First Lesson Learned from Swami Vishnudevananda
Question: What was the first lesson you learned from Swami Vishnudevananda?
Answer: The first lesson I learned from Swami Vishnudevananda? This is the little story. I met Swami Vishnudevananda in two steps. First step: I went to a bookstore, looking for a book about tractors, and I was in that section. Then, for no good reason, I pushed my hand deep into the shelf, without seeing what I was doing, and I grabbed a book. I pulled it out and it was The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnudevananda. Someone had misplaced the book; they put it in the wrong section, and I found it. At that time, I was already practicing yoga, but by reading the book, I learned about Swami Vishnudevananda. After reading the book, a desire within me arose to meet this Swami Vishnudevananda.
Then, the second step. A few years passed; I was in the army, and I got a day off. I went home and I bought a newspaper. I open it at random, and there is a big ad: Today, in my own city, on this particular street, in this particular place, Swami Vishnudevananda is going to give a lecture and a demonstration. The same Swami Vishnudevananda I desired to meet was in my city on the one day I had free from the army. So I went. When I reached the place, the doors were closed and it was dark. There was no notice, nothing. I was so despondent.
I left the place and was walking along the street. It was a busy street and there were a lot of people. I was just walking along for 15 minutes or so, feeling very disappointed. Then someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned, and there was a stranger and he asked me:
“Are you looking for the yogi?”
I was puzzled. I thought to myself, “Do I look so strange or different from everyone else? I am just walking along with the multitudes. I am now far away from where I had gone for the event and this man whom I have never met asks me if I am looking for the yogi!” Anyway, I was not going to miss this opportunity, so I said: “Yes, I am looking for the yogi.”
The man said, “Well, they changed the place. It is somewhere else.”
I never did figure out how that stranger knew. I was so very happy and so thankful for this man. He took me to the new place, and there were many people waiting in a big hall. Everybody was sitting, but there was no stage. I was wondering, “Where is Swami Vishnudevananda going to sit, where is he going to give the demonstration?”
Suddenly I felt something like a tornado approaching. All of my knowledge about Swami Vishnudevananda was from the book, and if you look in the book he is young, he is relatively thin, and you have no way to know from the book how tall he is. He could be six feet or . . .
Anyway, this man clad in orange comes in and he is chubby. He is like a storm in human form, but he is very small, and he does not look like he does in the book. This was the first surprise of meeting Swami Vishnudevananda — he was not like what I expected. Then he sat on top of a table. I was so eager to hear him speak. But he just sat on the table in lotus. He started to repeat South Indian mantras for about half an hour, using the Carnatic melodies, which can be very strange for the Western ear. At that time for me, it was torture. Finally, he started to talk. And … I found his talk very boring, extraordinarily boring.
Here is the man I had desired to meet — I was very impressed by his book — and I do not like how he looks, I do not like how he sits, I do not like how he chants, I do not like how he talks; so the question was: what am I doing here? Mysteriously, I do not like any of those things, but I like him. In spite of all of these things, I liked him. That was the mystery. At the end of the talk, the organizer said, “Now every person can approach Swamiji and ask a question.” We made a line, and one person at a time would approach and ask a question.
Now, at that time, I was a little naughty. In what sense was I naughty? I had a logical inclination; I loved debate. I had been learning and practicing yoga for a while and studying yoga philosophy. I decided that I was going to test Swami Vishnudevananda — I was going to find out if he was for real or not. With this intention, I waited for my turn. My question was very well formulated in my mind, and I was ready to ask him the question. Then, when it was my turn, he looked at me, and in that moment something extraordinary happened, which was an absolute answer to my question; he did not say one word, but my question was completely answered, one hundred percent. That was my first lesson with Swami Vishnudevananda.
After Swami Vishnudevananda left the event, I approached a group of people there, and I asked them if they had a yoga center. They said that they did, and that I should visit. And I did. To make a long story short, I became staff at the center and when I finished in the army, which was one year later, I went to Swamiji’s ashram in the Bahamas, to Paradise Island, and I took the TTC [Teacher Training Course] and ATTC [Advanced Teacher Training Course]. I spent several months with Swamiji and I became staff. After, he sent me to Israel to direct the center there. Many, many things happened over the years with Swamiji, and I learned many things.
But my first lesson was in that queue, where I had thought I was very smart, and in one moment, I realized what was going on. Swamiji gave me a good, good first lesson.
Swami Swaroopananda is a senior disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda. A practicing yogi from a very young age, Swami Swaroopananda has dedicated his life to the practice and teaching of yoga. He taught in Yoga Teacher Training Courses around the world and is currently teaching advanced yoga philosophy courses and lectures internationally. He is Director of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat and acharya (spiritual director) for the Sivananda centers and ashrams in the Bahamas and the Middle East. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres.