Swami Sivamurti Saraswati: I was a spiritual seeker with a deep need to find answers to the questions of life. I wrote to about ten different ashrams in India. I didn’t know them but had just picked the names out of a directory. Something in the letter that I received as a reply from the Bihar School of Yoga attracted me, so I chose to go there. After travel by air, rail and road, I arrived at the old BSY one evening. I knew nothing about Sri Swamiji, I didn’t even know the name ‘Swamiji’, I didn’t have any understanding of what an ashram was, I had no inkling. I went in just before dinner and everyone was eating. I joined them, they made me feel very comfortable and at home, although I felt like a fish out of water because everything seemed so totally strange to me. This was in 1975. When I asked who was in charge, the reply from everyone was “Swamiji” and that he was away. On asking when he would be back, I was told, “At the right time!” All these answers were extremely strange to me. The days passed, the weeks passed and still Sri Swamiji had not returned. I remember writing in my diary, ‘I think I have come to the wrong place’. I spent the time doing karma yoga and asking the different swamis there ‘Who is this Swamiji that we are all waiting for?’ Although they did not give any direct answers, it was the expression in their eyes that was so inspiring that I thought ‘I have to stay, however long it takes, and meet this person’.
After about three and a half weeks, there was a tooting at the gate, everyone rushed in that direction apart from me because I didn’t know what was happening. There were few people in the ashram at that time and I was one of the few foreigners. The news came around that Sri Swamiji had arrived. It was just before lunch, the bell went and I went for lunch. Swami Atmananda came rushing up to me and said, “Swamiji is calling you,” and I was gripped by a sudden fear. Somehow subconsciously I realized that I was going to meet a person who was going to change my life and turn it all around and upside down. He was sitting in a small tent with other swamis. The impact of that first meeting is still with me today. I was engulfed in waves of an experience I have never had in my life before and I have never had it since. An overwhelming experience of bliss and love and everything I had been searching for. I realized I was meeting the person I had been looking for all my life.
I had so many questions but they had all vanished. He spoke to me like you would speak to a small child to make them feel comfortable, asking me how I was, whether I was comfortable, did I have any problems, did I need to go out of the ashram, was I finding it restricting being in one place for so long. I answered in monosyllables because there was this overwhelming feeling washing through me. After this short conversation of me answering in monosyllables and him asking various commonplace questions, he said to make myself comfortable, to live here, to learn as much as I could and to spend as much time as I liked and to feel at home. That moment changed my whole life.
I stayed for about three months and Sri Swamiji arranged for me to have yoga classes every day. I got karma yoga in the Press and I loved painting the dust covers for his books because I used to paint a lot before I came to the ashram. The days passed by like that. Although I learnt a lot about yoga there, the highlight of those times was actually being in Sri Swamiji’s presence. He had a very small room called Gokul and a few of us used to gather there in the evenings. He would talk to us on various spiritual topics or things about yoga or ask us different questions. Those were the real learning moments, just being in his presence. Or sometimes during the day, he would call me and start a conversation out of the blue on some fascinating topic.
Every moment was an inspiration; I was totally inspired by him. He said to me one day, “I will inspire you and that inspiration is love.” Just before I left, his last words to me were, “Parting will not bring pain, it will bring joy.” He knew that I had a deep love for Greece and the Greek people, I had studied a lot about Greek culture, architecture and art. He said to me, “See whether the Greek people would be interested in yoga and be prepared for anything. Lectures, summer camps, TV, travel. Start in a small way, in a small place and then go wherever the need is. Everything will happen for your good, there will be nothing negative.”
When he said these fantastic statements that changed my life, I was thinking, ‘How can there ever be anything negative with Swamiji around? Everything is just so perfect’. Those two sentences guided me and helped me through all the challenges that I later faced in establishing and bringing Satyananda Yoga to Greece.
I went back to Australia before going to Greece. When he told me to be prepared for anything, I asked, “Will you come to Greece, Swamiji?” He said, “No. I will never come to Greece.” My heart sank and I thought, ‘How am I going to manage?’ When I was in Greece, I heard that he was visiting Barcelona after a few months so I asked his permission if I could meet him there and he agreed. I went there and thought I would pop that question again. So I said, “Swamiji, will you come to Greece?” and he said, “Of course, I’ll come to Greece.” He said, “Invite Swami Niranjan to prepare the way.”
I still remember the very first meeting with Swami Niranjan. He had some difficulty at the airport getting through because those days in Greece there was a lot of difficulty with bureaucracy and getting people into the country. He was delayed coming through and when he did, it was like a glow of light. He was all in geru with a beautiful turban on his head. He stayed in Greece for some time and gave lectures in the south of Greece where I was establishing the yoga centre and in Athens. We toured around Greece as well.
The Greeks also have their own spiritual tradition and they are religious people, they have a lot of faith and belief, they are very warm and open to this. They loved Sri Swamiji and he visited Greece many times. I was lucky that he arranged for me to be in Greece. One day in Salonika he turned to me and said, “Sivamurti, the Greeks are bhaktas.” I thought, ‘That’s great! I am in the right place.’ Another time he said to me, “It’s time to establish an ashram outside the city, in the country.” He gave me directions to look within a 23 kilometre radius around Athens. So I drew up a circle on a map and sent different swamis out there. After a few weeks, two swamis came back and said, “We are sure we have found the right place.” When I went there, I immediately felt that it was the right place so I spoke with Sri Swamiji. He asked me about every tree, every plant, everything on the land. We spoke for about three-quarters of an hour, he asked me every detail. I was on tenterhooks, thinking, ‘Is he going to say yes or is he going to say no?’ and he said, “Yes.” That is the place where we now have the ashram in Paiania.