|YOGALife - Spring 1994|
|Table of Contents|
|· Years with the Master|
|· A Gurubai Remembers|
|· People are Waiting|
Swami Vishnu-devananda travelled west in steps. He would visit a place and teach, and somehow an ongoing ticket would materialize. His first stop outside of India was Ceylon. Swami Satchidananda, who later founded the Integral Yoga Institute, was living in Colombo, where he welcomed his gurubhai and kindly arranged programs.
Swamiji flew to Singapore where he was met by members of the Divine Life
Society. One of them, Mr. K.P.A. Menon, remembers that,
"We had assembled at the airport to receive Swami Vishnu-devananda. As the passengers came out, we tried to spot Swamiji, whom we expected to be middle aged. The last person to leave the plane was a saffron clad young person.
We were wondering why Swamiji was lagging behind when the young man walked up to us and announced himself as Swami Vishnu-devananda! Before the week was over, Swamiji was teaching Yoga Asana classes in the Ramakrishna Mission Hall."
After Singapore was Malaysia, then Swamiji flew to Hong Kong. His classes were attended by many Ambassadors and Government Ministers. Here Swamiji met Paul and Lois Modic, who arranged Swamiji's visa to the UnitedStates.
Indonesian Police Chief R.S. Sukanto had visited the Sivananda Ashram the
previous year. He had the darshan and Blessings of Sri Gurudev and helped
to make the arrangements for Vishnu Swamiji's tour. Classes were given for
the entire police department.
Upon Swamiji's departure, the grateful students gave him an International Driver's License. He had never driven nor did he know how to, but it was a well-known fact that "everyone in America has a driver's license." So the young traveller had to have one as well. Learning to drive would come later. After Indonesia came Australia. He landed in Perth, the city of beautiful roses, and travelled to Melbourne.
There he gave classes under the auspices of the Board of Adult Education. The director wrote to his friend in America, Dr. Marcus Bach, who was the Professor of Religion at Iowa University. Dr. Bach invited Swamiji to visit when he arrived in the U.S. and later wrote the Forward to the Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga.
During a brief visit to Hawaii, Swamiji stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Lambert. A small Center was started there.
Arriving at the San Francisco airport, Swami Vishnu expected to have no
one meet him. To his Surprise Mr. & Mrs. McRury of Oakland were there to
welcome him. Swamiji stayed at their home. Everyday they drove him to San
Francisco where he conducted classes.
Swamiji decided to learn to drive. After all, he did have an International Driver's License. So he bought an old car and took it to an abandoned parking lot and spent the day there, shifting gears, going backward and forward.
Finally he had the confidence to drive down the hill and across the bay
Bridge. Swamiji drove to Los Angeles wehre Judith Tyberg arranged his program.
At the same time, he was the subject of intensive research at UCLA.
They hooked him up to all kinds of instruments to test muscle strength, etc. and asked him to do pranayama.
From the testing at UCLA, he earned $50 a day, a vast sum of money to him at the time. He bought himself an old Packard and drove eastward criss-crossing the continent. Fruits, nuts, and water were kept in the car. Whenever he got tired, he would pull to the side of the road and sleep. In this way, Swamiji saw much of America and learned about its people.
He visited Dr. Marcus Bach in Iowa. Then to Minneapolis and up to Canada.
In Ottowa, Swamiji was hosted by the Masseys; Mrs. Massey was the daughter-in-law
of the Governor general of Canada at that time. Swami Vishnu Devanandaji
arrived in Montreal for the first time in 1959.
Dora Henritt attended his first lecture. She was 50 years old at the time and began her Yoga Sadhana with great enthusiasm. As Swami Ramananda, she worked with Swamiji for the rest of her years, one of the strongest pillars of his mission in the West.
It was Sylvia Heck who arranged all of Swamiji's programs. He stayed in her parents home until he was able to find a place to establish a Center in Montreal. Later, in 1959 when the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers were officially established, she was the first secretary of the Organization.
in Montreal tried to convince Swami Vishnuji to stay there and make the
city his headquarters, but he was determined that New York should be his
home base. He travelled to New York, but stayed only a few days. Then to
Miami, where classes were held in a church.
Louise Osis, one of his students, attended class but did not try the Headstand. When Swamiji stood her on her head, to his amazement, she did not come down. Finally, she asked him to lower her, explaining that she had been in an accident and her entire body was an iron corset.
Swamiji had the idea of a Center in New York. He returned there, and arranged
a lecture in Carnegie Hall. Many interested students attended and soon a
group was meeting at the Unitarian Church. Among those attending was Dr.
Harry Dickman, a long time disciple and correspondent of Master's.
The group moved to the Drid Williams Studio and then to the Cornish Arms Hotel. After 6 to 8 months, classes were going very well and Swami Chidananda, the current President of the Divine Life Society, arrived.
At this point, Swamiji had started working on the Complete Illustrate Book of Yoga. One of his students took the outline to Julian Press. They immediately signed a contract to print the book and gave the starving author a $200 cash advance.
As Swamiji often said, 'That $200 literally saved my life and created the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers around the world.'
Classes were continued in New York while Swamiji went to Montreal. Classes
were started at a Center on Stanley Street. Swami Vishnuji had to spend
time traveling between New York and Montreal.
It was at this time that Swami Vishnuji first decided to learn to fly, thinking that piloting his own plane would cut down on his travelling expenses. He later laughed at the absurdity of the idea.
