Getting close to God

Swami Sivamurti Saraswati

Greece is between the West and the East. I was born in Australia with a love for Greece and at the age of three I packed my bag and started my journey. It was a continual effort for my mother to find which tram, bus or train stop I was on and bring me back. I was always ready and in a hurry to get out of the house and out of Australia. It was not that I was not happy; I just had a feeling that I was not doing anything worthwhile in my life. I was brought up in the Christian religion and used to feel very, very close to Christ, so I used to pray to him and ask him how to make my life more worth-while. When I told my mother, she said, "Well darling, it is wonderful to be close to God." So I used to think of ways to get closer to God.

Around this age I started to realise that death took place. When I asked where a person who died had gone, my mother would say, "He has gone to God", and I thought that was a fast way of doing it. So I asked her, without being too explicit, "Can one write letters to God ?" She said, "Yes, of course, just write it, put a stamp on it and He will receive your letter." So I thought, "I am the letter, I will put a stamp on my forehead." I did this and went out on to the tram track and lay down with the stamp on my forehead, waiting for the tram to come and take me off swiftly to God. My mother just managed to get me oft the track in time.

However, I was still not satisfied. I thought, "I will get to God somehow." I gave away my toys, my dresses and whatever else I had at that time to friends in the neighbourhood. Then I lay down on my bed, closed my eyes and said, "Take me, I am ready, I want to go." This happened at the age of seven. It was a very powerful period of my life. I fell asleep and had a very deep experience of Christ. This experience is very difficult to put into words, but what it conveyed was an indication of the direction I was to follow in life. I came out of that experience feeling very high and this feeling lasted for many months; all the worry and concern that I had experienced between the ages of three and seven completely disappeared.

Then another worry came. I thought, "God is going to call me but I am not ready," and I started to panic about that. I used to pray, "God, let me live my life. I want to have many experiences, I want to meet people, I want to travel the world. Please do not call me too early." The reverse happened in my mind. These prayers went on for a while and all were answered. Then the time finally came when I knew inside my heart that I had finished with all that. I knew that I was ready for what I thought I was ready for at the age of seven.

Meeting my guru

I went in search of a master. I wrote to about ten different ashrams in India and they wrote back accepting me. One was the Bihar School of Yoga, which I knew nothing about because I did not know anything about Swami Satyananda in those days. However, there was something about the way that letter was written that touched me, so I put all the other letters aside, got on a plane, another plane, a train, a taxi - whatever one does to get to Munger. When I arrived Swami Satyananda was not there. He was on tour in India and so I waited in the ashram. Everything was very strange, because I had expected all the swamis to be sitting meditating under trees, giving saintly advice and holding discourses on yoga. Nothing like that was going on. Everyone was cleaning, sweeping, working, running from one department to another and I remember writing in my diary, "I think I have come to the wrong place." The swami directing the ashram at that time said to me, "Wait, just wait."

So I waited and about three weeks later Paramahamsaji returned. I asked if I could see him and One day, when I was having lunch, the ashram director rushed up to me and said, "Paramahamsaji is calling you, please come." Again, that fear entered my heart. I said, "I am eating my lunch now, I will come after I have finished." She looked at me and said, "Well, alright." She went back and obviously told Paramahamsaji. I was thinking how I could get out of the ashram. I was ready to leave because the moment of meeting was drawing near. I was getting very anxious. I knew that it was going to be the turning point of my life, In a split second she was back saying, "Paramahamsaji is calling you now!" So I ran. Paramahamsaji was in a tent with two other swamis who were sitting like statues, absolutely motionless. Neither of them looked at me. One was in profile, the other was looking into space and Paramahamsaji was just reclining there with his eyes closed. When there was eye contact between us, it was immediate recognition and I knew that I had found the person I had been looking for all my life. From that moment until now, there has never been a doubt in my mind as to whom I was offering my services and who it was who would be guiding me.

