A journey to humility: That turns out to be a fair description of documentary filmmaking in Yogaville, according to Jeff Ananda Kamen, who just premiered his latest documentary, “Mataji: The Devoted Life of Swami Gurucharanananda.” Mataji is the seniormost Integral Yoga monk who recently celebrated her 90th birthday and 70th anniversary as a monastic.
Forty six years after producing the first American TV documentary about Yoga in the USA for WNET/13, I found myself back in a video editing room, waiting for the computer to finish rendering a documentary about a 90-year-old woman who is a great American Yoga master. She teaches lives and breathes the Integral Yoga teachings brought to the USA by Sri Swami Satchidananda. He was the subject of my 1973 film, Yoga For The City.
Forty-one years after I last saw Swami Satchidananda, I moved to Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville, the ashram he built in the forest of Central Virginia. The place rescued my failing health and gave me a second act at life. I thought I was the oldest person in Yogaville until I encountered my first Hatha Yoga teacher. She had 15 years on me and moved as though on a cloud. This is what Swami Satchidananda and a few of his senior students have said about this remarkable soul:
“If you want an example of what real devotion is, there is an example here in Mataji.” ~Sri Swami Satchidananda
“I look at how everybody adores Mataji and I see something, which is that her eyes are so kind and she cares about everybody and she loves everybody. That is very unusual. She likes everything she does, she is interested in everything, she goes to every program. She is teaching a class right now.” ~Swami Hamsananda
“She is the only adult I know who is genuinely childlike. She shows up as pure innocent delight.” ~Rev. Prakash Shakti Capen
Almost two years ago, I was set on a course to the premiere of Shakticom’s new documentary, Mataji: The Devoted Life of Swami Gurucharanananda celebrating Mataji’s 90th birthday and her life of devoted service. I didn’t know two years ago that my assignment would become the latest addition to my own sadhana (spiritual practice) and tapasya (spiritual austerity).
In the process of making the film, I reached out to Integral Yogis here in the USA and all over the world. I photographed our beloved Mataji everywhere, adoring her even more each time. Pointing a camera at a spiritual master is an increasingly intense experience of joy. Sam Eberle (Shakticom manager, Yogaville webmaster and the film’s narrator) and I interviewed her.
I confess to having really wanted to have a personal on-camera presence in this one-of-a-kind documentary. It just didn’t work out. Applying the same standard to my own performances as those of everyone else we interviewed kept leaving me on the cutting room floor. I made eleven increasingly desperate and borderline pathetic attempts. Finally, late the night before the premiere of the film, I surrendered and let go of my attachment and enjoyed dreamless restorative sleep.
The next morning, I woke up to a text message from the Yogaville Swami responsible for arranging the Saturday evening satsang programs. The film would be shown during the upcoming satsang. The message said it would be me who would introduce the film. I laughed long and hard, then made sure my white jacket was clean and ready to go. The program began at 7:30pm with Yoga chanting. Prior to introducing the documentary, I reassured everyone: “Don’t worry. I’m not singing.”
About the Author:
Award-winning journalist Jeff Kamen is the author of Warrior Pups: True Stories of America’s K9 Heroes and co-author with Robert Kupperman of Final Warning: Averting Disaster in the New Age of Terrorism. His New York Daily News Magazine cover story, “Facing the Terrorists,” provided readers with extraordinary access to the NYPD’s storied Bomb Squad. His news reporting and documentaries on national security, law enforcement, race relations, and politics have been featured on radio TV and in print for more than forty years. Kamen has reported for NPR, NBC News, ABC and CBS Radio, CBC and Mutual News. Jeff’s documentary, “Outside the Wire,” for the Air Force won the top prize for Pentagon-produced films in 2005.