Category Archives: b. Some Contemporary Teachers

The Divine Life Society


According to its mission statement, the Divine Life Society, founded in in 1936 by Swami Sri Sivananda, caters to the cultural and spiritual needs of all people irrespective of class, credo, nationality, or gender (Chidananda et al 15). The monastic and lay movement of Sivanada’s teachings are known throughout India and in many parts of the world (Miller 342). Seeking to achieve the noble mission of its founder, the Society strives to generate a spiritual transformation in humankind, to eradicate the animalistic behaviours of the human race and unfold the Divinity within each atman (inner-soul, or self) to perfection (Chidananda et al 30). The objectives of the Divine Life Society are accomplished through the publication of books, pamphlets and magazines which convey Sivananda’s beliefs concerning yoga (physical, mental, and spiritual discipline originating in ancient India) and Vedanta (ancient religious philosophy, translated directly as ‘the goal of knowledge’), the concept of universal religion and spiritual philosophy, and ancient medicinal practices (Chidananda et al 30). The Society also develops training centres for the practice of yoga and the revival of spiritualism and true culture (Chidananda et al 30). The Divine Life Society maintains the central objective of the dissemination of spiritual knowledge to all people of the world (Eilers and Eilers).

Sivananda Ashram, the Headquarters of the Divine Life Society, is located in Shivanandanagar, on the right back of the river Ganga. The ashram is three kilometres outside of Rishikesh town, twenty-four kilometres from the great pilgrimage centre of Haridwar, and serves as the ideal retreat for spiritual rejuvenation, wherein one may renew and refresh his or her Self physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually. At the ashram, a group of renunciates (Sannyasins) and spiritual practitioners (Sadhakas) strive to work with dedication to the service of all humanity, learning to practice the Yoga of Synthesis and to actively operate as centres of ideal spirituality (Chidananda et al 30). Visitors to the ashram are received at any time, although those intending a prolonged visit are obliged to make a written request and receive permission from the General Secretary of the Divine Life Society (Chidananda et al 31).

Membership with the Divine Life Society is open to all people of the world. A devotee must uphold the ideals of truth, non-violence, purity of atman and spiritualism (Chidananda et al 32). The Society is non-sectarian and embodies principles of all world religions and ways of spiritual life. Within the Society, there is no distinction between or disruption of varying traditions and religious affiliations (Chidananda et al 32). Ideally, the Divine Life Society endeavours to impart the mystery of spiritual action within the knowledge of the true Self and the effacement and transcendence of human ego; the primary teaching of Sivananda is that each soul maintains the potential to be divine and that the goal of every human being is to strive for the manifestation of Divinity within by “being good and doing good” (Chidananda et al 32).

The Divine Life Society aims to popularize the values of health, culture, and physical fitness as taught and established by Sri Swami Sivananda, through the daily practices of yoga asanas (postures) and surya-namaskara (sun salutation). The focus on health-building has set the Divine Life Society apart from most institutions devoted to spiritualism. From its inception, the Society has focused on the world-wide yoga practice of founder Sivananda, one of the earliest movements in the modern direction of yogic practice embedded in the heart of achieving Divinity. The spiritual teachers of The Divine Life Society have been welcomed internationally as cultural and spiritual ambassadors, whose dedication to service and authenticity in the field of yoga has enticed followers throughout the world. (Chidananda et al 32). Sri Swami Sivananda composed several texts on yoga, which have been translated into various international languages and propagate the dissemination of one of the most precious aspects of Indian spiritual heritage (Chidananda et al 33) [Sri Swami Sivananda composed hundreds of books on the practice of yoga and its relation to spirituality, culture, and religion. The most popular among these books is a collection of volumes named The Science of Yoga].

According to Sri Swami Sivananda and the Divine Life Society, daily meditation sessions are vital to the reconstruction of human spirituality (Chidananda et al 25). They permit the mind and soul of an individual to work toward the ultimate goal of Divinity within the atman (Chidananda et al 37). In the story of his attainment of spirituality and the Divine Life, Sivananda denied himself all food, company, and talk, dove deeper into Samadhi (superconscious state), wherein he remained behind closed doors for several days without relaxation from his devotion to meditation (The Divine Life Society 8). He renounced all contact with the outside world and stripped away all elements of duality in severe meditation (Miller 360). This piety resulted in his merging with the Divine, freed from all limitations and chains of materialistic life (The Divine Life Society 8). Dedication to meditation is important to Sivananda, who throughout his life meditated for eight to sixteen hours per day with great commitment (The Divine Life Society 10). The ideal of meditation is to aid the human mind in concentrating its energy, turning it within itself, and focusing it upon the Divinity that resides within the atman. It is through deep and devoted meditation that the human mind may realize the truth of Divinity: that he is and always has been God Himself, in the reality of the world (Chidananda et al 18).

