by Dr. Sarat Chandra Behera
This article is a chapter from Swami Chidananda’s biography The Holy Stream.
Swamiji emerged from the epochal All-India tour of 1950 as a distinguished messenger of the Sanatana Dharma. The Holy Master who had prophesied so often about the future importance of Chidananda to the modern world was happy to find the vindication of that faith. He could see that Swamiji was the fittest person to carry the eternal message of Bharatavarsha to the West. Among his disciples he was the most eminently suitable to convey his gospel of divine life to all corners of the world and be its chief exponent and example.
For himself, however, Swamiji had a very much different programme. He was gradually moving further and further away into a life of seclusion, trying to live all the time in a blissful state of superconsciousness in the solitude of the Himalayas. Thus in the summer of 1958 he proceeded with the Master’s permission to Badri Narayan and stayed there for several months in inner silence. The temple was to be closed for winter and so Swamiji came down to the Ashram in December. But he still remained so much indrawn and retiring that Gurudev advised him to proceed to Uttarakashi and requested the Manager of Kalikamaliwala Kshetra to write to the Branch Manager of the organisation at Uttarakashi to provide suitable accommodations to Swamiji. This arrangement was made by Gurudev on the 31st December, 1958. But this was not to materialise. There was a dramatic change in the plans. Swami Radha who had organised the Sivananda Ashram at Vancouver in Canada visited Ananda Kutir in the meanwhile and prayed to Gurudev to ask one of his senior Sannyasi disciples to visit and stay at Vancouver Ashram for a period of three to four months in order to inspire and guide the seekers there. The Holy Master promised her to make the necessary arrangements and, therefore, revised his plan in respect of Swamiji and decided to send him to Vancouver, for he was the most accomplished and worthy ambassador of Divine Life. He knew that Canada or Uttarakashi should make no difference to Swamiji who had already attained the highest kind of spiritual knowledge and poise. Therefore, he called him to his side and asked him to proceed to Canada to preach the message of Yoga and Vedanta in the Western hemisphere. Swamiji humbly reminded the Master that arrangements had already been made for him to start for Uttarakashi. But Gurudev merely said, “God’s work is good.” He thus reminded Swamiji that he was born to fulfil a great mission, to elevate humanity in the East and the West. Swamiji bowed down before the Master, murmuring to himself, “O Lord, Thy Will be done.” Thus the disinterested Mahatma who had already made up his mind to give himself up to unbroken meditation in seclusion now agreed to embark on an extensive tour of Canada and North American Continent in obedience to the Will of God and Gurudev.
Swami Radha, however, fell seriously ill and could not make the necessary arrangements for his journey and he had to keep on biding his time in the Ashram in accordance with the desires of the Master. Mrs. Victoria Coanda, another devotee of Gurudev from Milwaukee, U.S.A., who also visited the Ashram had heard meanwhile that there was some likelihood of Swamiji’s visit to Canada. She voluntarily sent the passage money and beseeched Gurudev to send Swamiji anyhow. So the Master advised Swamiji to accept the invitation of Mrs. Coanda and to proceed to the United States first and then to Canada. This was the providential arrangement by which Swamiji was led to the United States in place of Uttarakashi. With the barest possible minimum of personal articles and with the choicest blessings of Gurudev, Swamiji left the Ashram on 30th October, 1959. On the eve of his departure for the United States of America, Swamiji addressed a public meeting in New Delhi on 31st October at the Constitution Club Hall. Dealing with Swami Sivananda’s message to the West he concluded vibrantly, “O man! Thou art essentially divine. Godliness is inherent in you. You are not of this earth, earthy. You are the spirit full of effulgence of the light of Satchidananda. That is your supreme source, your innermost substance and your glorious ultimate goal.”
