By Nandini Kapadia
Swami Rama of the Himalayas was a renowned guru, prolific author and an accomplished yogi who could perform extraordinary feats. Moreover, he was a great humanitarian who declared, “Humanity thrives on three principles that lie at the heart of all human life: inner strength, cheerfulness, and selfless service.”
He went to the West “to build a bridge between Western science and Eastern spirituality”. He was the founder of the Himalayan Institute (HI) which is now headquartered in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, with many branches across the globe. In India, he established the Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust in Dehradun which runs a premier multi-specialty hospital and a medical college there. Although Swamiji left the physical plane in 1996, his vision has remained intact in his teachings and the institutions he created.
Every year, Swamiji’s followers and disciples in Dehradun, Rishikesh and elsewhere celebrate his life on his Mahasamadhi Day which falls on 13 November. This year I happened to be in Rishikesh around that time and re-visited his ashram which brought back vivid memories of my connection with the modern-day sage. Although I did not have the good fortune to meet him in person, I am nonetheless linked to him through Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, who is one of Swami Rama’s foremost disciples. Panditji became the spiritual head of the HI in Honesdale after the latter’s mahasamadhi.
Back in 2003, I was living in the United States, in New Jersey. I was in desperate search of a guru who could initiate me into a mantra. But I was determined that he or she should be an authentic teacher and part of an unbroken spiritual lineage. I visited many religious sects and ashrams but nothing seemed to click. I firmly believe that in such matters your inner self is your best guide to lead you in the right direction. As it happened, one day, a friend suddenly asked if I had heard of Swami Rama? No, I had not. Handing me a couple of books, she briefly told me about the HI in Pennsylvania. One of them was Living with the Himalayan Masters by Swami Rama. I absolutely loved the book; I was bowled over by the charisma of this handsome yogi and his spiritual misadventures.
The following week saw me sitting in front of Pandit Rajmaniji who lives on the Honesdale campus with his family. He holds a double PhD in Sanskrit and is a great adept in yogic, meditation and tantric practices. He straightaway asked me what was my purpose in meeting him. I replied, I wanted to be initiated into a mantra. Without hesitation, he replied, “Yes, yes, you come next weekend.”
I was pleasantly taken aback by his swift response. I was expecting him to ascertain whether I was qualified for the initiation and ask me questions like, have you done meditation before, have you read such and such books, etc? Then, something very strange happened. A thought occurred to me – since I had affinity for, both, Krishna and Shiva, which mantra would he initiate me into? He immediately read my mind and replied, “They both have to merge…. They may appear different but are essentially one and the same.”
Early morning on D-Day, I arrived at the institute brimming with excitement and anticipation. The waiting area was full of potted plants. They looked so healthy and alive that I felt a little envious because I could never tend to my plants so beautifully. That, I was told, was due to Swami Rama’s touch, he had a way with them. Someone pointed to a plant in a corner and said it grew so tall that it reached the ceiling at one time but with his yogic powers Swami Rama shortened its height.
Panditji soon arrived and asked me to follow him. I offered him a bunch of flowers as it is customary to bring something on such an occasion. He took them without a word and kept walking, almost running. I followed him down a long corridor to a room which I learnt was Swami Rama’s and no casual visitors were allowed inside. As soon as I entered, it was as if I was transported into a different world. It was a huge room where everything was kept the way it was in Swamiji’s time. My eyes fell on a big portrait of him bedecked with a flower garland against a wall.
As I said, there was a peculiar quality about this room. It seemed like I was ensconced in a cloud of peace and tranquility. I could palpably feel Swamiji’s presence everywhere I looked. We sat on the floor facing each other and under the intense watchful eye of the Master, I was initiated into the tradition by Panditji. I am forever humbled and grateful for this momentous experience. The room is still etched deeply in my memory and the invigorating energy I felt in there can never be forgotten.
A few years later, say, 2006, while I was still living in the US, I had a fervent desire to visit Rishikesh and take a dip in the Ganga. It was my maiden trip and I was keen to meet Swami Veda Bharatiji of the Himalayan Institute there. Swami Veda was another close disciple of Swami Rama and a guru to thousands. It was Holi that day and despite having a busy schedule, he graciously gave me half an hour of his time even though he did not know me. He first escorted me to Swami Rama’s room which I was very eager to see. As I stood there, it was déjà vu all over again as it was almost a mirror image of the other one thousands of miles away. I felt the same peaceful vibrations here too. Thereafter, Swamiji led me into meditation for a few minutes, and sent me away with prasad of freshly-made gujiyas.
Thus, my spiritual journey commenced with the blessings of Swami Rama and I am eternally indebted to him, to Panditji, Veda Bharatiji, the Himalayan Masters and their lineage. Undoubtedly, Swami Rama was an extraordinary spiritual leader whose mission was to serve humanity. On his punyatithi, let us follow his message to “Love, Serve, Remember” to the best of our abilities.
(The writer is the author of ‘India’s Spiritual Heroines’)