Swami Satchidananda Saraswati

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Swami Satchidananda
Image: Satchidananda giving an informal talk to students in Yogaville (1982)
Satchidananda giving an informal talk to students in Yogaville (1982)
C. K. Ramaswamy Gounder

(1914-12-22)22 December 1914
Died19 August 2002(2002-08-19) (aged 87)
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Resting placeYogaville, Buckingham, Virginia, USA
ReligionHinduism, Interfaith universalism
NationalityIndian, then American citizenship in 1976, granted to him as "Minister of Divine Words"
OrderSaraswati order
InstituteIntegral Yoga Institute
ChurchIntegral Yoga Ministry
PhilosophyIntegral Yoga
HonorsU Thant Peace Award, Juliet Hollister Award, and many more.
His motto:
"Truth is One, Paths are Many"

Satchidananda Saraswati (IAST: Saccidānanda Sarasvatī; 22 December 1914 – 19 August 2002), born as C. K. Ramaswamy Gounder and usually known as Swami Satchidananda, was an Indian yoga guru,[1] a spiritual master and religious teacher, who gained fame and following in the West.

He was the author of philosophical and spiritual books. He had a core of founding disciples who compiled his translations and updated commentaries on traditional handbooks of yoga such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita for modern readers.

Early years[edit]

Satchidananda was born C. K. Ramaswamy Gounder in Kongu Vellalar family in 1914 in Chettipalayam, a small village in Coimbatore, near Podanur in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. His parents affectionately called him Ramu. His father, Sri Kalyanasundaram was a landowner and poet. His mother, Srimati Velammai was deeply spiritual. Their home became a meeting hall for poets, musicians, and philosophers. Wandering ascetics and holy men passing through the area were directed to their home for free food and lodging. Their presence deeply influenced Ramu.[2] After study at agricultural college, Ramu worked in a family business which imported motorcycles. At the age of 23 he became a manager at India's National Electric Works. He was a temporary manager of Perur Temple, where he met his wife.[3] They married and had two sons. He remained a vegetarian all his life, and wrote a book called The Healthy Vegetarian, since re-titled The Yoga Way: Food for Body, Mind & Spirit.[4]

Spiritual quest[edit]

Satchidananda (standing) with his Guru, Sivananda Saraswati, Rishikesh, India, 1951

After the sudden death of his wife, Ramaswamy travelled throughout India, meditating at shrines and studying with spiritual teachers. He was initiated into pre-sannyasa in the Ramakrishna Thapovanam and given the name Sambasiva Chaitanya. While at the ashram, he cared for orphaned young boys and studied along with Ramana Maharshi. He left the Sri Ramana Ashram when he could not bear the suffering of Ramana's arm cancer and treatment procedures. He travelled to Rishikesh, a holy town in the foothills of the Himalayas on the banks of the Ganges. There, he discovered his guru, Sivananda Saraswati, founder of the Divine Life Society and a former physician, who ordained him into the sannyasa in 1949 and gave him the name Swami Satchidananda Saraswati.

The name Satchidananda (Sanskrit: Saccidānanda) is a compound of three Sanskrit words, sat, cit and ānanda, 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. The term may be understood as the energetic state of nonduality, a manifestation of our spiritually natural, primordial, and authentic state comparable in quality to that of deity.[citation needed]

During the early 1950s and into the 1960s, Satchidananda and Satchidananda Saraswati jointly headed the Trincomalee Thapovanam, one of Sivananda's ashrams in the hill country of Sri Lanka.[5] His devotees opened Satchidananda Thapovanam in Kandy in October 1955. Here, Satchidananda taught yoga, conceived and implemented innovative interfaith approaches to traditional Hindu festivals, and modernised the ancient mode of living that renunciates had followed for many years. For instance, he drove a car (to teach throughout Sri Lanka), wore a watch (to be on time), and actively engaged the questions of seekers. These modernisations were ridiculed by some in the orthodoxy, but he felt the changes to be necessary natural extensions and serving tools for betterment in his spiritual yogic work.[6]

Coming to America and Woodstock[edit]

Swami Satchidananda on stage as he opens the 1969 Woodstock Festival

In 1966, Satchidananda was invited to visit Europe by filmmaker Conrad Rooks who was completing his first film, Chappaqua. Rooks had studied yoga with Satchidananda in 1965 in Ceylon and was eager to both study with him again, and to include him in his film.[7] After spending several months with Rooks in Europe, artist Peter Max—who was collaborating with Rooks on the Chappaqua film—asked Swami Satchidananda if he could come to America on his way back to Ceylon.[8]

Given the popularity of Satchidananda's opening message at Woodstock and the chanting he led, in 1973, Columbia Records produced a vinyl double LP Swami Satchidananda that featured a kirtan and a talk by Satchidananda based on questions asked by students. The album was re-released in digital format as: Swami Satchidananda: The Woodstock Years. A documentary, Swami Satchidananda: Yoga for the City, produced by Jeff Kamen for WNET (Ch. 13), aired in 1973 and one of the first films broadcast on American television about an Indian yoga master.

