Saturday, June 09, 2007
THE COOLEST SWAMI?
I'm working on an article about the 35th annivesary of the Sivananda Yoga Vendanta Center in Chicago. It's also the 50th anniversary of Swami Vishnu-Devananda's arrival in the US. Apparently his guru, Swami Sivananda (pictured with him, above), also believed that yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory. During research I came across this:
A close disciple of Swami Sivananda, Swami Vishnudevananda, a Nair, was born in Kerala, South India on December 31, 1927. After a short career in the army, he coincidentally found interest in the teachings of Swami Sivananda through a copy of Sadhana Tattwa (Spiritual Instructions). Its introduction read, “An ounce of practice is worth tons of theory. Practice yoga, religion and philosophy in daily life and attain Self-realization”.
Impressed, he travelled to Rishikesh to meet the author and the meeting, taking place on the stairs of the ashram leading to the Ganga (Ganges River), would change his life. Swami Sivananda was walking up the stairs and according to the custom, people were prostrating. The young army officer did not want to bow his head to anyone and hid in a doorway out of sight. A moment later, Swami Sivananda appeared unexpectedly, and prostrated to the arrogant young man. This lesson in humility was the first given to Swami Vishnudevananda by his guru.
His disciples also told me some incredible things. From my article:
Swami Vishnu-Devananda was sent by Swmi Sivananda to bring yoga to the west, telling him “people are waiting,” and he arrived in San Francisco in 1957. He founded the International Sivananda Yoga Vendanta Centers, and Chicago is one of its oldest ongoing North American outposts.
Swami Vishnu, author of the best selling The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, was a charismatic teacher who traveled the world in an “peace plane” painted with angels and flowers by psychedelic pop artist Peter Max, using a colorful Max-designed “Planet Earth” passport.
“He said there was no such things as borders, and that it’s one world and it’s one people and it’s one God,” says Raghu Ram, a former director of the Chicago Center. Among other things, Swami Vishnu did a “headstands for peace” sit-in with Peter Sellers in 1971 in Belfast, flew into Israel when it was at war with Egypt, and flew across the Berlin Wall in an ultralight in 1983.
“He bombed Egypt with flowers,” says Raghu Rama. “In the late 80’s he tried to mitigate peace between Sikhs and Muslims at the golden Temple in India. He was at the forefront of trying to bring people together.”
No wonder people couldn't get enough of him.
One of Swami Vishnu's most senior disciples, Swami Mahadevananda, will give a workshop here on the weekend of August 24. It's not yet posted on the website, but I'm sure it will be soon.