Founder of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres, Swami Vishnudevananda, was a world authority on Hatha and Raja Yoga. Swamiji was also known as the "Flying Swami" for the different peace missions he accomplished around the world.
Before Discovering Yoga
Swamiji was born in Kerala, South India, in 1927. As a young child one of his main character traits was a strong will and determination. His mother, now known as Mataji who later took Sannyas (vows of renunciation) from Swami Sivananda, said that whenever her son wanted something, nothing or no one could stop him. An interesting anecdote tells how as a 5 year old youngster he had the strong desire to go to school and learn. When told that it was not possible since the nearest school was located more than 5 miles away, the child took upon himself to pack and go early the next morning for the long 5 mile walk through the jungle. He walked back that evening and would do the same for many years to come.
As a teenager without financial resources for University, he turned to joining the army to receive the scientific education he yearned for. During this time as he looked for a lost paper in a waste basket, his eyes fell upon a paper entitled "20 Spiritual Instructions" by Swami Sivananda. The pamphlet began: "An ounce of practice is better than tons of theory". The practicality and inherent power of these simple words lead Swamiji to travel across India during a 36-hour leave to meet Swami Sivananda in far away Rishsikesh in the Himalayas.
This short visit left such an impression on the young boy's mind that he resolved to return as soon as possible.
Meeting The Master
On his second visit, the young disciple received 2 powerful lessons from Swami Sivananda. The first lesson came when Swami Vishnudevananda felt too timid and a bit arrogant to bow to the Guru Swami Sivananda. So the Master Swami Sivananda prostrated fully before the young student demonstrating the lesson of humility. The second lesson came during Arati (worship ceremony) to Ganga (Ganges river). Swamiji was perplexed and doubtful as he pondered why intelligent people would worship what scientifically is merely H2O. The Master then smiled subtly and gazed at Swamij who instantly beheld the river as a vast, bright, cosmic light. Swami Sivananda then invited the young boy to remain at the Ashram to study and become a Yogi. Swami Vishnudevananda spontaneously replied "Yes".
For 10 years Swami Vishnudevananda continued at the Sivananda Ashram and was trained in all aspects of Yoga by Swami Sivananda. Swami Vishnudevananda quickly became an exceptional adept in the path of Hatha-Yoga and was a very keen and tireless Karma Yogi. One day Swami Sivananda gave Swamiji a 10 Rupee note (less than a dollar!) and his blessings to travel to the West and spread the teachings of Vedanta. "People are waiting" were the words of the Master.
Swamiji As A World Teacher
Swamiji's limitless energy and profound inspiration lead him to found and direct the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. There are now 20 Yoga centres and 9 Ashrams and many Affiliated centres. Swami created the first Yoga Teachers Training Course which to date has trained more than 26,000 certified teachers in the field of Yoga and spirituality. One of his brilliant touches was to summarize these ancient and vast teachings into five principles of Yoga which are easy to understand and convenient to incorporate in one's daily practice.
The Flying Swami & The Peace Missions
Throughout his whole life, Swamiji was deeply concerned about the well being of the world and the constant disaster of wars. This lead him to learn to fly and then personally pilot a small plane over several troubled areas of the world. Not only did he create discussion and awareness in the news media, but he also "bombarded" these war torn areas with flowers and peace pamphlets while repeating the peace Mantra; Om Namo Narayanaya.
I have given you all I have with all my heart and love. It is for you to give to others. Sometimes I may not know all the answers, and I know that I have a long way to go. If you didn't get anything, that's because of my lower emotional nature. If there was anything good you got, it came from my great Master Sivananda. I don't say that I'm an unemotional person. I scolded and talked endlessly. I acted like a dictator. If I were like my master, or like Jesus, I could wash the feet of my disciples. But for that one must be very high. It can only be done when the ego is gone. If I were to do it, it would be hypocrisy. I'm not that high. Once, some years ago, I prostrated myself before a man to whom I had been rude and impatient. As I was doing it, I was thinking "How humble I am." So don't look for an easy way to overcome your ego. For years I've tried. I watch myself as my ego manifests itself. I analyze. But it clings like a leech. When we can't control ourselves, we should offer it to the Lord: "Oh Lord, I offer it to Thee!" And now, if in any way I hurt your feelings, I ask you with all my heart to pardon me.
- Swami Vishnudevananda
The southernmost state of India, Kerala, is famous for being the home of many great saints and yogis. Sri Sankaracharya, founder of the order of Sannyasa, was a son of Kerala. This story is of another.
Kanimangalam is a small village of Nemmara in the Palghat District. There lives the prosperous and noble Nair Family at the house of Valiya Pichankurichi. Devaki Amma belonged to this family where matrilineal descent prevailed.
As a young girl, Devaki had a great longing to study. She was permitted to go to Girls' School for four years. After this time, her mother insisted that she leave school, saying that it was dangerous for a woman to have an education. So instead, Devaki Amma began her study of scriptures and the practice of doing Japa along with her regular daily chores. She continues to do both of these to this day.
Devaki Amma was married to Chatthu Panicker, who was also a devoted follower, of the higher ideal of life. K. Narayan Kutty, his neighbor in Palghat, writes: "Sri Chatthu Panicker was a first class farmer. Agriculture was his family profession. I had the good fortune to be his neighbor. Usually at sunset, he used to read the Ramayana. Even now its musical nectar is flowing in my ears."
On December 31st, 1927, this couple was blessed with a son, their second child. Just as the year was retiring, this child was born who himself would retire from worldly life. He would follow a spiritual path of renunciation and selfless service.
According to Indian custom, an astrologer immediately drew up a horoscope for the child. Among the predictions were:
The child should live up to 80 years. He will be very happy. He will have vehicles like elephants, horses, etc. He will be fond of travels. . . He will travel on the seas and in the sky. He will be liked by many people in foreign countries. The child will be famous and will live ever interested in God's Will.
At the age of six months, the child was named and given rice (solid food) for the first time. This ceremony took place at the famous temple of Lord Subramanya at Palini. This handsome child of black curly hair, golden colored skin, and beautiful limbs was given the name of Thankaswamy. Thanka means gold and Swamy, master.
At the time of this ceremony, a strange incident occurred. Devaki Amma was carrying the baby boy up the hill to the temple. There was also another woman walking up the hill with baby in arms. However, as this woman walked, the child seemed to get heavier and heavier. Soon it became impossible for her to carry him. Her husband also tried carrying the child, but he soon became too heavy for even the man to carry. The woman told Devaki Amma that she believed that this was a sign that her child was not to be brought to the Temple for naming, as he would die shortly. She begged Devaki to let her carry Thankaswamy instead. As soon as she took him into her arms, the woman began to dance in a sort of God-intoxication. She ran ecstatically up the hill, which was quite steep, to the temple. When Devaki Amma arrived, the woman returned Thankaswamy to her, and this God-intoxication stopped. The woman fell exhausted to the ground. Revived, she returned down the hill to her husband and her child. Her baby died shortly thereafter.
