Sahajananda Saraswati (10 July 1925 – 10 December 2007) was the spiritual head of the Divine Life Society of South Africa. He was born in the small midlands town of Estcourt, South Africa.
Sahajananda did well in school, from primary through secondary and college, always gaining firsts. He was highly ambitious in the pursuit of his academic career, but Sivananda Saraswati, founder of the Divine Life Society movement worldwide, had other plans in store for him and his intervention came at the appropriate time.
Sahajananda attempted to finish his PhD, but got only a second class pass as a result of doing poorly on the geometry portion of his final exams. He got a teacher's certificate instead.
Beginning of his divinity career
During his first year of teaching, he came across the Sivananda's book, Practice of Karma Yoga, and took it up, giving up sports and ambition in his teaching career in exchange for pursuit of this religion. In 1948 he gave up his teaching post and went to India to meet Sivananda. He was not qualified to reside at the Ashram and returned to South Africa. Sivananda readily gave consent, adding, "The qualities will come". The only instruction Sahajananda received from Sivananda during this visit was: "learn to type and to make tea!" The youthful seeker accepted the advice passively. Only years later did Sahajananda understand that Sivananda's cryptic words were pregnant with deep spiritual meaning—it was dissemination of spiritual knowledge through his literature, and service of the underprivileged.
Return to South Africa
Returning to South Africa, Sahajananda took up a teaching post at the FOSA (Friends of Sick Association) TB Settlement, teaching in the school and serving the sick in the wards. It was during this time that Sivananda wrote to him with a request to start a branch of Divine Life Society in South Africa. Being nervous and shy by temperament, and unaccustomed to any kind of organisational work, Sahajananda felt quite incompetent to undertake the task, and did not respond to his letter. Sivananda wrote a second letter dated 18 October 1949, requesting him to open a branch. Sahajananda was now in a fix, and thought that since he was a disciple, he should obey and forwarded the affiliation fee to register the branch. Sivananda was evidently impatient to get the branch opened, for before the affiliation fee could reach him, Sivananda sent a third letter, dated 11 November 1949, requesting a branch to be opened. Thus began the saga of Divine Life Society of South Africa.
Sahajananda commenced with publishing Sivananda's writings and disseminating the literature (funding it himself), as well as conducting prayer services. He worked as a teacher and print the literature in the evenings together with a few devotees. They worked long hours, sometimes working until the early hours of the morning. They led a hard life, sleeping on the bare cement floor with newspapers as mattresses. Bricks served as pillows. Sahajananda recounted, "It was not that I was practising some kind of austerity. It was just that I wished to offer every spare cent of my income to the promotion of my Master's Mission."
In 1956 Sahajananda visited Sivananda and Sivanananda initiated him into the holy Order of Sannyas. At his farewell function, Sivananda said: "Swami Sahajananda is styled as the spiritual king of South Africa, Durban. He is also called African Chota Guru. He does not want anything. He is a silent worker. He is a man of renunciation, Vairagya (dispassion) and meditation. He is a very good organiser. He talks little. You have never seen him talking. He thinks much and does much. Such a spiritual Yogi is he. His devotion to his teacher is unique. He has a pure heart. So let us pray for the health of this small Yogi, full of strength. One who can transform the materialistic intellect of the whole of South Africa—what tremendous purity, what tremendous Yogic power, what tremendous meditation, spiritual aura and selfless aura!"
Sahajananda returned to South Africa and served the spiritual and social needs of the country. His selflessness, love, kindness, high level of ethics, meticulousness, and strict discipline drew thousands to devotees to him. He wrote spiritual books.
For the underprivileged and disadvantaged of South Africa, Sahajananda has undertaken over 300 projects that include schools, hospitals, clinics, crèches, old age homes, children's homes, technical colleges, hydroponic gardening tunnels, sewing centres, feeding schemes, peace and skills training centres, low-cost housing, and more. Many of the projects are in rural areas where access to such facilities are scarce. For this humanitarian work, Sahajananda received numerous local and international awards, including the Martin Luther King Jnr. Peace Award from the Centre for Non-violent Social Change in Atlanta, USA, and from statesmen including the South African President, Dr Jacob Zuma, past Premiers of the Province of KwaZulu Natal, Mayors of district and local municipalities, the King and Prince of the Zulu Nation, etc. In 2008, in recognising Sahajananda for his efforts of uplifting the people of South Africa, the University of KwaZulu Natal posthumously conferred upon Sahajananda the Honorary Degree, Doctor of Theology, honoris causa.
Sahajananda brought the teachings of Sivananda to the people of South Africa and the world. Sahajananda did not preach these teachings, he lived them. His entire life was an example of kindness, love, obedience, dedication and devotion to God and the Guru. Sahajananda built numerous ashrams (Hindu prayer centres) and provided the facilities to take people towards God. Worth mentioning are the Divine Life Society's headquarters—Sivanandashram, Reservoir Hills, and the Sivananda International Cultural Centre (or SICC), Sivananda Nagar, La Mercy, KwaZulu Natal. SICC is probably one of the largest Hindu spiritual centres in the southern hemisphere. Everyone that visits the place comments on the peace and bliss experienced there. The comment invariably made is that the place is "heaven on earth".
Sahajananda had attracted around him a large congregation of devotees devoted to Sivananda. He never allowed himself to be worshipped and encouraged all to direct their devotion to Sivananda. He attributed all success of Divine Life society of South Africa to the Grace of Sivananda.
For over 50 years, Sahajananda worked in the service of Sivananda. But this did not stop him from performing his spiritual practises. Sahajananda spent long hours in silent meditation.
Sahajananda died on 10 December 2007, after a short illness. News of his death spread to all corners of the world from Swamis, statesmen, devotees, etc. His body lay in state the day of the 10th and throughout the night, allowing people to pay their final respects to him. His final request was for his body to be cremated and his sacred ashes to be immersed in the holy waters of Mother Ganga.
Before his death, Sahajananda had trained persons in every facet of the Society's work, and put in place a Board of Management to manage the affairs of the Society, so that the Divine work he had begun would continue into the future.