The first time I saw and heard Sri Swami Satyananda speak was in Singapore in 1981. In his lecture on the physical/biological effects of yoga I was impressed by his sharp scientific mind, but was far from recognizing his spiritual power. The next encounter with Sri Swamiji was prompted by my swelling ego. When Swami Atmananda, my beloved and revered teacher in Singapore, refused to initiate me into kriya yoga, of which I had vaguely heard, I decided to get it myself.
Packing up two of my little children, I took a flight to Australia to attend the yoga festival there. I soon sobered, however, when Sri Swamiji, despite being in the ashram, did not appear on stage for some days. Frantic chanting and excitement, building up to an extent where my son kept asking for the ‘yoga king’, changed nothing. When Sri Swamiji finally appeared on stage he gave a brief, matter-of-fact lecture stressing that yoga is not a religion, but a science. It goes almost without saying, that I did not get initiation into kriya yoga!
After four years with Swami Atmananda, the longing for guru dawned, while not quite knowing what I was looking for. Swami Atmananda had given me a mantra and spiritual name, but for initiation into karma sannyasa she urged me to go to Munger to the source, to Swami Satyananda. That was in 1985. When Swami Satyananda in this private session asked me why I wanted initiation, I did not know, even less was I able to speak. Why did I want initiation then? After confirming my guru mantra and changing my spiritual name from Yogadrishti to Divyadrishti, Sri Swamiji gave the following instructions, “Change nothing. Ask yourself ‘Who am I?’ and go a step further.” That was all.
What attracted me most about Sri Swamiji’s teachings was his message of freedom – freedom to use one’s own mind, to think for oneself, and above all to use common sense; freedom not to fight the mind but to accept everything, the good and the bad without judgment as a non-partial observer, and to witness when the observer became partial and judgemental. This attitude helps to get out of the guilt-trap in which many of us are caught.
Sri Swamiji epitomized freedom in an awe-inspiring way in his own life, shining like a mighty beam for us to emulate. Some examples come to mind: freedom to leave the fruits of his work behind when he left Munger, freedom to revolutionize encrusted beliefs and customs by inviting dignitaries from many different religions to the ashram in Rikhia, freedom to shake the entrenched convictions of villagers that women are inferior to men. Up to his last satsang he showed us his freedom to say the truth to anyone and everyone. He admonished in a fiery speech to all present and in particular the parents of the kanyas and batuks of Rikhia, and told them to live a disciplined life, to be accountable to the younger generation and to be models for the children.
In 1991 I was first allowed to come to Rikhia to visit Swami Atmananda (Choti Swamiji, as she was called there) who had closed the Singapore ashram to follow her guru into seclusion. Very few people lived in the akhara at that time and there was an inscription inside the Paramahamsa Alakh Bara: ‘Don’t Come Back’. Bholenath, the German shepherd, was the fiery guardian to safeguard Sri Swamiji’s seclusion. Visiting Rikhia almost yearly and having had dogs of my own, I tried to show off my doggy skills one day. While Sri Swamiji was taking a stroll around the Sukhman side inspecting everything and enquiring lovingly about our comfort in travel and accommodation, I tried to attract Bholenath’s attention by gazing at him and clicking my tongue. Master Bholenath gave me a good lesson – charging at me and biting me in the butt. All that remained was a black bruise and the humbling realization that learning is never finished.
Another incident which engraved itself in my mind from those times: I asked Sri Swamiji to bless the rudraksha mala which I used for kriya yoga, and he sternly replied, “I have done with this touching business!” No more was said.
One day Swami Satsangi called us to witness a sacrifice that Sri Swamiji was about to perform. We were allowed to look over the wall so as not to disturb his sadhana. After painting yantras and mandalas on the ground, Sri Swamiji took a big knife to cut, not the head of a goat, but a big pumpkin. That evening we ate a delicious pumpkin curry that Sri Swamiji had cooked for us. Since then, pumpkin has become my favourite dish.
Seeing Rikhia grow in these twenty years is nothing short of a miracle. Where once villagers were shy and their eyes seemed dulled by the scourge of poverty, one now encounters youngsters and elders alike with shining eyes and an amazing self-confidence. The openness with which Sri Swamiji experimented on how to uplift the downtrodden and neglected people of Rikhia Panchayat as part of a divine command is mind-boggling: building houses, teaching villagers how to grow vegetables, planting fast-growing trees in the akhara for villagers to emulate, teaching them to take care of cows under the guidance of a veterinary swami, donating bicycles to girls so that they can get to school, employing girls and women in the akhara to bring women out of the house, employing widows to chant the Ramayana, regular satsangs to villagers to open their minds, bringing out the creative potential and talents in the youngsters who were born after Sri Swamiji moved to Rikhia, and all this by the grace of God, the Divine Mother, which Sri Swamiji always stressed.
Who can forget Sri Swamiji’s powerful presence, his sparkling eyes, his love for laughter, his tender care for the kanyas; his vibrancy, his practicality, his humility, his simplicity. This all is our guru, unfathomable, all-pervasive, all-love.