Swami Krishnananda was a philosopher, administrator, author, guide, guru and realised saint-he was a spiritual genius, one could say. His understanding of the most profound truths of Vedantic philosophy was extraordinary; one cannot imagine a person with a greater knowledge of the scriptures. He could quote whole sections of ancient texts that he had learned by heart. It seemed that he had read and mastered every sacred text, every commentary and every scholarly work that he encountered.
He had also grasped the complex philosophy of the West: Kant, Hegel, Berkeley, Hume, Whitehead, Alexander and so many others. He wrote his first book, a complex work of the most profound Vedantic philosophy, when he was a young man of twenty-two-in a mere fourteen days. No one could stand before him in a philosophical discussion; all had to at some point acknowledge his superior understanding. However, to dwell only on his genius would give a false impression. He was at heart a humble soul, a devoted disciple of his guru Swami Sivananda and a servant of his guru's mission: the Divine Life Society and the Sivananda Ashram. He did not want anything for himself.
He did not seek disciples of his own, he did not go out in search of name and fame, he did not seek to please fickle public taste or to cater to popular trends. He spoke simply and directly but very powerfully, with all the authority of his attainment permeating his words. He stayed almost his entire adult life in one place, the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh, and resisted all efforts to get him to leave the Ashram or Mother Ganga. Yet, the whole world came to him. Visitors and devotees from all over India and the world flocked to his morning darshan where he dealt with Ashram work, solved problems, answered spiritual questions and gave consolation to the needy. Beneath an exterior that was at times brusque, even tough, was the heart of a loving father.
The discourses, talks and teachings presented here can only give a partial glimpse of this spiritual giant. When he spoke, it was as if the whole universe was speaking through him. His insight and humility allowed him to present the highest and most complicated teachings in an accessible manner, so that those who were willing to dig deeply into the teachings would not come away unrewarded. He saw things that others cannot, and therefore through his seeing, we who come after him can also be led through his teachings from the darkness into light.
LIFE OF SWAMI KRISHNANANDA
Born as the eldest son of a family of six children, on the 25th of April 1922, he was named Subbaraya. He was born in a highly religious and orthodox Brahmin family. He was well versed in the Sanskrit language, and its influence was very profound on the young boy. He had his high school education in Puttur (South Kanara Dist., Karnataka State) and stood first in the class in all the subjects. Not being satisfied with what was taught in the classroom, he took to an earnest study of Sanskrit on his own with the aid of the Amara-Kosa and other scriptural texts. He studied and learned by heart the entire Bhagavad Gita when he was still a boy.
He had a simple way of doing it: he would not eat his breakfast, or even lunch, unless he had memorised a prescribed number of verses. Thus, within months he memorised the whole of the Gita and recited it in full every day. Such was his eagerness to study and learn scripture. Reading from the Srimad Bhagavata that Lord Narayana lives in the sacred Badrinath Dham, the young boy believed it literally and had a secret pious wish to go to the Himalayas, where Badrinath is located, and see the Lord there.
By the study of Sanskrit works like the Gita, the Upanishads, and others, he was attracted more and more to the Advaita philosophy of Shankaracharya, although his family belonged to the traditional Madhva sect, which follows the dualistic philosophy. His inner longing for Advaitic experience and renunciation were growing stronger every day. In 1943, Subbaraya took up Government service at Hospet in Bellary District, but his work there did not last long. Before the end of the same year, he left for Varanasi, and while there he studied the Vedas and other scriptures.
But the longing for seclusion and the unknown call from the Master pulled him to Rishikesh, where he arrived in the summer of 1944. When he met Swami Sivananda and fell prostrate before him, the saint said: "Stay here till death; I will make kings and ministers fall at your feet." The young man who wondered within himself how could this ever happen at all, realised the prophecy of the saint's statement. Swami Sivananda initiated this young Subbaraya into the holy order of sannyasa on the sacred day of Makara-Sankranti, the 14th of January 1946 and gave him the name Swami Krishnananda.
Sri Gurudev found the young disciple was well suited to correspondence, general writing tasks, the compiling and editing of books, or any other literary sort of engagement. Later on he was given the work of putting into typewritten form the hand-written manuscripts of Sri Gurudev that were brought to him daily. For instance, Swami Krishnananda typewrote the two volumes of hand-written manuscripts of the Brahma Sutras of Sri Gurudev. He confined himself mostly to his work and study at the beginning and did not have much contact with visitors, so that many people who came from outside never even knew he existed in the Ashram. It was in the year 1948 that Gurudev asked him to do more serious scholarly work, along the lines of writing books in philosophy and religion, which he took up in earnest. It could be safely said that from that year onwards, he was more absorbed in writing and conducting classes, holding lectures, etc., as per instruction of Sri Gurudev. His first book, The Realisation of the Absolute, he wrote in a mere 14 days at the young age of 22.
When it became necessary for the Ashram to get assistance from members gifted with management skills, Swami Krishnananda was asked to collaborate with the Working Committee, which was formed in the year 1957. He was given the position of Secretary, and was especially concerned with the management of the Ashram finances, which he continued till about the year 1961. Due to the absence for a protracted period of Swami Chidananda, Gurudev nominated him as General Secretary of the Divine Life Society-a position he held until his resignation due to poor health in 2001. It can very safely be said that in the history of the Divine Life Society none ever held, nor is likely to hold, the responsible and taxing position of General Secretary for such a lengthy period of time.
Swami Krishnananda was a master of scriptures, and he expounded practically all the major works of Vedanta in the Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy of the Society, in early morning sessions, afternoon classes and in regular three-month courses. Many of these talks have been brought out in book-form-authentic commentaries covering the philosophy, psychology and practice of the various disciplines of Yoga. He is thus the author of over forty works, each one a masterpiece in itself. Only a genius of the highest caliber could accomplish this feat, coming as it did in the midst of the enormous day-to-day volume of work as the General Secretary of a vast institution. He was a rare blend of karma and jnana yogas, a living example of the teachings of the Gita.
Such was his literary skill and understanding of the entire gamut of the works of Sivananda (numbering about three hundred titles), that Sri Gurudev himself made him the President of the Sivananda Literature Research Institute, when the Institute was formed on 8th September 1958. Swami Krishnananda was appointed the President of the Sivananda Literature Dissemination Committee, which was formed to bring out translations of Sri Gurudev's works in the major Indian languages. When Swami Shivapremananda was sent to the United States, Swami Krishnananda was made the Editor of the Society's official monthly organ, 'The Divine Life' beginning in September 1961-a position that he did efficiently for nearly two decades.
He was a master of practically every system of Indian thought and Western philosophy. "Many Sankaras are rolled into one Krishnananda," said Sri Gurudev, in a statement of high praise, which he himself has amplified in his article 'I Marvel at Krishnanandaji'.
Swami Krishnananda continued his service to the Ashram for the next forty years as it grew from a relatively small society into a spiritual institution widely known and respected throughout the world. Swamiji as General Secretary skillfully dealt with all the administrative matters of the Ashram with consummate expertise and grace. As he carried on this crushing load of work, he also dealt with the needs of the devotees who came to him from all over India and the world. Each morning he would carry on the business of running the Ashram, but at the same time rendering loving advice to those who came seeking help, and answering the spiritual questions posed by people who sincerely trusted in his wisdom. Despite failing health in his later years, he continued to serve the Ashram and the many visitors who flocked to him.
Swami Krishnananda attained Mahasamadhi on 23 November, 2001 after a lengthy illness. On the morning of his passing, Swamiji had told his personal assistant that the previous night he had dreamed that he would die the following day. Swamiji had a severe asthma attack on the 23rd and attempts to revive him by Dr. Babu, the Ashram doctor, were unsuccessful. Residents of the Ashram were allowed to pay their respects over the next two days, and on Sunday, November 25 senior swamis from the Ashram performed the last rites. Many devotees and local people came to pay their last respects, and thousands of people were present. Swamiji's body was carried in a sitting position in a palanquin covered in garlands of flowers.
The devotees in the procession chanted holy mantras as the body was carried to various key places in the Sivananda Ashram, such as the Samadhi Shrine, the Viswanath Mandir, and the Bhajan Hall. The procession then continued along the main road to the Sivananda Arch and later on to the Sivananda Ghat, where worship was performed. As Swamiji's mortal remains were being taken in a boat to be immersed in the Ganga, a large flock of birds appeared suddenly in the sky flying in a "V" formation. They were headed in the direction of Badrinath, the abode of Lord Narayana, offering as it were a symbolic gesture of farewell.