Sri Swami Satchidananda’s Gift to the World

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Sri D. R. Kaarthikeyan (pictured at left with Swami Satchidananda), as  then-director of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, successfully investigated the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. He also served his country as director general of the Central Reserve Force and of the Human Rights Commission. Since his retirement, he has brought his deep understanding, knowledge and compassion to a more global sphere of influence in the fields of human rights, international justice and education. He publishes several spiritual magazines. Sri Kaarthikeyan was personally appointed by Swami Satchidananda (Sri Gurudev) as one of the key trustees of his residential school in India, Satchidananda Jothi Niketan. During the Double Anniversary celebrated in Yogaville in October 2006, Sri Kaarthikeyan offered the following loving tribute to Sri Gurudev.

In addition to celebrating the Double Anniversary (20th of the LOTUS and 40th of Integral Yoga) we should celebrate sixty years of Sri Gurudev’s being a social reformer who brought about a renaissance in religion. In his own nonviolent and charming way, he fought against social evils like untouchability in India. Even as a young man he fought against this and the system of dowry. He knew that the poor have no access to healthcare, so he went and studied homeopathy and naturopathy in order to serve those in need. Loving and lovable by nature, people used to stop him and say, “You look Christ-like.” It was not only the way he looked, but his eyes were full of grace and love and there was a twinkle in his eyes.

Just as so many yogis, saints and rishis in the past bestowed wisdom on India, Sri Gurudev was the master who effectively communicated the virtues, teachings of Yoga and the ancient wisdom of India to suit the western idiom, culture and environment. People in the West were frustrated with affluence—it didn’t bring them the peace and joy and what they expected. The Yoga classes designed by Gurudev bore a deep understanding of the circumstances in which they would be practiced.

He popularized the virtues of vegetarianism in the USA and elsewhere. He provided living proof of the positive effects of a clean, wholesome vegetarian diet on our body, mind and spirit. Combining medical training with such lifestyle intervention as Yoga, meditation and dietary changes, Dr. Dean Ornish proved, through a number of scientific studies, that Gurudev’s Yoga methods would not only stop the progress of coronary heart disease but also would reverse it. At that time it was a revolutionary finding but today, all science accepts it. Even if someone doesn’t want to accept the spiritual part of Gurudev’s teachings, they can understand what a unique and great contribution it is to introduce this type of preventive lifestyle that also reverses heart blockages.

In his bestseller, Reversing Heart Disease, Dr. Ornish wrote, “Swami Satchidananda used to always explain complex texts in easy to understand English and offer concrete examples drawn from our daily lives to support his lofty teachings. His talks and writings were laced with subtle humor but profound parables that had an immediate impact on seekers. He never drew divisive boundaries between spiritual life and material life. All life was spiritual and beautiful to him. His teachings and writings are full of effective and wise suggestions on the right path of life, the art and science of living. He used to give advice on every aspect from right diet to the right way in which we should manage our finances. The essence of his message was always peace. Peace among nations, peace among religions, peace in society and most importantly peace within the family and peace within the individuals. He believed and showed that personal transformation can lead to global transformation. Peace with oneself only can bring about peace in our world.”

Some of us find it hard to relate our present life to lessons and teachings given thousands of years ago. Sri Gurudev has gifted to the modern world, truth and wisdom that are valid for all time, in the most simplified manner to be understood by anyone. In his book, To Know Your Self, he explains how the principles of Integral Yoga can be used to live a life that is easeful, peaceful and useful and how one can find the path to inner peace. In this book, Gurudev expounds on topics of immediate relevance to western society, and in fact, today eastern society also needs it. His words appealed even to children, because they were light, lively and entertaining, yet the ideas they conveyed were so profound. He said, “If you want permanent peace, you will want to lead a dedicated life, constantly living for the sake of others, then nobody can disturb your peace. That sacrifice is the key to peace. Without peace there is no joy or happiness.”

You know very well how, in this turbulent world with all the comforts and conveniences that modern science and technology have brought about, we are still after that elusive peace. More wealth and more power have not brought about peace. Individuals are in shambles, with more suicides and more divorces, the more affluent the society; and the nations are in great fear of each other all the time. There is more fear today than a hundred years ago when we didn’t have this technology or science. There are 30,000 nuclear weapons officially admitted to be with nuclear power nations and each one of them has a hundred times more destructive capacity than what was dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. There is no guarantee that some terrorist groups don’t have access to at least some nuclear waste material. If people can hijack passenger planes and kill themselves in order to kill thousands of people whom they do not know, such people will not hesitate to use nuclear materials if they have them. This is a dangerous world in which we are living. We cannot create one life, but we have acquired the capacity to destroy everything that God has created.

