I was blessed to meet Sri Swami Satyananda in 1974 following a series of events and dreams that led me to India to meet him. I had found yoga at a young age; however, all that I read and heard left me feeling that there was something more; something was missing. Then I met a sannyasin disciple of Sri Swamiji who told me of his time in India and showed me photos of Sri Swamiji. I felt an instant flash of energy and recognition, like a bolt of lightning, and knew that this person held my destiny in his hands. This led me, while still a medical student, to sell my most precious possessions to obtain the funds to travel to India, and to meet and study with this great man.
When I arrived in India I met a short man with a powerful and radiant personality whose presence, consciousness and energy were so great that I felt as though I was sitting next to a Himalayan peak or to a radiant sun. The experience of being with him was intoxicating. Just to be with him was to learn and to be nourished at the deepest level of one’s being. This meeting changed my life radically.
In one of our first meetings, Sri Swamiji demonstrated how he could project his consciousness far into the future, though it was only in the future that I came to realize what he was doing at that time. I was sitting with Sri Swamiji in satsang one evening, he turned to me and said that all I needed was a little more study and then I would travel the world and teach teachers. In my mind ‘a little more study’ meant that in a few months I would be traveling. For Sri Swamiji it meant twenty years. He had a grand vision and perspective, and was able to see how all the parts fitted into the whole. This gave his decisions and actions great wisdom and skill.
Later I found that my experience was not unique. Most people who met Sri Swamiji fell in love with his personality, desired to be with him, to sit next to him and feel his radiance and love, and to listen to his discourse. It was immediately obvious that this person had knowledge, power and insight beyond anything we had ever thought possible or had experienced. To be with Sri Swamiji was to experience the revelation of what was possible in life.
Despite our aim to be with Sri Swamiji as much as we could, his aim seemed to be to allow us to only have a brief time with him so that we could leave him in peace and get back to work. While we were with him we had a glimpse into what was possible, drew inspiration, and then had to leave and deal with ourselves.
Of course everything had a purpose, and in this case part of the purpose was to build independent and resourceful swamis and spiritual aspirants who could tune into essence, connect with the guru tattwa and experience the conscious-ness of guru within them. We were being trained to carry this awareness with us into our future lives. Each precious moment we had another chance to experience something sacred and unique which he projected from the core of his being. Then, when we moved away from him, no matter what we were doing, we would have to attempt to hold that connection to guru and consciousness while we were apart.
Time with Sri Swamiji had two sides because while we were in his presence we had a very clear vision of who we were. On the one hand we saw our strengths and what was beautiful, powerful and possible. On the other we had a vision of our weaknesses, and the knowledge that there was a lot of work to do if we were to move forward on the spiritual path. It became clear to us just how much spiritual practice Sri Swamiji must have performed to attain such heights. It also became clear how we would need to dedicate a lot of time and energy in order to hold even a fragment of that consciousness, clarity of vision and unwavering purpose.
And so it was that we entered into sannyasa training. And Sri Swamiji was a hard but loving taskmaster. He stripped away everything familiar, our personality structure, our social conditioning and many of our concepts about life in order to open us to our spiritual essence. This was a massive retraining program for our minds and a great testing of our hearts. And for many of us who came from foreign countries being in this environment held its own special difficulties. However, Sri Swamiji was there for each and every one of us. He knew what we were going through and held us in his heart and consciousness while we underwent as much spiritual transformation as we could withstand. And when we had reached our limit he was there to help and support our recuperation.
It was common for Westerners who came to India to develop diarrhoea, mainly due to the heat and as part of physical and mental purification rather than as a symptom of infection or disease. I myself had many months of this dramatic purification. Once when I had reached my limits, my bowels griping, my body aching and my mind full of doubts and turbulent emotions, I went to visit Sri Swamiji to ask him some burning questions about spiritual life that had been haunting my mind. I remember knocking on the door and being told to come in. As I moved towards Sri Swamiji, all the aches in my body and all the doubts in my mind evaporated. I sat down on the floor and looked up at him. He looked down at me and said, “Yes Swami Shankardev, what is it?” My mind was completely empty, I felt serene, and I seemed to understand everything. It all made perfect sense. I simply said, “I cannot remember why I came in, Swamiji.” He said, “Hari Om Tat Sat”, meaning that I should leave the room and go back to work. As I passed through the door to his room the griping in my bowels and the aches in my muscles returned, and my mind was again full of doubts and questions. But something deep inside me had changed. There were many moments like this.
Once we were traveling. in a car with Sri Swamiji. Passing by us was a very old Ambassador car that had obviously been burned in what appeared to have been a savage fire or accident, and then had been resurrected for use as a taxi. The paint was gone and the interior was mainly springs pushing out of burned seats. As we passed, Sri Swamiji turned to us and said, “That is the proper use of a vehicle.” I shuddered in the recognition that this was a profound metaphor for what our own bodies and minds would have to pass through as part of the fire of spiritual transformation.
In this way Sri Swamiji taught us to be resilient. He taught us to manage the elements of nature within and without, to see our minds directly, and then to gradually come to master ourselves so that we could be efficient channels for his transmission. He gave us many gifts that we need to honour and develop for the benefit of all beings. But most importantly he taught us to recognize consciousness – to become more fully aware and authentic in all moments. It is his fully-blown and awakened consciousness that was and is his most precious gift to us all. It is this consciousness that awakened us while he was alive and it is this consciousness that remains with us as a living presence in our hearts and minds today.