On 2nd November, 1959, Swamiji left Delhi by Air for America. On the way he broke his journey at Cairo, where he was received by Mahamad Abd Allah el Mehdi of the local branch of the Divine Life Society. At Istanbul, similarly, he was received by Ali Riza Akisan, a journalist. Most of the newspapers at Istanbul gave wide publicity to his visit. Swamiji gave interviews to the Press and also to ADC, the premier newsreel organisation in Turkey. He demonstrated Yogic exercises and delivered his first public lecture of the tour at the Istanbul High School. Here he inspired the students to live ideal lives and to build sound character. Enroute to New York Swamiji halted at Rome, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam and London. When he reached New York, he found Swami Vishnudevananda waiting at the airport for him. Swami Vishnu, brother disciple of Master Sivananda, had started the Sivananda Yoga-Vedanta centre in different parts of America, for propagation of Hatha Yoga. Living at the Yoga Vedanta Centre, Cornish Arms Hotel, therefore, Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj delivered a series of three lectures on the subject of Raja Yoga, the concept of Illusion in Hindu Philosophy and Karma and reincarnation on 19th, 20th and 21st respectively. It was an extraordinary experience for the audience, who, while being conveyed on the crests of powerful eloquence and logic felt at the same time a tremendous spiritual force being generated by the venerable Swamiji which in some supra-logical manner took possession of their entire being. It was a thrilling case of ‘I came, I saw, I was conquered’ for each member in the audience.
On the 26th November Swamiji left New York and arrived on the same day by air at Milwaukee (Wisconsin), where he was warmly received by Mr. and Mrs. Coanda. On the arrival of this great Indian Yogi, Milwaukee Daily published the news that the spiritual ambassador of Sivananda had reached the States for propagation of Yoga and Vedanta.
On 2nd December, 1959, Swamiji made his first appearance on a television network in the U.S.A. and spoke over the radio soon after on the gospel of Divine Life. He pointed out that truth, non-violence and purity are the essence of religion and spirituality. They are the essence of Yoga and Vedanta. Selfless service, universal love, charity, purity, devotion and meditation will automatically, unfailingly lead to illumination and Self-realisation. Thus he spoke to the Americans on the gospel of Gurudev Sivananda and impressed them in personal contacts with his deep sincerity, supreme purity and profound humility.
On the 6th December Swamiji addressed the first meeting of the Yoga-Vedanta centre at Milwaukee and drew about one hundred seekers to the practical training of Yoga. He began a short course on 14th December and held daily classes on Suryanamaskar, Yogasanas, Pranayama and meditation. He took up Gurudev’s work “Fourteen Lessons on Raja Yoga” as the text book for these classes and expounded the ideas of the book in his characteristically elevating and inimitable style. He also conducted daily meditation classes at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Coanda, at 607, College Avenue. The hosts were filled with indescribable joy at the holy presence of Swamiji. Some of his discourses at Milwaukee were Yoga for the Christian, Yoga and Self culture, New Life and Practice of Meditation. At Kiwanis Club and South Milwaukee Public School he lectured on Psychology in Yoga, the Hindu View of Life, Vedic Concepts and Ideals and Important Ideals for the Youth. In all these lectures there was no intellectual jugglery or mystical abstractions; based and certified by his own personal experience they comprised very practical and homely enunciations and instructions. During his stay at Milwaukee he also paid a visit to the residence of Mrs. Veera Burch, a sister of Mrs. Victoria Coanda, and gave his sermons in two special Satsangs at 3620E, Underwood Avenue, Cudahy, Wisconsin. Dorothy Madle, a journalist and writer nostalgically reminisced later: “This slender monk in traditional saffron robe sat contentedly in the Coandas’ living room, answering questions in unassuming manner. Swamiji told that secrecy is no longer necessary in Yoga. Yoga is not a religion but technique for drawing nearer to God.” In the middle of January, 1960 Swamiji visited Minneapolis in the neighbouring state Minnesota where he gave five discourses on the spiritual culture of India and its application in the life of modern man. These lecture programmes were arranged by the Young Men’s Christian Association and they were very well attended.
At the request of Dr. Judith Tyberg of the East West Culture Centre, Swamiji went to Los Angeles on 7th February, 1960 and stayed there for a month. During this period he exerted an overwhelming spiritual influence over the Americans. His lecture at the East West Cultural Centre, 1162, St. Andrews Place, on What and Why of Yoga created a tremendous stir and spiritual awakening and many men of eminence and learning conceded that Swamiji was an extraordinary spiritual personality. A sincere seeker, Peter Mann, who met Swamiji during this period, wrote, “One look at Swami Chidananda visiting here from India and you realise that he is no ordinary man. It is not his pale orange monkish garb or his close cropped hair that gives this impression. It is not even the case with which he assumes the difficult lotus position.
