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YOGALife - Spring 1994
Table of Contents Om
 ·  Beginnings
 ·  Years with the Master
 ·  A Gurubai Remembers
 ·  People are Waiting

Years with the Master

It was the special capacity of Sri Gurudev to see people's talents. Swami Sivananda saw that his new disciple had tendencies towards Hatha Yoga and was a good organizer. Thus Vishnu Swami's training was directed in developing these qualities. He was appointed Hatha Yoga Professor at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy. People from all over India and the World came and stayed at the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh. Master sent many to Vishnu Swamiji for Hatha Yoga instruction. At the same time, he continued his own practices and became an expert at many difficult and advanced Asanas, Pranayamas, Mudras, Bandhas, Kriyas, etc. His body was so pliable that Master used to say "Vishnu Swamiji is a man without bones."

How did he learn these ancient practices which to a great extent had been lost in modern India? Swamiji often said, "My Master touched me and opened my intuitive eye. All this knowledge returned to me from past lives."

To be the first Hatha Yoga Professor of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy and center of all this attention was a great deal for a young man to handle. In later years, Swamiji would jokingly remember, "I soon developed a case of Ego Fever." He was a 90 pound weakling and felt the need of an appearance in keeping with his stature at the Ashram. He decided to grow a beard and long hair, the marks of a distinguished yogi. Master watched this happening. When the ego became too inflated, he decided that it was time to stick a pin in it. One day, he looked at his young disciple and said, "Yes, Vishnu Swami, the beard suits you. Yes, it is true, we must all make a good appearance and impress people. Yes, yes, keep on with it." Swamiji said, "At that moment, my body contracted. I realized what I was doing." He shaved immediately and never again tried to put on airs or impress people.


It is wonderful to see how Master never said an unkind word, even when people made fools of themselves. He gently tried to make them realize what they were doing and how to go about correcting their faults. Shortly after taking Sannyas, Swami Vishnuji felt a great need to be alone and do intense Sadhana. He asked permission of Master, which he obtained. With his gurubhai Swami Chinmayananda (who had taken Sannyas on the same day), he walked to Uttara Kashi. Here Vishu Swamiji found a small house. Asanas and Pranayama were done four times daily in sessions of four hours each. The Ganges flowed in front of the cottage and he went to it for bathing and kriyas. All he ate was lentils and rice. After 3 months of austerities, it was time to return to the Ashram. Vishnu Swamiji now threw himself into his work with new gusto. He had many creative ideas, and also the energy to carry them out. Once Master said to him, "Vishnu Swamiji, now I see your Kundalini rising. When this happens, the mind is flooded with inspiration." He became the personal assistant to Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. This gave Vishnu Swami the opportunity of observing the Master firsthand. He learned that the way Master acted in public was exactly the way he acted in private. There was no pretense about him, just an honest, straightforward loving nature. One evening during silent meditation, there was a loud crash. Everyone looked up and was horrified to see a distressed disciple swinging an axe at Master's head. Swami Vishnuji, sitting close to the Master, jumped up and pulled the assailant away from Sivananda in a great fury. Master told him later, "Vishnu Swami, you must learn to control your emotions." The assailant was taken to jail. But the next day Sivananda took him fruit and flowers, garlanding his would-be assasin. He had him set free and sent a disciple to accompany him home.

This incident was a great learning experience for Vishnu Swamiji. He saw that to a Realized Master, God comes in many forms. To Sivananda, a person who would take his life was as much God as a man who would come to garland him. He had a great love for both. Swami Vishnu-devananda left the Ashram in 1950 and spent a year as a Parivrajaka (wandering penniless monk). Often he would walk for days with little to eat. But he always knew that God would take care of him. His return brought physical and spiritual nourishment, new vigor was to be seen in Vishnu Swamiji. The experiences of Parivrajaka life gave him tremendous confidence and faith. He found that he was able to transcend body-consciousness when practicing Pranayama and Dhyana. It also gave him extraordinary powers of endurance and incredible vitality for service. He often conducted Sankirtan, nursed the sick, and worked as Master's assistant. At various times, he managed the Sivananda Publication League, ran the Ashram kitchen, and supervised the building of Sri Gurudev's temple and other buildings.

One day, Master said to him, "Vishnu Swami, one day you must go to America. People are waiting there for you to teach them Yoga." The young man laughed. The Master might as well have said, "Someday you will go to the Moon." To him America was as far as the moon. Master would say, "Vishnu Swamiji is not like ordinary people. He never simply walks, but flies from place to place. One day, he will be flying all over the World."

Master sent Vishnu Swamiji to various parts of India to give yoga demonstrations. There was an Englishman named P.J. Parr who used to come to the Ashram frequently. In 1953 when Vishnu Swamiji was in Calcutta, Mr. Parr invited him to visit his tea estate in Assam Gauhati. He bought Swamiji a plane ticket. This was his first flight; he remembered that he read the Bhagavad Gita en route.

At the Ashram, people from all over the world came to know Vishnu Swami. They watched him demonstrate his Asanas, and many of them studied with him. He received numerous invitations to visit people all over the world. In 1957, Sri Gurudev selected this young disciple as his first apostle of peace to the West. He sent him forth saying, "People are waiting."

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Swami Vishnu-devananda

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