Satchidananda on a rainy Swiss mountain in 1987
|Born||C. K. Ramaswamy Gounder
22 December 1914
Chettipalayam, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, South India
|Died||19 August 2002
|Nationality||First, Indian, then American citizen in 1976|
|Quotation||His motto: "easeful, peaceful and useful"|
Satchidananda Saraswati (December 22, 1914 – August 19, 2002), born as C. K. Ramaswamy Gounder, was an Indian religious teacher, spiritual master and yoga adept, who gained fame and following in the West during his time in New York. He was the author of many philosophical and spiritual books, including a popular illustrative book on Hatha Yoga. He also founded the international school Satchidananda Jothi Niketan located in Mettupalyam, Tamil Nadu.
Satchidananda was born in 1914 into a pious and devoted Gounder family at Chettipalayam, a small village in Coimbatore, near Podanur in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu and was named as C. K. Ramaswamy Gounder. His parents affectionately called him Ramu. He remained a vegetarian all his life and abstained from eating meat at all times. After graduating from an agricultural college, he took a position with his uncle's firm, which imported motorcycles. By the age of 23 he became a manager at India's National Electric Works. During this period he got married and had two children. His wife died five years later. Ramaswamy then left his two young sons with their paternal grandmother and decided to go on a spiritual journey.
After the sudden death of his wife, Ramaswamy traveled throughout India, meditating at holy shrines and studying with revered spiritual teachers. For years, Ramaswamy searched for real sages, saints, and spiritual masters. Eventually, he was initiated into pre-sannyasa in the Ramakrishna Thapovanam and given the name Brother Sambasiva Chaitanya. While at the ashram, his job was to care for orphaned young boys. During this period, he also studied along with the renowned Sri Ramana Maharshi. He eventually left the ashram when he could not bear the suffering of Sri Ramana's arm cancer and treatment procedures. Ramana Maharshi died shortly after his departure. He then traveled to Rishikesh, a holy town in the foothills of the Himalayas, located on the banks of the Ganges River. There, he discovered his guru, Sivananda Saraswati who ordained him into the order of sannyasa in 1949 and gave him the name Satchidananda Saraswati.
The name Saccidānanda, Satchidananda, or Sat-cit-ānanda (Sanskrit: सच्चिदानंद) is a compound of three Sanskrit words, Sat (सत्), Cit (चित्), and Ānanda (आनंद) (the ā is of longer vocal length), meaning essence, consciousness, and bliss, respectively. The expression is used in yoga and other schools of Indian philosophy to describe the nature of Brahman as experienced by a fully liberated yogi. Satcidānanda may be understood as the energetic state of non-duality, a manifestation of our spiritually natural, primordial, and authentic state which is comparable in quality to that of deity.
During the late 1950s and into the 1960s, Satchidananda headed, along with another disciple of Sivananda Saraswati, to the Kandy Thapovanam, one of Sivananda's ashrams situated in the hill country of Sri Lanka. Here, Satchidananda taught yoga, conceived and implemented innovative interfaith approaches to traditional Hindu festivals and modernized the ancient mode of living that renunciates had followed for many years. For instance, Satchidanda drove a car (to teach throughout Sri Lanka), wore a watch (to be on time), and actively engaged the questions of seekers. These modernizations were ridiculed by certain individuals in the orthodoxy but he felt them to be necessary natural extensions and serving tools for betterment in his spiritual yogic work.
Time in America
After serving his guru for many years, in 1966 he visited New York City at the request of the artist Peter Max. Soon after his initial visit, Satchidananda formally moved to the United States and eventually became a citizen. From his new home he spread his teachings of yoga, selfless service, ecumenism and enlightenment.
Satchidananda came to public attention as the opening speaker at the Woodstock music and arts festival in 1969. Over the years he wrote numerous books and gave hundreds of lectures. He also ordained a number of western disciples into the order of sannyasa. He was the founder of the Integral Yoga Institute and Yogaville in America, and Spiritual Guru of major Hollywood actors and western musicians. and in 1986 opened the Light of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS) at Yogaville in Buckingham, Virginia.
Satchidananda's better-known western disciples include: Alice Coltrane, John Fahey, Allen Ginsberg, Dean Ornish, Jeff Goldblum, Carole King, Laura Nyro, and Scott Shaw. Liev Schrieber and Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo lived at the Satchidananda Ashram during the early part of their lives. Drummer Muruga Booker met Satchidananda at the Woodstock Festival while playing with Tim Hardin, and was given the name Muruga at that time.
Integral Yoga origins
Although Satchidananda is thought to have briefly met Sri Aurobindo, he viewed his brand of teaching as a unique entity. Satchidananda characterized Integral Yoga as "...a flexible combination of specific methods to develop every aspect of the individual: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. It is a scientific system which integrates the various branches of Yoga in order to bring about a complete and harmonious development of the individual."
This would make it very similar to Sri Aurobindo's concept of Integral Yoga, which clearly preceded the work of Satchidananda. Sri Aurobindo describes the nature and practice of integral yoga in his opus The Synthesis of Yoga. As the title of that work indicates, his integral yoga is a yoga of synthesis, intended to harmonize the paths of karma, jnana, and bhakti yoga as described in the Bhagavad Gita. It can also be considered a synthesis between Vedanta and Tantra, and between Eastern and Western approaches to spirituality.
There are also similarities in the symbolism used by Sri Aurobindo and Satchidananda. In addition, Satchidananda's center was given the name "Yogaville." (Aurobindo's "Auroville" had been founded in 1968.)
Integral Yoga believes:
The goal and the birthright of all individuals is to realize the spiritual unity behind the diversity throughout creation and to live harmoniously as members of "one universal family". This goal is achieved by the maintaining of our natural condition as:
- a body of optimal health and strength,
- senses under total control,
- a mind well disciplined, clear, and calm,
- an intellect as sharp as a razor,
- a will as strong and pliable as steel,
- a heart full of unconditional love and compassion,
- an ego as pure as crystal, and
- a life filled with supreme peace, joy and bliss.
- Satchidananda is referenced in the song "Metanoia" by the band MGMT.
- Satchidananda (voice) is listed as one of the personnel in Alice Coltrane's 1972 album World Galaxy.
- Satchidananda is named as a stabilizing influence by Carole King in her autobiography "A Natural Woman."