Undoubtedly it is his eyes, large, dark and lustrous: they reflect a mystic depth.” In his discourses at Los Angeles Swamiji held that Yoga transcends religion and is available to every one who believes in God. During those days his name was on every body’s lips there. On 22nd February the Monday issue of the paper “Los Angeles Examiner” reported eloquently praising Swamiji. It commented on the wonderful impact of Swamiji’s elucidations: “As you talk with Swami Chidananda at the East West Cultural Centre he reveals the what and why of Yoga.”
Mrs. Meta Thur Olson, who knew Swami Sivananda earlier, was so much impressed by Chidananda that she wrote to Gurudev, “I also want to tell you that Kenneth and I were very favourably impressed by Swami Chidananda. We feel that if you yourself could not come to America at this time you sent the finest ambassador possible to represent your own good self. When one looks beneath the outer garb of the man one finds a very saintly soul with many beautiful qualities. He feels so deeply his devotion to the Lord and is so sincere! As I observed him here in our home and also listened to his lecture I realised that he is a reflection of his beloved Master… It is indeed a great privilege to know him and I just cannot speak too highly of him…. He does not even know that I am writing to tell you these nice things. He is such a humble and blessed soul, I feel sure, that he could never tell you himself.”
During his stay at Los Angeles Swamiji visited the headquarters of Self Realisation Fellowship at Mt. Washington where he was the guest of Sister Daya Mata, President of the Self Realisation Fellowship. Sister Daya happens to be the disciple of Paramahamsa Yogananda, who was very successful in popularising Kriya Yoga in America. She was so deeply impressed by the divine personality of Swamiji, that she felt moved to write to Gurudev Sivananda, “Your faithful chela, Sri Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj, has also visited us and is now staying for a few days in our hermitage in Encinitas. We are deeply pleased to have him with us, for his humility, simplicity and purity have won our hearts. He brings to us too, a fresh inspiring touch of the divine life from the shores of the Ganga in Rishikesh”.
For about a month Swamiji conducted Yoga classes and group meditation and delivered lectures on Yoga and Vedanta in Los Angeles. Then he proceeded to San Francisco, where he devoted another month to the propagation of the message of Divine Life. These official programmes apart, Swamiji gave interviews to a large number of people and left an indelible impression on them. One remembers one such personal encounter during his stay in San Francisco, when he visited James Town to give Darshan to mother Paula Corneley, a German lady, who was an ardent devotee and sincere Sadhak. It was an interesting meeting. While mother Paula felt embarrassed and deeply touched by his kindness, Swamiji met her most unassumingly and genially like an old friend and behaved in a very natural and easy style. The impact of this short visit was to be a memorable one from that time. Mother Paula dedicated herself entirely to Seva and Sadhana. She realised that when the field is ready, the seed too is ready and that the Guru will be at one’s threshold in the proper time.
On 13th April Swamiji left San Francisco and arrived in Montreal, after a brief visit to Portland. At Montreal he guided the activities of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre at 2029, Stanley Street, in the absence of Swami Vishnudevananda, the Founder Director of that Centre, who was on a month’s visit to India. Here he gave a series of lectures on different aspects of Yoga and Indian Culture. From Montreal he proceeded to Vancouver B.C. on 19th May and was warmly received by Swami Sivananda Radha who had recovered from her illness, and other devotees. Here at Sivanandashram, 6591, Marlborough Avenue in the suburb of South Burnaby he held regular classes on meditation and gave a series of discourses on different branches of Yoga. He taught the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Bhagavad Gita and Upanishad in the light of his experiences. He served the mission of the Master in this Western part of Canada till the middle of August.
