Those who have been blessed to call themselves disciples and devotees of His Holiness Sri Gurudev Swami Satchidanandaji know the special grace of having a Satguru. Not only a Satguru, Sri Gurudev is a Tamil Siddhar (Siddha in other regions; realized saint) and what is referred to as a Trikala Jnani—a sage who has the knowledge of past, present, and future. The concept of Siddhas and Siddhars is traced back to the Sangam period (500 BCE – 500 CE or 300 BCE – 300 CE) by some scholars. It is also closely linked with the origin and development of Saivism, Tamil Saiva Siddhanta philosophy, and Nondual Saiva Tantra.
According to Shvetashvatara Upanishad (Ch. I, verses, 3,5,7), the Siddhars are those who possess “superhuman” powers. Sri Gurudev’s ancestral history is filled with relatives who were mystics, sannyasis, and yogis. His mother was initiated by Siddhar Sadhu Swamigal, who gave her a mantra to invoke the Divine Light as manifested in the Sun. She repeated it constantly, developing within a vibration conducive to receiving the type of spiritual soul she desired. Gurudev spent much of his youth and early adult life immersed in the Tamil Siddhar and Saiva Siddhanta culture, staying with various Siddhars throughout South India. He would talk about his experiences from time to time and also warned of the dangers of mystical powers (siddhis) as they could be distractions on the spiritual path, and even dangerous, without proper maturity.
Over the years, Sri Gurudev gave many indications about his Mahasamadhi (a realized saint’s conscious final exit from the physical body) and particularly over the six months prior to his leaving the body in August 2002. In February 2002, Sri Gurudev gave his grandson, Mr. A. Murugesan (Murugesh) all the necessary instructions for the Mahasamadhi rituals. It took from February until the beginning of August to gather all the required items in India. Four days prior to his Mahasamadhi, Sri Gurudev was informed that all the supplies were carefully gathered and ready in Chennai. Murugesh asked Sri Gurudev if the items should be shipped by sea or, since he was en route to Chennai, if he wished to check them prior to shipping. Sri Gurudev’s reply was: “Let them be kept ready in Chennai, and I will bring them back with me to Yogaville.”
Indeed, these materials were brought back by Sri Gurudev to Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville in Virginia; they accompanied his body on the return to America for the Mahasamadhi ceremonies. Sri Gurudev knew when he would leave the body, planned that he would leave in Mother India, and prepared his disciples brilliantly for Mahasamadhi.
At the time of his Mahasamadhi, I had had the incredible grace and blessing to serve Sri Gurudev as his personal assistant and the executive director of his international secretariat for 24 years. In addition, I served as his traveling assistant over those decades, serving him and his global service to the best of my ability. During those decades, I had the opportunity to hear Sri Gurudev speak about numerous subjects, including that of leaving his body. After his Mahasamadhi, I poured over my notes on this subject—Sri Gurudev’s comments in the years closest to 2002, notes of conversations I made between Sri Gurudev and particular devotees, as well as transcripts of talks where he spoke about this eventual occurrence.
Over the years, Sri Gurudev spoke extensively about the Guru-disciple relationship. He often addressed the theme in a particular way, explaining that: “The Guru is not the body, not even the mind. The real Guru is the teaching. That Guru will always be with you. He will never die. He will never disappear from your life. “The real Guru is the teaching” forms the basis of Gurudev’s philosophy on the subject of the Guru-disciple relationship, and points to the ancient teaching of Guru-tattva—the principle of the Guru being a luminous beacon of transmission of a tradition and its teachings.
Many people have asked me questions since Sri Gurudev’s Mahasamadhi, such as: “Who is replacing Sri Gurudev?” “Did Sri Gurudev name a successor?” “Who is in charge now?” “Will Sri Gurudev reincarnate to be with us again?” Sri Gurudev answered all these questions prior to Mahasamadhi, and over the years, in discussions that I will share with you.