In his teachings, Sivananda maintains that meditation and yoga practice, and devotion to the Divine Life may lead an individual to the discovery of true religion. His stress is upon the unity of all religions (The Divine Life Society 12). According to Sivananda, religion is the practical aspect of philosophy while philosophy acts as the rational aspect present in religious practice (Sivananda 315). His Divine Life establishes that religion is not merely speaking or displaying the beliefs of the individual, but living by the truths expounded by those beliefs. The religious affiliation one follows, the prophet one adores, the language or nation of the individual, or age and gender are not considered a part of true religion. With devotion to tapas (any form of self-control), one may be considered religious (Chidananda et al 2). Since real religion is deemed to be the religion of one’s heart, purification of the heart is viewed as the primary goal of seekers of the Divine Life. To discover the basis of true religion, one should strive to live a life of truth, love, and purity; demonstrating control over dishonourable or immoral behaviours, conquering and controlling the mind, and serving all of humanity in goodwill and fellowship (Chidananda et al 3). The discovery of true religion occurs within the heart.

Sri Swami Sivananda teaches his students that living in spiritual attainment is the highest goal of human life. Spiritual living constitutes the continual eradication of the animalistic nature within the human mind and heart, refining and purifying the education of the human nature so that consciousness begins a vertical movement toward the Divine (Eilers and Eilers). Considering that spiritual life is the elimination of the animalistic tendencies and awakening of the Divine, all spiritual practices such as brahmacharya (celibacy) become natural aspects of the achievement of true Divine Life. If the human heart and mind are consumed with the realization of pleasure and sense satisfaction, it is difficult to attain true Divinity within (Eilers and Eilers). Sivananda declares that spiritual realization must be achieved with committed and genuine prayer (sadhana), a vital endeavour for all of humankind. Through sadhana, the human mind achieves a realm above the baser instincts of animals and maintains the power of understanding and reasoning, which aids in distinguishing between such dichotomies as good and bad, true and false, right and wrong (Chidananda et al 10). In the eyes of the Divine Life Society members, Swami Sri Sivananda is a guru who envisions all of humanity as one in the Vedantic sense of unity and spiritual attainment (Miller 354). Sivananda teaches that through prayer and the striving for this realization, one may achieve Divinity within the soul. Spirituality transcends the worship of deities within temples, ritual performances, codes of behaviour and conduct, and the practices of any regular cult, creed, or religion. It is, rather, the comprehension of true values by which unity may be recognized within the self, the atman (Chidananda et al 29)

The Divine Life Society advances these spiritual teachings of Sivananda among its students and members by conducting classes on yoga, Vedanta and the traditions of Indian Culture including lessons in the Sanskrit language, music, and physical culture (Chidananda et al 34). The Society has developed intense training camps for its devotees in which participants are educated on yoga asanas, pranayama (extension of the breath), and meditation (Chidananda et al 35). Courses in yoga are offered throughout India, outside the ashram, and in other institutions and organizations, and remain inspirational to students, members, officials, and the general population. The Society carries the principles of Sivananda’s yoga through its instructors as they travel across the nation to conduct courses and maintain the practice of yoga among the people. The Divine Life Conferences, held regularly in varying locations throughout India, have become effective means of summoning the moral and cultural forces of people and gathering them for the sole purpose of achieving both individual and social harmony through meditation and seeking after The Divine (Chidananda et al 36).