Before the end of August he arrived in Los Angeles. At Hollywood, under the auspices of the East-West Cultural Centre, he gave a series of ten lectures on the principles of Yoga and spiritual values of life. Then he left again for Vancouver for a short rest. By this time Swamiji’s fame had spread through the length and breadth of this vast country. He was invited by the American Academy of Asian Studies to come to San Francisco to deliver a series of lectures in the Academy as a Visiting Professor. Therefore, he left Vancouver for San Francisco and spent four months delivering lectures on Vedanta and Indian heritage to the students of the American Academy of Asian Studies. During his four months’ stay at San Francisco he had a very useful and long programme of holding classes and giving public lectures. On weekends sometimes he visited James Town as the guest of the great devotee Mother Paula. During such visit to James Town, the residence of Mother Paula Corneley was converted into another Ashram and filled with spiritual vibrations. Here Swamiji devoted his whole time for discourses, Satsangs, group meditation, Yoga Asana classes and interviews clarifying the doubts of a good number of seekers. On two occasions he gave his address in the local Town Hall which was surprisingly packed with large audiences even without much publicity. Spiritual vibrations through contact with a God-realised soul were novel experiences for the seekers who used to flock there and Swamiji endeared himself to them all by his grace and wisdom.
Referring to the Cosmic plan that arranged these Satsangs. Swamiji later, wrote to Mother Paula, “Had it not been for the force of that desire of the merit of your almost incessant Smaran, how is it that I was compelled to come to James Town again and again every time I was in the West?” The story of mother Paula’s devotion to Swamiji is, indeed, a unique and thrilling one. So great was the impact of Swamiji on her that later, after he left America, she sold all her possessions, relinquished all material happiness, came to Sivananda Ashram, built there the Om Kutir by the side of the Yoga Sadhana Kutir and spent her time in the service of the animals, in meditation and prayer. When her last days came she only wanted that after her death her body should be put into the Ganga personally by Swamiji himself. In mysterious circumstances Swamiji did fulfil her last wish. Thus in the East or in the West he was always deeply concerned about the individual devotees and seekers rather than merely official programmes. From San Francisco Swamiji proceeded to Los Angeles. He then visited Houston (Texas), Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and a few other cities early in 1961, spreading the message of the Holy Master in all these places. Then he went to Montreal, Canada, for a short stay in the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre there. For nearly one year and a half Swamiji taught Yoga and Vedanta in North America. Then he left Montreal in March 1961 and spent a week each, in New York and London. From London he proceeded to Switzerland in the first week of April. In Switzerland he delivered his discourses for a month and also conducted an Easter Spiritual Retreat at Trogen, near St. Gall.
Then he gave public lectures at Zurich, Basel and Bern. From Switzerland Swamiji went to Italy to have Darshan of the saintly Catholic priest, Padre Pio. This Christian Father was a Franciscan monk bearing five stigmata on two hands, two feet and one side of his body. He identified himself with the sufferings of Christ and received the five stigmata on his body. The Father was a pretty old man in his seventies when Swamiji met him. This senior saint showed grace to the young Indian Swami. Swamiji sought his blessings and felt deeply gratified by this brief association. This is how men of God, with their minds and their lives wholly absorbed in God, cherish and enlighten each other. From Italy Swamiji proceeded to London, then revisited New York where he halted for a few days, and then left for South America at the behest of the Holy Master.
He arrived at Montevideo (Uruguay) on 21 May, 1961 and opened the Montevideo Branch of the Divine Life Society on the 27th July. He stayed here for four months and held regular classes on different aspects of Yoga including group meditation. Dr. Orlando P. Ndal, an ardent devotee of Master Sivananda, was the Chief Organiser of Swamiji’s tour in South America. During Swamiji’s stay at Montevideo Dr. Mateo J. M. Magarinos, the then Deputy Foreign Minister of Uruguay, felt deeply impressed by Swamiji’s spiritual aura and took keen interest in his teachings. On 30th September, 1961, Swamiji’s tour programme in Uruguay concluded and he was given a moving send-off by the seekers and students of the Centro Sivananda of Montevideo. On an invitation from Alexander Eru and his friends Swamiji proceeded to Argentina for a five-day programme of Yoga classes and spiritual discourses at Buenos Aires.
On the 5th October 1961 he flew back to the United States and landed at Houston (Texas) on the 6th. Here he delivered talks and conducted Satsang for three days. Mr. Barrie Tinkler and Professor Earnest Wood arranged these lecture programmes and played hosts to Swamiji. Then Swamiji proceeded to San Antonia, where he met Dr. Herbert Shelton, the reputed Natural Hygienist. He then moved to California as the guest of Dr. Judy Tyberg of the East West Cultural Centre. Many sincere seekers and old devotees like Mario, Brodine, Tom Danelli, Ina Selin, Pruce, Rev. Raymer, Rev. Gaunt, Gunner Walter flocked at Los Angeles to meet Swamiji and listen to his words of wisdom. Swamiji inspired the seekers in a prayer meeting by his elevating discourse and conducted a meditation class.
