Swami Satchidananda was born on December 22, 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 began 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.
A New Life in Service
And so began a new level of dynamic service for Swami Satchidananda. Sri Swami Sivananda (photos: newly shaved Sannyasi; with his Guru, Swami Sivananda; in the Ganges just prior to Sannyas initiation) recognized the gift that his newly-initiated Sannyasi 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 Integral Yoga International, with centers around the world, and later, Satchidananda Ashram—Yogaville, Virginia.
In 1979, Sri Swamiji was inspired to establish 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–Yogaville, Integral Yoga Institutes and Centers, 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, Jesus, and Muhammad, 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.
“When we forget that we are essentially spiritual beings, we see only the body and mind. It is because we have different bodies and minds that we see all the diversity in people. And wherever there are differences, there can be either fighting or fun. If you learn to appreciate and enjoy the diversity—while realizing the unity—then it will all be fun! We may look different but if we see the spirit we realize, I am you, you are me, we are one.
“Imagine, if all of a sudden we all cease to have these differences—we all look the same and we all have the same name. Imagine the confusion! Don’t we have the expression, ‘Variety is the spice of life?’ But behind all these identities there is something that unites us all—we are essentially spiritual beings made in the image of God. When you realize who you are, then you realize that everyone is equally a spark of the same divinity.
“We should rise above all the differences and distinctions and see our spiritual oneness; we should learn to love each other, to open our minds and hearts. Even just focusing on this one thought: I belong to the whole world and the entire world is my family will make you so happy and peaceful. Remember: Each person is a child of God and we are all sisters and brothers.”
Swami Satchidananda enriched the lives of countless others and his efforts made a positive difference to our world and our future.
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.
Swami Satchidananda has been and continues to be our great teacher and God’s special messenger.
“It is through the work of pioneers such as Swami Satchidananda that Yoga has gained acceptance and recognition across the world.”
—Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi
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.