Swami Satchidananda arrived in New York the summer of 1966. He was hosted by artist Peter Max, along with a close friend and designer colleague of Max’s, Victor Zurbel. As Max’s wife had recently had a baby, it was decided that Zurbel would host the Swami at his apartment. Max and Zurbel decided to host a gathering so their other artist friends could meet the Swami. After speaking for about two hours, the Swami closed his eyes and silently led the group into their first Yoga meditation. Afterward, the group all went into the kitchen and shared their experience and discussed what they could do to keep the Swami in New York. One of Max’s friends said, “I know what to do.” He put his hands in his pockets and dropped whatever money he had on the Formica table. Everybody followed that gesture and dropped $5 and $10 bills on the table. Between them, they gathered about $100, and that was the birth of the Integral Yoga Institute.
The group found an apartment on the upper West Side of Manhattan, pooled their resources to pay the monthly rent, and Swamiji began teaching daily Yoga classes and giving weekly talks on various aspects of Yoga. The IYI grew through word of mouth. Many took up the regular practice of Hatha Yoga and meditation. Eventually, some of these students became interested in an even deeper connection with their Guru. To those who sincerely wanted this connection, Swamiji gave mantra initiation.
As 1967 drew to a close, Swamiji called the IYI members together. “I have to go back. There are many people in Ceylon who have been waiting patiently. I have to think of them too.” “When will you come back?” they asked. “You mustn’t think that I will just be coming back. There is work I must do, and many people there want me just as you do. There is a need there.” “But we need you too, Swamiji.” “Yes, you feel that way now, but this is a country where things change quickly. After a couple months you may forget me. Perhaps this Yoga is only a fancy, something of which you will grow tired.” “No, we’ll continue with our work,” they promised. “We’ll keep giving classes and playing your tapes while you’re away. As soon as you reach Ceylon you can finish your work and then return to New York permanently.”
His plane flew over the Pacific to Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. A huge reception was assembled in Ceylon in Swamiji’s honor. It was February 22, 1967, almost a year since he had left for one month. Hundreds of friends and devotees greeted him. There were receptions in Kandy, Trincomalee, and Jaffna. A pile of letters from New York awaited him at his cottage. They all said very much the same thing in different words: “The members of the IYI have asked me to write and urge you to come back as soon as possible. There has been a mass spiritual awakening and a coming together of all people who can sense this. Thousands of people gathered in Central Park for a ‘Be-In’ just to be together. There was meditation, chanting, dancing, kite flying, loving and everybody dressed in colorful clothes with flowers and feathers. The only thing missing was our Swamiji. Come back soon! We all love you very much.”
On May 24, 1967, he returned to New York City and continued to make America his home base as he also continued traveling, answering invitations for his service around the globe.