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An emblem of simplicity

Meditations on The Journey Home – Lesson from Chapter 2

Inspirations from ‘The Journey Home ‐ Autobiography of an American Swami’
Richard now headed to Rishikesh, and at ‘The Divine Life Mission’ founded by Swami Sivananda, he met his successor, Swami Cidananda Saraswati. Swami Cidananda was from an incredibly wealthy family from South India, and around the age of twenty, heard a calling to serve God. He worked hard, serving lepers, building huts for them. He spoke to Richard on the urgent need to attain God realization, without which this rare human life is a waste. He also emphasised on the need to abandon selfishness, and work hard to remove the weeds of negativities from the heart. He stressed on achieving God realization through mantra japa, recitation of God’s holy names. One evening he described Richard’s travels in great detail, voicing Richard’s intimate thoughts. Richard was particularly awestruck to meet someone with such power, and yet remain so simple and kind.

It’s easy to be simple when we have nothing. When success and fame comes our way, the weeds of pride also creep in, and then to remain firmly footed on simplicity and strong moral and ethical character is a challenge. Swami Cidananda’s simplicity touched Richard’s heart, and he found the Swami to be extremely friendly, respectful and humble.

My first meeting with Radhanath Swami gave me the same feelings. Although thousands flock to hear him, and shower him with lot of respect, when I went to his room, I was pleasantly surprised to see him seated on the floor with a simple mat. The walls had simple mud plasters, and he didn’t even have an attached toilet. Twelve years later I see he continues to stay in the same simple set up. Many times his students insisted that they shift him to a better house, or get an air conditioner for his room. Radhanath Swami refused any of these facilities. His room is at the centre of the monks’ ashram, and the constant noise from the resident quarters of the hundred plus members’ of the ashram can be unsettling. Yet Radhanath Swami not only has no complaints, he is happy in this setup.

Radhanath Swami warns that unless we work hard and serve others, cultivating simplicity of thought and lifestyle, we can’t become dear to God. He emphasises humble menial service to be more pleasing to God than our lofty discourses, filled with pride. “Performing some menial service to men of God is of great spiritual value, much greater than just holding high ranking positions in society”, says Radhanath Swami. His definition of ‘simple’ is simple, yet profound: “Simple means what is inside is outside. We should not try to pretend to be something we are not. We should not act in such a way that people think we are very advanced.”

I find him similar to his description of Swami Cidananda in other ways too. He too had the comforts of a loving American family but left home at the age of nineteen, and heard a calling of God. For six years he lived as a monk in an austere monastery, on a secluded mountaintop that one had to plod a three mile muddy footpath through a forest to reach. The snow-blanketed winters were frigid there and he had no heat. To bathe, he used a rock to break a layer of ice, and then dipped in the icy water. His sanitation system was to climb down a hill with shovel in hand and bury his waste in the mud. He works tirelessly hard even today, at the age of sixty. Like Swami Cidananda, he too stresses on mantra japa, and daily chants a minimum of twenty-five thousand names of the Lord on his prayer beads.


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