In 1977 at Mangrove Mountain ashram, I sat alone in the presence of Swami Satyananda and Swami Niranjan. Swami Satyananda looked straight at me and asked the question “What do you want?” I was sixteen years old, feeling overwhelmed and a little confused. I had wanted to take sannyasa for more than a year, and now, I could not say it. The previous year I had taken mantra diksha, so now I asked for a name. He called me Ahimsa, and it was over. I did not return to Mangrove Mountain until 1996, although I continued to practice yoga and to feel a deep connection.
Over the years whenever I faced a difficult decision, I would hear his voice saying, “What do you want?” It focused my mind as nothing else seemed to. The question seems so obvious, yet for me it had a dimension which was beyond the obvious. It was always associated with Swami Satyananda and although I didn’t take sannyasa at that stage, the samskara of yoga remained strong and was the source of strength I always returned to.
I next saw Swami Satyananda in 2001 when I traveled to Rikhia with my two children, their first visit to an ashram. What did I want? I wanted them to experience the presence of the wise and imbibe the qualities of the guru’s energy. I wanted them to have exposure to spiritual life and the company of saints. I wanted it to be easier for them than it had been for me, if they felt a connection and chose to follow this path. And I still wanted to take sannyasa.
That year Swami Niranjan gave my children spiritual names, and he gave me poorna sannyasa. For the children, now grown, the ashrams are homes away from home. They have taken their own initiations, they have been blessed many times by darshan of Swami Satyananda, and there is no conflict or confusion in their relationship to spiritual life or guru. There, surrounded by the kanyas and batuks of Rikhia, the ashram felt like a natural place for children to be. They saw Swami Satyananda’s love for the children and the joy he took in their presence.
The presence of the children of Rikhia gave me another treasured memory of Swami Satyananda. Again, the words were very simple. On the final day of the Sat Chandi Mahayajna in 2006, I was on photography duty so was able to be close to him. The kanya pooja had just concluded and the kanyas had all been given little backpacks containing prasad. As they filed out they waved and smiled at Swami Satyananda and he waved and smiled back, beaming like a proud grandfather. He turned to us and said softly, “They are smiling, they are happy!” That was all that mattered to him, that the children were smiling and happy. It felt that this was his total joy and fulfillment– to have been able to make children smile. Just as the question, “what do you want?” sounds so obvious, it seems obvious that we would make every effort to bring smiles to the faces of children and that this would fill us in turn with joy. But so often, we see or know of suffering children and we ignore their plight. Happy children grow into happy adults, and then the whole world is smiling.
These simple lessons are worth so much more than all the complex philosophies that fill books and heads. Swami Satyananda could convey so much in a moment. The magnitude of all that he gave us is distilled in these precious moments.