When Thankaswamy was four years old, a teacher was appointed to tutor him at home. Shortly afterwards, he was taken to the school run by his uncle for a celebration. The next day, he insisted that he wanted to go to the school again. However, it was three miles away on the other side of a canal. His mother refused saying, "My son, you're not grown up enough to walk such a long distance. When you get older, I'll send you to that school." She tried to take his hand and lead him into the house, but the child ran away. He walked to the school alone to prove that he was able. From that day and for four years afterwards, Thankaswamy studied at his uncle's Talur School.
Thankaswamy loved to climb trees and sit or lie on the branches. In ponds and rivers, he used to swim, jump, dive and engage in various kinds of play. If he wanted anything, Thankaswamy was stubborn. Usually success was his whatever or whomever his opponents or obstacles were. Once he had laid his hands on a mango, nobody could make him release it. He could not be threatened; fear was absent. Whatever had to be done would be finished soon. When stubbornness in worldly things changed to spiritual goals, it was the cause of great progress.
Neighbors noted that Thankaswamy was kind to all beings. He did not indulge in cruel games such as throwing rocks at dogs. He would never knowingly hurt any being. Swamiji tells story of how he walked to school through fields flooded for growing rice. Many frogs and snakes lived in the water. Frogs are, of course, the natural diet of snakes.
One day the boy saw a snake with a frog in its mouth. He took a stick and made the snake drop it, as he could not bear the frog's pain. However, after the frog had hopped away, he felt compassion for the snake who was now feeling the pains of hunger. He said to the snake, "I know you were just doing what your nature led you to do and that you must eat frogs to live. But, please, Mr. Snake, just don't eat them when I'm around."
In 1943 Swamiji (then known as Swamy Kuttan Nair) graduated from Nemmara High School. He was a good scholar with a genius for engineering. The spirit of enquiry, thirst for analysis and an eagerness to experiment were always with him. These traits helped to qualify him for the path of Yoga. He was never idle and would always be engaged in one experiment or another.
In 1944, he worked as a school teacher for a while, but there was a great thirst to see more of the world. But how could a 16 year old boy go about doing this?
Swamy Kuttan wrote to a cousin in Bangalore (about 500 miles away) asking if he could come and stay. "Yes," came the answer, "I will be happy to have you live in my home and will get you a good job." The only obstacle was to convince his parents, but this was finally overcome.
Upon reaching Coimbatore, he decided to carry out his secret plan - he would join the Navy. There he could get the scientific and electrical training which he wanted very much. He went to the recruiting station and lied about his age. After the required medical examination, he was rejected for being underweight (93 lbs.), too short, and having too rapid a heartbeat (this was probably nerves.).
Feeling dejected, he went to the train station and bought his train ticket to Bangalore. As he was waiting for the train, a slightly older boy approached and struck up a conversation. The boy tried to convince Swamy Kuttan to come with him to Madras and join the army. This was impossible, as he didn't have the money.
They rode the same train as far as Jolerpat. As Swamy Kuttan was getting off the train, the boy grabbed his arm and promised to pay the fare to Madras. "I have family there; they will give us money for your ticket."
When the train arrived in Madras, the boy was not to be seen. The station master called the police, as Swamy Kuttan had not paid his passage. He told them the story and even pointed to his friend's luggage. The police asked the young traveler to take his luggage as well as that of his missing friend and come to the police station. Suddenly the boy ran up and tried to grab his luggage and run away. The police caught him and took him along to the police station. There the story was told again. The police said that one of them must go out and get the money for the train ticket while the other stayed with the luggage. As the young stranger spoke the local language, he was the logical one to go, but he refused. Instead, he had a long discussion with the police in their native language and finally ended up giving them his fountain pen. The two boys were free and walked to the Army recruiting station. The agents there received a commission for each person signed up; they did not care that Swamy Kuttan was under age. They asked if he would like to join the Engineering Corps, painting a rosy picture of the life in it. This was his dream so he agreed readily. All examinations were easily passed. But it was lunchtime; the formal signing up would have to wait a few hours.
The young stranger invited Swamy Kuttan and the recruiting officers to lunch in a nearby restaurant. After eating, he expressed a desire to smoke. He went out for cigarettes and never returned.
Why did this stranger turn up to guide Swamy Kuttan's life in this way and then disappear? In later life, Swami Vishnudevanandaji often reflected that it seemed as though his life had been predestined not to follow the ordinary. This boy was just an instrument to bring him to a place where the next step was possible.
I first heard about Swami Sivananda in a strange way. Looking in the waste paper basket for a lost paper, I found one small pamphlet called Sadhana Tattwa. His teachings were so simple and straight forward, such as 'An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory.' When I read that, I saw nothing mysterious in it. I got a couple of days leave of absence from the army and went to see him. It took a whole day and night by train and I had only a few minutes to see him. There were 30 or 40 people around him. He looked like an ordinary man among them. The look on his face and manner of speech were simple and straight forward. Each word came from his heart. There was no kind of religious hypocrisy, no sitting on a tiger skin with ashes smeared all over his body. He had an extraordinary spiritual glow.
The second time I saw him, I had two days to spend at the ashram. It was my first Ashram experience. Swami Sivananda was coming up the stairs in my direction. I didn't want to have to bow my head to him. I was young and arrogant and never wanted to bow my head to anybody - Swami, God-realized soul, or whomever, I didn't care. But it is the tradition that you should bow your head to a holy man. To avoid the situation, I just moved out of his path. Master saw me and headed in my direction. He asked me who I was and where I was coming from. Then he bowed down and touched my feet!! My whole body began to shake violently. With all my heart, with all my life and love, I learned to bow without any type of reservation. He touched my heart not with miracles or shows of holiness, but with his perfect egoless nature. He didn't consider that I was just a stupid boy standing there, though I was just that. He touched my heart and broke that egoism in me. I didn't think anything else in this world would have broken this ego. That was my first lesson, and if I could attain one millionth of the state of egolessness of the Master, it is His Grace.
Before leaving the Ashram, Swamy Kuttan summoned up the courage to seek the advice of the Master. "How should I go about my Sadhana?" he asked. The Master replied, "Keep a Spiritual Diary." God had spoken to him. From that time on, he was absolutely regular in maintaining the diary and, needless to mention, in his Sadhana as well. The Guru had assumed charge of the disciple's life.
He returned to his army camp at Jullender. For the serious sadhaka, the surrounding will not be a deterrent. He has only to adjust himself to his surroundings. Obstacles and failures can become stepping stones to success. Unfavorable situations can be changed to favorable. We make our own karma. When he was not working, Swamy Kuttan steeped himself in his Yoga practices. Japa, Asanas, Pranayama, Meditation, Worship - all were done regularly.
After being discharged from the army in 1946, he again visited the Ashram before returning home. At this time a great lesson was learned by Kuttan Swamy. It is the custom at the Ashram to do Arati (waving of lights) every evening. All the devotees and inmates of the Ashram assembled by the banks of the Ganges to watch Master perform this evening worship of the river. The young visitor was skeptical. After all, he had a scientific temperament and knew that a river is only water, H20 - imagine worshipping H20!!
