He sits on the ground,atop an ochre-coloured clothpiece,the back supported by a board.The lean bespectacled ascetic,Swami Chindanada,head of the Divine Life Society,who turns 80 on Sun-day,looks completely at ease,as if he has been there all his life.Around him are some books and booklets,his constant com-panions in his ceaseless wandering throughout the world.
The serene face is no stranger to Ahmedabad,but this time his three-day visit coincided with his birthday,a day being observed as no different from other days.But,he is a monk with a difference, somebody who is in the world,but not of the world, a man totally without ego.His huge following would do almost anything that he might care to ask;and he never asks for anything.
He treats even a sceptic with great affection,as if the visitor is a dear disciple,launching into a discussion with a gusto,neither age nor fraility standing in the way.
What is the necessity and relevance of spiritual life,the sceptic asks,echoing a sentiment often heard in the modern,technological world,where space has shrunk,distances spanned.The Swami's eyes lit up,a smile flickers on his lips.He ticks off what man has achieved through centuries of scientific development: "Jungles have been converted into cities,and night has been converted into day.We have conquered time,distance and air.We go under the water faster than the fastest sabmarine animal created by God; we are able to fly in the faster than any bird created by the Creator.We have outdistanced the fleetest animal upon the surface of the earn and vast knowledge has been accumulated.There are thousands of libraries with millions of books, universities agalore,and education has spread."
He pauses for a flickering moment,silence underlining the extent of progress mankind has made."And, in spit of all this ,is it not ironical that today human society lives in a fear psycho-sis.Sedatives and tranquilisers are needed by many.Why? The modern man is an anxiety-laden creature.The world is fulled with problems, complexities and there is a great state of worry,fear and uncertainty."
Some may even be tempted to ask: Has man a future? Is he on the brink of a global destruction?
Swami Chindananda says: "The problem that faced our pre-historic,stone-age ancestors-- the problem of survival -- has now come back to confront the modern man,after so much of progress and accumulation of knowledge."
What is the reason for this,why is not man better off than those bygone days. "Yes, we are better off in certain ways.We have more comforts.We can live life with great ease,less exertion,and if that is taken as a better state of life then we are vastly better off than our ancestors."
But is it globally so,is everyone,in that state ? Why are there dis-trust,hostility,hatred,cut-throat competition,conflict,restlessness,all around,whether in the developed West or,the less developed coun-tries ?
The Swami reasons:"We cannot say that the scientific knowl-edge,technology,advancement,discoveries by themselves have brought mankind to the situation that prevails today.We cannot say so because knowledge is only accumulation of information and facts,The forces that man has learnt to harness are amoral,neither good nor bad.They are just there and they are neutral since by themselves,they do not possess the ability to cause any experi-ence to man.They cannot destroy because they are inert and so we cannot say that by themselves they constitute the present prob-lem of mankind.It is the way in which these forces are applied,the way in which they are used that decides whether they are a men-ace to mankind or a boon."
Swami Chindanand continues to speak in an even tenor,his words are almost like a whisper, a secret being shared with a close friend. "If man has been civilised,he has progressed,should be-come better and better ? Should he not create a world where there is peace,happiness,where man lives without fear,there is amity,co-operation,harmony,a feeling of unity and brotherhood? Should not this characterise real civil civilisation, the true progress ?"
The evening shadows are lenghthening in the garden outside. The Swami says:"This has not happened because man has totally ignored the nature of the human being,neglected the spiritual di-mension of a human being's personality,and ignored the cultivation of the spiritual aspect of life."
He becomes a bit descriptive,as if to put it across in a more ru-dimentary fashion." Man has brought about a wonderful transfor-mation in his outer environment,but never paid much attention to his own cultivation.So many fields of knowledge were brought about,cultivated and evolved,but human culture was totally ne-glected."
Swami Chindanad comes to the moot point: "The great blunder which man committed was to take a purely materialistic view of the human being.They looked upon a human being as a physical and psychological creature, a bilogical being endowed with a faculty of thinking,feeling and reasoning,and they said if you cater to the needs of the body and mind of man, that is all there is to it. You have done your duty."
He goes on:"This materialistic view of the human being led peo-ple to evolve social theories and political philosophies which were oriented towards bringing about a state of well-being of the physi-cal man and the psychological man."
In India,says Swami Chindananda,it has been known that man is endowed with a third,and higher factor that ,in fact, is his true iden-tity.The physical and psychological aspects of the human beings are to be provided for,but not at the neglect of man's true Self." Spiritualism is needed to help man cultivate the third level of his being.He says that the power of thought,feeling and reasoning make the human beings different from animals,but not necessarily superior."Unless man cultivates his true self,the very intellect may cause his downfall,may become a curse."
The Swami says:Man should become aware of his inner divin-ity.Divinity withim himself each human being is potentially divine.". He once wrote:" Man is part of God.There is, as the Quakers say in the West,that of God in man.This concept is one of the basic and fundamental concepts in all religions.The essence of education is to try to bring about in the psychological man nobility.The essence of living true life is the awakening of the sleeping and slumbering divinity."
What is it that distinguishes man,asks Swami Chidan-anda,himself providing the answer. "It is the ability to be compas-sionate, the ability to feel for the joys and sufferings of others, the ability to wish to ameliorate the sorrows and troubles of others.Man is the only unique creature in the entire creation who can think of others,who can try to live for others."
The clock is ticking by.A young disciple,mindful of the time as also the stress continuous talking is imposing on Swami Chidan-anda,silently pushes an alarm clock in fron him.But the monk ig-nores his imploring glances.Later,Swami Adhyatmanand recalls:" Swami Chindanand would never shrink from making his point ,no matter how much pain it might cause to his body."
Born on September 24,1916,as Sridhar in an orthodox family at Mangalore,Swami Chidananda graduated from the Loyola College in Madras in 1938,and joined the Himalayan Ashram of Swami Sivananda in 1943.He was later put in charge of the dispensary and served patients,some afflicted by leprosy with great compas-sion.He took sanyas in 1949,and a decade later,went to the West for two years on a lecture trip.He succeeded Swami Sivananda as president of the Divine Life Society in 1963 and has been on the move ,giving discourses and lectures throughout the world.
The neglect of spiritual aspect of life because of the focussing of attention of the materialistic view of the human personality has been a costly error,he says.The only solution to the present crisis gripping the world is to rectify this error.Identify yourself with oth-ers,feel their sufferings, try to alleviate their sufferings." That, of course,would only be a beginning to awakening the spiritual nature of the human beings.Service of man is worship of God."
A shining example of this near at home in Gujarat;the 80-plus-year old Dr Shivanand Adhvaryoo of Virnagar.For nearly four dec-ades he has been working for combating eye ailments and blind-ness from that small village in Saurashtra.One Dr Adhvaryoo has made so much difference. It is an unspoken thought: What a cu-mulative change would there is if there were many more such peo-ple in different walks of life.
Swami Chidanand attained freedom from the burdens of this world in 2009.