|YOGALife - Spring 1998|
|Table of Contents|
|·||Memories of Swami Vishnu-devananda|
|·||Yoga Behind Bars|
Om Namah Sivaya. My first contact with Swami Vishnu-devananda was when I was 15 years old; I got his book through my yoga teacher. I didn't know what had happened to me but I felt that the goal of my life was to practice yoga - doing all the asanas and everything.
I come from Uruguay, a very conservative country in South America. Back in 1969, not many people were involved in yoga. After a few years of practicing, my yoga teacher advised me to write to Swamiji. I sent him some of my pictures, thinking I was doing great asanas, and I wrote a letter to him. He wrote back inviting me to come to the Bahamas. I was 15 years old; it wasn't possible for me at that time, but I had it in my heart to be with him.
After a few years, I organised my life a little. The group of students I was practising with, including my boyfriend (now he is my husband), said they'd give me the money to go and see that Swami. So I got my ticket and visa. All doors seemed to open for me. When I asked for a vacation from my job, they said yes but only for one month. So off I went to Nassau. I arrived thinking I would prostrate to Swamiji, and say Namaste or something like that. But, when I met him for the first time, it was in Nassau and he was wearing his orange dhoti and he said who are you? I said my name and that I had come from South America. He said 'Coma esta, Adios' and then hugged me. He never said Om Namah Sivaya or anything like that. I was very surprised, and then he found me a place to stay. He got me a room and lots of food. He was always extremely kind with everyone who came to the ashram. I was able to take the Teachers' Training, as Swamiji gave me a scholarship.
When the course was over, and I had passed the exam, I didn't want to leave the ashram. I didn't want to go home. I went to Swamiji and told him. He just said 'OK you can stay.'
It was very easy to be with him - everything was so simple. Then one day he told me, 'I'm planning a peace mission to Cuba and I need a translator.' Then he gave me some leaflets, asking me to translate them into Spanish to give to people in Cuba.
At that time, it wasn't possible for planes to fly from the U.S. to Cuba. Also it was a problem for me, because at that time Uruguay had no diplomatic relations with Cuba. If I had my passport stamped in Cuba, I would not be allowed to go home. I didn't know what to do. After two or three days I was walking through the ashram and saw Swamiji. He asked me, 'Are you coming?' I said, 'Yes, Swamiji,' but at that moment I saw his plane circling the island; it was coming in to land. I thought this is not possible, I just saw him, but he hasn't landed yet.
When he did land, he just said that everything was ready. All the flowers and the pamphlets were on the plane. We flew to Miami where Swamiji had planned a press conference before going to Cuba. Everybody told him not do it; it's going to be very dangerous. But he said, 'It doesn't matter; Master is with me. I'm not going to fight with anyone; I'm going to give a message of peace to these people. And he said these things in such a simple way. Then we just set out in his plane - Swamiji and myself.
All the time he was chanting, repeating mantras and asking about South America. He sat cross legged, as he always did, with one foot on top of the other. Suddenly took his hands off the controls and said 'I just want to meditate so you are in charge now. All you have to do is keep your eyes open and look out for other planes.' I couldn't believe it and started wondering whether I was going to die and repeating all the mantras. He was not acting at all - he was very natural. We started receiving messages from the airport in Cuba. They told us in Spanish that we were not allowed to land. Swamiji said just tell them we are going to land and ask them how to land. We have a message to give to them. Then he told me throw flowers through the window; so I did. I threw the flowers and the pamphlets about peace. But when we landed, the people were very upset. They didn't come to us with garlands or flowers, they came with their guns.
They wanted to know what we were doing there, so I explained about Swami Sivananda who was a master of yoga and how we were anxious to share his message of peace with the people of Cuba. They couldn't understand. They were so narrow minded and had so much fear that they couldn't understand. They took us to the airport and questioned us for hours. For Swamiji, who had a Canadian passport, it was okay. But, for myself, they said I was a crazy woman just for being there with a passport from Uruguay. They could shoot me, put me in jail or do whatever they liked. They had never heard of Swami Vishnu-devananda. I explained he was the person who taught me yoga. They said I must be completely crazy, and asked me questions for hours. I answered everything that I could.
And Swamiji, what was he doing? He was doing an asana demonstration. When he saw me, he said 'Kanti get ready.' We had only the floor, and I wasn't dressed properly, but I did Sun Salutations to warm up. Although I didn't feel comfortable (there were only military people around) I found myself doing the asanas, even the Scorpion (first time in my life) because Swamiji was asking, checking the asanas and talking about that I was doing.
After that they started asking us what we would like to eat, very kindly and very nicely. Swamiji asked for something without meat. We had juice and cheese sandwiches. Everyone was asking so many questions to Swamiji about yoga. Then Swamiji asked to see Fidel Castro. Everyone said it was not possible. So Swamiji started signing books dedicated to Fidel Castro. He asked the officials to make sure that Castro got them.