But, as he stood there and watched the Saint waving the lights, he saw the river become a mass of flowing lights. At that instant the river assumed a divine flow, a manifestation of the Grace of the Lord. It whispered this message to him "God pervades everything; this too is His Special Form." This entirely changed his outlook on life.
Swamy Kuttan returned home and underwent teachers' training at Kollengode, a nearby college. Thus, as was his mother's wish, he became a teacher. But even while living and working at home, he was deeply immersed in Sadhana. A small meditation room next to the family's worship room became his. There he installed pictures of Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, Lord Krishna, and Lakshmi-Narayana. In this room, he used to worship, do Japa, Meditation, Kirtan, etc.
One fine morning in August, 1947, the postman brought the Call from the Himalayas in the form of an invitation to the Diamond Jubilee Celebration of Sri Gurudev's birthday. The young Kuttan Swamy was delighted. He knew he had to go; it was the Divine Message for which he had been waiting. Although he planned to go for only a few days, as he took leave of his mother at the bus, he heard a voice saying that he would not be returning. He tried to still the voice, but could not.
Upon arriving at the Ashram on September 1st, Swami Kuttan was asked to assist with the Ashram chores. In India, it is necessary to wash lentils before cooking. They are then set out in the sun to dry, but often the monkeys come and steal them. Swamy Kuttan's karma yoga was to protect the lentils from the monkeys.
One day, as he was doing this, Master passed by. He looked at the young man and said "Stay here." "Yes, Swamiji" was the instant reply. A moment later, he realized that he had given his word and once given could not be taken back.
So Sri Gurudev accepted this new disciple and welcomed him to the Ashram as a permanent staff member. He blessed him with initiation into the order of Brahmacharya, giving him the name Vishnu Chaitanya.
On Sivaratri, March 1948, Vishnu Chaitanya became Swami Vishnudevananda. From then on, Master always lovingly called him "Vishnu Swamiji."
When the loving parents learned their son had joined Siva's divine army, they wrote a distraught letter. Vishnu Swamiji showed it to the Master, who coolly handed it back with the words "Mathba Naasti, Pithba Naasti." (There is neither mother nor father for you.) The troubled heart found instantaneous peace.
It was the special capacity of Sri Gurudev to find out the capabilities and special talents of each of his disciples. He would encourage and nourish this. Under his expert guidance, imperfect and unripe aspirants matured and developed their latent talents. Master saw that this new disciple had tendencies towards Hatha Yoga and that he was a good organizer. Thus Vishnu Swami's training was directed in developing these inherent qualities. He was appointed Professor of Hatha Yoga 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 people to Vishnu Swamiji for Hatha Yoga instruction. At the same time, he continued his own practices and became an expert. He mastered 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."
But how did he learn all these ancient practices which to a great extent had been lost in modern India? Swamiji often says, "My Master touched me 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. As Swamiji jokingly says, "I soon developed a case of Ego Fever." He was a 90 pound weakling and felt the need to give an appearance in keeping with his stature at the Ashram. Therefore, he decided to grow a beard and long hair, the marks of a distinguished yogi. Master watched all 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 says, "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 they should go about correcting their faults.
Shortly after taking Sannyas, Swami Vishnuji felt a great need to be alone and do intense Sadhana. He ask permission of Master which he obtained. Together with his gurubhai Swami Chinmayananda (who had taken Sannyas the same day), he walked to Uttar Kashi. This is a beautiful place further up the Ganges than Rishikesh, which is famous as a place where many Sadhaks live and engage in spiritual practices.
Swami Chinmayanandaji here met Swami Tapowanam and continued up the mountains to Gangotri. However, Vishnu Swamiji found a small house in the section of Uttar Kashi known as Thekala to settle and do his Sadhana. Asanas, Pranayama, etc. were done in 4-4 hour sessions daily. The Ganges flowed in front of the cottage and he went to it for bathing and kriyas. All he ate was kedgeree made from lentils and rice, bought from money Master had given him on his leaving the Ashram.
One day, an old couple came to Swamiji's hut. The man was very ill and there were no doctors for many miles. They had heard that there was a holy man living in the vicinity and had walked for a full day to see Swamiji. He was their only hope.
Swamiji was no doctor, but he did know the power of positive thinking and of prayer. He went into the cottage and took a glass of water. Into this, he put a bit of milk and some holy ash. He gave this to the man, saying special prayers for his health. Soon the man felt better and returned with wife to their village.
After 3 months of these austerities, it was time to return to the Ashram. As he started out, Swamiji met a merchant traveling on a donkey who induced him to take a 'short cut' through the mountains. This proved extremely strenuous. The merchant rode his donkey, but the young swami walked barefoot over sharp rocks. After three days of exhausting walking, with little food, they reached Rishikesh. Swamiji was so emaciated and worn out that even Master hardly recognized him. But even these hardships were transposed into growing experiences. Vishnu Swamiji used them and gained new strengths from them.
Vishnu Swamiji now threw himself into the work of the Ashram with new gusto. He had not only lots of creative ideas for improving things, but 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 or showmanship about him, just an honest, straight forward and loving nature.
One of his duties as personal assistant was to set out Master's bed in the evenings. One night as Vishnu Swami went to the cupboard for a sheet, he found a nest of rat babies. He brought it to Master who was sitting out on his veranda. It was dark and when asked to look, Master said, "What is it, prasad?" Then when he saw what it was, "Quick put them back before the mother returns and is upset."
A few days later, the mother was caught by a cat and the babies died because she did not return to care for them. Vishnu Swami brought their bodies to Master, who without hesitation said "OM Trayambakams" for their departed souls.
There was a young man staying at the Ashram named Govinda who had a depressive nature. One day, he came to the Master's office in a very low mood and asked for money to return to his village. Sivananda asked him to try to get out of that mood, saying, in addition, that the Ashram didn't have the money.
Later that evening, as he was going to Satsang, Master felt worried. He went to Govinda's room to see if the disciple was feeling better. But Govinda was depressed and wouldn't even answer him, so Master proceeded to Satsang.
During the silent meditation, there was a loud crash. Everyone looked up and was horrified to see Govinda swinging an ax at Master's head. Swami Vishnuji, who was sitting close to the Master, was the first one up. He pulled the assailant away from Sivananda in a great fury. Master told him later, "Vishnu Swami, you must learn to control your emotions."
Govinda was taken to jail. The next day Sivananda took fruit and flowers to the jail and garlanded the would-be assassin. He had him set free and instructed one of his disciples to accompany Govinda to his home town.
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 great love for both.
Shortly after the "assassination" incident, Vishnu Swami ran away from the Ashram. He became upset with the constant gossip and idle chattering of other inmates. He felt that only "Sattvic" people should be allowed to stay at the Ashram. It was true that many undesirable people were permitted, even encouraged by Master, to stay at the Ashram. When students would complain of this, Sivananda would say, "If you are so holy, you have no need of an Ashram. This is a place for people who need my help. It is better that they are here than out in the world where they can do great damage."
But to Vishnu Swami's state of mind this was not acceptable. He was tired of the constant emphasis on Karma Yoga and wanted to do more "Sadhana." And, too, his ego had been bruised by the Master's observation about his need to control his emotions.
Swami Vishnudevananda left the Ashram in 1950 and spent a year as a Parivrajaka (wandering penniless monk). He toured the whole of North India from Dwaraka in the West to Badrinath in the North.
One time, he had been walking for days with little to eat. He was very hungry, but he met only penniless wanderers like himself, or poor pilgrims. Finally someone gave him a portion of their simple food. He was overjoyed, but remembering how hot and dirty he was, he went to a nearby river to wash and offer the food to the Lord before partaking of it. Cleansed, he reached for the precious morsels wrapped in his upper cloth. But the cloth caught on a twig, and the food dropped into the water. It was gone immediately, and the young monk was left hungry and tired. He walked on, then sat down under a tree to rest.
Shortly, an older swami came down the road. He saw how tired Vishnu Swami looked. "Are you hungry, Swamiji?" he asked. The reply, of course, was "Yes." "Then follow me," the old man said. Vishnu Swami got up, followed the man to the next town, and was taken to a small house. There, a humble but plentiful feast was spread out before him. In later years, Swamiji often said that even with the frustration of seeing the food fall into the water, he did not despair. He always knew that God would take care of him.
Vishnu Swamiji made his way to Dwaraka, the ancient kingdom of Lord Krishna. He took the ferry to the island, but found nothing there but a desert.
Hungry and tired, he walked along the beach. Suddenly a man appeared. He filled Vishnu Swami's cloth with dates and peanuts. As Swamiji started to walk away, he realized that he had not properly thanked the man. He turned around to do so, but the man had vanished. There were no trees or rocks on the beach for the man to have walked behind! He had simply disappeared. Again, God had taken care of his sincere devotee.
In a weakened and emaciated condition, Swami Vishnudevananda returned to the Ashram. In spite of all the anguish his hasty departure had caused Master he welcomed him back with open arms. The return home brought physical and spiritual nourishment.
New vigor was to be seen in Vishnu Swamiji. The experiences of Parivrajak life gave him tremendous confidence and faith. He found that he was able to transcend body-consciousness during actual times of practising Pranayama and Dhyana. This also gave him extraordinary powers of endurance and incredible vitality for service. He was there ready, willing and eager whenever his hand was needed. 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.
Master Sivananda was a great man, not only in spirit, but in physical form as well. One time when his Mahasamadhi shrine was under construction, Master came to inspect the work. He laid down in the spot where his body was to be buried. It was too short and he ordered Vishnu Swamiji to make it larger to accommodate his massive body.
One of his gurubhais remembers, "Vishnu Swami used to go down to the Ganges often. He would swim, dive, and float on her waters in Matsyasana (fish position) with Plavini Pranayama. He could also cross the broad Ganges with her forcible currents, as he was a strong swimmer. Or he would climb to the top of buildings and swing down on a rope. By Pranayama, he could concentrate his Prana on any part of his body and pass his hands to the body of another and do Yogic Therapy."
One day during the course of some work, 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 have well said, "Someday you will go to the Moon." To him America was as far away as the moon.
In 1955, Devaki Amma came to the Ashram to visit her son; she was 55 years old at the time. She enjoyed, or rather, was overjoyed, with a dip in the Ganges. She visited the temple, embraced the Himalayas, and received the Darshana of Sri Gurudev. Understanding the dispassionate nature of her mind, Sri Gurudev asked her if she would like to take Sannyas. "Yes, Swamiji," she said. Thus, she too was initiated into the Holy Order of Sannyas and blessed with the name Swami Sivasarananda. She lived at the Ashram for about 10 years, rendering selfless service in the temple, in the kitchen, Akhanda Nama, and wherever else she could help. She spent her days in Sadhana and Satsanga. This lady who thus purified and sanctified her life was known in the Ashram as Vishnu Mataji (mother of Vishnu Swamiji).
Master loved her food very much, saying that it was very holy. One day, he said to Mataji, "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 remembers that he read the Gita en route.
Several years later, when Master told Swami Vishnuji to go to the West, it was this same P.J. Parr who sent him part of the money to travel.
"Ekante Sakhamasyatam" ("Sit quietly in solitude") sings Sri Sankara. This Sadhana in solitude was dear to Vishnu Swamiji. Hence, for this purpose Sri Gurudev arranged for a kutir to be built for him in the forest behind the temple of the Ashram. He lived there for some time and later lived in a solitary kutir (hut) in Ramnagar, some 3 miles away from the Ashram.
While he was living at Ramnagar, Vishnu Swamiji contracted malaria. A relentless high fever caused him to seek medical assistance. The quinine pills prescribed relieved the malaria, but left their toll. Intense stomach cramps gripped the young monk. It was a helpless condition. He could neither find a cure for the pains, nor discontinue the quinine, which was curing the malaria.
He still continued to take the quinine, and to suffer from the intense pain. One day, as he was walking around the Ashram, Vishnu Swami noticed an old Sannyasi who lived in the ashram next door. This man was known as a homeopathic doctor. On impulse, Swamiji went over to the man and told him of his illness. The man gave him a remedy for the cramps and soon Swamiji was cured.
Looking back, Swamiji often said that though he had visited many doctors, and had even seen this old man many times, no one had been able to help him. But when he had suffered enough, God worked through this old gentleman to take his pain away.
During his stay at Ramnagar, he told a visiting friend, "I cannot be satisfied with being here alone. I want to spread the knowledge of Yoga Vedanta everywhere."
It is interesting to note how these Samskaras (subtle impressions) manifested themselves. Sri Gurudev had cancelled his global tour after the arrangements had been made. Instead, it seemed like his global tour was taking place in reverse. Instead of himself going and meeting people in various countries, people from all over the world came seeking his Darshana.
Because of this, 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."
Swami Vishnudevananda set out for the West. Sylvia Heck of Montreal had visited the Ashram a year before; she later became Swamiji's secretary. When she heard that he was coming, she was overjoyed, and immediately sent the necessary funds for Swamiji to commence his journey.
Swamiji's travels were in steps. He would visit a place and teach. People always seemed to turn up to pay his ongoing passage.
The first stop outside of India was Ceylon. His programs in Jaffana and Kandi were arranged by Swami Muktananda, a close female disciple of Master.
Swami Satchidananda, who later founded the Integral Yoga Institute, was then living in Colombo. He welcomed his gurubhai and kindly arranged programs.
From Ceylon, Swamiji flew to Singapore where he was met by Gopal Krishna and members of the Divine Life Society. One of them, Mr. K.P.A. Menon, remembers that, "Some of the members of the Divine Life Society of Singapore, including myself, had assembled at the airport to receive Swami Vishnudevananda. The arrival of the plane from India was announced and we rushed out to meet the Swamiji. 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 him- self as Swami Vishnudevananda! Before the week was over, Swamiji was teaching Yogasana classes in the Ramakrishna Mission Hall."
At that time Singapore and Malay were politically one. Swami Pranavanandaji was in Kuala Lampur to arrange his gurubhai's program. He is now the director of the Divine Life Society branch there.
From Malaysia, Swamiji flew to Hong Kong. His classes, arranged by Mr. Vasudevan of the Hindu Temple, were well received. Many Ambassadors and Government Ministers attended. These people were mainly Buddhists and used to meditate. They found Yoga to be in keeping with their religious practices and were grateful to the young Swami. While he was in Hong Kong, a Practical Guide for Students of Yoga was published. Many of the pictures of Swamiji in the Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga were taken from this book.
In Hong Kong, Swami Vishnuji met Mr. & Mrs. Modic. They were stationed there with the American Foreign Service. Paul Modic had Multiple Sclerosis, which was cured by doing Yoga. The Modics helped Swamiji to start the Center there. It was they who arranged Swamiji's visa to the United States.
Indonesian Police Chief R.S. Sukanto had the good fortune to visit the Sivananda Ashram the previous year. He had the Darshana 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, Sukanto gave him an International Driver's License. Vishnu Swami 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 traveler had to have one as well. Learning to drive would come later.
After Indonesia came Australia. This was the first "white man's country" for Swamiji. He landed in Perth, the city of beautiful roses, and traveled to Melbourne. There he gave classes auspices of the Board of Adult Education. The director of this program to his friend in America, Dr. Marcus Bach, who was then Professor of Religion at Iowa University. Dr. Bach invited Swamiji to visit when he in the U.S. and later wrote the Forward to the Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. Olgert Kaugert was Swamiji's host while in Melbourne; he later moved to San Francisco and organized classes there for Swamiji. He had been to the Ashram in Rishikesh, and was the one to pay for the final leg of Swamiji's journey. Kaugert arranged a large program which 400-500 people attended. The next day the newspapers reported on it saying that Swamiji looked like Jerry Lewis.
While in Sydney, students take Swamiji to the famous opera house where he heard his first opera. The way Swamiji describes it, there were thousands of people all having a wonderful experience. But there was one person hearing the same thing but experiencing something very painful - that was Swamiji. He usually goes on to say that it is all a matter of what you are accustomed to; this was his first acquaintance with Western music.
During a brief visit to Hawaii, Swamiji stayed with Mr. & Mrs. A. 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 had been contacted by Sylvia Heck and were there to welcome him. Swamiji stayed at their home, and everyday they drove him to San Francisco where he conducted classes.
It was at this time that Swamiji first met Mr. Vidya Channon of San Francisco. Channonji, as he is lovingly known, has remained one of Swamiji's greatest devotees.
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 where Judith Tyberg arranged his program. Classes were in her home and later at Indira Devi's place. 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.
Swamiji says that while in Los Angeles he learned what the two things are that Americans think of all the time: how to reduce and where to park.
From the testing at UCLA, he earned $50 a day. This seemed a vast sum of money to him at the time. He bought himself an old Packard and drove eastward crisscrossing 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 got to see much of America and to learn about its people.
He visited Dr. Marcus Bach in Iowa. From Iowa, he continued to Minneapolis and then drove up to Canada. In Ottawa, Swamiji was hosted by the Masseys; Mrs. Massey was the daughter-in-law of the Governor General of Canada at that time.
Swami Vishnudevanandaji 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 has continued to work with Swamiji for all these years. She has proven herself to be the strongest pillar 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.
Students 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 traveled to New York, but stayed only a few days. A gentleman named Marshall Davis came to his classes and convinced him to come to Florida.
Classes were arranged in a church in Miami, Louise Osis was one of his students; she attended an Asana class but when the time came to do a headstand, she did not try. So Swamiji stood her on her head. To his amazement, she did a perfectly straight headstand and did not come down. Finally, she asked him to lower her, explaining that she had been in an accident and her entire body was in an iron corset.
But Swami Vishnuji still had the idea of setting up his headquarters in New York. After conducting classes in West Palm Beach, he returned there. His student Marshall Davis helped to arrange 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.
From the Church, 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. Swami Chidananda, the current President of the Divine Life Society, arrived and it seemed that everything was going according to plan.
But someone in New York saw Swami Vishnudevanandaji's movement as a threat to his own money-making interests. He had a fancy studio and plans to "sell Yoga" to rich people. Therefore, he wrote an anonymous letter to the immigration people saying that Swami Vishnuji was in the country illegally. They investigated and found that he had a tourist visa. Swami Vishnu could not teach classes until his status was changed.
At this point, Swamiji had started working on the Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. One of his students took the outline to Arthur Ceppos of Julian Press. They immediately signed a contract to print the book and gave the starving author a $200 cash advance.
As Swamiji often says, "That $200 literally saved my life and created the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers around the world."
Classes were continued in New York under the direction of Elsie Berne while Swamiji went to Montreal to straighten out his immigration status. It was because of this letter incident that the Headquarters of the Sivananda Yoga Vendanta Centers came to be near Montreal even though Swamiji had tried to plan otherwise.
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 traveling expenses. He now laughs at the absurdity of the idea.
Swami Chidanandaji came to Montreal to help run the Stanley Street Center when Swami Vishnudevanandaji left for Rishikesh with Dr. Ian Kent to see Master.
During the summer, it was noticed that class attendance dropped off drastically, especially on weekends. Swamiji wondered what people did instead. He learned that they drove to the Laurentian Mountains for a rest. 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. It was now that Swamiji first realized that here were people ready and eager for Spiritual Knowledge. They had great strength and resources, but lacked inner discipline. They were ready and eager to learn Swamiji's five basic principles: proper diet, proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, positive thinking and meditation.
One day while meditating, Swamiji saw a beautiful light to the north and felt an irresistible 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, Swamiji intuitively knew that this was the spot. He and students worked hard. They had to chop down trees, clear the land, and get things ready. That summer the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Camp was opened.
It was the summer of 1963 on the opening day of the Summer Camp at the Sivananda Ashram at 8th Avenue, Val Morin, its present site. Swami Vishnudevanandaji received a telegram from the Divine Life Society about the serious condition of Master Sivananda. Because of unavoidable circumstances, Swamiji found it difficult to leave Canada for India. He therefore telegraphed the Ashram to find out Master's exact condition. The answer came that it was improving, and Swamiji cancelled 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. In the tent next to Swamiji's slept one of his students, a French Canadian named Andre. It was approximately three AM on July 17, 1963 that Swamiji was awakened by a familiar sound, "Vishnu Swami, wake up." At first Swamiji thought that Andre had called him from the next tent. So without getting up from bed, Swamiji called Andre to ask him if he had called. "No, Swamiji," came the answer. But again the familiar voice "Vishnu Swami" came so clear that Swamiji arose. Only then did he realize that it was no other person than his Master who had appeared in his tent to comfort him and assure him that he had not abandoned his disciples. "I am ever with you," he said. Swamiji immediately called Andre to wake up, meditate, and feel the presence of Master. Swamiji then went into deep meditation. He later said that he could feel Master trying to lift his mind to higher planes.
Though this experience lasted only a few minutes, it removed all sorrow and grief, for 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 all the campers, arranged a special puja, and informed them that he planned to build a temple on the holy spot where Master had appeared. A foundation stone was laid in the presence of all. Mr. Wayne Myers of Nassau, who was staying at the Camp at the time, gave a generous contribution to build the Temple.
The Bulgarian artist, Mr. Stefanoff, designed the temple. In July, 1965, it was officially inaugurated by His Excellency, Mr. B.A. Acharya, High Commissioner of India to Canada. Representatives of all faiths were present at the ceremony. The unique bust of Master was created by Mrs. Blanche Howard, a student from New York.
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, which is where he came under the influence of the Maharishi.
Later in the year, Swamiji was flying to New York and read in a newspaper how some hippies had been evicted from their homes. They were looking to buy an island. Swamiji felt compassion and immediately flew to London to help them. While he was in London, he sent 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.
The newspapers 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 abandoned. But, the former hippies discovered the truth in Swamiji's teachings, and inaugurated the first Sivananda Yoga Center in London.
Swamiji was invited to speak in Nassau, Bahamas. There he came to know Mrs. Natalie Boswell. She was so impressed with the work that Swamiji was doing that she agreed to rent her 4 acre estate on Paradise Island to him on a 99 year lease. Her lawyers were adamantly opposed to the plan, and attempted to stop the rental of this valuable property. But Swamiji had seen a magnificent aura over the land, and he had confidence that this would be the site of his second Ashram. In the end, it proved to be so.
But, even after the lease was signed, the Yoga Retreat ran into difficulties. One day, Swami Vishnuji was walking down the street with his friend and student Wayne Myers. They had been trying for days to obtain a certain necessary permit, but with no success. Suddenly Swamiji had the idea of paying a visit to Prime Minister Pindling who had presided over some yoga conferences held the previous year. They went to the office and convinced his secretary to announce them to the Prime Minister. Mr. Pindling invited them in and asked why they had come. Swamiji explained that they were trying to open a Yoga Retreat and would like to have his blessings. The Prime Minister gave it to them gladly. Swamiji went to the permit office and announced that he had the blessings of the prime minister to start the Yoga Retreat. The permit was his the next day and the Retreat opened its doors in 1967.
It is curious to note that on the exact same day as the Retreat opened, a big casino opened for business on the other end of the Island. Swamiji cites this as the workings of the law of karma. For every action there is a 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 vacationers usually come to gamble, drink and make merry, the retreat's sattvic atmosphere provides an atmosphere of health and well-being.
Swamiji believes 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 -it was a holy spot during the time Atlantis.
Other Ashrams were established. In August, 1971 land was purchased to establish the Vrindavan Yoga Farm Sivananda Ashram. Nestled in the foothills of California's Sierra Mountains, it is 60 acres of beautiful rolling hills, which Swamiji has often claimed his favorite spot. It is here that he tries to take some time in seclusion each year.
It is named after the holy city of Vrindavan in India, home of Lord Krishna. Often, on nights of the full moon, you can "see" Krishna and the Gopis dancing the Rasa Lila.
There are several beautiful ponds. One of them is filled with fish rescued by Swamiji. He had gone to a local State Fair where one of the entertainments was to pay a certain amount to catch fish in a large tub. Swamiji's compassionate heart reached out once again. He bought all of the fish and had them transported to the Farm and put in the pond where they would be safe from such cruel and senseless sports.
On one of the hills overlooking the Farm is a beautiful Siva Temple, inaugurated by Swamiji in September, 1977. There is a small meditation pond filled with gold fish and lotus plants. A Siva Linga sits in the middle of it with oblations of water continually pouring onto its head. There is also the beautiful black statue of Lord Narayana which was given to Swamiji by his gurubhai Swami Venkatesanandaji.
Swamiji often sits on the hill and says to his students, "Just look around you. What more could you ask for? The Lord has given you everything."
On July 1, 1974, a fourth Sivananda Ashram was inaugurated. This is the beautiful Ranch Colony in Woodbourne, N.Y. As with the other Ashrams, Swamiji bought it because of the strong spiritual vibrations he felt there.
Shortly before Swamiji first saw the Ranch, one of his greatest supporters left his body. In his will, he left $25,000 to Swamiji personally. This money was used as the down payment on the Ranch. Mr. Myers helped us with his beautiful donation so that New Yorkers could have a beautiful Ashram within driving distance of the City. In the Fall of 1976, Swamiji inaugurated a Durga Temple there.
It was in the temple at the Ashram on Paradise Island that Swamiji had an unsettling vision that was to have tremendous effect on his life. He had a vision of a rush of people tearing down the walls and barriers that exist between nations and peoples. He could not at first believe this frightening vision, but knew from past similar experiences that whatever he envisions will sooner or later materialize on this physical plane.
This vision was the inspiration for the TWO (True World Order). This organization aims at promoting peace and understanding. One outgrowth of this has been Swamiji's Teachers' Training Courses. Its aims are to train the future leaders and responsible citizens of the world in Yogic disciplines. True Brotherhood and Peace can only exist where there are strong and self-controlled leaders to set an example for the masses. It is of vital importance that leaders have inner vision and inner peace. Not until men have this inner peace can they hope to establish global peace.
Father Dan O'Hanlan, a Jesuit priest who took the Teacher's Training Course said of Swamiji:
"His teaching style was one of somehow compelling the student into the orbit of his personal magnetism. With his eyes, his gestures, his powerful voice and gut laughter, he created an area of powerful force into which the student was absorbed willy-nilly. One characteristic device he constantly used was the unfinished sentence, repeated with compelling insistence until one or all would fill in the blank. 'What everyone really wants is - ? What everyone really wants is -? Sleeping at one of Swamiji's lectures was well-nigh impossible."
In 1969, Swamiji conducted the first Teachers' Training Course at his Ashram Headquarters in Val Morin. Later, similar courses were established in Nassau and Grass Valley, California. That same summer, Swamiji convened a Conference of Religions at Val Morin. Among those attending were Rabbi Gelberman of New York's Little Synagogue and Swamiji's gurubhais Swamis Chidananda (President of the Divine Life Society), Venkatesananda, Sivapremananda, Satchidananda (founder Integral Yoga Institute), Sahajananda (Director, South African Branch, Divine Life Society), and Pranavananda (of Kuala Lampur).
In 1970, rock festivals were very popular. As a sattvic alternative to this, Swamiji presented a Yoga Peace and Music Festival in August. Many dancers and musicians came from India for the event including Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, and famous veena player Balachandran. Over 2000 people attended. The highlight of the event was seeing the entire Teachers' Training Class walk over burning coals, led by Swamiji. They had purified themselves for weeks in advance with fasting, observing brahmacharya, and special pujas. These were all ordinary American students who had for the most part never believed that such things were possible. Yet, the power of their austerities permitted them to perform this seeming "miracle".
