The aim of philosophy is right living. The meaning of right living depends on how it is defined. It can be said that genuine and real philosophy, worth its name, is expected to enable one to live the truest life possible, i.e., a life of wisdom, free from the imperfection by which ordinary unphilosophical life is characterised. Philosophy is neither intellectual diversion nor aristocratic pedantry which overlooks the facts of experience in the world. As against a feat of scholarship or a mere hobby of the carefree mind, philosophy is the intelligent analysis of the immediate facts of life as a whole, an examination of the implications of experience and a scientific theory evolved out from such wise meditations for the purpose of regulating the functions which are responsible for the various experiences in the world. Philosophy is, therefore, the great art of perfect life, a kind of life, where the common notion of life is transcended and where the Supreme Life which is identical with existence itself is realised.
In Swami Sivananda we find a powerful exponent of such a philosophy, the grand philosophy of Vedanta, and we also find in him, an exemplary personage rooted in the experience of the Goal taught about by the Vedanta. His life and teachings are aglow with the beautiful synthesis of the different aspects which make up life’s integrality. The Vedanta of Sivananda is neither a dreamy, subjective, world-negating doctrine of illusion, nor a crude world-affirming theory of societarian humanism. His philosophy is the one of the divinity of the universe, the immortality of the soul of man which is identical with the Absolute Self of the universe, there being an essential unity of everything in the universe with the highest Brahman which is the only existing Reality. Towards this end, he steers the course of the lives of people bearing in mind the degrees of this Reality in which human life is wound up from beginning to an end.
The most unique and impelling feature in his teachings which he always exemplifies through his daily life is that no part of life’s experiences is neglected or turned a deaf ear to his philosophy. A philosophy which overlooks some aspect or aspects is subject to the charge of being partial and incomplete and therefore not worthy of consideration. Swami Sivananda exhorts the aspirants after the highest end of life not to fight shy of the objective realities which stare at the face of even the majestic idealist. Every degree of truth has to be paid its due; else they all will rebel against the proud aspirant who has trodden over them with his eyes turned upwards.
Sivananda is the meeting point of the Upanishadic sage with the practical man of the work-a-day world. Vedanta does not shut its eyes to the heart-rending, pitiable condition of the world, nor does it pass uncircumspect about the body and the mind with their downward pulls towards the empirical life, though the province of the Vedanta is supermundane. Vedanta is supermundane not because it looks down upon the dreary earth with its transcendental egoism, but because it converts or transforms and then embraces its fallen brother, the mundane life, in its bosom of the all-inclusive ocean of knowledge and love. But it will not embrace its brother unless he is transfigured, unless he gets the magical touch of divine life. The universe is included in Brahman when it loses the limiting characters of being a universe.
Sivananda, with the stupendous experience of one who has dived into the core of life, teaches that the one Brahman appears as the diverse universe in all the planes or degrees of its manifestation and, therefore, the Sadhaka has to pay his homage to the lower manifestation before he steps into the higher. Sound health, clear understanding, deep knowledge, powerful will and moral integrity are all parts of the process of the realisation of the Ideal preached by Vedanta. The illustration of this picturesque life is well brought out when the Swami insists on an all-round discipline of the lower self. He has a song of, “A Little” wherein he teaches that the development of the diverse sides of human nature is imperative. In short, his Vedanta is not in conflict with Yoga, Bhakti and Karma. All these are blended together in his philosophy as elements constituting a whole in the several states of its experience.
To put it in his own wards, “To adjust, adapt an accommodate,” “To see good in everything,” and to bring to effective use all principles of Nature in the progress of the individual towards Self-realisation along the path of an integrated adjustment of the human powers, are some of the main factors which go to build his philosophy of life. He is one of the most practical of persons that can ever be found, though he has his stand on the loftiest peak of absolutistic metaphysics. He is an idealist-realist, a philosopher-humanitarian, a strange mixture of contraries which seem to find in him a loving mother who brings together her quarrelsome children. To love all and to see God in all, to serve all, because God is all, to realise God as the identity of all in one fullness of perfection, are his main canons.
His Vedanta is the culmination of wisdom and realisation of the Absolute Brahman, attained through philosophical analysis which is made possible by the absence of the distractions of the mind, consequent upon devout worship of Isvara. This devotion, again, is hard to attain to without self-purification rendered through the selfless performances of obligatory duties incumbent upon all persons without exception. He prescribes methods for overcoming and mastering the physical, the vital, the mental and the intellectual planes of consciousness in order to enable the aspirant to proceed with his Sadhana without impediments towards this great spiritual destination, the realisation of the Absolute.
The Vedanta philosophy which the Saint Sivananda propounds is a practical, living one and not simply a “theory” of the universe. It is not a theory but the exposition of the nature of his practical life. We find this brought to its ideal perfection in the life of Sri Krishna and explained in the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Sivananda is an example of this type, a type of exalted beings to whom Vedanta is a commentary on life, far from those who think that philosophy is divorced from life, that Vedanta is unconnected with the concerns of existence in the world. Vedanta to Sivananda is the scripture which teaches the method of spiritual realisation, the direct experience of the immortal omnipresent nature of the Self, which is the same as Brahman, where the universe is realised as identical with the Self, where nothing second to the Self can exist, and as the result of high realisation, the realised sage becomes the saviour of the universe, “Sarva-bhuta-hite-rataah.”