SRI SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA
Sri Gurudev was born on December 22, 1914 to a devout Shaivite family in South India. His parents had always hosted holy men and sannyasis, poets and musicians, in their home. His mother desired that her next child should be this type of person. Along with her husband, she traveled sixty miles to the holy hill of Palani, to the Ashram of Sri Sadhu Swamigal, where she received a mantra to invoke the Divine Light as manifested in the Sun. Soon after, her second son, Ramaswamy, was born. From the time he was a little boy, Ramu 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 in 1942, he turned his attention to intense spiritual practice.
After several years studying with various masters, including Sri Ramana Maharshi and Swami Chidbhavanandaji of the Ramakrishna Mission, in 1949, he traveled to Rishikesh and met his Master—His Holiness Sri Swami Sivanandaji, from whom he received sannyas diksha that same year. Upon initiation into monkhood he was given the name Swami Satchidananda. Sri Swami Sivanandaji recognized the gift that his newly-initiated swami had for touching the lives of others and, in 1953, sent Sri Gurudev to serve in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon).
This was not Sri Gurudev's first trip to Sri Lanka. When he was twenty years old he had traveled extensively in the country, to the shrines of Kataragama, Manneshwaram, and Adam's Peak.
In service to his guru, Sri Gurudev established several branches of the Divine Life Society in Trincomalee, Colombo and Jaffna. While in Trincomalee, he also taught classes at the Ramakrishna Mission school, and established an orphanage, a free medical dispensary, and cottage industries for young unemployed women who wished to become self sufficient. In Trincomalee, Sri Gurudev also began the interfaith work that would ultimately lead to the building of the LOTUS temple in Virginia. Not wishing to exclude devotees of other gurus and religions, Sri Gurudev and the devotees at the Trincomalee center celebrated the first “All Prophets Day” on Guru Poornima in July 1953. The walls of the center were covered with pictures of Jesus, Buddha, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Sri Adi Shankaracharya, Shiva, Vishnu, and many other saints and deities.
Meanwhile, Sri Gurudev’s devotees in Kandy had found a lovely coconut grove containing a huge building – an old choultry – with an adjoining temple on the banks of the Mahaveli Ganga. Beautiful Kandy, surrounded by green hills and lakes, was a more central location than Trincomalee, from where Sri Gurudev could drive to anywhere on the island. The temple trustees gave permission to use this property as a yoga ashram, and on October 29, 1955 the Satchidananda Thapovanam was dedicated in Kandy and became the center for Sri Gurudev’s service throughout Sri Lanka.
In 1958, Sri Gurudev undertook a strenuous 138-day pilgrimage on foot to Mount Kailash in Tibet, followed by a visit to the Amarnath cave in Kashmir. Details of this pilgrimage are recounted in his book, Kailash Journal.
In 1966, Sri Gurudev was invited to Europe by filmmaker, Conrad Rooks. After a whirlwind tour of Europe and the Middle East, including an audience with the Pope, Sri Gurudev traveled to the US upon the invitation of pop artist, Peter Max. Later that same year, the first Integral Yoga Institute was established in New York City. Over the next few years, Sri Gurudev made multiple international trips, and eventually moved permanently to the US in July 1968.
A year later, he opened the Woodstock Festival. The peaceful atmosphere that prevailed throughout the event has often been attributed to his message and blessings.
Sri Gurudev is the founder and guiding light for the Integral Yoga® Institutes and Centers, located throughout the world. Integral Yoga, as taught by Sri Gurudev, integrates the physical discipline of Hatha Yoga, with selfless service, meditation, prayer, and a 5,000-year-old Raja yoga philosophy, to helps one find health, peace and joy within.
The teachings of Swami Satchidananda have since spread into the mainstream. Integral Yoga is the foundation for Dr. Dean Ornish’s landmark work in reversing heart disease and Dr. Michael Lerner’s noted Commonweal Cancer Help program.
His Holiness Sri Swami Satchidananda, known affectionately to his devotees as Sri Gurudev, and to many others as the “Woodstock Guru,” is one of the most revered Yoga masters of our time. He dedicated his life to peace—both for the individual and for the world. By making Yoga accessible to millions, Sri Gurudev helped launch and shape the modern Yoga movement that has since become a global phenomenon.
For a long time, Sri Gurudev had envisioned a sustainable yoga community where people of diverse faiths and backgrounds would live and serve together in accordance with yogic teachings and principles. In 1979, based on this vision, he established Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville® in Virginia, USA. Yogaville is the home of the Light of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS). This unique interfaith shrine honors the Light that unites all the world religions, while celebrating their diversity.
On August 19, 2002, Sri Gurudev left his body. His Mahasamadhi Shrine is located in Yogaville.
Not limited to any one organization, religion or country, Sri Gurudev received invitations for over fifty years from around the world to speak about the way to peace. In addition, he served on the advisory boards of many world peace and interfaith organizations.
He was invited to share his message of peace with many world leaders and dignitaries, and received many honors for his public service. Among them were the prestigious Juliet Hollister Interfaith Award presented at the United Nations in 1994 and the U Thant Peace Award presented on behalf of the Peace Meditation at the UN in 2002, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, and the highest honor of “Honorary Patron” from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan International. 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.
Sri Gurudev is the author of a number of books, including Integral Yoga Hatha, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, To Know Your Self, The Living Gita, Kailash Journal, and The Golden Present. He is the subject of three biographies, Apostle of Peace, Portrait of a Modern Sage, and Boundless Giving, and the film, Living Yoga: The Life and Teachings of Swami Satchidananda.