Special note must be made here of the outstanding contributions made by Pat Guy and Irene Roy (Swami Saradananda). It was their hard work and loving devotion which made this festival possible. They were the hands that worked dynamically to bring these visions into reality.
As mentioned earlier, Swamiji had learned to fly and had gotten a pilot's license. In 1970, he purchased a twin engine Piper Apache. Beautiful designs were lovingly hand painted onto it by famous artist Peter Max. Swamiji had great plans for this small plane.
On August 30, 1971, he took off from Logan Airport, Boston on the first leg of his T.W.O. Round-the-World Peace Mission. With him was his student and co-pilot Bren Jacobson of Montreal. Their aim was to fly to the trouble spots of the world and spread the timeless and universal message of peace and love.
The first stop was Belfast. Swamiji and actor Peter Sellers marched together, chanting for peace and brotherhood. They handed out leaflets with this message of love as expressed in all the religions of the world.
Swamiji flew through Europe to Tel Aviv. On Oct. 6, he took off, heading across the war-ridden Suez Canal. When Israeli jets realized what he was doing, they buzzed the small plane, knocking it about with their powerful jet exhausts. Swami Vishnudevananda bombed them with flowers. On the other side of the Canal, this scene was repeated with the Egyptian Air Force. The small plane was almost shot down, but Swamiji retaliated, dropping flowers and pamphlets calling for peace.
The Egyptian planes forced Swamiji to land; he and his Jewish co-pilot were arrested. Instead of being upset at the prospect of being imprisoned, Swamiji was overjoyed. It seemed a perfect opportunity for engaging in Sadhana! There would be plenty of time to meditate. They were put into cells and food was brought to them - fresh dates, milk, and whole wheat bread. Once again, Swamiji had turned misfortune into fortune.
When the Egyptians learned that these two were not spies, they were treated as honored guests of the State. After a few days, they were permitted to take off and leave the country.
It is interesting to note that in 1977, Egyptian President Sadat took this same journey in the reverse direction. He flew from Cairo to Tel Aviv on a mission of peace. Let us pray that his efforts will bear fruit.
They continued eastward, bombing Pakistan and then India with their missiles of peace. Swamiji returned to Val Morin in time for Christmas, which was celebrated with new meaning that year.
Swami Vishnudevanandaji has never been afraid to say what he believes is right. He has spoken out publicly on many issues. If the press is not in favor of what he is trying to say and will not I write stories, he simply buys advertising space in the newspapers, informing the public of his views. He has often printed letters of commendation for world leaders whom he believes to be working for world peace. It matters not that the leader may be unpopular in his own country, or even the world, at the moment. Politics is a fickle business, and what Swamiji sees is the long range view, and he sees it without self-interest. When Kissinger and Nixon arranged a cease-fire in the Middle East, Swamiji praised their efforts. When Indira Gandhi tried to strengthen India, though it lost her the control of the government, Swamiji applauded her bravery.
As a citizen of Canada, a resident of Quebec, and an airplane pilot, Swamiji publicly condemned a prejudiced proposal to legally limit airplane communication to one language. In a half page ad in the Montreal Star, July 3, 1974, he said, "Respect for another's culture, religion, and language is essential for National and World peace. Continued prejudice can only reap disaster. Let the voice of freedom-loving Canadians be heard. Let us establish unity in diversity for a better Canada."
Swamiji's biggest campaign (to date) has been against what he considers to be unscrupulous business tactics of Transcendental Meditation. As Swamiji often tells the story:
One day while I was in seclusion at the Farm, I had been meditating and then went for a walk. As I returned to my trailer, I felt an uncontrollable urge to turn on the television, as though some force were compelling me to do it. This seemed very strange, as I don't watch very much television - and especially during the day, I never watch it. I just like to see the news in the evening so that I can hear what is happening with humanity.
But, this particular afternoon at about four, I turned on the television and found myself turning the dial. This was strange, as reception at the Farm is bad, as we are in the mountains and get only one station.
Suddenly a station came in very strongly. It was the Merv Griffin Show and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was on. So I sat down to watch. Oh, My God, you can't imagine how awful it was. My body began to shake all over. There were movie stars discussing meditation and saying how it had improved their tennis games. Having movie stars discuss meditation is like inviting barbers to discuss brain surgery. But there they were on the television doing it, and I knew that millions of people were watching them and getting the wrong ideas about meditation.
There was the Maharishi saying that he had copyrighted the mantras. Can you imagine copyrighting something that was discovered by the great sages thousands of years ago. It's like copyrighting the Ten Commandments. I knew I had to do something to inform the American people.
Americans are very gullible when it comes to spiritual matters. In India, if you try to sell a mantra, people will laugh at you. If you tell them that you have a mantra, they will say, "So what, everyone has a mantra." But here in America such concepts are new. People do not understand such things and are easily taken in.
In September, 1975, Swamiji began his campaign to inform the public about TM. He did so by placing an ad in the Los Angeles Times entitled "Mantras and Meditation, Fancy, Fiction and Fact." This also appeared in Newsweek on Jan. 19, 1976, as well as various newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.
When Swamiji returned from his India tour in June, 1977, he was horrified to learn that TM had been advertising "Levitation by Mere Intention through Transcendental Meditation." Again, he felt his body shake violently, but tried to put it out of his mind. However every time he sat down and tried to meditate, it would come into his mind. Swamiji often says, "Whenever I feel compelled to do anything, I first stop and watch my mind just to make sure that I am not doing it for selfish reasons. I watch my mind constantly. In the case of TM, I had to make sure that jealously was not involved. That's why I waited a few days before acting. But Master would not let me be." Swamiji felt that it was imperative that he inform the public about what he called the "Greatest Himalayan Hoax ever perpetrated on the Human Mind, by TM."
Swami Vishnudevanandaji visited Spain in November, 1976. The Sivananda Center in Madrid was one of the most active and energetic. Swamiji was there not only to give the usual lectures, but also to make the plans for the proposed Symposium Yoga: Man and his World to be held in Marbella in April. The director of the Madrid Center, Swami Sivajyotirmayanandaji drove Swamiji to the proposed site of the event. All was well. They decided to stay the night and ferry across to Gibraltar.
It was early the next morning; they were within a few miles of the ferry to Africa. The sun was shining and they were driving along chanting. Swamiji remembers that it reminded him of when he was at the Ashram in Rishikesh, they would often get up early to go through the streets of nearby villages to purify the streets with chanting.
Suddenly the car went out of control. Swamiji was thrown under the car and technically dead. But his karma on earth was not finished. He awoke to find himself in the hospital. He heard the doctors deciding to give him shots of valium for the pain and decided to use this as an opportunity to experiment. He summoned up all his psychic energies and tried to meditate, but found that the drug had a scattering effect on his mind. It was very difficult for him to meditate, but finally he managed to get his mind to one point and hold it there.
