Parama Guru Swami Vidyananda Saraswati

An excerpt from Know Your Reality-II where our Gurudev Shri Swami Virajeshwara Saraswati talks about His Guru, our Paramapujya Paramaguru Shri Swami Vidyananda Saraswati



A research Scientist

A: From his teachings* it appears that your Guru was a very great man. Not much is known about him. Can you tell more about him?#

H: Yes, He was indeed very great jnani, great bhakta and a veena maestro all in one.

Swami Vidyananda was born in a pious and religious Iyer family at Palghat in Kerala In 1914 and known as Ramanathan; He was the second son among two brothers and five sisters. His father passed away in childhood, his uncles misappropriated his father’s property and left this family destitute.  At the age of eight he went on a long pilgrimage with his mother for three years during which he received the blessings of many siddha purushas and holy saints. He was fortunate at that tender age to live with one of the greatest siddha-saints, His Holiness Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati Swaminah, the then Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Sringeri Peetham in Karnataka, and imbibe saintly qualities from Him, which laid the foundation for his future development and moulded him into a sage himself. The young Ramanathan was very good at singing bhajans, and the Jagadguru being very fond of his innocent, charming nature, made him sing bhajans by his side at every gathering. Swamisri ascribes most of his jnana, bhakti and vairagya to this great mystic saint, and later, to his music teacher. Even as a boy he started a small business to cope with the abject poverty. After a brief business career, which was not quite successful, he went to Chidambaram in Tamilnadu, where he met his music Guru, Sri P. Srinlvasa Iyer, a Naisthika Brahmachari, Brahma Jnani and a saintly soul. According to Swami Vidyananda, his Guru was a genius in music. He had simplified music which was traditionally taught in a very complicated way. ln his simplified version,  he could teach in a  few days the intricate subject  which normally required several years of practice. Sri Srinivasa Iyer taught him the basics of veena, the original ancient music instrument of Goddess Saraswati and sage Narada, for just twelve days and then asked him to practice on his own.

Veena is a complicated string instrument, and very difficult to learn, requiring years of continuous practice with total dedication. By Guru’s power and grace the young disciple mastered the subtle art of veena by himself without further instructions and then by his own smartness could connect the subtleties of music with the philosophy of Vedanta. Pleased by the disciple’s acumen, and in order to help this young student to support his poor family, Sri SrinivasaIyer put him in the music department of the cinema world, In which our Ramanathan excelled and worked for nearly 25 years, in Bombay and in Madras, and directed music for many films. Though he earned good money, this was more a period of spiritual sadhana  under the  gu1dan of the saintly music teacher than a profession for earning money. When the family burden was getting over he became a member of Divine Life Society in Rishikesh in 1950, but continued to work in the movie field remaining a celibate.

In 1954, His Holiness the Sringeri Shankaracharya, with whom our Swamisri had spent a  few years in childhood, attained mahasamadhi in Sringeri, Karnataka. It was a live jalasamadhi, in which the holy saint having fully known the death of his body in advance, held his breath in kumbhaka and plunged into the holy waters of Tunga River and attained jalasamadhi (union with Supreme Brahma). But some hostile people spread the news that the saint committed suicide by drowning himself in the river. When our music director in Madras heard such damaging news about the great Saint for whom he had the greatest respect, he got disgusted with the worldly people who were in total spiritual darkness, and ran to Sivananda Ashrama, Rishikesh in revulsion to worldly life. Swami Sivananda asked him to stay in the Ashrama permanently and said that he had been praying to Goddess Saraswati to send a person knowing veena music. Swami Vidyananda could not stay in Rishikesh immediately because he had some commitments to fulfill in the music world and family. So he went back to Madras to complete the music contracts in movies and other pending works, and finally joined Sivananda Ashrama in 1956. On the holy Guru Purnima day of the same year Swami Sivananda gave him Sanyasa and named him Swami Vidyananda Saraswati, an apt name for a maestro in veena and devotee of Goddess Saraswati.

Swami Vidyananda taught music, bhajans and keertans on veena to many in the Ashrama as an Integral part of his sadhana. He adopted the same method of teaching as his Guru taught him, and many including young children learnt veena music from him very easily. He held an early morning bhajan class and an afternoon class in his own room everyday in which Interested inmates as well as visitors joined with great enthusiasm and not only  learnt  music, devotional songs, and vedanta,  but  also derived  much needed peace.

He had compiled the bhajans of great saints and devotees of all lands and sang them in their original lyrics with his improvisations, fully absorbed in rapture. His voice was exuberant in style and feeling. His enchanting sweet voice and the masterful divine vibrations of veena endeared him to countless visitors and followers. His bhajans, touching everyone’s heart, instilled solace to the disconsolate; and devotees from far including many foreigners made an annual pilgrimage to him to recharge themselves with these divine vibrations. Many offered to take him abroad, and even got his passport ready, but he was very contented with the simple life of Rishikesh and no such illusory baits could entice him. He preferred to enjoy the supreme peace by dwelling in the Self, In his own room. The Holy Ganga and the sacred Himalayas were the most Inspiring. Going abroad to the so called advanced, rich countries ridden with tension and strife would actually amount to losing his peace. He rarely went out of his cottage in Sivananda  Ashrama.  He spent all his time in singing bhajan, Kirtan, and in playing his veena and dwelling in samadhi and In Brahmakara Vritti. He taught Vedanta to those who approached him. He often went into trance while playing on veena, which he adored and worshipped as a manifestation of Goddess Saraswati. Chandogyopanisad (1-7-6) says: Those that sing on veena sing the glory of Bhagavan.

