritual grandeur through the benevolent and omnipotent Grace of our Divine Master and Pujya Swamiji