Then we were told to leave the place. But Swamiji had no lights on his plane and it was almost sunset. They had put some gas in, and asked for money to pay for it, also to pay the fine because we had landed without permission.
We went to Florida, as it was the closest place. I think all those people who were there with him never forgot that day. A few years after that, you cannot imagine how many people started writing to us from Cuba. I don't know if they heard from those people or from someone else. They still write and say that it's not possible for them to travel, but there are so many people who are practicing yoga there and asking for information. We send books and materials so they can keep up their own practice.
The thing with Swamiji was that you could not stop him. Whatever he had in his mind, or in his heart, he went for immediately and nothing could stop him. He was an extraordinary person, but he was also a normal person like any of us. I saw there is nothing that we cannot do with our own lives. Sometimes it's nice to listen to stories of great people. You think, well, okay but that's for great people acting on some other plane. And we keep with our little things, our little egos and our little lives. But those who knew Swamiji have inside of us his teachings. We have his blessing and we have his love to continue with this - to give to other people, and we don't have an excuse. This is what I feel and I have a family. I have three children and now I have a grandson who is 7 months old. It doesn't stop me from doing yoga, which started many thousands of years ago and is continuing now through all of us. So we have a big responsibility. I hope you understand and carry on this responsibility and give it to your students and to the people who live with you everyday. Be an example of Swamiji's teachings through your own life. Om Namah Sivaya.
– Kanti Devi, Uruguay
At the time I was working as Deputy Director of the Indian Railway Research Design and Standards Organisation and was on a year's deputation in Canada to study application of computers. My colleague Mr. Panchapagesan was with me; these incidents were pieced together from memory and from diaries of those days.
- Kasy Aiyar, Madras, India.
Om Namo Bhagavate Sivanandaya.
Om Namo Bhagavate Vishnu-devanandaya.
Om Sri Ganeshaya Namah.
Among Swami Sivananda's many disciples, Swami Vishnu-devanandaji was hundred per cent guru bhakta. Swami Vishnu-devananda was sent like the arrow of Sri Ram to spread the message of Swami Sivananda Maharaj. In the twentieth century a dedicated bhakta like Swami Vishnu-devananda is rare. For Swami Vishnu-devananda God is Guru and his every breath was for the Guru.
When Swami Vishnu needed to discipline disciples he would often display a dramatic kind of anger. Yet his most charming attribute was that in his heart of hearts he was egoless and absolutely sincere. Swamiji was frequently engaged in meditation, prayer and Vedanta. Perfection in every action is yoga; this was what he stood for and what he always practiced. Swamiji was very compassionate and taught the greatest teachings of the Upanishad and Vedanta with humour. He taught morning and evening meditations and satsang.
Swamiji, who had disciples from countries all over the world, would speak simply and always use accessible language. Every word which Swamiji spoke had depth as it was spoken from his own experience of God, Truth and Love. People were attracted to him because of his total selflessness.
He had a very special place held in his heart for those people who sincerely practiced yoga according to the ancient scriptures of Hinduism. Swami Vishnu had a special enthusiasm for the Srimad Bhagavatam. I first met Swamiji when he was visiting the San Francisco Sivananda Yoga Centre. On this occasion Swamiji asked me to sing Sri Krishna lila. When I was about to stop Swamiji came out of meditation and asked me to continue. I sang for one more hour and then again Swamiji asked me to please continue. So it went on and I sang until the early hours of the morning. Then Swamiji explained the significance and symbolism of the stories.
Thereafter Swamiji frequently invited me to visit his ashrams. He would attend all the Hari Kathas. Frequently, while hearing of Narasimha, Prahalada's bhakti or Draupadi and her devotion to Krishna, Swamiji, like a child, would burst into tears of love and joy. These were tears of bhakta samadhi.
Swamiji had a really good sense of humour. Referring to the Indian wife's bejewelled neck Swamiji would joke that husbands consider their wives neck to be their wealth and would tease me saying 'Look! Look! Sant Keshavadas is watching Rama Mataji's neck.'
Swamiji had many jokes and amusing ancedotes. One of his favourites was about an Irish priest. One of his elderly parishioners had bought a lottery ticket and won a million dollars. The priest was worried that upon hearing this news the old man might have a heart attack . So he went to break the news personally. He jokingly enquired 'suppose you won a million dollars, what would you do?' The man responded that he would give it to the Church. The priest had a heart attack. Swamiji would make the whole audience laugh.
To me Swamiji's life dedicated to yoga evokes the sweet fragrance of sandalwood paste and the juice of freshly squeezed sugar cane. Unconcerned with his own welfare or health Swamiji engaged himself night and day writing, experimenting, teaching and giving rigorous training to his disciples. Never thinking of his personal comfort, he travelled to many holy places. Swamiji showered his love and blessings upon so many.
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