But, there’s another aspect that the principle of Guru-tattva doesn’t really address: the more devotional aspect of Sri Gurudev‘s direct and very active relationship with his devotees. In a moment, we will consider this very subtle and yet most important distinction in understanding Sri Gurudev’s clear, eternal promises to those devoted to him as their Satguru. First, there is the incredibly heart-centered, personal relationship between Gurudev and his devotees.
During the summer of 2002, Sri Gurudev spent a lot of time meeting with devotees who came to Yogaville from far and wide to have his Darshan. He gave each of them a consistent message. I recall particularly two devotees, Suguna Feldman and her daughter Padma, who came from Santa Fe, New Mexico, in early July to visit Sri Gurudev. They were taking leave of Sri Gurudev, and I told them I’d go outside and pull the car up to take them back to the Lotus Guest House. I pulled the car up, but they had not come out yet–although, a minute before, they were right behind me. They emerged a few minutes later, got into the car, and said, “Wow, that was something!” I asked what they meant. Suguna replied, “As we were leaving, Gurudev called us back in. He took out some vibhuti (holy ash) and applied it to our foreheads. Then, he placed one hand on my shoulder and the other hand on Padma’s shoulder. He looked deeply into our eyes and said, ‘Remember, I will be with you always.’”
This is the same message Sri Gurudev gave to many devotees over the months prior to his Mahasamadhi. It was not unlike Sri Gurudev to say this, particularly when invited to attend a function or occasion in which he was not able to participate physically. He often asked me to let those inviting him know that he would be with them “in Spirit” for this or that occasion. And I had no doubt that Sri Gurudev meant that literally. Even more, in the months leading up to Mahasamadhi, this was an utterance that took on deeper meaning.
On August 10, 2002, Mrs. Rukmini Rasiah (Amma), who is in charge of Sri Gurudev’s Fine Arts Society, phoned him in India to seek his blessings for the annual Bharata Natyam dance camp’s graduation program. This is a program that Sri Gurudev often attended, but, due to his travels in 2002 year, he was in India at the time of the graduation. Amma said to Sri Gurudev, “We are seeking Your blessings as usual for the graduation this evening.”
Sri Gurudev replied, “Yes, Amma, you have all my blessings and I will be there with you in Spirit.” Then, Amma, not wanting to take more of Gurudev’s time since he was busy with his travel program, thanked him and was about to hang up the phone. Suddenly, and uncustomarily, Sri Gurudev called out to Amma and said, “Amma, one more thing. Remember: I will always be with you all in Spirit.”
Over the years, Sri Gurudev often spoke to me and to others about the limitation of his physical body. He said, “In a way, all the great sages, saints, and prophets, function better when they leave this limited body, which is almost a prison.”
In the early 1970s, Sri Gurudev was already mentioning how much more service he would do without the constraints of the body. Amma Kidd, who served as Sri Gurudev’s secretary during that time, told me the following story. Amma accompanied Sri Gurudev to the hospital to visit Swami Gurucharananandaji (Mataji) who was recuperating from an illness. On her nightstand, Mataji had placed pictures of Sri Gurudev and other saints. Sri Gurudev looked at them all with great interest. Pointing at a picture of Saint Thérèse de Lisieux, he inquired who she was. Mataji explained, and Amma told Gurudev that Saint Thérèse was practically hidden from the world during her life on earth, her saintliness known by only a very few. It was only after her passing that her “public life” began with the sudden flourishing of innumerable apparitions, miracles, and the worldwide publishing of her book.
Sri Gurudev became very silent and then said: “It is true; the body is a limitation. The time will come when I will no longer be confined in the body. Then you people will see what great things will happen. Great things.”
Just a few days prior to Sri Gurudev’s departure to India in July 2002, Amma Kidd sent him a letter by fax. In those days, fax machines were often more used than email, which became more mainstream only in the late 1990s. Amma was in the habit of keeping Gurudev informed about herself, her family, and various devotees and, rather than call him, if she was just informing him of things that needed no reply, she’d send a message to the fax at his residence. That evening, she was surprised to find a message from Sri Gurudev on her voicemail, saying: “Hello Amma, this is me. I received your fax.” The silence that followed was broken with the emphatic, thunderous utterance: “Remember you will never be without me. Never! The body may go, but I am always with you. Always!” Upon hearing the message, Amma felt a grip in her heart, but quickly attributed the message to the fact that he was going on a trip.
