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Swami Karunyananda 1894 - 1997

By Chris Parnell

Birth and Childhood

There is a famous shrine town, Trivellore, near Madras. Near there is a smaller village, Kammavaripalayam. Here was living Sri Venkatappa Naidu. He married one Subbalakshmi of Parlapalle Village in Gudur Taluk of Nellore District. A male child was born (10.10.1894) named Venkatasubbiah, taking both his parents names. When the child was three years old his father transferred to Pennalurpet. His mother taught him a valuable lesson arising from an argument that carried over from a heated exchange in school. The other boy grew angry to the extent of beating Venkatasubbiah. Venkatasubbiah went home as asked his mother to tell the other boy's mother to beat him.

Subbalakshmi taught her son it was not right to take revengeful action. She took him to the other boys house. On the road, a dog was lying. She asked her son if he would bite the dog in retaliation if the dog bit him. He thought for a while and replied he will not bite the dog. He then understood the meaning of his mothers words. When Venkatasubbiah was aged seven his mother developed a chronic illness and her husband took every step to allay her illness. After a time, all efforts made by him were futile; the wife and mother shed her mortal coil.

The boy was handed over to the care of the village mayor (kannam) Venkatarayadu. This couple saw to it the boy did all sundry works but did not see to it he was educated properly. Later, he was sent to other relatives where he gained a rudimentary primary education. Then his father, Venkatappa Naidu, died prematurely, and his relatives usurped all his property. Venkatasubbiah was orphaned.


During the time of his stay with the relatives of the Kannam, Venkatasubbiah started studying Amara Kosa, started visiting temples, singing devotional songs, particularly those of Bhadrachala Ramdas. He used to prostrate at the feet of sadhus and saints whenever they visited that temple and used to serve them, attending to their comforts. The elders of that temple were struck by this devotion and started calling him Balasubba Ramadas. He spent time waiting in a hermitage for the Mouna (silent) Swami to come out,dispense with silence and give teachings. In those days Ramana Maharishi was doing pennance in the sacred shrine of Tiruvannamali and was well known and respected by all. Balasubbaramdas heard about this sage adn the desire to meet this sage grew in him stronger and stronger. At age 20, Balasubbaramdas went to meet this holy personage.

In those days, Ramana Maharishi was staying in the Virupaksha cave in the Arunachala Hills. His path was the path of Jnana. He used to observe silence most of the time. Balasubbaramadas went straight into the cave in the Arunachala hill and prostrated himself at the feet of the sage Ramana Maharishi. He requested the sage with humility to teach him the spiritual truth. The sage urged him to know "Who am I", and if he could get his, then atmabodha or spiritual wisdom was contained in this. The lad did not understand this and was dissatisfied. He remained in Tiruvannamalai because he considered it good to remain in a shrine town.

Becomes a Sanyasin

In 1918 Balasubbaramadas came to Tirumalai and worshipped Sri Venkateswara who was hailed as god granting boons to all in Kali Yuga. He then proceeded to Gogarbha to meet Sri Malayala Swami. On arrival he was told the Swami was in mouna and he would have to wait until he came out. At 12 noon, the Swami emerged from his cave and broke tapas and took water from his mudpot.Balasubbaramadas prostrated before the Swami, who cast an approving smile of grace upon him. He spoke some words in Tamil, which Balasubbaramadas did not know. Balasubbaramadas stayed for several days and developed the desire to stay longer. When the Swami left his abode to to establish another ashram,Vyasasrama, Balasubbaramadas accompanied him, and along with others, began
to busy themselves in lokaseva.

Shortly after, Balasubbaramadas developed a desire to visit Swami Sivananda in his ashram in Rishikesh on the Ganges River. He wrote a letter to Swami Sivananda about his intention to come and visit that ashram. Swami Sivananda gave permission to visit. With a companion, he took leave of Swami Malayala and departed. His companion inexplicably disappeared. He met with another youngster and together went to Rishikesh. At Rishikesh, he developed the desire to join the order of renunciants.