The Society endeavours to live by Sivananda’s perpetual philosophy that “goodness is the face of Godliness” (Chidananda et al 3), and therefore induces the unity of all religions and goodwill among communities, promoting harmony and peaceful relationships throughout Indian society (Chidananda et al 32). At the ashram, no being that arrives in distress is turned away without aid; no hungry person is refused a meal; no homeless individual is denied shelter for at least one night (Chidananda 34). To endorse charity and goodwill among humankind, The Divine Life Society has created several sects within the institution which strive to serve Indian society and aid the poor, the derelict, the sick, and those lacking in spiritual practice. The founding of the humanitarian Social Welfare Project has assisted in the development of charitable sections within The Society (Chidananda 33). The Society provides assistance to government programs and national funds, such as the Small Savings Fund, the National Savings Certificates, Defence Bonds, and other collection drives such as relief funds for natural disasters, famine, and health epidemics (Chidananda et al 34).

As taught by Sivananda, education is a vital part of personal development and a means of attaining Divinity within the individual.  He propounds that education and culture are necessary elements to allow one to sufficiently grasp his or her position in the world, to allow the ideal and the real to live in close proximity within consciousness (Chidananda et al 4). Education of the jiva (empirical self) allows the human mind to recognize the notion of the self in reality and realize that although the self exists within the world, it is not actually of this world. It is this acknowledgement that allows the human mind to transcend consciousness and ultimately achieve unity with the Divine through devout prayer, meditation, and yoga practices (Chidananda 10). Education allows the individual to develop personality, knowledge of the physical world, an adjustment of the self within society, and a realization of true and permanent values (Chidananda et al 11).

Trained as a doctor prior to his induction into the Sankarachya order, Sri Swami Sivananda consistently extolled the benefits of providing medical assistance to the poor and sick of India. The Divine Life Society offers free medical services year-round through the hospital at the ashram, including Eye Camps for free surgical and medical treatment of the public, annual Women and Children’s Medical Treatment Camps, First Aid Training Courses, and Child and Maternity Welfare Camps (Chidananda et al 33). To provide further medical relief to the public, the Society also runs three specific sections within the ashram hospital: the Allopathic Section, the Ayurvedic Section, and the Leprosy Relief Section (Chidananda et al 35). The Allopathic Section is equipped with a clinical laboratory, x-ray machine, physiotherapy facilities, and twenty hospital beds. The hospital at the ashram treats more than 30,000 patients annually. The Ayurvedic Section offers care according to the science of Ayurveda (a medicinal practice native to India), in keeping with its injunctions. The medicines prepared in the Ayurvedic Section are manufactured from pure Himalayan herbs and distributed free of charge from the ashram dispensary to patients seeking treatment (Chidananda et al 35). The Leprosy Relief Section, through its work, is regarded as indicative of the love and charity extended by the Divine Life Society. Two hundred or more leprosy patients are rehabilitated and cared for at the ashram (Chidananda et al 37). Just as with membership within the Divine Life Society, all services of the ashram hospital are free to patients irrespective of caste, race, or wealth.

The Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy of The Divine Life Society trains those who seek greater knowledge of Indian culture and the practice of yoga as the discipline by which personal integration and human welfare may be maintained. The Forest Academy prints cultural and spiritual books, journals, and other literature of the Society, disseminating spiritual and cultural knowledge to the masses, which are then distributed by the Free Literature Section (Chidananda et al 36). The intentions of the printing and publication sections of the Divine Life Society are to carry out the educational programme of the Society and its teachings, and to propagate knowledge of Divinity and the importance of spirituality within each individual soul by contacting man through literary discourse on various topics: metaphysics, ethics, religion, mysticism, psychology, parables, stories, catechism, yoga, prayer, and ritual (Chidananda et al 13).

Within the ashram, there are several additional distinct sections that assist in the charitable efforts of the Divine Life Society. The Annapurna Annakshetra, the common kitchen of the ashram, feeds its 250 permanent residents, sannyasins and sadhakas, as well as visiting sadhakas and varying numbers of other guests and pilgrims to Rishikesh (Chidananda et al 36). The Guest House fulfils the needs of those who visit the ashram for spiritual guidance and training in the physical practice of yoga. Temples of Worship accommodate prayer services for world peace, conduct worship and the recitation of the Divine Name throughout the twenty-four hours of every day. The Library holds hundreds of volumes of the most precious and important books in yoga philosophy and practice, and Indian culture. The Correspondence Section of the ashram replies to the innumerable queries and requests from people throughout the world (Chidananda et al 36). The Social Service Wing of the ashram organizes the services of medical and financial aid to the poor and needy, relief works of India, and abundant gestures of charity by the Divine Life Society to ease the sufferings of all people from poverty, disease, and ignorance of spiritual realization (Chidananda et al 37).

The Divine Life Society continues to service the citizens of India and the world through the dissemination of its literature and propagation of the routes to achieving spiritual life and unity of the atman with Divinity. The Society maintains that the human is at once a physical embodiment, mental phenomenon, and spiritual entity which strives to attain Divinity and liberation from the material and animalistic world and achieve divine love based on proper understanding of the world (Chidananda et al 14). Divine Life is a system of religious life which is beneficial and suitable to all people, from all walks of life. It is practiced by the office-goer and the recluse alike, in all stages and phases of life (Chidananda et al 3). The mission of humankind is to realize that all people are the immortal Spirit, Divinity, in mortal form. The mind and intellect of the human being function in light of the Divine Spark dwelling within each individual (Chidananda 17). [For a listing of characteristics defining the Divine Life as taught by Sri Swami Sivananda, see Swami Sivananda and the Divine Life Society, pp. 16 – 19]. Since its inception, the Divine Life Society has endeavoured to maintain itself as a physical location for training of suitable devotees striving for the acquisition of higher knowledge of human life (Chidananda et al 30). The fundamental aims and objects of The Divine Life Society remain purely spiritual and cultural, non-sectarian, universally applicable, and flawlessly tolerant (Chidananda et al 37).


Chidananda, Krishnananda, Sivananda, Venkatesananda (2000) Swami Sivananda and The Divine Life Society. Shivanandanagar: The Divine Life Society. E-Book.

Eilers, Bill and Eilers, Susan (1998) “The Divine Life: An Interview with Swami Chidananda”. In Enlightenment Magazine. Cohen, Andrew (ed.). EnlightenNext, Inc.

Miller, David (1997) “The Spiritual Descent of the Divine: The Life Story of Swami Sivananda”. In Hindu Spirituality Volume II. Sundararajan and Mukerji (ed.). Delhi: The Crossroad Publishing Company. Print.

Sivananda, Swami (1981) Science of Yoga. Shivanandanagar: The Divine Life Society. Print.

The Divine Life Society (2000) Swami Sivananda: A Modern Sage. Shivanandanagar: The Divine Life Society. E-Book.

Related Topics for Further Investigation




Sivananda Ashram

Sri Swami Sivananda




Yoga of Synthesis




Sankarachya Order

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by Krista Conrad (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati



A doctor, a pharmacist, a healer of body and soul. Swami Sivananda Saraswati had always been destined for greatness, ever since a young age where he excelled and others marveled at his intelligence. Though he has moved on to another life, his legacy of kindness and spiritual guidance still remains fresh in the minds and hearts of many across the globe.

Though there are many very similar biographies of different qualities published as David Miller notes, the material from them stems from two main sources, the auto-biography of Swami Sivananda as well as Swami Venkatsenanda’s biography of Sivananda. (Miller 2003:343) The material in this article which pertains to Swami Venkatesenanda’s biography of Swami Sivananda is solely the commentary of David Miller’s.

Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati was born in the village of Pattamadai in Southern India, to a pair of devotees of the god Siva. They named their son Kuppuswamy. His father P.S. Vengu Iyer was a revenue officer and his mother Srimati Parvati Ammal was a stay at home mother/wife who birthed three boys, Kuppuswamy being the youngest. According to biographers, he was a mischievous young boy who showed some signs of a renouncer at a young age. Kuppuswamy loved helping those less fortunate and dedicated much of his own rewards or delights to others rather than simply enjoying them himself. He later went on to the Rajah’s High School in Ettayapuram, where he excelled, receiving many commendations for his good grades and hard work. Once he completed his Matriculation examination he moved on to the S.P.G. College in Tiruchirapalli. At the college in Tiruchirapalli he dabbled in debate and theatre even taking part in a staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It is here that his medical career began, commencing with his education at a medical school in Tanjore. There Kuppuswamy enjoyed a thorough education, being at the top of his class in all subjects. He spent much of his vacation time at the hospital observing and studying as much as possible.

After completing his medical education he began a medical journal named The Ambrosia while practicing medicine in Tiruchi. This medical journal lasted approximately three or four years until Kuppuswamy tired of his simple work as a journal writer. Craving a broader window for his journal and also his life, he managed to set himself down in Malaysia at an Estate Hospital in or near Seremban. The hospital to which he would be the new manager and head physician was in a state of disarray Kuppuswamy arrived. His employer Mr. A. G. Robins was a very headstrong man and refused to let Kuppuswamy resign when he was bestruck with misfortune or when he felt that he could not manage any longer: Robins was fully aware of Kuppuswamy’s importance at the hospital as well as in the community. Kuppuswamy had established himself as a caring individual as well as a capable doctor, and his aid extended beyond simple medical help. At times Kuppuswamy would give entire paychecks or pawn his own property to help those in need around him. However, it seems that as Kuppuswamy became more comfortable in his career, he began to realize that spirituality and his hunger for cosmic understanding were burgeoning. This caused Kuppuswamy great unease at his job in Malaysia and eventually he returned to India, where he began a new life as a renouncer. David Miller suggests that in his last years as a doctor in Malaysia that Kuppuswamy had begun to read the Upanisads and the Bhagavad Gita prompting him to question much of the world; which in his experience as a doctor, he believed that life for many ended in pain, suffering and sorrow (Miller:355). It is likely that in witnessing some of the most fragile states endured by people in the hospital which he managed led him to seek deeper meanings to the world which science and medicine failed to answer.

Leaving all his worldly possessions in Malaysia 1923, Kuppuswamy renounced the life of ease and became a sramana. Wandering around India Kuppuswamy visited various sites of religious worship. At the end of his search for a guru he rested in Rishikesh. Here he received his initiation into an ascetic life by Paramahamsa Visvananda Saraswati on. Swami Vishnudevanandaji Maharaj performed the Viraj Homa ceremonies and later named Kuppuswamy, Swami Sivananda Saraswati. For a while he opened and operated a free dispensary, helping travelers on their pilgrimages or attending wholeheartedly to those who were ill or injured. Although his service to the sick and the poor continued during his Sadhana, Sivananda knew that his own truths lay in the attainment of self-realization.

During the years 1925-1930 Swami Sivananda ventured out on a pilgrimage to Kedarnath and Badrinath, in the mountains north of Rishikesh. Sivananda writes very little about this experience in his auto-biography and even his dedicated sevak (servant) Swami Venkatesananda wrote very little about what transpired in those years. Venkatesananda’s only accounts were that Sivananda ate only bread and drank Ganges water, observed intense meditation daily with little time for rest and relaxation. Sivananda’s realization, the goal of his Sadhana, occurred sometime between 1929 – 1930, the exact date Sivananda kept to himself. It is common for many Hindu ascetics to do just that, as well as keeping their realization and its details private. After his Sadhana Sivananda became social once again. He attended many religious conferences, performed rituals and still attended to people’s medical needs. Unlike before his pilgrimage, Sivananda now had deeper understanding of what his purpose was and he did not question himself at the foot of the masses. Instead he basked in the love they gave him and attempted to repay them with whatever service he could.

Many people followed Swami Sivananda’s life and work. Sivananda published many works, ranging anywhere from commentary on the Vendantas to a ten part publication on the Science of Yoga. His commentary on the Vedantas is truly one of the most important works Swami Sivananda has published. These works have gone on to inspire people all over the world to more profoundly analyze the sources of their knowledge. His nearly 300 publications, which vary in subject, are only the begging of the influence to which Sivananda exerts on modern Hindus today. Much of his following started when he began the Divine Life Society in a small cow shed on the bank of the Ganges in Rishikesh 1936. The society grew exponentially, and is currently operating in dozens of countries across the world. Through the practice of yoga as well as monastic asceticism he captured the attention of much of India as well as the western world.



References and Further Resources

Miller, David (2003)“The spiritual descent of the Divine: The Life Story of Swami Sivananda” :In Hindu Spirituality:Postclassical and Modern edited by R.Sundararajan and B. Mukerji. (2003) Delhi: Crossroad Publishing Company.

No author. His holiness Sri Swami Sivananda Sarawatswi Maharaj. (Updated Oct. 2004) The Divine Life Society.

Sivananda, Sri Swami.Science of Yoga; Volume Eight. (undated) Tehri-Gharwal: The Divine Life Trust Society.

Sivananda, Swami. Autobiography of Swami Sivananda(World Wide Web edition 2000). : The Divine Life Society.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Durga Puja









Viraj Homa

Article written by: Daniel Meller (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.