From Los Angeles he proceeded to San Francisco on 20th October 1961 and on the next day he went to James Town again to give Darshan to Mother Paula Corneley and her spiritual group and shower his blessings on the seekers there. It was the insistent prayer of Mother Paula that had led Swamiji to the place. As Swamiji later wrote to her explaining the mysterious manner in which he often answered her unspoken but fervent prayers, “I am by thy side: I dwell within thee as a part of the eternal Antaryamin, the Supreme Indweller with whom I am ever one in spirit.” In the open air under the sunny autumn sky he filled the devotees with a meditative mood and blessed them with his prayers. Returning to San Francisco, Swamiji again addressed the devotees of the Divine Life Society there at Metaphysical Town Hall and clarified the doubts of the students and seekers in some personal interviews.
From San Francisco he proceeded to Portland (Oregon State) where he met Sri Swami Aseshanandaji of the Vedanta Society and then moved North to Vancouver. At Vancouver devotees like Swami Sivananda Radha, Bill Eilers, Joe, Hail, Carol, Rev. Preistly, and Fred Black assembled on a Sunday and drank deep from the fountain of wisdom contained in benedictory discourses of Swamiji on 6th November, 1961. Swamiji left Vancouver for Iowa City where he halted as a guest of Dr. R. Holzinger and inspired the devotees in a prayer meeting. From Iowa he proceeded to Minneapolis where he associated himself in two Satsangs. Then he proceeded to Milwaukee on the 10th November and stayed there for fourteen days as the guest of Mr. Joseph and Mrs. Victoria Coanda. Here he met Swami Sivapremananda from Rishikesh Ashram who had then come to Milwaukee. On 23rd November, 1961, he bade good-bye to the devotees of Milwaukee and took leave of them finally and proceeded to New York where he stayed for four days and addressed the students of Yoga Vedanta Centre. On 27th November he left the United States and went across to Montreal where he met Swami Vishnudevananda. He addressed there two public meetings, on 30th November and 1st December.
Swamiji left the New World on December 1, 1961 and turned homeward. On his way back he halted at Paris and journeyed to the holy shrine of Lourdes, situated at a distance of about 500 miles. At Lourdes there is a miracle spring, visited by cripples in large number to have a dip for cure. The shrine is hallowed by the visitation of mother Mary. There is a statue of Mother Mary to commemorate her sacred visit. Swamiji took a sacred bath in the famous waters and then proceeded to Germany and later on to Switzerland.
On 15th December Swamiji left Zurich and went on a pilgrimage to the holy land of Assisi where St. Francis was born about 1800 years ago. As has been indicated earlier, Swamiji was much inspired by the life of St. Francis right from his childhood and his own life may be fittingly compared to the life of that great Christian saint. In fact, in the West some devout persons regard him as the St. Francis of India. He took it as a holy privilege to pay a visit to the birth place of the great saint and felt highly sanctified in the holy centre. Then he proceeded to San Giovanni Rotondo to pay homage to Padre Pio once again.
Thereafter Swamiji proceeded to the holy land of Jerusalem and Bethlehem (Here the compassionate master prayed for the well-being of a young boy whose despairing mother had prayed to him for bringing about some change in her wayward son.) where he observed the holy Christmas on the 25th December, 1961, and offered his thanks to the Lord Saviour for the completion of his assignment among His children in the West.
Swamiji’s first tour through the Western hemisphere had come to a close. From Jerusalem he proceeded to Cairo and from there he flew to India towards the close of the year 1961. On 30th December he reached Bombay and went for a brief rest for some time to Pudukottai in South India. On 23rd January, 1962, he arrived at the Ashram and proceeded straight to Sri Gurudev’s Kutir and offered his homage at the feet of the Holy Master.
The whole itinerary was in the nature of a service of the worshipful Master Swami Sivananda and his divine mission. More than two years ago he had touched the holy feet by way of parting. The mission over, again he returned to the refuge of those holy feet. All that he had achieved, all that he had served, even all that he had effected he now humbly surrendered at those lotus feet.