He spoke many languages; knew English very well, even though he had very little formal schooling, but shied away to speak. He fluently spoke English when compelled, especially with foreigners. He was not an orator, never gave any lecture, and did not care to attend any celebration or public function. He shied from publicity and wanted to remain an unknown entity. Consequently most of the inmates of Divine Life Society, never knew him, and even those who knew him including the high office bearers of the ashrama, thought he was just an ignorant veena player and beyond singing some bhajans he knew nothing. Swami Vidyananda too, did not want to reveal his Identity of a jnani, but enjoyed keeping them in darkness about his exalted state. If others came to know more about him, that may brew trouble to his peaceful living in the Ashrama due to internal politics. Every inmate had to render some service In the Ashrama, but Swami Vidyananda was specially exempted from any service by the founder of the Divine Life Society (Ashrama) and his Guru Swami Sivananda. So he remained aloof from all activities, to the much displeasure of others.

He had all the Upanishads, Bhagavadgita and related scriptures at the tip of his tongue and quoted relevant passages freely on every occasion. His doors were always open to one and all and he was ready and willing to teach or help anyone at anytime. There were no roadblocks to see him, he had no attendants to stop you, no need to take prior appointment, and anybody could walk into his room and ask anything, and he could get a sympathetic listener and an appropriate answer. He did not discuss his high vedanta philosophy with everyone, but only with a few who were ripe and could appreciate it. ‘I cannot talk this philosophy to everyone, they cannot understand it. I talk Vedanta only when you come, it gives me immense pleasure. Most of the people who come here come with mundane problems and full of worries, how can they understand if I tell them everything is God?’ he said many times to me. Most confused people got their problems, worldly or spiritual, solved after seeing him. He had a down-to­ earth practical approach to every problem. He took practical, mundane, easily understood examples to explain the most difficult vedantic truth. He was a staunch monist, a self- realised Advaita Vedanti. He wasted no time, always sat absorbed in his penance, sadhana, of being established in the Self. He exactly did what Adi Shankaracharya said: ‘After the ignorance is destroyed, one attains the highest by abiding in the Self’.

Accordingly, whether singing bhajans, doing parayanam (recitation of Veda), meditation or discussions with disciples, he was absorbed In Adviteeya (non-dual) Brahma. Many a mentally disturbed has found a cure in his enchanting music, but he never claimed any credit for anything. The present writer was very much agitated and restless when he met him for the first time in 1971. I simply attended Swamisri’s morning bhajans, without knowing him and without his permission, yet I had the heavenly experience of being simultaneously ‘smaller than the smallest and bigger than the biggest’ which has been reported in more detail In the book ‘Scientist’s Search for Truth’. Many have perceived such wonderful’ supernatural experiences, and many got their worldly problems solved by his divine grace. But whenever someone asked or told and attributed such experiences to his blessings, he accepted no credit for it; he ascribed everything to God’s grace; such was his humility.

Many devotees approached him for formal initiation to be accepted as his disciples. He never entertained such requests, nor gave formal mantropadesha to any one. He plainly replied that they should take the Initiation from the head of the institution. The President of Divine Life Society alone was authorized to give initiations. If everyone gave initiations then there will be many Gurus, each Guru having his own followers. Groupism will develop and internal fights between different groups will ensue. This is undesirable for the peaceful functioning and healthy growth of any institution. For this reason the power of initiation is vested in one person only. Even though Swami Vidyananda did not accept any disciple formally, many recognized him as their Guru and worshipped him. They got fully benefited. The present writer is one among them. It is the faith and the devotion in the disciple that matters. The grace of the great sage is ever present equally on all at all times. Disciple has to make good of it, and he gets only what he deserves and what he is capable of harnessing. His one merciful look, one benign word which falls out of him is enough to change a ripe soul into a sage.

HIS DIVINE GRACE SWAMI VIDYANANDA, our most   revered Gurudeva, a truly realised and liberated soul, one among the great living sages of the present age, an intense devotee and a firm monist, attained Mahasamadhi and became Brahma-leena at a very auspicious moment on Friday, 7th April 2000 at 9:05 am. He was in a pleasant mood, talking to his devotees about how to do sadhana, how to remember God all the time. When one devotee, a sanyasini, remarked that it is difficult to remember Him as He slips away clandestinely;  he said tie Him down to your heart and do not allow to move and keep repeating the holy name, and then demonstrated loudly how it should be done. He suddenly raised his voice and said several times: Om Ram, Om Ram and merged with Brahma eternally.

A: Did you take initiation from him?

H: Certainly I did. All what I have written in ‘Scientist’s Search for Truth’ was his personal upadesha given to me. From my first Guru Swami Suryananda, who was a great Rajayogi, I got the initiation through letter. From Swami Vidyananda everything was personal instruction. So he is my only Guru, non-different from God.

“‘ See the book ‘Scientist’s search for Truth’,Ch 18

# Similar questions were asked by different aspirants on different occasions, so a full chapter is given