By Archana Dongre, Los Angeles
I will trade you all my sadhus for that
one," proclaimed a prominent sadhu visiting the Divine Life Society in
Rishikesh. But DLS President Swami
Chidananda demurred on the half-serious
bargain, and would not part with "my most sought-after sannyasin"--Swami
Adhyatmananda. Without a doubt this charming 54-year-old monk has cut a wide
swath through the Indian spiritual scene. A graduate engineer, Adhyatmananda
first visited DLS at Rishikesh in 1965. With what he learned, he was finally
able to control his chronic asthma. Impressed with the power of yoga and
enchanted with the spiritual greatness of the DLS tradition, he renounced his
promising career, joined the ashram in 1972, and was initiated into sannyas,
Hindu monasticism, two years later.
He served early in his monastic life as Swami
Chidananda's personal assistant, and since then has traveled out from Rishikesh
to conduct hundreds of yoga camps and manage a wide range of projects. Fluent in
eight languages, an accomplished singer, he has been welcomed across India as
well as Europe, America and Japan. He has impressed some very tough groups in
India, including army outposts, and--with personal risk--helped prevent communal
violence on several occasions.
When I spoke with this rising star during his
visit to Los Angeles, I asked if he was being considered to succeed the great
Swami Chidananda, now 83 [see Hinduism Today, October, 1999]. Adhyatmananda's
answer was an emphatic "No," adding humbly, "There are several
other wonderful swamis in the hierarchy, among the 200-plus Swamis of DLS. I am
just happy to serve. DLS founder, the late Swami Sri
Sivananda, was like the
resplendent Sun. I do not come anywhere close to his greatness."
Swami has been the spiritual head of the DLS
Gujarat center, the Sivananda Ashram in Ahmedabad, for the last four years. In
addition to spiritual teaching, yoga and meditation, the center is actively
involved in running free homeopathic clinics and a hospital. "There are
many yogas, like Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Nada Yoga, but our beloved late founder
reveled in Seva Yoga--the yoga of service," said Adhyatmananda.
"The problem of humanity is ignorance,
give them (spiritual) knowledge," the late Sivananda had said. "Be the
best in whatever religion you are in, be it Hindu, Christian or Muslim, and be
an ideal human being, compassionate and free, because you are not the body, but
the all-abiding soul." Adhyatmananda elaborated, "All religions
believe that God is great, and I am His servant. Religion is an outer attire.
Inside we are all human. Understand inner peace, inner awareness and your soul's
true essence of eternal divinity. The Upanishads and the scriptures are a means
to teach that eternal divinity."
Asked about the absence of the word
"Hindu" in the DLS charter, Adhyatmananda says that DLS believes in
Mother India, and that humanity is the first religion--that the language of the
heart matters, nothing else. He adds, "There is a Vishwanath Mandir
headquarters in Rishikesh; in our Ahmedabad center, we have a Siva temple, where
we worship. We celebrate Navaratri, fasting through it. We teach the scriptures.
We do not have to say the word Hindu to prove that we are."
We questioned Swami on several contemporary
issues. Regarding corporal punishment of children, he said, "Children do
not need punishment, they need love. Teach them by example. You as parents keep
on doing the right things, they will learn it. Be patient and understanding.
Parents give birth to children, but also give them life. They are like a musical
instrument, you have to tune it to produce music from it."
On the issue of domestic violence he said,
"Wife-beating takes place due to the ignorant ego of the man. He cannot get
rid of the Lakshmi [Goddess of prosperity] of the home. Remember Manu Smriti:
'Where the women are respected, those are the only places where Gods
rejoice.'" Swami said the societal ills of bribery and corruption arise out
of greed. "Ishavasya Upanishad tells you, 'Do not covet someone else's
property.' Even if society is full of bad elements, you do not give up your own
goodness. That sets an example," he said. "Strengthen your life, be a
good Hindu. That is the real need of the hour."