Truth-Consciousness-Bliss: Celebrating 50 Years of Swami Satchidananda’s Integral Yoga

त्यं ब्रूयात्प्रियं ब्रूयान्न ब्रूयात्सत्यमप्रियम् ।
प्रियं च नानृतं ब्रूयादेष धर्मः सनातनः ॥

satyam brūyat_priyam brūyan_na brūyāt_satyam_apriyam
priyam cha nānṛitam brūyādéṣha dharmaḥ sanātanaḥ ~Manusmriti 4:138

The above verse is from an ancient Sanskrit scripture which says, “Say what is true, say what is sweet, but do not say what is true, but not sweet, nor say what is sweet but not true—so no harsh truths and no sweet lies.” Swami Satchidananda was the embodiment of this perennial wisdom. He walked this Earth as truth, consciousness, and bliss. For the many years that I had the good fortune of his blessed association, I experienced his ability to draw what was best out of a situation, as well as out of people. He spoke the sweet truth, conveying what was good and beautiful in the world and in people’s souls.

He may have had that keen ability of an accomplished master to see God everywhere, referred to in the yogic teachings as sarvatmabhav. In his presence fear, worry, self-consciousness, and complaints about other people appeared as they really were: small and petty. He taught us many invaluable lessons, for example: to always remain calm and cultivate a peaceful mind and a useful body; to not worry about what other people think of you instead—focus on what God thinks of you. If people gossip and spread unkind lies about you, respond to them as if it was a wrong number and simple hang up the phone. He demonstrated how the cure for disease is selflessness; to become well all one has to do is to simply drop the “I” and replace it with “we.” “I-llness to we-llness” was one of his many brilliant contributions to medical science. He said that the way to be happy is to bring happiness to others. He reminded us that God is the ultimate doer and so he advised us to do our best and let God do the rest.

David [Life] and I met Swami Satchidananda twenty-three years ago. We had been invited to present an asana dance performance at the 6th Unity in Yoga Conference held during Memorial Day weekend, May 27-31, 1993, in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. The conference celebrated 100 years of Yoga in America. The lineup of esteemed presenters makes current Yoga conferences seem quite pale. On arrival I was star-stuck at the list of conference presenters, which included, internationally known Yoga masters: Sri Brahmananda Saraswati, (who was to become my own Guru-ji), Yogi Bhajan, Amrit Desai, Dr. Pratap, Lilias Folan, Kali Ray, Rama Jyoti Vernon (who founded Unity in Yoga, which became the Yoga Alliance and the luminous, elegant, incomparable, Swami Satchidananda—the celebrated “Woodstock Guru.” I was told at the time that he was almost 80 years old, which I could not believe—his complete physical composure and the twinkle in his eyes conveyed a timeless enlightened soul beneath the ochre robes of a swami.

Our asana dance performance was scheduled as part of the closing ceremony on the final day of the conference. I remember being backstage in the large auditorium and peeking through the curtains to see if anyone had showed up for the show, as we were told that most people would leave the conference early in order to beat the traffic. But there he was—Swami Satchidananda sitting front row center next to Yogi Bhajan! I excitedly ran back to the dressing room to tell the other members of our company. David, who was focused rehearsing his solo—which was to appear as the finale, freaked out. “What? I can’t go out there and perform dressed like this, in front of them!” Actually David was not so much worried about being dressed as being undressed. Our Yoga dance piece was titled “Shakti Rising” and it was an interpretation of the rising of kundalini or consciousness through the seven chakras.

David was dancing the crown or sahasrara chakra and he was very scantily clad in only a dance belt, which covered his front but left his buttocks exposed. His solo was done entirely while he was standing on his head with his back to the audience—which meant he would be literally baring his buttocks—albeit with a colorful snake painted on his body but non-the less bare buttocks—for all to see, including the most revered Swami Satchidananda. We all had to work very hard to convince David to go through with the performance, which he did, and he did a splendid job.

After the performance we were all backstage surrounded by people congratulating us. A woman approached us, who turned out to be Swami Satchidananda’s long time assistant, Premanjali, and she said, “Gurudev, Swami Satchidananda, would like to meet you.” David turned and promptly found the nearest exit. I ran after him only to find he had locked himself in the bathroom. When I knocked he emphatically declared, “I’m not going to stand there while he chastises me; I was crazy to go on stage in front of him—I’m too embarrassed.” After pleading with David to no avail, I turned to go back to the group…

Read the rest of this article in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.

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