One of my primary duties over the years was to attend to and oversee the health of Sri Gurudev’s body. While he had a tremendous respect for the body as a temple, he had no patience for too much emphasis upon it. Sri Gurudev’s body enjoyed good health and tremendous vigor for service; and everyone knows what an active, vital and energetic life he lived. Sri Gurudev was always on the go. From the moment he left India in the 1950s, he was continually traveling through Southeast Asia on speaking tours. He was moving, moving, moving. I used to comment that when he came into this world with wheels on his heels.
His service enlivened him; it was his life’s breath. Vitally serving, he circled the globe many times over. Sri Gurudev never went anywhere uninvited; he constantly received invitations from many, many organizations worldwide. He was always on the go—speaking at Yoga conferences, peace summits, interfaith gatherings and so on. It was a service that he loved and was uniquely destined to perform.
After Guru Poornima in July 2002, Sri Gurudev set off for a tour of five countries, including India. In August, after attending a World Peace Conference in South India, he was hospitalized suddenly in Chennai. The evening before Sri Gurudev attained Mahasamadhi, he explained to those devotees gathered around him, “I can serve better without this body. I will be free to serve millions without the restrictions of this physical body, which is tying me down now. It will be a great blessing if my Atma (soul) can depart from the body here on the soil of Mother India and then go back to America.”
Nearly several decades later, Sri Gurudev’s Spirit pervades and his Presence continues to be clearly felt by many, many devotees. He is fulfilling every promise he made. He is forever our Satguru, the Spiritual Head and Guide of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and the entire Integral Yoga organization. He made it very clear that he was only “dropping the body” in order to serve us more fully and completely and unimpeded. He named no spiritual successor because there was no need to as he is actively with us.
Regarding the administration and management of the Ashram and organization, that continued as it did for years. More than ten years prior to Mahasamadhi, Sri Gurudev delegated the responsibilities of the administration and daily operations to a capable team of devoted disciples. A board of trustees continues those responsibilities as Sri Gurudev continues to guide the spiritual development of all his devotees and the Integral Yoga organization.
As to the question about whether Sri Gurudev would “incarnate” again to guide his devotees, he made it very clear to many of us that the reason he was “dropping the body” was to be able to serve more fully and widely. He never said he would reincarnate. He simply stated: “When I leave my body, I will continue to guide you from a higher level.” He always explained that, “The Guru-disciple relationship never ends. It’s always there. Whether the Guru leaves the body or the disciple dies. That relationship is eternal and Guru and disciple can never be separated.”
For those who didn’t have that relationship when he was in the physical body, that relationship is always available by attuning to him and to his teachings. For those who feel drawn to him and to his guidance and teachings, that inner connection is always available. This is what we know from the ancient path of Bhakti Yoga and Guru Yoga, which has been a part of classical Yoga and Buddhism for centuries.
As Buddhist teacher Ponlop Rinpoche explained, “When we connect with our heart of devotion, then, in that moment, we are connecting very powerfully, immediately, and directly with the awakened heart of the Guru and the lineage, as well as our own inherently awakened state. Working with our devotion means that we are not just relying on our own efforts. We are opening ourselves to a source of blessings that is an embodiment and a reflection of our own fundamental nature.”
May each and every one of us be blessed with a more profound understanding of Guru-tattva and the eternal Guru-disciple relationship. May these beautiful teachings bring us into deeper communion with Sri Gurudev’s ever-present Spirit. May his Love, Blessings, and Teachings ever fill our hearts and guide our lives. And may we continue to express our gratitude and devotion to him through our service to the entire creation.
Jai Sri Sat Guru Satchidanandaji Maharaj Ki!
About the Author:
Rev. Prem Anjali, Ph.D. is a senior disciple of Sri Swami Satchidananda, Integral Yoga Minister, editor of Integral Yoga Magazine, editorial director of Integral Yoga Publications and Media.