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YOGALife - Spring 1996
Table of Contents Om
 ·  Memories of Swami Vishnu-devananda:
- A Different Kind of Swami
- The Spirit of Renunciation
- Cherished Memories
 ·  The Yogi: Portraits of Swami Vishnu-devananda
 ·  Swami Vishnu-devananda speaks: Questions and Answers
 ·  Ekadashi
 ·  How to Get Vairagya
 ·  Brahmacharya
 ·  Sex is not compulsory

The Spirit of Renunciation

Swami Vishnudevanda left for India for the last time in October, 1993. "I want to leave my body in the Ganga," he repeated it often and told each visitor that came to see him.
Swamiji had been preparing us for his parting for many years. He jokingly would tell us that he was "in the penalty box". He drew the analogy from Chicago's O'hare International Airport where air flights are so frequent that if a plane is delayed for some reason, it is made to wait until granted permission to leave.

Swamiji made many trips to India prior to his last one, and each time we collectively wondered if this would be the one where he shed his body. His last three trips were in particular question and many students came to pay their respects, say their goodbyes and make humble attempts at expressing their gratitude and love.

I saw numerous instances where I felt that Swamiji was close to death. There were times when he had been severely dehydrated, or he was not breathing properly. There were numerous hospital visits, often he was not eating or drinking much for days on end. Each time, much to my amazement, Swamiji rallied and continued to emanate an incredible, magnetic peace.
I had gone through this experience so often, that I created a dynamic in my mind whereby I struggled not to sink into a veritable emotional lions den. When I percieved Swamiji in crisis and I will again emphasize that I perceived this as being frequent, I would find myself preparing mentally for what I felt was the worse.
I told myself, trying to control my surging panic, "This is it!" time and time again, it was not "it". Swamiji amazed us all, and recovered to embark on another journey, a new project, or additional undertaking of immense proportions.

I was in an ongoing state of disbelief at Swamiji and his energy. Many times during our travels I found myself praying in earnest to simply be able to keep up and make it to the finish line of the trip.
I was in perpetual awe of Swamiji's stamina and boundless energy particularly given all that his body had endured. I was mystified by this and perplexed. I was half Swamiji's age and in sound health, yet I always had the feeling that I was holding on by a thread, with my sole goal being not to drop off in trying to keep up with him.
I have since come to the conclusion that it was Swamiji who sustained me, as I know I was not physically capable of maintaining such a strenuous schedule on my own.

After being mistaken repeatedly regarding Swamiji's final days, when his last days did actually come, true to fashion, I was wrong again. I was caught in a dance of not wanting to "think the worst" another time, yet trying to be prepared if this was the time of Swamiji's final departure.

I can remember looking at Swamiji in the hospital bed in India thinking to myself, "He has come close many times before, don't worry ahead of time, he'll pull out of this".
After a day or so of watching Swamiji become increasingly unwell, it occurred to me that while I had often seen Swamiji sick, I had never before seen him this sick. And with that, the reality of Swamiji's passing became more evident. I thought, in perhaps a last ditch attempt of denial, "Swamiji did not come all the way to India to die in a hospital!".
I held out the hope to myself that he would bounce back as he had done so many times before, that he would make it to the Netala ashram on the Ganga. Then perhaps Swamiji would give his body to Mother there. I had many preconcieved notions of how a great sage would give up his body.
I thought for example that he might sit up and meditate himself out of his physical form, I thought that disciples gathered for the event and chanted mantras to create a spiritual atmosphere. I thought everyone would have a mystical experience. I learned however, that right up to the last, Swamiji was teaching me.
Perhaps the most striking thing I experienced about Swamiji's passing was his complete and total renunciation. It brought back memories of my first impression of Swamiji. I was staring at him as he was up on the stage at the ashram in Val Morin, Canada giving a lecture. At that time Swamiji talked a lot and very fast.
Someone made a very apparent mistake and Swamiji stopped the lecture, scolded the student and then just as quickly, without any residual anger or lingering emotion, returned to the lecture topic.
I was seeing something I could not define. I felt mystified until I understood. I then had an intuitive knowledge that, as I was watching Swamiji, I was seeing before me someone who was genuinely humble. It is very difficult to describe as it is the absence of something.

Similarly, when I saw Swamiji last, I experienced the profundity of the absence of something and again, it is difficult to describe. If Swamiji possesed anything at all, it was the spirit of renounciation. Swamiji gave and gave everything.
He even gave over the care of his body. In so doing among other things, he gave us the direct experience of the great Vedantic teaching, "You are not the body, but the soul residing in the body."

Swamiji's passing was not how I thought it would be. It showed me great truth and gave me a higher knowledge.
There was no fanfare, no glitz, or showmanship. There was instead, an exquisite simplicity, complete surrender, and a pervasive spirit of absolute renunciation.
This reality was far more glorious and richer than my tiny imagination could have ever produced.

- Gayatri, Florida, U.S.A.

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