During the summer, he noticed that class attendance dropped drastically, especially on weekends. Swamiji learned that many people went to Laurentian Mountains. A wonderful thought struck him; if people leave the city to take a vacation then why not give them the chance for a Yoga vacation?
The first Yoga Camp was set up in St. Hyppolite at the summer home of the parents of Sylvia Heck.
It was amazing for Swamiji to see Westerners, who had all the material
comforts, gladly give them up to sleep on the floor and take cold showers.
Few people in India would have voluntarily accepted these conditions.
Now Swamiji realized that here were people ready and eager for Spiritual Knowledge. They had great strength and resources, but lacked inner discipline.
Often while meditating, Swamiji would see a beautiful light to the north and feel a magnetic force pulling him in the direction of Val Morin. Though he didn't have time to go, he knew that something important would happen there.
The following summer, the camp was held on 11th Avenue, Val Morin. Swamiji felt the need for a permanent place for these Yoga Camps.
It was in February, 1962 that Swamiji first came to the present site. Although
it was dense forest, Swami intuitively knew that this was the spot. He and
students worked hard. They chopped down trees, cleared the land, and got
That summer the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Camp opened. On the opening day of the Summer Camp, Swami Vishnu-devanandaji received a telegram about the serious condition of Master Sivananda. Because of unavoidable circumstances, Swamiji found it difficult to leave.
He telegraphed the Ashram to find out Master's exact condition. The answer came that it was improving; Swamiji canceled his plane reservations. On July 14th, Swamiji received another telegram saying that Master had entered Mahasamadhi. Swamiji felt overpowered with grief because he could not be in his master's presence during the last moments of his life.
During the summer months at the Yoga Camp, Swamiji used to sleep in a tent.
At approximately 3am, July 17, 1963 Swamiji was awakened by a familiar sound,
"Vishnu Swami, wake up." At first Swamiji thought that someone had called
him from the next tent. But the answer came, "No, Swamiji."
Again the familiar voice "Vishnu Swami" came so clear that Swamiji arose. Only then did he realize that his Master had appeared in his tent to comfort and reassure him. "I am ever with you," he said.
Swamiji immediately went into deep meditation. He later said that he felt Master lift his mind to higher planes.
Although this experience lasted only a few minutes, it removed all sorrow and grief; now he knew that Master would always be present to guide him. He realized that time and space are no barriers for the Master to help his students.
The next morning, Swamiji gathered everyone and arranged a special puja.
The spot where Master appeared is now marked by a life-sized statue of Swami Sivananda. February 1965, Swamiji was in Nassau and heard that the Beatles were filming 'Help' on the island.
He went to meet them and gave them each an autographed copy of the Complete Illustrated book of Yoga. Ringo looked at the book and commented, "I can't even stand on my legs, let alone my head." George asked a number of intelligent questions.
Swamiji could see that he obviously had Yogic samskaras. George later went to Bombay to study the sitar.
Later in the year, Swamiji read in a newspaper that some hippies had been
evicted from their homes. They were looking to buy an island. Swamiji felt
compassion and immediately flew to London, sending a telegram to the Beatles.
Later that evening, a young man in hippie dress knocked on the door of his hotel room. It was George Harrison, who invited him to his house for dinner.
heard of this, and when Swamiji and the hippie leaders set off to inspect
the island, there was heavy press coverage.. The island, which was off the
coast of Ireland, was desolate with no source of water and the idea was
But the former hippies discovered the truth in Swamiji's teachings, and inagurated the first Sivananda Yoga Center in London.
Swamiji was invited to speak in Nassau, Bahamas where he met Mrs. Natalie Boswell. She was so impressed with Swamiji's work that she agreed to rent her 4 acre estate on Paradise Island on a 99 year lease. Her lawyers opposed the plan, and attempted to stop the rental of this valuable property. But Swamiji had seen a magnificent aura over the land, and knew that this would be the site of his second Ashram.
It is curious to note that on the exact same day in 1967 that the Yoga
Retreat opened, a big casino on the other side of Paradise Island also opened
its doors. Swamiji cites this as the workings of the Law of Karma. For every
action there is an opposite reaction.
For the many people running after the sensual pleasures of drinking, gambling, and so forth, there are a few sincere Yogis to balance things out. In an area where people come to gamble, drink and make merry, the Retreat's sattvic atmosphere provides an atmosphere of health and well-being.
Swamiji believed that this area was once part of Atlantis, the lost continent. There is a huge rock which now forms the altar of the Retreat's temple. The aura in this spot indicates that it was a holy place during the time of Atlantis.
In August, 1971, land was purchased for the Vrindavan Yoga Farm Sivananda Ashram in Grass Valley, California. Nestled in the beautiful rolling foothills of the Sierra Mountains, Swamiji often claimed it was his favorite spot. He spent much time here in seclusion.
There are several beautiful ponds. One of them filled with fish rescued
by Swamiji from a local State Fair. People paid a certain amount to catch
fish from a large tub. Swamiji's compassionate heart reached out; he bought
all the fish.
They were transported to the Farm where they were safe from such cruel and senseless sports.
On July 1, 1974, a fourth Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranceh Colony was inaugurated in Woodbourne, N.Y. As with the other Ashrams, Swamiji bought it because of the strong spiritual vibrations there.
Shortly before Swamiji saw the Ranch, one of his greatest supporters died. In his will, Wayne Mayers left $25,000 to Swamiji personally. This money was used as the down payment on the Ranch.
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