Jnanaguru Siva Yogaswami of Jaffna (1872–1964) was a Sri Lankan 20th-century spiritual master, a Śivajnani and a natha siddhar revered by both Hindus and Buddhists. Yogaswami was trained in and practiced kundalini yoga under the guidance of Satguru Chellappaswami, from whom he received guru diksha (initiation).
1872-1905: Yogaswami was born near the Kandaswamy temple in Sri Lanka. His name was Sadasivan. Following his mother’s death before he reached age 10, he was raised by his aunt and uncle. As a young adult, Yogaswami vowed himself to celibacy and renounced a place in his father’s business because it did not allow him time to meditate and study the scriptures.
- In 1889, Swami Vivekananda visited Jaffna and made a deep impression on the 18-year-old yogi. During his visit, a large crowd took him in festive procession along Colombuthurai Road. As he neared the olive (illuppai) tree that Yogaswami later performed his tapas under, Vivekananda stopped the procession and disembarked from his carriage. He explained that this was sacred ground and that he preferred to walk past. He described the area around the tree as an “oasis in the desert.” The next day, Yogaswami attended Vivekananda’s public speech. Vivekananda began his address with “The time is short but the subject is vast.” This statement went deep into Yogaswami’s psyche. He repeated it like a mantra to himself and spoke it to devotees throughout his life.
- Around 1890, Yogaswami found a job as a storekeeper for an irrigation project in Kilinochchi. Here, he lived like a yogi, often meditating all night long. He demanded utter simplicity and purity of himself, as he would later of his devotees.
1905-1911: In 1905, Yogaswami found his guru Sage Chellappan outside Nallur Temple. As he walked along the road, Chellappaswami shouted loudly: “Hey! Who are you? There is not one wrong thing! It is as it is! Who knows?” Suddenly everything vanished in a sea of light for the young yogi. At a later encounter in a festival crowd, Chellappaswami ordered him, “Go within; meditate; stay here until I return.” He came back three days later to find Yogaswami still waiting for his master. Soon afterwards Yogaswami gave up his job and everything else, in order to follow Chellappaswami for the next five years. His life became filled with intense spiritual discipline and severe austerity. Following Yogaswami’s ordination (sannyas diksha), his guru sent him away and never received him again. Chellappaswami died in 1911.
1911-1961: Yogaswami spent years of intense tapas under the olive tree at Colombuthurai Road on the outskirts of Jaffna. His practice was to meditate for three days and nights in the open without moving about or taking shelter from the weather. On the fourth day he would walk long distances, returning to the olive tree to repeat the cycle. In his outward behavior, Yogaswami followed the example of his guru, for he would drive away those who tried to approach him. After some years, he allowed a few sincere seekers to approach. As more and more devotees gathered around him, his austere demeanor relaxed. He was eventually persuaded to occupy a small hut in the garden of a house near his olive tree. This remained his ‘base’ for the rest of his life. Even here he initially forbade devotees to revere or care for him. Devotees would come to him for help in all their problems, usually in the early mornings and in the evenings. Day and night Yogaswami was absorbed in his inner worship. On one occasion, Yogaswami was seated in perfect stillness, like a stone. A crow flew down and rested several minutes on his head, apparently thinking this was a statue.
- In January 1935, Yogaswami had his devotees begin his monthly journal, Sivathondan, meaning both “servant of Siva” and “service to Siva.” As the years passed, his followers became more numerous. Swami relented a little, permitting them to express their devotion by cleaning and repairing his hut. Nearly all his devotees were householders and engaged in some employment or other. Apart from one or two exceptions, he rarely advised them to retire from their employment. For him, the whole of man’s life had to be made a spiritual practice and he would not admit any division of human activity into holy and unholy.
- In 1940, Yogaswami went to India on pilgrimage to Banaras and Chidambaram. His letter from Banaras states, “After wanderings far in an earnest quest, I came to Kasi and saw the Lord of the Universe – within myself. The herb that you seek is under your feet.” One day he visited Sri Ramana Maharshi at his Arunachalam Ashram. The two simply sat all afternoon, facing each other in eloquent silence. Not a word was spoken. Back in Jaffna he explained, “We said all that had to be said.”
1961-1964: In 1961, the 89-year-old Yogaswami broke his hip while feeding his cow Valli. Swami spent months in the hospital, and once released needed a wheelchair. He still meted out his wisdom and guidance throughout his final few years. At 3:30 am on a Wednesday in March 1964, Yogaswami passed at age 91. The whole nation of Sri Lanka stopped when the radio spread news of his Great Departure (mahasamadhi), and devotees thronged to Jaffna to bid him farewell. Today, a temple complex is being erected on the site of the hut where he lived for 50 years.
Yogaswami conveyed his teachings in over 3,000 poems and songs, called Natchintanai, “good thoughts,” urging seekers to follow dharma and realize God within. These gems flowed spontaneously from him. Any devotee present would write them down, and he occasionally scribed them himself. Natchintanai have been published in several books and through the primary outlet and archive of his teachings, the Sivathondan, a monthly journal he established in 1934 (see above). To this day, Yogaswami’s devotees intoneNatchintanai songs during their daily worship. Natchintanai are a profound tool for teaching Hinduism’s core truths.
The Words of Our Master
It is a collections of sayings of Great Sage Yogaswami. Though Swamy told his teaching to all of his devotees at various time, four of them have noted those gems of saying in their diary. The four of them were Markandu Swamy, Sellathurai Swamy, Santha Swamy and Srikhantha. The saying originally were in Tamil and English. Later, Santha Swamy translated the Tamil sayings to English and compiled them as book with the caption of “Words of Our Master”. This book was published first by Sivathondan society Ltd, established by Yogaswamy. in 1974, Sellathurai Swamy compiled them in Tamil and published with the caption of “Engal Aasan Arul Molihal” (எங்கள் ஆசான் அருள்மொழிகள்).
Yogaswami’s message to the world is “Know thy Self by thyself” (Thannai Ari-தன்னை அறி)and the path to realize the self is the “Sivathondu”. The one who is doing Sivathondu is called Sivathondan (Servant of Siva).
Four great sayings (maha-vakyas) in the Tamil language encapsulate his message:
- Oru Pollapum Illai: “There is not even one wrong thing”
- Muzhuthum Unmai: “All is truth”
- Eppavo mudintha kaariyam: “It was all accomplished long ago”
- Naam Ariyom: “We do not know”
Among the thousands of devotees of Sivayogaswamy, four disciples followed his path. One of the four was Markandu Swamy, who was a staff in Department of survey, Sri Lanka and then later he stayed at Kaithady Ashram. Yogaswamy remarked one day regarding Markandu Swamy, “I kept him as compass for you all”. Indeed, Markandu Swamy was the perfect embodiment of the teaching of Yogaswamy.
Second of the four was Chellathurai Swamy, who was principle and then later become a disciple of Yogaswamy. Chellathurai Swamy devoted his entire life in putting the correct path to Sivathondan Centers (Two Sivathondan Nilayam at Jaffna and at Batticaloa) after attaining highest wisdom.
Third of the four was Santhaswamy, who was the son of Lord Viscount Soulbury, who was the last Governor-General of Ceylon during the British colonial period. His original name was James Ramsbotham and had master degree in philosophy. He dedicated his life in realizing the truth/highest wisdom and for that he search spiritual teacher in west and for sometime, he followed P. D. Ouspensky. However, later he found out Yogaswamy, followed his path, and realized the self.
Fourth of the four was Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a young enlightened American in search of his guru. Yogaswami gave him the name Subramuniya. Jnanaguru Yogaswami initiated Subramuniya into the holy orders of sannyasa and ordained him into his lineage with a tremendous slap on the back. Subramuniya took Yogaswami’s message back to America. He fulfilled his mission by building two temples of his own, giving blessings to dozens of groups to build temples in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and elsewhere, gifting Deity images to 36 temples to begin the worship, and establishing the Hindu Heritage Endowment to support Hindu temples, organizations, relief efforts, publications and other institutions and projects worldwide. Yogaswami continued to communicate with Subramuniya through Kandiah Chettiar until his death in 1964. In the line of successorship, Subramuniya was considered the 162nd Jagadacharya of the Nandinatha Sampradaya’s Kailasa Parampara.