Sri Gurudev was a great visionary—he thought of these things some fifty or sixty years ago. That’s why he was promoting interfaith harmony even in the 1950s in Sri Lanka. He was, as far as I know, the first person to think of the need for religions to understand, respect and honor each other. Once you do that you cannot have fanaticism and religious fundamentalism, which provokes some people to kill others who are following some other faith. Gurudev thought that, if at all there is a third world war, it will only be because of religious fanaticism. He was working to counter that through his interfaith work.

Gurudev himself didn’t belong to any one faith, group or country. He was dedicated to the principle that “Truth is one, paths are many.” He went anywhere he was asked to serve, bringing together people of all backgrounds and beliefs to learn to respect and honor all different paths and to realize their common spirit and the universality of their goal. He dreamed of a permanent place where all people could come together to individually to realize the one truth behind all the names of forms. The Light Of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS) is such a place. Opened in July 1986, the LOTUS is dedicated to the truth and light within all faiths. It stands as a glorious symbol of the teachings of Sri Gurudev that the truth is one but the wise call it by many names.

Peace was the message that Gurudev gave in 1969 when he opened the Woodstock Festival, which is still regarded as one of the epoch-making events. Musician Steve Booker, a drummer with Tim Hardin, met Gurudev onstage at Woodstock. He asked, “Sir, what is life about? Gurudev replied, “See those people in the audience? They are energy. You are energy and all of you musicians who have come together at Woodstock are energy. Now this energy of the audience has come to see the energy of all the different bands. When you go out there on the stage, if you are positive, you can help direct the energy of the audience to go positive. If you are negative you can help them to go negative. The choice is yours. And that is what life is. Life is energy with a choice of going positive or negative.” What a profound thought, so simply said. Mahatma Gandhi liberated India from the mighty British Empire without shedding a drop of blood. Another individual, Hitler, whose thoughts were negative, killed thousands and thousands of innocent people. Through these examples, we can understand what Gurudev was saying about the choice of energy going positive or negative. Steve Booker later received initiation from Gurudev, along with the spiritual name, “Muruga.” He said, “It took Woodstock for me to get that message, which some may not think is important but, for me,  it was the most important answer of my life.”

So great was their faith in Gurudev’s ability to convey the message of peace, that the organizers of Woodstock felt that if he were to set the tone and say something positive, then it would help the people to keep control of the event and it would give the festival a positive momentum. Gurudev said, “The future of the whole world is in your hands. You can make or break. But, you are really here to make the world and not to break it.  I am seeing it. There is a dynamic manpower here. The hearts are meeting…Here, I really wonder whether I am in the East or West. If these pictures or the films are going to be shown in India, they would certainly never believe that this is taken in America. For here the East has come into the West. The whole world is watching you. The entire world is going to know what the American youth can do for humanity. America is helping everybody in the material field, but the time has come for America to help the whole world with spirituality also.” How prophetic that was. Now, teachers born in America and elsewhere are teaching Yoga in India, and they are treated with great respect and admiration.

Sri Gurudev was a true Yogi. Even his master, Sri Swami Sivananda praised Gurudev and gave him titles like “Yogiraj.” This was very rare, particularly because Gurudev was so young at that time.  In a letter from March 1962, Swami Sivananda wrote, “Yogiraj Swami Satchidananda has been doing excellent work in the field in Yoga. His services are invaluable and countless people have been benefited. He has made innumerable people health-minded, and inspired all towards higher ideals. His sincerity and spirit of Karma Yoga seva endeared him to thousands who refer to him as their Yoga Guru.” This was 45 years ago, and Gurudev’s services had not yet been felt in the west. That is how a boy, known as Ramaswamy, born in a farming family in a remote area, transformed into Sambasiva Chaitanya, then Yogiraj, than Sri Swami Satchidananda, universally respected and affectionately called Sri Gurudev. That is why I call him a “Jagat Guru” (World Guru), because he traveled all over the globe and was treated with great respect wherever he went. Speaking about himself he humbly said, “I believe God is using me as an instrument. I am just there like a river is there. Those who want to come and take a bath may do so. Those who do not want to, do not have to.”

Sri Gurudev’s contribution, at a critical phase in America’s history, is unique. It will be remembered forever, not only by those who had the good fortune of seeing him, knowing him and working with him, but even by the multitudes who are guided on the right path of understanding, peace and harmony by his teachings, which will continue to illuminate this land forever.

Once someone asked Mother Theresa why, when she couldn’t possibly help all those on the streets of Calcutta infected with leprosy, AIDs or who are homeless, she did the service she did. She replied, “I may not be able to do everything, but that doesn’t mean I should do nothing. What little I can do, I will continue to do. Like throwing a pebble into a vast lake, the ripples will go to the shore, but you may not see them.” Any good deed done by us, any compassion  given to someone, has a ripple effect. Though the world may look hopeless, we can make it a peaceful world if all of us have hope and follow Sri Gurudev’s teachings.

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