There he was, walking very fast and a bit surveyed by his secretaries. After all he was the successor of the great Swami Shivananda and responsible for one of the biggest and well known and respected Ashrams in all India.
He was regarded as a saint by many and he was also known lovingly as the St Francis of Assisi of India. He shared many things in common with his Guru (Swami Shivananda). They were, although Hindus, educated in Christian schools. They both read and studied the Bible. Swami Chidananada had a great love for Jesus and for St Francis of Assisi. I did not know all of this when we met. He knew and often prayed Christian prayers out loud publicly.
He looked at me and said, ”Lets find a quiet place where we can talk” and shortly afterwards we were entering a small temple on the side of the road. No sooner in, he sat on the floor and beckoned me to sit close. One of his people said “But Swamiji, you cant sit here” and he responded. “Do something for me, Close the door and don’t allow anyone inside because I want to talk to this man!”
He asked me from what country I came. Where was the monastery to which I belonged etc. He told me that he was aware that the Franciscans were celebrating the 800 anniversary of the Franciscan Order.
He told me how he loved St Francis and in a few months or so he planned on going to Italy and that when he goes there, he likes to visit the shrine of St Francis where his tomb is. I told him I was hoping to come and visit him at his ashram in Rishikesh. “No, no need to go there” he said “ Its better to talk here and he explained that at the ashram it was too busy.
We talked for a while and then he told me that he will remember me in his prayers especially when he will visit Assisi. By now some people had forced the door and a bit of a crowd was coming in. We got up to leave and people were already prostrating at his feet.
He put his hands together and bowed. It was a farewell. They hurried out and a small car, most probably of a benefactor was waiting and whisked him away.
It was not my first meeting with him. We met several times again some ten years later. I will tell you about those in another blog. He was a Saint of our times who left a profound impression on us that we could never forget. I was so luckily blessed.
Here is a summary of his early life which is so well written I would like to share it with you.
“In 1936, Sridhar Rao (As Swami Chidananda was originally called) was admitted to Loyola College, whose portals admit only the most brilliant of students. In 1938, he emerged with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. This period of studentship at a predominantly Christian College was significant.
The glorious ideals of Lord Jesus, the Apostles and the other Christian saints had found in his heart a synthesis of all that is best and noble in the Hindu culture. To him, study of the Bible was no mere routine; it was the living word of God, just as living and real as the words of the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita. His innate breadth of vision enabled him to see Jesus in Krishna, not Jesus instead of Krishna. He was as much an adorer of Jesus Christ as he was of Lord Vishnu.
The family was noted for its high code of conduct and this was infused into his life. Charity and service were the glorious ingrained virtues of the members of the family. These virtues found an embodiment in Sridhar Rao. He discovered ways and means of manifesting them. None who sought his help was sent away without it. He gave freely to the needy.
(Like St. Francis of Assisi)
Service to lepers became his ideal. He would build them huts on the vast lawns of his home and look after them as though they were deities. Later, after he joined the Ashram (hermitage), this early trait found in him complete and free expression where even the best among men would seldom venture into this great realm of divine love, based upon the supreme wisdom that all are one in God. Patients from the neighbourhood, suffering from the worst kind of diseases came to him.
To Sridhar Rao the patient was none other than Lord Narayana Himself. He served him with tender love and compassion. The very movement of his hands portrayed him as worshipping the living Lord Narayana. Nothing would keep him from bringing comfort to the suffering inmates of the Ashram, no matter what the urgency of other engagements at the time.
Service, especially of the sick, often brought out the fact that he had no idea of his own separate existence as an individual. It seemed as if his body clung loosely to his soul.
Nor was all this service confined to human beings. Birds and animals claimed his attention as much as, if not more than, human beings. He understood their language of suffering. His service of a sick dog evoked the admiration of Gurudev. He would raise his finger in grim admonition when he saw anyone practicing cruelty to dumb animals in his presence.
His deep and abiding interest in the welfare of lepers had earned for him the confidence and admiration of the Government authorities when he was elected to the Leper Welfare Association, constituted by the state – at first as Vice-Chairman and later as Chairman of The Muni-ki-reti Notified Area Committee.
Quite early in life, although born in a wealthy family, he shunned the pleasures of the world to devote himself to seclusion and contemplation. In the matter of study it was the spiritual books which had the most appeal to him, more than college books. Even while he was at college, text-books had to take second place to spiritual books.
The works of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Gurudev took precedence over all others. He shared his knowledge with others, so much so that he virtually became the Guru of the household and the neighbourhood, to whom he would talk of honesty, love, purity, service and devotion to God. He would exhort them to perform Japa of Rama-Nama.
While still in his twenties he began initiating youngsters into this great Rama Taraka Mantra. He was an ardent admirer of Sri Ramakrishna Math at Madras and regularly participated in the Satsangs (association with the wise) there. The call of Swami Vivekananda to renounce resounded within his pure heart. He ever thirsted for the Darshan (vision) of saints and Sadhus (renunciates) visiting the metropolis.
In June 1936, he disappeared from home. After a vigorous search by his parents, he was found in the secluded Ashram of a holy sage some miles from the sacred mountain shrine Tirupati. He returned home after some persuasion. This temporary separation was but a preparation for the final parting from the world of attachments to family and friends. While at home his heart dwelt in the silent forests of spiritual thoughts, beating in tune with eternal Pranava-Nada (mystic sound of the Eternal) of the Jnana Ganga (river of Knowledge) within himself.
The seven years at home following his return from Tirupati were marked by seclusion, service, intense study of spiritual literature, self-restraint, control of the senses, simplicity in food and dress, abandonment of all comforts and practice of austerities which augmented his inner spiritual power.
The final decision came in 1943. He was already in correspondence with Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj of Rishikesh. He obtained Swamiji’s permission to join the Ashram.
On arriving at the Ashram, he naturally took charge of the dispensary. He became the man with the healing hand. The growing reputation of his divine healing hand attracted a rush of patients to the Sivananda Charitable Dispensary.
Very soon after joining the Ashram, he gave ample evidence of the brilliance of his intellect. He delivered lectures, wrote articles for magazines and gave spiritual instructions to the visitors. When the Yoga-Vedanta Forest University (now known as the Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy) was established in 1948, Sri Gurudev paid him a fitting tribute by appointing him Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Raja Yoga. During his first year he inspired the students with his brilliant exposition of Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras.
Swami Chidananda Saraswati died on August 28, 2008, at 20:11 pm.[2
He left many teachings in books and published by the Divine Life Society and videos and can be easily found on the internet.