He returned to Malayala Swami and asked him to grant initation. Malayala Swami told his desire was good, but as he had not taken initiation, he could not grant it. He had to return to Rishikesh to recieve initaion from Swami Sivananda. Balasubbaramadas asked for a name to give to Sivananda as he always asked for a name taken when donning the saffron robe, and he would give that name. Malayala Swami told, "You have a lot of compassion to living beings, even from your childhood. So you can suggest the name "Karunyananda" as your preference. So Venkatasubbiah-Balasubbaramadas came to his name.

Visit of Mahatama Gandhi

In 1933, Mahatama Gandhi came to Rishikesh. His fame had spread far and wide. A public meeting was held to honour the Mahatama. Swami Karunyananda was among the crowd at the public meeting. Gandhi felicitated the sanyasins on his arrival, and added that their presence gave him joy. He asked what the sanyasins were doing. One stood and replied to the effect that they were doing pennance (tapas). Gandhi asked, "What is tapas?" No-one answered him.

He replied, "Embodiments of the Divine Atma, Tapas does not mean leaving off all your duties and doing meditation. Thinking of oneself and not caring about others cannot be called pennance. A life filled with non violence is pennance for the world. So you sadhus should work for the welfare of the world.

Gandhi was to conclude with these words: "Dear Sadhus! Are you not the people who have dedicated your hearts to God? Manava seva is Madhava seva, service to man is service to God. Use your physical bodies which you have already dedicated to God to the service of God through the service of your fellow beings. If there is any man among you who would do such a seva, please raise your hand!"

At the conclusion of the Mahatama's talk, there was silence. Gandhi told his followers that only one had raised his hand and to get his name. It was Karunyananda. He had joined the Sanyas order only in that year. Later, Karunyananda wrote to Gandhi seeking his blessings, sure that his effort to do service would be rewarded soon. Two months later, Gandhi wrote back and said, "Mahatamaji, you have written a letter to me seeking my blessings. My blessing is with me only; If you follow Truth without any lapse that itself will bless you. That is always with you. It will protect you throughout your life. Truth is the real form of God. If you have this with you, it is as good as having everything. So you must follow Truth. Worship it, put it into practice and offer it to the world. I am praying to God to bless your good efforts and thoughts".

Karunyananda and Sathya Sai Baba

In 1936, Swami Karunyananda had seen Sathyanarayana Raju being taken in a procession with traditional accopaniments of Nadaswaram, music, etc, as a Divine Child, at Bhadachalam. It would be 40 years later that Swami Karunyananda would settle down in Puttaparthi.

Swami Karunyananda Speaks

I have the good fortune of being the first person to greet Bhagavan in the morning. I go upstairs, and open the door of Bhagavan's room and have darshan and padnamaskar of Bhagavan. There is Sakthi in the feet of Swami.There is power in the glances of Swami. His body is not like ours, it is a Chinmaya Sareeram (divine energy form). Ours is a body made up of dust, which dissolves finally, into the primordial elements of Earth, Water, Fire,Air, and Ether.  He is not limited to one form. He is the form of all deities worshipped by religions. He is the very embodiment of Chaitanya (energy, force). He is the embodiment of all Gods. We cannot probe into Him. Have you not seen Him during the mornings? He has a special effulgence in Him; sometimes this effulgence is frightening. On the last day of Devi Navaratri (Dasara) when Poorna Ahuti is performed, His body temperature becomes hot. I have touched His feet at such times and found that they were very hot.In 1958, Sai Baba visited Rajahmundry. Malayala Swamy and Karunyananda had the darshan of Bhagavan. Bhagavan called him by the name "Karunyananda," and spoke to him as if he knew him very intimately. Karunyananda turned and bowed down to Bhagavan. It was night time, about 8:00 p.m. Bhagavan said, "Will you come to Kakinada? We will go together."

He replied, "As you please, Swami."

Karunyananda went to Kakinada with Bhagavan and during the car journey Bhagavan recounted his entire past history. He gave very intimate details of his conduct when he was young. Bhagavan was born in 1926. He was not even born yet when Kuranyananda was young, but all the same, He gave all the biographical details correctly.

