Sri Santha Swami, Lord Soulbury
A great soul, Sri Santha Swami (James Ramsbotham), who was one of the closest disciples of Siva Yogaswami, was absorbed into the lotus feet of the Lord and attained samadhi on 13th December 2004 in England. He was well over 90 years of age when he passed away.
Santhaswami was best known in Sri Lanka as the elder son of late Lord Soulbury, the last English Viscount and the first Governor General of Sri Lanka. On the death of his father, he inherited his Viscount’s title and became the member of the House of Lords, England. He had sought Yogaswami’s permission to renounce his Viscount title in favor of his younger brother, but Yogasawami did not permit it. Instead Yogaswami initiated him and gave him the name Santhaswami.
The young man James Ramsbotham met Yogaswami for the first time in 1953, when he came from Oxford to visit his father. He returned to Sri Lanka in 1956 to become a permanent resident in his Guru’s vicinity in Jaffna.
Susunga Weeraperuma recalls Santhaswami narrating to him once how, at the peak of his initial sadhana with Yogaswami, his father Lord Soulbury was very disturbed that his son and heir should have taken to a life of – ‘sackcloth and ashes.’ His forehead was smeared with ashes (vibhuti), he wore a white kadhi veshti. He was living a life of complete renunciation--hardly becoming of a British aristocrat and future member of the House of Lords!
Displeasing his father was hardly pleasant for Santhaswami either and he became disturbed in mind. Arriving at Yogaswami’s hut in this state of distraction, he sat down. Immediately Swami enunciated the words; “Take God as your father, God as your Governor, God as your General.” Santhaswami said that those words touched a deep inner cord and resolved all his conflicts and settled his turbulent mind.
Yogaswami sheltered the disciple in his spiritual unfoldment. On Yogaswami’s instruction, Santhaswami spent many years in the Sivathondan ashram at Chenkaladi. We quote here some extracts from the reply to a letter, Santhaswami wrote to a young man in the West who inquired about the purpose of the farm.
“The primary purpose of the farm is to grow food without depleting the fertility of the soil. Farming and religion will be taken as forming different aspects of one whole – the natural life of man. It is very important to preserve the old traditional structure of society. As a matter of fact it was farming that constituted the basis of the ancient traditional life of the Tamil people among whom we are living here.
‘Work is worship’- it has been said and is the idea here, as the name ‘Sivathondan’ implies ‘Siva’ is the name of God, and ‘thondan’ has the meaning of ‘servant’ and also that of devotee and so ‘sivathondan’ means ‘a devoted servant’ of God or ‘one whose work is devoted to God.’ This is not at all a new idea and is the essence of the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita. The idea is that all work you do you try to do it in a spirit of detachment, regarding it as work for God and leaving the results to Him – work for work’s sake.
“At the moment we are doing it with hired labour. But that is also good, for during this period we are gaining the necessary experience and learning to become good farmers ourselves. At the right moment the right people will come and that will be very good; and even if, for one reason or another they don’t come, that will also be very good. For there is not and there cannot be anything wrong anywhere.”
The songs which flowed spontaneously from Yogaswami in Tamil have been published as Natchintani – ‘Good Thoughts’. Swami’s utterances too have been published as Words of the Master. Santaswami along with a few others played a central role in translating them to English and getting them published by the Sivathondan Nilayam of Jaffna.
When Lord Soulbury died and Santaswami inherited his father’s title, Yogaswami sent him back to England to do his duty, saying “Go back to England and be a Lord!” These words, like all of Yogaswami’s utterances were pregnant with meaning. The pun made in English was on the word ‘Lord’ which can be taken to mean God – ‘the one who has no master but himself.’
-Dr. Vimala Krishnapillai