Greece

I stayed in the ashram for a period of time and Paramahamsaji gave me instructions about sannyasa and had different swamis teach me the various branches and practices of yoga. Suddenly one day he said, "Sivamurti, you will go to Greece and see if the Greek people are interested in yoga. You will be prepared for lectures, television, whatever comes. Whatever happens and falls in your path, do it." I felt a terrific shock, I was not prepared for anything like that. I waited for a Few days, then went back to Paramahamsaji and said, "Swamiji, will you come to Greece ?" because I wanted some reassurance. He said, "No, I will never come to Greece." So I waited another couple of days. I was beginning to get into quite a state of anxiety. Now, I had just read in one of Paramahamsaji's books that a car must be prepared before it starts its journey. I associated myself with the car and thought, "I am definitely not prepared." So I went to Paramahamsaji and said, "Swamiji, I just read in your book that the car needs to be prepared and I feel that I am not prepared." I did not get the sentence finished. He looked at me and said, "I have told you what to do, go and do it !" But he gave me some key sentences which have really helped and supported me through the difficulties that I experienced and, which he obviously foresaw. He said, "Everything that happens to you will happen for your good. There will be nothing negative; everything will be positive." I do not feel that these words apply just to me. I feel that they apply to everyone. They have helped me through every difficult crisis and every obstacle that I have ever had to face.

The day came when I had to leave India for Greece. I went to the south of Greece. I did not speak Greek. Paramahamsaji had said to start in a small way. 'A small way' meant in a little village called Kalamata. When I first saw Kalamata I had no idea that I would be starting there. Actually, I fell ill as I was passing through it and remember thinking, "What a place to fall ill! This is the last place I would, ever want to be." That was where yoga started in Greece and I spent some years there. The south of Greece is very traditional. I had to face religious difficulties because the Greek Orthodox church is very strong and its outlook is very narrow. The local priests and bishops were totally against me. In church, they used to say I was a woman of Satan, a witch, a black magician. However, I stayed there and kept on working, and eventually Paramahamsaji came and visited Kalamata.

Paramahamsaji had said to me, "Do not stay in one place. If the need is elsewhere, be prepared to go elsewhere," and this began to happen. I soon began to go to other places. People from Athens heard that yoga was being introduced in Kalamata and I was invited there. Athens is a cosmopolitan city where many people were interested in yoga and little by little, quite a large number of them started to group together. Their interest was further stimulated by Swami Niranjan who came to Greece in 1978. About eighteen months after I had started in Greece, I heard that Swami Satyananda was in Spain. I thought that I would go to see him because I had not been in touch with him and that last 'no' was still very strong in my mind. I thought that I would try the question a second time. I was willing to take a chance, so I said, "Swamiji, will you come to Greece?" He said, "Of course I am coming to Greece. Get it organised for me, I will be there in a few months time."

Creation of an ashram

So, after Swami Niranjan's visit in 1978 everything started to fall into place. Swami Niranjan inspired a lot of people and he also visited Kalamata. Swami Satyananda arrived and he, too, came to Kalamata. He came almost every year after that and toured Greece, visiting the different towns, islands and Athens itself. By this time, our yoga centre had begun to grow very rapidly. Swamiji said to me one day, "Now is the time to develop a country ashram. Look for land with at least one building on it within a thirty kilometre radius of Athens." So we divided the area around Athens into sections and every day our swamis used to go out, come back, go out, come back, until the day came when they said, "I think we have found the place." As soon as I got there, I thought, "This is home, this is the spot." Later on I found out that it was the main area of the Dionysian cults in ancient Greece. Close by is an Orthodox Christian monastery who had also found the right spot, and we now have close contact with each other. We built an ashram there and set up centres in different parts of Greece. Now there are yoga centres teaching Swami Satyananda's yoga in all the major towns of Greece.

Our next step was to introduce Satyananda Math, which works in the areas of drug rehabilitation, women's welfare, 'meals-on-wheels', prisons and education. Currently we are setting up schools which follow the gurukul system from kindergarten right through to university level. We are also setting up a Yoga Research Foundation. Greece is also affiliated with the International Yoga Fellowship Movement which enables us to be a part of Swami Niranjan's vision, to unite the different countries of the world in a way which will enable us to work together globally. Through this work we will get to know each other better, and help create a better tomorrow.