Tree of knowledge

The Tree of knowledge

Yogaswami – The Sage of Jaffna

At 3:30am on a Wednesday, in the month of May 1872, a son was born to Ambalavanar and Sinnachi Amma not far from the Kandaswamy temple in Maviddapuram, Sri Lanka. He was named Sadasivan. His mother died before he reached age 10.

His aunt and uncle raised him. In his school days he was bright, but independent, often studying alone high in the mango trees. After finishing school, he joined government service as a storekeeper in the irrigation department and served for years in the verdant backwoods of Kilinochchi. The decisive point of his life came when he found his guru outside Nallur Temple in 1905.


Yogaswami surrendered himself completely to his guru, Sage Chellappa, and life for him became one of intense spiritual discipline, severe austerity and stern trials. One such trial, ordered by Chellappa, was a continuous meditation which Chellappa demanded of Sadasivan and Kathiravelu in 1909. For 40 days and nights the two disciples sat upon a large flat rock. Chellappa came each day and gave them only tea or water. On the morning of the fortieth day, the guru brought some string hoppers. Instead of feeding the hungry yogis, he threw the food high in the air, proclaiming, “That’s all I have for you. Two elephants cannot be tied to one post.” It was his way of saying two powerful men cannot reign in one place. Following this ordination, their sannyas diksha, he sent the initiates away and never received them again. Chellappa passed way in 1911. Yogaswami, obeying his guru’s last orders, sat on the roots of a huge olive tree at Colombuthurai. Under this tree he stayed, exposed to the roughest weather, unmindful of the hardship, and serene as ever. This was his home for the next few years. Intent on his meditative regime, he would chase away curious onlookers and worshipful devotees with stones and harsh words. After much persuasion, he was convinced to move into a nearby thatched hut provided by a devotee.

Few recognized his attainment. But this changed significantly one day when he travelled by train from Colombo to Jaffna. An esteemed and scholarly pandit riding in another car repeatedly stated he sensed a “great jyoti” (a light) on the train. When he saw Siva Yogaswami disembark, he cried, “You see! There he is.” The pandit cancelled his discourses, located and rushed to Siva Yogaswami’s ashram, prostrating at his feet. His visit to the hut became the clarion call that here indeed was a worshipful being. From then on people of all ages and all walks of life, irrespective of creed, caste or race, went to Yogaswami. They sought solace and spiritual guidance, and none went away empty-handed. He influenced their lives profoundly. Many realized how blessed they were only after years had passed. Yogaswami’s infinite compassion never ceased to impress. He would regularly walk long miles to visit Chellachchi Ammaiyar, a saintly woman immersed in meditation and tapas. Yogaswami would feed her and attend to duties as she sat in samadhi. Upon her directive, her devotees, some the most learned elite of Sri Lanka, transferred their devotion to Satguru Yogaswami after she passed away.

Yogaswami would mysteriously enter the homes of devotees just when they needed him, when ill or at the time of their death. He would stand over them, apply holy ash and safeguard their passage. He was also known to have remarkable healing powers and a comprehensive knowledge of medicinal uses of herbs. Countless stories tell how he healed from afar. He would prepare remedies for ill devotees. Cures always came as he prescribed. When not out visiting devotees, Yogaswami would receive them in his hut. From dawn to dusk they came and listened, rapt in devotion. In 1940, Yogaswami went to India on pilgrimage to Banaras and Chidambaram. His famous letter from Banaras states, “After wanderings far in an earnest quest, I came to Kasi and saw the Lord of the Universe — within myself. The herb that you seek is under your feet.”

One day he visited Sri Ramana Maharshi at his Arunachalam Ashram. The two simply sat all afternoon, facing each other in eloquent silence. Not a word was spoken. Back in Jaffna he explained, “We said all that had to be said.” Followers became more numerous, so he gave them all work to do, seva to God and to the community. In December 1934, he had them begin his monthly journal, Sivathondan, meaning both “servant of Siva” and “service to Siva”. On 22 February 1961, Swami went outside to give his cow, Valli, his banana leaf after eating, as he always did. Valli was a gentle cow. But on that day she rushed towards her master, struck his leg and knocked him down. The hip was broken, not a trivial matter for an 89-year-old in those days. Swami spent months in the hospital, and once released was confined to a wheelchair.

Devotees were heart-stricken by the accident, yet he remained unshaken. He ever affirmed, “Siva’s will prevails within and without — abide in His will.” Swami was now confined to his ashram, and devotees flocked to him in even greater numbers, for he could no longer escape on long walks. He was, he quipped, “captured”. With infinite patience and love, he meted out his wisdom, guidance and grace throughout his final few years. At 3:30 am on a Wednesday in March of 1964, Yogaswami passed away quietly from this Earth at age 91. Devotees thronged to Jaffna to bid him farewell. Though enlightened souls are often interred, it was his wish to be cremated. Today, a temple complex is being erected on the site of the hut from which he ruled Lanka for 50 years.

Yogaswami conveyed his teachings in over 3000 poems and songs, called Natchintanai, “good thoughts”, urging seekers to follow dharma and realize God within. These gems flowed spontaneously from him. Any devotee present would write them down, and he occasionally scribed them himself. Natchintanai have been published in several books and through the primary outlet and archive of his teachings, the Sivathondan, a monthly journal he established in 1934. To this day, Yogaswami’s devotees intone Natchintanai songs during their daily worship. Natchintanai are a profound tool for teaching Hinduism’s core truths. Among the thousands of devotees of Sivayogaswamy, four disciples followed his path.

One of the four was Markandu Swamy, who was a staff in the Department of Survey, Sri Lanka, and then later he stayed at Kaithady Ashram. Yogaswami remarked one day regarding Markandu Swamy, “I kept him as compass for you all.” Indeed, Markandu Swamy was the perfect embodiment of the teaching of Yogaswami. Second of the four was Chellathurai Swamy, who devoted his entire life in putting the correct path to Sivathondan Centers (two Sivathondan Nilayam at Jaffna and at Batticaloa) after attaining highest wisdom. Third of the four was Santhaswamy, who was the Son of Lord Viscount Soulbery, who was the last governor Sri Lanka during British colonization. His original name was James Ramsbotham and had a Master’s Degree in Philosophy. He dedicated his life in realizing the truth/highest wisdom and for that he searched for a spiritual teacher in the West and for sometime he followed them. However, later he came acrosst Yogaswami, followed his path, and realized the self.

Fourth of the four was Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a young enlightened American in search of his guru. Yogaswami gave him the name Subramuniya. Jnanaguru Yogaswami initiated Subramuniya into the holy orders of sannyasa and ordained him into his lineage with a tremendous slap on the back. Subramuniya took Yogaswami’s message back to America. He fulfilled his mission by building two temples of his own, giving blessings to dozens of groups to build temples in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and elsewhere, gifting Deity images to 36 temples to begin the worship, and establishing the Hindu Heritage Endowment to support Hindu temples, organizations, relief efforts, publications and other institutions and projects worldwide. Yogaswami continued to communicate with Subramuniya through Kandiah Chettiar until his death in 1964. In the line of successorship, Subramuniya was considered the 162nd Jagadacharya of the Nandinatha Sampradaya’s Kailasa Parampara.

Extracts from Yogaswami’s Home Page and Saint Yogaswami and The Testament Of Truth

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