Born in South India in 1916, the eldest son of an orthodox
Brahmin family, Swami Chidananda was inspired at an early age by devotional
songs and stories from the Hindu scriptures. During his college years, the lives
and teachings of modern saints such as Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana
Maharshi and Swami Ramdas awakened in him a fiery aspiration for spiritual life.
In 1943 he joined the ashram of the world-renowned saint and sage Swami Sivananda,
the founder of the Divine Life Society, whose passionate spiritual writings
had long attracted him. Sivananda ashram, which then consisted of only a few
buildings, was located on the banks of the Ganges River in the foothills of
the Himalayas near Rishikesh, India. During this period of his life, Swami Chidananda,
among other activities, gave lectures, attended to ashram guests, and served
the sick, expressing what would become a lifelong concern for the welfare of
the lepers. Late in 1959 he was sent on a two-year world teaching tour by Swami
Sivananda and eventually succeeded him as president of the Divine Life Society
after Swami Sivananda passed away in 1963. Swami Chidananda's life since has
been one of almost continuous travel, both in India and abroad, in the cause
of the central objective of the Divine Life Society: the dissemination of spiritual
Andrew Cohen phoned from Australia and asked us if we could interview Swami
Chidananda on the role of celibacy in the spiritual life, our first reaction
was: "How will Swamiji ever find the time?" But our second reaction
was that if there was anyone in the world who had a practical understanding
of celibacy, it was Swamiji, and therefore we should make the request.
Swamiji returned to the ashram a few days later for the five days of the Navaratri
worship, our written request was given to him. That night, after satsang
[a gathering with a spiritual teacher], he turned to me and said that while
it would not be possible to find time during the next few days, if we didn't
mind a little inconvenience, we could join him in a couple of weeks near Delhi.
The location was a new country home that he had been requested to officially
open and bless, and where we would then spend a few days resting. We readily
agreed, and so toward the end of October, over four full days, we not only had
some informal time with him, but we also managed to record five hours of dialogue
relating to the subject of this issue of What Is Enlightenment?
interview was supposed to start late morning of the first day, but Swamiji was
exhausted, and so the first we saw of him was when he joined us for a walk at
dusk. As we were slowly walking along the country road we came upon a watchman
guarding a gate. Swamiji stopped and carried on a fifteen-minute conversation.
We didn't understand most of the Hindi, but we knew he was inquiring about the
man's family and where he lived. As we moved on, we saw that another life had
been touched by one who still remains at heart a simple monk, whose aim in life
is to do as much good as possible for as many people as possible.
we returned from the walk and were climbing the steps, Swamiji turned to us
and said, "The subject of brahmacharya,
or celibacy or self-restraint,
does not necessarily have, in Hindu society, any connection at all with the
spiritual life, or sadhana
[spiritual practice], or with Self-realization.
It is not normally discussed or recommended only
with a view to promote
spiritual life." After we had climbed the stairs and joined him in his
room, Swamiji continued, describing traditional Hindu social life and how it
relates to the subject of brahmacharya
and sexual life, so that we would
understand the broader context in which brahmacharya
is viewed in the
India, he explained, a person's life was reckoned as one hundred years, divided
into four stages. The first stage was the student stage, or brahmacharya
stage, where young people were expected to study hard, build a good physique,
and in all ways prepare themselves for their adult lives to come. During this
stage they were expected to observe strict celibacy.
stage was the householder stage, where the exercise of the sexual faculty was
taken for granted and recognized as a legitimate part of human life; it was
regarded as a fundamental duty of a family to offer progeny to form the next
generation. Swamiji continued: "Of course, its exercise was not meant to
be unrestrained; otherwise it would be degrading. But it was given the full
sanction of society.
third stage of life was the retired stage, when the couple turned the burdens
of earning a living over to the children and turned their minds to higher things,"
Swamiji explained. Here again they begin to practice brahmacharya
part of their sadhana.
during the fourth stage, one's entire life was to be devoted to God. One became
or monk, and then, of course, celibacy was automatic. So
you see, the concept of brahmacharya
was part and parcel of the Indian-Hindu
social tradition. In its narrowest sense brahmacharya
celibacy, but in its broader sense, as it could be applied to the life of a
householder, it meant self-restraint, not abusing the sex function and strict
fidelity to one's partner."
then turned to the role of spiritual practices and how they help to lift the
consciousness by fostering the higher tendencies within us. "The vast,
vast majority of human beings are human animals only," Swamiji said. "They
are totally rooted in body consciousness. They have no idea of being something
else, something other. Even their mental function is instinctive. It's all a
reaction to whatever happens to them, not a purposeful independent exercise
of their mental faculty. They have no time for it. From the moment they get
up, they are absorbed by their daily activities.
the whole of the spiritual life," he continued, "is a gradual elimination,
eradication, of the animal within, and the refinement or purification and education
of the entire human nature so that it loses its movement in all other directions
and starts taking on an ascending vertical direction. Once the human nature
is given an upward turn, one simultaneously starts awakening the sleeping Divinity
with the help of all one's spiritual practices. If one knows that the spiritual
process, the spiritual life, is the elimination of the animal, the refining
and directing upward of the human, and the awakening and unfoldment of the Divine,
then all spiritual practices, including the role that brahmacharya
fall into their right place."
seemed to have enjoyed our first conversation. He smiled and said, "So
we must thank Andrew Cohen for this, for ultimately he is at the back of it,
the root of it. Tomorrow we will start discussing the questions one by one."
over the next few days revealed a side of Swamiji that is not often visible.
Normally one sees in him what one would expect of a saint—holiness, sweetness,
joy, constant consideration for others, beauty of movement, and a presence that
makes itself subtly felt in the hearts of those who cross his path. The following
interview shows the stuff a saint is really made of. It helps to complete the
Bill Eilers and Susan Eilers (Swami Atmaswarupananda and Swami Amritarupananda)
are both longtime residents of Sivananda Ashram and both have taken lifelong
monastic vows. Among other activities, they work together as a team to prepare
Swami Chidananda's teachings for publication.