Swamiji said that he had always been against the use of drugs because of the way they treat the psychic system. After having first hand experience of what drugs do to the mind, Swamiji said that he understands why people take them and is more firmly against them than ever. Drugs are contrary to Yogic disciplines and he described the drug experience as follows: "Drugs cause the mind to experience a drifting sensation which is pleasant, as it allows one to disassociate from the body. However, in this drifting state it is very difficult to center the mind. If I, as a practitioner of mind control, found it difficult to center my mind, then I don't think beginners will have much luck. Some people take valium pills every day to 'relax and let go'. This drifting state is a very enticing sensual experience. If you allow the mind to do this too often, it gets into bad habits. It becomes more and more difficult to hold the mind onto a single point or thought. The mind starts experiencing things as though in a dream state."
Swamiji experienced much pain after his accident. His knee cap was broken and even after healing he found it difficult to sit cross legged for long periods.
The day after Christmas, 1976, Swamiji called the entire staff to his house in Val Morin and announced his intention of going into seclusion for a week. When he emerged, he said that the intense pain had proved to be a blessing. Through it he came to realize many things:
"My debts to the West are paid. But this does not mean that our relationship is over. It is time for each one of you to be a dynamo. No one is inferior or superior. I hope you will all work hard for the Organization and give me time to be with me. This is the first time in 20 years that you will be giving me a good rest. I am going to the Tirupathi Temple near Madras to be alone with the Lord. I am going to be a simple pilgrim, just one out of 600 million people. This will be the first time in many years that I will be able to go anyplace without a lot of fuss."
Swamiji left for his pilgrimage on January 10th. Soon afterwards, he sent a telegram saying, "Swamiji enjoying Bliss."
Two of Swamiji's students, Swami Gokulanandaji and Swami Sankaranandaji taught the Teachers' Training Course in Nassau in February, 1977 while Swamiji was on "vacation." He returned to Nassau in time for Sivaratri celebrations; he was looking rested and wonderfully energetic. But his close students could see he was beginning to withdraw from the world, turning inward more and more rapidly.
In May, 1976, Swamiji led a tour of approximately 60 people to Spain and India. It included the Symposiums on Yoga and Psychic Discoveries in Marbella, Spain and Bangalore, India. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell was the key speaker at both conferences. He was enthusiastically received, as were speakers Marilyn and John Rossner.
Swamiji announced his intention of bringing a revival of Yoga to India and carrying out Master's work there. He appointed a committee of dedicated workers and hopes to return to India for Sivaratri, 1978, to inaugurate a new center in the region of Coimbatore.
After Swamiji's return from India, a number of his students began to have intense psychic experiences. It seemed as though a new stage of Swamiji's life was opening up. Messages from Master began coming through various people. All of the events cannot be related here and now. However, careful records have been kept and Swamiji hopes that it will be possible to make this information available at some time in the future. He has permitted the following messages to be published here.
"If I take up a work, I will not leave it till I am myself satisfied with its completion. Till then not even hunger of thirst can halt the progress. I have never felt tired in the midst of any work I undertake. I cannot pay attention to anything I do not wish to know or do; and I can quickly grasp the idea to which I listen with attention."
"All things I am doing now, if I did not have great love and faith in my Master, I would not be able to do these things at all, not even the simple things. God gives me strength because of my devotion to my Master."
"Faith in God and in the Teacher is difficult. But it is the ancient Spiritual rule to choose one path and follow it. Stick to the five points I've given you; proper exercise, proper relaxation, proper breathing, proper diet, and positive thinking and meditation."
"If you see a human being, you get from him what a human being has to give. If you see a teacher, you get a teacher. If you see your Guru, you get a Guru. If you see in him God, you get God."
"Everyone who comes to me is karmically drawn for some purpose. I can see their talents and I know how to use them to help them work out their karma."
How is the Morning?
Question: How is today different from yesterday?
Answer: One day closer to death.
"Yogis should be able to affect their physical circumstances; their minds should be strong enough to make so called 'miracles' happen."
"My energy is like that of a volcano - a spiritual volcano. A volcano is never extinct, though it may be temporarily inactive. That's what the Lord said to me; He's not going to keep me as a recluse. My energy always bounces back."
"The mind can never be satisfied. It always wants more."
"Who am I? I can change my name, change my nationality. I was born an Indian, now I'm a Canadian. What if they give me Jewish blood, a pig's liver, and a baboon heart. Now, who am I?"
"I guarantee that as long as you are breathing, you are not dead. If anyone dies and continues breathing, please let me know and I will refund their money."
"What will happen if you all go into Samadhi? Poor Swamiji will be left behind to do all the work."
Whenever we visit, Swamiji asks, "Mother is everything alright?" He makes sure the "little me" is comfortable. My soul feels comfort at Val Morin; it is more than a home to me. - Anandi Narayani Gajjar
Swami Vishnudevananda is a spiritual hurricane around the globe. He is the most dynamic of all the living Yogis. Now he is in Val Morin, next hour in Washington, D.C. and then suddenly in European countries. Like Lord Vishnu, he flies his own Garuda and he is everywhere. - a tribute by Sant Keshavadas on Swamiji's 50th birthday
Anna Charles recalls her first sight of Swamiji, "He was a short, dark young man in a swimming suit. All my romantic ideas of a swami arrayed in flowing robes with long hair and beard sitting serenely and composed on a tiger skin ready to bless me were shattered. I had never felt the presence of a more domineering and confident man." She burst into tears but something made her stay at the Camp.
She has been a frequent guest at the Ashram and has worked energetically to spread Swamiji's teachings. Anna tells the story of a subsequent visit to Val Morin. "Swamiji had decided to build a platform so that we would not have to do asanas on the ground. He had the plans drawn up, but everyone criticized the size he wanted to make it. Here we had 15-20 students in each class and he wanted to build a platform to accommodate over a hundred people. We all argued with Swamiji about this extravagance. But, he was adamant in saying that more people would come as the Camp grew. He was, of course, right in this."
Max and Rose Rosenstone were among Swamiji's first students in the West, and worked devotedly with him for many years. Mrs. Rosenstone says that of the many things Swamiji taught her, three made great impact on her life:
- The importance of integrating physical, mental, and spiritual faculties.
- "Tis better to give, because only in giving do we receive."
- Most important: He led me to Master Sivananda.
Swami Vishnudevananda when he joined Sivanandashram in 1947 was so simple, humble, loving, and jovial with all. Now he is an international figure, yet worldly Maya has not overpowered him. He is still very simple, loving, humble and child-like, in spite of all his worldly achievements. This is the characteristic of a true Yogi. I have great admiration, love and respect for Swami Vishnudevananda, I pray to Ganga Matha to Bless him with long life, good health so that he can help people to become True Yogis like himself. - Swami Sharadananda, Swami Vishnu's Gurubhai
Swamiji is very strict in teaching Yoga disciplines to his students. At the same time, he is very affectionate. He is like a child with all the little children. - Bharat Gajjar
Having long known Swami Vishnu, I am well acquainted with his stunningly direct approach to... well, almost anything. But, I have also come to believe that his strategic skill rivals that of an army of generals. - Ashok Charles
Recorded Lecture Series
Ongoing project to convert Swami Vishnu's tape-recorded lectures and talks into mp3 format for download on the web.Listen to mp3: