The devotees of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati learned with great sadness on 23 September last that their beloved Guru had attained Mahasamadhi at about 10 pm. He was 85 years old and suffered from diabetes; for a number of years had been undergoing regular dialysis. A few weeks before he passed away, he had flown to the ashram in Saylorsborg, Pennsylvania, USA, where he went every year to conduct his yajna. Shortly after he reached there, we learn that he expressed the wish to be taken to the ashram in Rishikesh as he was not feeling well, and had requested that the dialysis sessions be stopped.
Arrangements were therefore promptly made and he was taken to Rishikesh by air ambulance. There he started to give daily discourses afresh, underwent his daily dialysis, but after a few days he again relented. He then received the visit of his most well-known devotee, the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi, who spent nearly forty-five minutes with him. Modiji appealed to him not to give up but to continue with his dialysis and his teaching. But of course Guruji knew better, that the moment for him to take leave of his mortal frame – Mahasamadhi – was near. And so it happened, in the natural course of things which as Swamij had taught us all is part of the ‘given order’ that we must accept with grace and serenity.
Many Swamis and Swaminis from India and overseas who had been his students and were carrying forward his work had travelled to Rishikesh to obtain a last darshan from him when the news of his illness had become known, and several remained until he attained Mahasamadhi, and also afterwards till the ceremonies were completed. From Mauritius, Swamini Karunananda and Swamini Lakshyananda made the journey, and after receiving darshan they came down to the ashram in Coimbatore, where they were present when the post-Mahasamadhi ceremonies were being conducted concurrently with those being performed at Rishikesh. Were also in Coimbatore Shri Raju Mulliah and his wife Indira, who were in India at that time, and as devotees of Pujya Swamiji we were happy that we were represented on that solemn occasion.
Directly and indirectly Pujya Swamiji’s teachings have touched the lives of millions of devotees belonging to all faiths all over the world, and those who were able to ‘sit at his feet’ during the annual course at Rishikesh and the other ashrams felt truly blessed to be in his presence. We in Mauritius and Reunion were privileged to have the visit of Pujya Swamiji for a few days in July 2009. I was blessed to be his driver during that period, and with other devotees to attend all his discourses at Octave Wiehe Auditorium and to interact with him at the MGI. I think that if Pujya Swamiji had been asked how he would like to be remembered, he would surely have replied ‘as a teacher.’
For indeed, Pujya Swamiji was a renowned teacher of Vedanta, a tradition of self-enquiry based on the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of Hinduism.
At some stage in his life, the thinking individual reflects upon three fundamental questions:
• Who am I?
• What am I here on earth for?
• What happens after death?
Vedanta helps each one of us to discover the answers to these questions by unfolding a vision which reveals the Truth of Man, Creation and God as being of the nature of eternal happiness.
To capture what this means, I will quote from an interview of another renowned exponent of Vedanta, Swami Suddhananda — who had also trained under Pujya Swamiji — carried out by Alain Gordon-Gentil for l’express during his visit in June 2004. He gave a glimpse of this perspective on happiness as follows (translated from French):
‘Being happy means being oneself. And this happiness, to be genuine, must not depend on anything or anybody. For example, if you say that happiness means being young, it implies that old age would make you miserable. As long as your happiness will depend on something or somebody, it will be fragile and temporary. Being happy means having found yourself and this is immutable. You should BE happiness. The body will die, dear ones will also pass away, but when you have discovered yourself – that is eternal. That is happiness: it is ageless, eternal.
‘And when I say being happy, it does not mean that the difficulties and the dangers of life will disappear. They are still around, but there is this awareness that they form part of life and are accepted with serenity. Because if your happiness depends on your good health, it is clear that it will not last long. You will constantly worry about the possibility of falling ill. You must realize that illness, like death, also forms part of life. Without death, life would have no meaning.’
This ‘ancient wisdom of the ancients’ can combine with modern scientific development to contribute to the balanced growth of the person – but it takes time and patience to fully grasp and internalize this ancient wisdom, and this is what these sages help us to do as they go around the world spreading this timeless message of hope, goodness and peace.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati was born on 15 August 1930 in the village of Manjakuddi, Tamil Nadu to Srimati Valambal and Sri Gopal Iyer, who named him Natarajan.
When he was 8 years old, Natarajan lost his father, but he continued with his schooling while helping with the household responsibilities. After completing his secondary education, he left for Madras (now Chennai) in search of a livelihood, which he found in journalism at a weekly publication called ‘Dharmika Hindu’.
In 1952, he met Swami Chjnmayananda, who inspired him to join the Vedapaathasaala to learn chanting the Vedas. Within a year he became fully involved in the activities of the newly-formed Chinmaya Mission and was appointed secretary as he continued his spiritual quest under the guidance of Pujya Swamiji. In 1962, Natarajan was ordained as Swami Dayananda by Swami Chinmayananda.
Thereafter he moved to Rishikesh, where he stayed in a hut on the banks of the Ganga river, and pursued studies of the Brahma Sutra Bhashya under the tutelage of Swami Tarananda Giriji. He was reputed to be a very attentive, serious and alert student.
After three years he returned to assist Swami Chinmayananda in carrying out the work of the Chinmaya Mission. He started conducting Yajnas, that is lectures on the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads meant to inspire the masses, as well as teaching resident courses in Vedanta and Samskrit. He decided to share this vast spiritual wisdom with a larger audience, and thus from 1972 onwards he started to travel around the globe, covering hundreds of thousands of miles, and winning the hearts and minds of large gatherings of seekers of truth.
The ever-increasing number of disciples led to the establishment of the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Saylorsborg, Pennsylvania, USA in 1985, followed by Anaikatti at Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu in 1990, and subsequently at Rishikesh in the Himalayas. Swamiji divided his time at these three ashramas, continuing to design and conduct courses on Vedanta, the Gita, and Samskrit which were attended by disciples from all over the world belonging to diverse social, religious, cultural and economic backgrounds.
In addition, under the auspices of the Acharya Sabha, which he himself set up as an apex body of Hindu Dharma comprising the most important peethams and mandapams in India, he initiated the All India Movement for Sewa. Inspired by Swamiji’s compassion for the people, the vision of AIM for Sewa is to become a movement of the people transforming and uniting society through care that promotes self-sufficiency and maintains the dignity of those who are served. The goal is to strengthen the country economically, socially and culturally by bridging the gap between mainstream society and those living in remote areas. It has largely succeeded in doing through its activities in the fields of education, health care, social support, disaster relief amongst others. This work continues.
It can thus be appreciated that Swami Dayananda was not only an eminent teacher and a versatile genius, but also a saint with a multi-faceted personality and a staunch disciplinarian, with great sensitivity towards cultural diversity and attentive to the genuine needs of the common man. Simple and unassuming with a radiance about him, Swami Dayananda was indeed a personification of selfless love, a sage of eternal wisdom and a global messenger of peace, promoting interfaith dialogue (especially Hindu-Jewish understanding) and ceaselessly engaged in spreading the message of Sanatana Dharma throughout the world.
He was a prolific author, having written dozens of books, but his magnum opus is no doubt the Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course which runs into nearly 3000 pages. Those of us who have followed this course can vouch that it is the most direct and clearest expose of the core concepts of Hinduism known as Vedanta, and each time one peruses the contents of the course one’s understanding deepens even as one’s life undergoes a subtle transformation in the direction of the happiness defined by Swami Suddhananda in the extract quoted above.
We will ever be grateful to Pujya Swamiji to have so lovingly put us on the path of the Light Eternal, and he will ever live in our hearts.
- Published in print edition on 9 October 2015