A Life of Spiritual Vision
“Swami Satchidananda enriched the lives of countless others and his efforts made a positive difference to our world and our future.”
–President and Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton
I have met some truly great men in my life, but none greater than Swami Satchidananda, for his life is dedicated to service and the cause of peace–both individual and universal–and to fostering religious harmony among all people.
–Dean Ornish, MD
“Swami Satchidananda has been and continues to be our great teacher and God’s special messenger.”
–The Very Rev. James Parks Morton
“I consider Swami Satchidananda one of the greatest spiritual teachers of our time.”
“There are teachers who guide their students to mystical experience. There are others, too, who inspire their students to loving service. What I admire in Swami Satchidananda is the consistency with which he bonds these two together.”
–Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB
“The dedicated ever enjoy Supreme Peace. Therefore, live only to serve.”
H. H. Sri Swami Satchidananda often said these words in talks all over the world. These two beautiful sentences of guiding light are even more powerful coming from this being who lived them every day of his life.
Swami Satchidananda was born on December 22nd in 1914 during the month known as Margali, the Dawn of the Devas. He was the second son of Sri Kalyanasundaram Gounder and his wife Srimati Velammai. Their home had always been a meeting place for poets, musicians, philosophers and astrologers. Sannyasis (monks) and holy men passing through the area were directed to the home of Sri Kalyanasundaram and Srimati Velammai for food and lodging. Srimati Velammai was inspired by the holy men and decided that her next child should be this type of person. She and her husband traveled sixty miles to Palani, the holy hill, to the Ashram of Sri Sadhu Swamigal where she was given a mantra to invoke the Divine Light as manifested in the Sun. She repeated it constantly, developing a vibration conducive to receiving the type of soul she desired.
From the time he was a little boy, Swami Satchidananda (then known as “Ramaswamy”) was deeply spiritual. Even as a young child, he spoke truths and displayed insights far beyond his years. His devotion to God was strong, and he looked at people of all castes and faiths with an equal eye, always recognizing the same light within every being. That recognition of the universal light equally present in all people remained as he grew to adulthood, became a businessman and a husband.
When he lost his wife, he turned his attention to spiritual practice and studying with many great spiritual masters, including Sri Ramana Maharshi. Finally, in 1949, Ramaswamy met his Guru—H. H. Sri Swami Sivananda of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh. He received Sannyas Diksha (initiation into monkhood) from his spiritual master and was given the name Swami Satchidananda.
And so began a new level of dynamic service for Swami Satchidananda. Sri Swami Sivananda recognized the gift that his newly-initiated Sannyasin had for touching the lives of others and did not let this disciple stay in the Rishikesh Ashram for long. Soon, he sent Swami Satchidananda to serve in various parts of India and Sri Lanka. That led to Swami Satchidananda’s service in many other countries, and eventually—at the insistence of his many American students—to his moving to the United States, as well as to the founding of Satchidananda Ashram—Yogaville, Virginia and the Integral Yoga Institutes around the world.
In 1979, Sri Swamiji was inspired to establish Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville. Founded on his teachings, it is a place where people of different faiths and backgrounds can come to realize their essential oneness. Today, Satchidananda Ashram, the Integral Yoga Institutes, and certified teachers throughout the United States and abroad offer classes, workshops, retreats, and teacher training programs featuring all aspects of Integral Yoga. Integral Yoga® is also the foundation for Dr. Dean Ornish’s landmark work in reversing heart disease and Dr. Michael Lerner’s noted Commonweal Cancer Help program.
Swami Satchidananda’s message emphasized harmony among people of all races and faiths. His motto was: “Truth is One, Paths are Many.” He believed that we are all one in Spirit and that throughout history great spiritual masters, such as Buddha, Moses, and Jesus, have come forward to teach the people of the world how to experience this spiritual oneness. After we have found that Spirit within ourselves, we will always recognize it in others. Then, we truly have power to help heal the world. Swami Satchidananda exemplified these teachings. His beautiful message is that we, too, can exemplify them.
Not limited to any one organization, religion or country, he received invitations for over fifty years from around the world to speak about the way to peace. He served on the advisory boards numerous Yoga, interfaith and world peace organizations.
Swami Satchidananda received many honors for his public service, including the Juliet Hollister Interfaith Award presented at the United Nations and, in 2002, the U Thant Peace Award. On the occasion of his birth centennial in 2014, he was posthumously honored with the James Parks Morton Interfaith Award by the Interfaith Center of New York. Swami Satchidananda dedicated his life to the cause of peace—both individual and universal—and to unity and harmony among all people.
Witnessing the genuine peace and joy experienced by all who attended the many interfaith gatherings in which he participated, Swami Satchidananda was inspired to create a permanent place where all people could come to realize their essential oneness. Built in Yogaville, in Central Virginia, the Light Of Truth Universal Shrine (known as LOTUS) is unique in the world because it has altars for all the world faiths. Dedicated to the Light of all faiths and to world peace, the LOTUS is an enduring symbol of unity in diversity. It was completed in 1986 and is open to the public.
Swami Satchidananda took Mahasamadhi on August 19, 2002 in South India. Shortly before leaving the body, he told many people: “I will always be with you in Spirit. Even if my body is not there, you will never be without me.” That is the reason we refer to his “having dropped the body” or as having “left the body.” That is what the Yoga tradition teaches us about the ongoing relationship with one’s Satguru.