|Thursday, 1 April 2004|
Siva Yogaswami, the Sage and mystic of Sri Lanka
by Dr. Vimala Krishnapillai
A spiritual Guru is venerated as God himself in Hindu tradition. For he is unique in that, it is he who wakens the slumbering soul enmeshed in bondage and ignorance. Many of us in Sri Lanka consider ourselves blessed to have had Siva Yogaswami in our midst during the last century until its mahasamadhi in 1964.
This year Swami's fortieth anniversary of his mahasamadhi falls on the first of April. His Gurupuja would be celebrated by his devotees in whichever part of the world they may be.
Yogaswami was born in Mavitapuram in the Jaffna peninsula in 1872. He traversed the length and breath of Sri Lanka in his early years and finally took permanent residence in a hut at Columbuthurai. This hut remains to this day as a venerated shrine and Ashram.
Always and specially on his Guru puja day we pay our homage and recollect the days he lived ever so close to the toiling masses of Jaffna. Though the people designated him as Yalpana Swami or Columbuthurai Swami, he was far above all boundaries. He never identified himself with a particular, place, age, race or religion.
The people, from all walks of life thronged to him from many parts of this country and from the far off west, he radiated an abiding sense of inward peace and people found solace in his presence.
"At the top of the mountain, you would find it very cool," he would say. "There would be none of the dissimilarity that you see at the bottom of the path. The fundamental principles of all religions are the same." That was his experience. To the Buddhists who came to him he spoke of 'Mindfulness' and said 'summa iru' which means 'just be' and encouraged them to follow their own path. To the Christians he would quote from the Bible 'The kingdom of God is within thee'. And to the Muslims, he would quote from the Koran.
Among Swami's well-known western disciples those who renounced the world to follow him, mention may be made of Robert Hansen a Danish American who met Yogaswami in 1949. Yogaswami his Guru recognized his spiritual potential and initiated him. Giving him a thundering slap between the rear shoulders, said.
"This will be heard in America. Now go round the world and roar like a lion, build a bridge of understanding between the East and West." Swami's words never failed, and was fulfilled. He was later known as Gurudev Sivaya Subaramaniya Swami and was a pioneer and an international personality residing in Hawaii.
Another disciple was Santhaswami whose English name was James Ramsbothm, the son of Lord Soulbury, the last English Governor of Sri Lanka. In 1953 he arrived from Oxford and was drawn by Swami.
His father was very much disturbed that his son should have taken to a life quite literally of 'sack cloth and ashes', hardly becoming of a British aristocrat. Displeasing the father was hardly pleasant for the young man.
He was much disturbed in mind and arriving at Yogaswami's hut he sat down in silence, "Take God for your Father, God as your Governor, God as your general," said Swami. This settled his turbulent mind once and for all.
Among the Sri Lankan disciples we may mention Markandu Swami of Kaithady and Chellathurai Swami who is still with us. In his ripe old age he is in charge of the Sivathondan Nilayam established with Yogaswami's permission at Jaffna and Chenkaladi.
Swami had innumerable household devotees, the writer counts herself fortunate in that her grandparents and parents were ardent devotees of Swami and she came under his influence at a tender age.
Our human intellect fails to unravel or decipher mystics of such stature as Yogaswami. People called him a Siddha, a Yogi, a Jani and so on, which reminds me of the story of 'the blind men and the elephant'. Each blind man discovered only a small aspect and never grasped the whole truth.
To us he is present in all what he has left behind for us. Some of the songs and words which poured out spontaneously from him have been compiled and published by his followers. The great majority of his followers being Hindus his teachings were mostly expressed in Hindu terms.
These are available to as 'Natchintanai' - Good Thoughts and 'Mahavakias' - Words of the Master. These contain the eternal truth revealed by his Sat Guru Chellapa Swami. These to us are like the Upanishadic truths culled from the Vedas and the truths propounded by the Saiva Saints.
The gist of his life and message of our revered Siva Yogaswami is: 'Abide ye in truth - Satysya Satyam - and the truth shall make you free.'
'Be pure in thought, word and deed. This is all ye need to know in life;
'Before the body sheds its mortal coils realize the priceless treasure and become illumined'.
With deep gratitude and reverence we pay homage to Siva Yogaswami and cherish his memory and immortal words.
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