Karunyananda became very devoted to Bhagavan after hearing these words during the trip. The eagerness to meet Bhagavan again was very strongly rooted in Karunyananda's heart and he awaited the opportunity. Baba visited Rajahmundry again after two years. Karunyananda spent the entire period of Baba's stay in Rajahmundry in the Divine company only. His faith in Baba grew stronger. After this, Baba returned to Puttaparthi. Karunyananda started visiting Puttaparthi often, especially for the important celebrations. Dassera is celebrated as a great event in Puttaparti. Baba
used to shower vibhuti from an empty pot on the idol of Shirdi Sai Baba in front of thousands of devotees in Poornachandra auditorium. The idol would be mounted on a pedestal. When Baba came, Karunyananda would hold an empty pitcher upside down. As soon as Baba put his hand into the pitcher, it would become heavy and on withdrawing his hand, it would again become lighter. It was the singular good fortune of Karunyananda to be with Baba and witness
this event.

Once Karunyananda went to Chittoor on Sangham work. Due to exhaustion, he fell down in a swoon. The Government Hospital Doctor, Ramakrishna Rao, a Sai Devotee, attended on him. He informed Baba about this on the phone. Baba told him to send Karunyananda to Parthi immediately. They could not disturb Karunyananda at that stage as he was not in a fit state to travel. But on account of Baba's advise, they took him to Puttaparthi by car. When the car got to Puttaparthi, Karunyanada got down, hurried to Baba's abode and fell at his feet. "Have you come, karunyananda. I have arranged a room in the ground floor as you cannot climb the stairs." So Karunyananda had a room on the ground floor of the mandir during his illness.

Till 6th September Karunyananda used to visit Puttaparthi on and off, but from that date he settled for good at Puttapathi. In the beginning he used to stay in a room adjoining Baba's room. Later on, he was allocated Room 24 in South Prashanthi.

Swami Karunyananda Speaks

We would be sitting with Bhagavan at times, and He would be found as if He was somewhere else. He would later say, "I have just returned from Madras. Papum (Alas)! Vijayalakshmi is suffering very much. I went to the hospital. I gave her prasad and there is no problem with her now. She will be all right."

Thereafter confirmatory telegrams or letters would arrive adding that, "Bhagavan was here but He went away without taking [food or offering] anything." Take the incident at Tirupati, which happened around 1989-90. It was 10:00 a.m. in the morning and Bhagavan was very much in Brindavan at Bangalore. Yet, He was simultaneously seen at Tirupati! He was given a chair; He was seated. All this happened. Should Bhagavan put on dramas like others? No, it is all the grace of Bhagavan.

Gold remains gold wherever it is thrown. One day Swami asked me, "Karunyananda, from the beginning I have always been simple, have I not?"

Swami was then wearing a torn dhoti that day. I did not like this. So, I asked Him, "Swami, why do you wear a torn dhoti when you have so many good dhotis?" I tried to prevail on Swami for removing the torn dhoti. Swami smiled and then pleaded, "Oh? Will you tear it up? Was it not my leela that day when I sought for a handful of atukulu (beaten rise) from Kuchela? [A story from Krishna's life] Are you not seeing me for the last thirty six years like this?"

Once when I was returning from Kakinada in 1956 Bhagavan said,"Karunyananda, you are clapping in union seated before me now. A time will come when you can see me only from a distance." He told me again in 1970, "You are able to sit and see Bhagavan now. A time will come when you have to see Swami from a hill only."   On His 60th birthday in 1985, many devotees could only see Him from the distance of a hill.

The passing of Karunyananda (Divine Discourse, Dassera, 08 October 1997)
"You may all know what happened today. Karunyananda had been with Swami for forty years. He was a centenarian. Today his body merged in the five elements. For the passing of any person the time, the place and the circumstances have to come together. Here in this hall the recitation of the Vedas is going on. The Jnana Yajna is being performed. He was listening to all these sacred things. He went to sleep at night and passed away in his sleep. He came to me a week ago. Swami asked him. "Karunyananda! What is it you want?" He replied: "I need nothing. I only want to merge in your Lotus Feet. There is no purpose in my continuing." I asked him why he was speaking in this manner: "What more is there for me to enjoy in life? I have experienced everything. I have stayed and moved with Swami for forty years."
He came with me to Kashmir and Shimla, Gaya and Prayag. He came with me to all places, wherever I went. Staying with me, he passed away with a sense of fulfillment."

Source: http://www.geocities.com/saicenter_us/snl/snl_022802.htm

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