Many are curious to know when Sri Swamiji wrote his first book, how he was able to establish his second-to-none Divine Life Society within a few years of his coming to Rishikesh.
The first book that was written and published by Swami Sivananda is his master-piece Practice of Yoga. The year was 1929. That, as all of you know, is an excellent book. I had the opportunity to see a 'deluxe' edition copy of the book at the Connemera Library in Madras. The book was priced as low as rupees two only. Even in those early days of Sannyasa life, when it was very difficult for him to procure money, Sri Swamiji brought out costly editions of books for supplying free of charge to all public libraries and poor aspirants who would treasure them. For those of ordinary means there were cheap editions priced very low. Incidentally, it also happens to be the book that brought me so close to him. That much regarding his first book.
The Divine Life Society, if I can say, was virtually born the very moment Sri Swamiji stepped into Rishikesh, i.e., in 1923. What he started that day, he is still continuing now.
He would go to every Mahatma living around him, fetch them water from the Ganges, attend to their needs and serve them to their satisfaction without their asking. I have seen Sri Swamiji doing the very same thing even while at Swargashram (i.e., from 1930 onwards when I first met him). On one occasion when I stepped into his Kutia (hermitage) to attend to his need, I remember Sri Swamiji asking me to serve all other Mahatmas living, washing their clothes, sweeping their kutias and so on. On another occasion, he told me that I should always look out for opportunities to serve others in any capacity. He would insist on keeping a small handkerchief in our pockets so that we might clean the shoes of the Mahatmas and Yatris while they were at Satsang, without their knowledge. Such is his zeal and enthusiasm for serving the Virat Swaroopa (cosmic manifestation) of the Lord.
As he put into action his love for service in the year 1923 in Rishikesh, the seed for the Divine Life Society was sown. He watered it with the nectarine stream of cosmic love and selfless service and in the next year a tender plant sprouted forth and was christened 'Satya Sevashram'; it was a charitable medical dispensary to cater to the needs of the ailing Mahatmas and pilgrims. It functioned as a mobile clinic also. This happened (in 1926) after Sri Swamiji moved from Rishikesh to Lakshmanjhula.
Indeed the seed should have been a divine one; for, now the tender plant grew into a nice little tree when Sri Swamiji shifted his Kutia from Lakshmanjhula to Swargashram. That was somewhere in 1929. 'Satya Sevashram' paved the way for 'Swargashram Sadhu Sangh' but the former's motto remained the same, that is, practising cosmic love and selfless service.
All the time, even though Sri Swamiji was busying himself with writing books, he was touring many places holding Satsang and Sankirtan. All this formed part of the Society's work. The work was continued with renewed vigour and enthusiasm at every step. Swamiji travelled from Mount Kailas in Tibet, to Rameswaram in the southern tip of Deccan, and from Srinagar in Kashmir, to Gangasagar in the Bay of Bengal.
In the mean time, he had settled at the present site of Ananda Kutir (in 1934). After a while, in the year 1936, when the little tree of 'Swargashram Sadhu Sangh' had firmly rooted itself and grown into a full-size tree, it brought into existence the Divine Life Society. As you know it better now, this divine tree is every day shooting forth a new branch bringing into existence new centres of Divine Life, far and near. Every day, it brings forth immortal, unfading, pleasant smelling flowers in the form of ideal selfless workers. And the fruits of this divine tree are but the immortal happiness.
And so, as you have seen, the Divine Life Society really came into existence in the year 1923, even though it assumed its present name in 1936.