The Reverend Sri Swami Satchidananda has for many years
been an apostle of peace in a world filled with war, a herald of moderation
in a culture addicted to the extremes.
Born in India, Satchidananda received spiritual training from many of that
land's most renowned 20th century spiritual leaders, including Sri Ramana
Maharshi, Sri Aurobindo, and Sri Swami Sivananda Maharaj. Trained in science,
mechanics, and technology as well, he was certified in homeopathic and biochemic
medicines by the Indian Institute of Homeopaths.
An American citizen since 1976, he lives in Yogaville, the Satchidananda
ashram in rural Buckingham, Virginia. He has tirelessly pursued an ecumenical
approach to religious practice and frequently served as a healing bridge
between people of different faiths and beliefs. His watchword is: "Truth
is One, Paths are Many."
DR: Gandhi once said that he was not only a Hindu, but also a Christian,
a Moslem, and a Jew. Do you also feel that way?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: Yes, I do. I don't even differentiate them.
As a Hindu, I am all. In real Hinduism, all the various parts are not separate.
We have Catholic principles, Protestant principles, Buddhist principles,
Moslem principles, and so on. The name may not be the same, but you find
the same principles. So Hinduism itself is not just one religion, but a
synthesis of all the various approaches.
DR: What led you, as a young man, to pursue a spiritual path?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: I must say, the atmosphere in which I was born.
My parents were very spiritually oriented. I was exposed to various spiritual
teachers, who sometimes would come to stay at the house. Naturally, then,
I grew into that.
DR: Was there a time, as a youth, when you questioned what you were
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: Normally, yes. When somebody would say something,
I would try to understand. Only if I were convinced would I accept it. Otherwise,
even if I would read it in the scriptures, I wouldn't accept it right away.
I had to be convinced of it.
DR: What is the most important thing you have learned?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: Just be what you are, and let that divine force
function through you. Don't rush -p; you don't have to become somebody.
You are what you are. Accept it that way, and be peaceful.
DR: What is the greatest challenge you have ever faced?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: I don't think so far I have come to any challenges.
I accept everything. I don't challenge anything. I just say, "That
is the way it is -p; accept it."
DR: What would you say are the most important lessons that Westerners
need to learn from the teachings of the East?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: The West has placed more importance on the material
side alone. Finding some position, making some money, acquiring some things.
The West is beginning to learn that that alone is not going to make a person
happy, so they are naturally turning to the spiritual side. In a way, the
Eastern thoughts help them to understand their own religion better. They
don't have to go to the East to get that truth. It is there already, they
just ignored it. With the exposure to Eastern thoughts, they are finding
it at their own back doors.
DR: Is it sometimes easier to see a truth when presented in a new
way, than it is to see it at home?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: It is not a new way. It is just the basics;
what to look for, where to look for it. It's like this -p; is there any
particular place in the world where there is no water?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: There is water everywhere. We only tell people
how to dig, that's all. Dig it in your own back yard. Sometimes a little
deeper, it doesn't matter. Don't be disappointed if you don't hit water
for 30 feet. Go another 10 feet and you will surely hit water. It is there
with you always. You don't have to go searching here and there. Go within.
DR: What advice would you give to Westerners with a busy life-style,
to integrate teachings such as yours?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: Life can be busy, but one need not cut short
any of the activities. In the midst of the activities, be relaxed. Then
you can do more work without getting tired. That means keep a cool mind,
and always work for the benefit of everybody, not only for yourself. If
a person can work without any selfishness, he can work day and night without
getting tired. It is the selfishness that creates tension in the body and
DR: Should everyone practice yoga?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: Yes, if you understand what is yoga.
DR: Please explain.
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: The tranquillity of the mind. It doesn't matter
how you achieve it. You choose your own way, your own path. Maintain the
tranquillity, maintain the peace. That's yoga. With that, we can achieve
anything and everything in life. All that you do will become successful.
There is a simple saying in English, "Contentment is golden."
You don't have to look for a gold rush in the West or East. Be contented,
and whatever you touch turns into gold. Contentment means being peaceful.
You are happy. You are not greedy. Accept whatever comes. Be contented.
So remain, keep the mind in that peaceful state, and whatever you do will
DR: What led you to come to America to live and to teach?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: I did that due to an invitation, from an American
who met me in the East. I never even thought of coming here, I had no plans,
No idea. One film maker who came to India and then to Ceylon, (now known
as Sri Lanka), came to know of me through some of his friends. He spent
a few days with me, and he took a liking to my approach. He, being a rather
comfortable rich man, asked if he could have some time with me. I said,
"Why not?" So that's how I was invited to the West, first to Europe,
and then to America.
DR: If such an important turn in your life was something which you
had not planned, how important is planning?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: It's all right, there's nothing wrong in planning,
because in a way we have a little freedom given to us. So with our individual
freedom, we can plan things. But we should know that our individual freedom
is limited. So if you plan something and it doesn't happen, learn to accept
DR: In other words, we should not be attached to the specifics of
our plans, just to the "heart" of the plan.
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: I think St. Francis had a prayer, something
like, "Lord give me the strength to do things for the good of humanity,
and at the same time if I can't achieve it, give me the courage to accept
DR: If you had one wish that you could make, and you knew that it
would come true, what would you wish for?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: My wish is that people will always do the right
things, say the right things, so that they can maintain their health, happiness,
and usefulness in life.
DR: Tell me about the Yogaville Community.
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: The aim behind Yogaville is to create a small
example of the world in which we want to live. We have great ambitions,
to change the whole world to be a healthy world, a happy world, peaceful
and harmonious, [with people] caring and sharing with each other. We may
not be able to change the whole world, but we can try it in a small little
way. So it's a miniature of the world that we want to present. Healthy,
happy, harmonious, peaceful.
DR: What kinds of programs are there that interested readers can
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: There is a personal as well as public life.
It's a village, so we have all kinds of varied activities, everything. But
in the personal practice, one has to spend some time in taking care of his
body. Some yoga postures, breathing techniques, and then meditation, repeating
the holy names. These are to keep yourself "trimmed," if I could
say so. Then, apply that condition to your day-to-day activities. It's like
everywhere else, people begin their work at 8:30 or 9:00, stop at noon,
have lunch. We have three times daily meditation. And all the activities
should be done with the same feeling, that we are doing something good to
the world, as a service to humanity, the same with work as worship. DR:
Are the practices and activities at Yogaville ecumenical, and do you therefore
welcome people from a wide range of traditions?
SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA: Very ecumenical. People of all the various approaches,
even people who don't believe in God, are accepted, as long as they want
to live a clean life. The only condition is, we do not allow anything that
would disturb the body and mind. So we don't have any meat in the diet,
no alcohol, no smoking, no illicit sex, and no egoistic, selfish approach.
We are all one family, we share everything. We want always really to serve
others. As long as that feeling is there, one is welcome. Not that we don't
like people if they don't have that idea. They may not be ready for it.
I always give the example of how in a plane there is a smoking section and
a non-smoking section. We don't insist that you do not smoke -p; if you
want to, the other section is there. But this is a place for non-smokers.
This is the place for people who want to practice these ideals. So if you
like these ideals, come and be with us. You may not yet be ready. Whenever
you are, come here. Until then, we are still friends.
Daniel Redwood is a chiropractor, writer and musician from Virginia
Beach, Virginia. He is the author of A Time to Heal: How to Reap the Benefits
of Holistic Health and is a member of the editorial board of the Journal
of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.Dr. Redwood can be reached by
e-mail at Redwoods@infi.net.
©1990, 1995 Daniel Redwood, D.C.