Preparing to meet the guru
One can prepare for meeting the guru in various ways - by searching for a deeper meaning to life or by practicing yoga, doing good deeds and helping those in need or by looking up different schools of thought and deciding which teachings appeal etc., until one finds the one that feels right.
Before Swami Sivamurti met Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati (Sri Swamiji), she had been studying esoteric teachings and had longed to meet a teacher and be initiated. She had heard from a source that if one asks for initiation three times, sincerely and with conviction, the higher powers guiding your path will open and take you to that person. So, after asking three times, the wheels were set in motion and within a few months she found herself in India, at the old BSY ashram without knowing anything about the ashram or Sri Swamiji.
Much later, she had asked Sri Swamiji, ‘Did you call me back then?’ His reply was, ‘It was you who were drawn, but you could say that I called you also. Yes, I called you.’
Arriving at the Bihar School of Yoga (BSY)
Late one evening in December 1975, Swami Sivamurti Saraswati arrived at the big iron gates of the old Bihar School of Yoga (BSY), before the ashram moved to its location on the hill which is now called Ganga Darshan. After sending out letters to various ashrams throughout India she just felt this one seemed right. It had been a tiring journey across India and she had been travelling alone.
When she knocked on the gates, she was greeted and led in. Everything seemed quite strange, to her at that time. As she recalls, no one came up and asked her why she had come, or any personal questions, although everyone was very kind and polite. Sri Swamiji, the guru of the ashram, they informed her was away and she was advised to stay until his return. The days turned into weeks and she spent her time reading, working in the press, observing the swamis, and asking them questions until eventually Sri Swamiji appeared.
During their first meeting, she asked if she could have a mantra and a name. The name he gave her was Sivamurti. Shiva means the destroyer of illusion. It also means auspiciousness.
As time passed, Sri Swamiji gave her instructions about sannyasa and arranged for her to receive instructions in the various branches and practices of yoga.
Living in his presence
Swami Sivamurti recollects that in those days Sri Swamiji used to stay in a small room called Gokul and after dinner, before the evening program, the swamis and residents of the ashram were able to knock on his door. Sometimes he would allow them in to spend some time with him.
Those moments, she says, in Gokul in the evenings were amongst the most beautiful of her life. Once inside, Sri Swamiji would be found reclining on his couch. The atmosphere in the room was magical and incense would be burning. They would all go and sit around him.
Sometimes he would just sit there in silence, other times he would talk on all sorts of subjects pertaining to yoga and spiritual life. At other times, she recalls, he would joke and laugh, or ask them questions. Every evening was different. They could never stay in there long enough. Every moment was a learning experience with Sri Swamiji.
During her stay at the BSY ashram every moment near Sri Swamiji was unique and inspiring. Whenever she had the opportunity, she observed him no matter how insignificant the activity seemed to be, for nothing he could do, was insignificant to her. She recalls that Sri Swamiji would make a point of always discovering a person’s interests and skills and had that ability to draw out the very best in a person. People just blossomed under his touch, under his glance.
He captured everyone’s heart with his warmth, his gentle and amazing strength, his never failing sense of humour, effervescent joy, incomparable smile, unshakable faith and childlike innocence. He had just one attitude in mind, and that was to do good to others. To follow his guru’s mandate of “serve- love-give”.
He had little or no privacy, once saying that a saint’s life should be an open book. Nothing should be hidden. In his own life, in the ashram or during his many tours, indeed nothing was. His solitude, if at all, was taken in the midst of many. It was only much later, after he left Munger and moved to Rikhia that this changed.
Swami Sivamurti recollects that in the ashram, Sri Swamiji’s day began very early, around three or four o’clock in the morning, sometimes even earlier. His voice was always within a certain range of pitch. It never went too high; it never went too low. It was melodious and sweet. He never raised his voice, even when he wanted to get a point across. He kept order by precise attention to detail and time. He was punctual to the minute. In fact, he always arrived at least ten minutes before his meetings or programs and sometimes even half an hour or more earlier. He would never keep anyone waiting. Sri Swamiji always ensured that people were taken care of, even to his own disadvantage. There were many occasions in the ashram when he would have two or more breakfasts starting from five o’clock in the morning. A different group of people were taken in every thirty minutes or so a while others were taken out. The swami making the tea had made numerous cups of tea before seven o’clock. It was so well arranged. Everyone was taken care of and no one was left out. With each group, Sri Swamiji would enjoy his cup of tea, as though it was his first.
Swami Sivamurti remembers that she could go into his room one morning and he would be having breakfast with guests and the very next day he could be cleaning or singing sweetly calling himself an amateur singer saying, ‘We are just amateurs here. We’re just doing our best.’
Sometimes he would just call someone and upon arriving in his room, he would sit quietly, say nothing with his eyes closed. Time would pass in this inner communion and then he would nod and it would be time to go and return to one’s duties. He was totally unpredictable. It was said then, that the only predictable thing about Sri Swamiji, was his unpredictability.
She recalls he used to laugh a lot and most of all; he loved his guru and had totally surrendered to him. So much so, that he even began to look like him. He loved God and saw God in all.
So many were touched by Sri Swamiji due to his great love. He did not love with a love tainted by ego and attachment. It was pure love; tangible and felt by each and every one who came to him. His face was one of great beauty, with a captivating expression that emanated from a tranquil and contented mind. His smile was devastating. Here was a gentleness and magnetism that drew people towards him. He was, simultaneously, profoundly wise and strangely innocent: his strength of character and resounding faith attracted loyalty and commanded respect from all.
Sri Swamiji, she says, was definitely not the ordinary type of guru. He never cared about his reputation. He never cared about collecting disciples. He lived to serve. He lived to fulfill the mandate of his guru and glorify God and bring the spiritual teachings to a practical level so that everyone was benefited.
One of his greatest qualities was his ability to always be able to relate to everyone at any time, in any country, and make them feel at home
Travelling with Sri Swamiji was a continuous learning experience. He could talk on any subject. He was extremely well informed on current affairs. He knew all the different sports and their teams. He knew the movies, the film stars and all the latest idols. He enriched every conversation, and astounded people with his vast knowledge of current affairs.
When travelling, in the hotels Sri Swamiji stayed, upon entering, everything in the room was always checked to ensure it was in working order. If not, the plumber, electrician or housekeeper, were summoned, depending on the task at hand. When all was finished, they were presented with books on yoga. He had a unique way of catching the moment and spreading yoga from ‘door to door and shore to shore’. No opportunity was ever missed.
The first time she heard him talk outside of the ashram was a revelation to her. The subjects that she had wanted to hear him talk about, while in the old BSY in India, those he always declined to talk about, he now spoke about at length. For example, soon after she had met him, she asked him whether everything that happens to one is karmic. Then he had replied, ‘One day you will know from experience; not to worry about that now.’ And the subject was closed. However, outside of the ashram, when people asked him about karma, he expanded on it in depth, and her questions were answered, plus answers to questions she had yet to think about.
He also had a knack for connecting the yogic teachings to the history of the country he was visiting. He bridged the gaps, and presented yoga as a global heritage.
From the various trips she accompanied him with, she remembers vividly one with Sri Swamiji in Patra, Greece. He was with a group of people and they were all sitting around him. One of the students asked him a question on samadhi. Sri Swamiji did not answer; he was silent. After about a minute, while everyone was waiting for the answer, he turned and said, ‘See that mountain, that hill over there?’ And when they all said, ‘Yes.’ He continued, ‘Which great person in your ancient history lived and taught there?’ No one knew the answer. Then he told them that until they knew their own history, the teachings and the philosophy of their own wise men, he was not going to answer any such questions.
In Patra again, at the end of a lecture that he conducted, he left quickly, as was his custom. As she was running to accompany him to the lift, he turned to her and said, ‘Sivamurti, it doesn’t matter if anyone remembers anything about my lecture. If they just remember one word, and that word is “awareness”, then my lecture was a success.’
She recalls another incident during a tour of Europe, when by observing him again she learnt a valuable lesson on handling confrontation. Sri Swamiji had just delivered a magnificent lecture on the Bhagavad Gita and hundreds of people had come. Upon leaving the hall, a man came forward, saying he did not agree with various points that Sri Swamiji had made in his lecture on the Gita and confronted him quite aggressively. Suddenly the whole foyer went quiet. Sri Swamiji just stood there, very still, listening to him with a sweet expression on his face. Whenever the man paused, Sri Swamiji just said, ‘Yes, that’s correct, you are absolutely right.’ After a while, the man’s anger subsided and he became quiet. His attitude changed completely as he realized that Sri Swamiji was not going to oppose his ideas, and then, this man said something to the effect of, ‘So you really think I am right? You can see what I mean?’ They went on discussing for a little longer and eventually the man went away agreeing with all that Sri Swamiji had said. In his inimitable way, Sri Swamiji had shown us through example, a way to behave in challenging situations.
The path to Greece
One day, knowing of her deep connection with Greece and its people, he told Swami Sivamurti to see if the Greeks would be interested in yoga. He said, ‘Be prepared for lectures, television, summer camps, whatever comes. Whatever happens and falls in your path, do it.’ She asked him, ‘Will you be aware of all the problems I will face?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ He also said, “I will inspire you and that inspiration is love.”
He told her that everything would happen for her good, there would be nothing negative. These words she says supported her through the many challenges that were met in the coming years, and which continue to support her to this day.
Sri Swamiji had told her to start in ‘a small way’ in Greece, and so yoga was first taught in the relatively small town of Kalamata in the south of Greece, where yoga was an unknown word. This is where Satyananda yoga started in Greece, and from this small town, Satyananda yoga spread like wildfire throughout Greece, just as Sri Swamiji had predicted.
In 1985 when Sri Swamiji was in Greece, for the inauguration of the ashram in Paiania, she recalls his words, which have guided her throughout the years.
‘Things should not be easy in life. Those who want easy success do not succeed ultimately. Anywhere, in any situation, in any area of life, you must remember that challenge is the key to great success…
There is only one secret to meeting the challenges of life – one has to be sincere and one has to be innocent. Crooked people do meet the challenges of life for some time and do succeed, but it is only the innocent people, who are childlike, who can effectively meet every challenge.’