Satchidananda became a US citizen in 1976 after being granted a resident visa as the first US "Minister of Divine Words."

Integral Yoga origins[edit]

Satchidananda characterised 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 to bring about a complete and harmonious development of the entire person." Integral Yoga was trademarked to keep the teachings consistent as the popularity of yoga increased exponentially in the West and to have duly trained instructors imparting the teachings of the Integral Yoga lineage.[9][10]

Global travels[edit]

Over fifty years of public service he made eight world tours and logged nearly two million miles of travel around the globe. "I don't belong to any one country or organization", he often said.[11]

Swami Satchidananda, with Sydney Opera House in background, during a speaking tour of Australia, 1981

In Europe, Satchidananda was often a guest speaker at programs sponsored by institutions such as the British Wheel of Yoga and the Italian and German Yoga Federations. In the late 1970s, Gerard Blitz, the President of the European Union of National Yoga Federations (EUNYF) invited him to be a guest speaker at the EUNYF conference in Zinal, Switzerland, which he did for the next fifteen years. He also traveled to Eastern Europe twice, as part of a citizen-diplomacy delegation. In 1985 and 1986, he went to Finland and the Soviet Union for 10-day tours by two peace organizations.[12]

Satchidananda made yearly tours of India and Sri Lanka, and also traveled to other countries in the Asia and the Middle East where he was invited to speak at numerous yoga, peace, health, and other conferences and universities.[13]

In 1971, he traveled to Australia and New Zealand for the first time, as part of his second world tour. He gave a series of talks in Australia and a talk at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. In 1974, he was invited as the special guest speaker at the International Yoga Teachers Association (IYTA) Convention in New Zealand and its convention in Australia in 1979. At that time, he became an Honorary Patron of the IYTA, which had its headquarters in Australia.[13] In late 1979, Satchidananda was invited to open the first Nambassa Festival in New Zealand, which was inspired by the Woodstock Festival in America.[14] During the 1980s, he made four more tours to Australia, including stops in Tasmania and New Zealand. While on these tours, he often spoke at IYTA programs and conferences as well as at yoga centers and universities.

In 1975, Satchidananda's first South American trip was to Venezuela, where he gave talks in various cities including a lecture at the Central University of Venezuela.[15]

In 1990, he was invited by Mataji Indra Devi to tour Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. He presided over the Second Annual All-South American Yoga Teacher's Congress held in Argentina.


On 19 August 2002, Swami Satchidananda died after speaking at World Congress on Global Vision and Strategies for Peace, Nonviolence and Harmony in South India.[16] His funeral took place in Buckingham, Virginia on 22 August at Chidambaram, a designated shrine for contemplation facing the ecumenical shrine, LOTUS (Light Of Truth Universal Light) which Satchidananda Saraswati considered the most important part of all his life's work: A place to honour the universality of all faiths, through the symbol of light which is shared by all cultures in the world. Integral Yoga International and Yogaville continue to educate yogis around the world and at the world headquarters in Buckingham, Virginia.[17]

Yoga education contributions[edit]

In December 1969, Satchidananda published Integral Yoga Magazine, the first yoga magazine in America. The print magazine transitioned to an eWeekly in 2016.

In print constantly since 1970, Satchidananda's book, Integral Yoga Hatha, a large format Hatha Yoga instruction guide published in 1970, is now recognized as a classic in its field. The book features Satchidananda demonstrating each yoga posture.[18]

Believing that yoga practice could lead prisoners and drug addicts to rehabilitate, in 1971, Satchidananda began training some students to teach yoga in prisons and drug rehab centers.[19] This free service continues today through Service in Satchidananda. In the late 1960s, Satchidananda began to train some students to teach Hatha Yoga. In 1975, he developed the first Integral Yoga Hatha Teacher Training program—one of the first certification programs for yoga teachers in America. Yoga teacher certification wasn't the only educational program he pioneered. In Connecticut in 1977, he founded the Integral Yoga School (now the Yogaville Vidyalayam), which was the first state-accredited elementary school with yoga-based curriculum.

The 1978 book, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, with translation and commentary by Satchidananda is now considered a classic edition of yoga's foundational text and is utilized by many teacher training programs around the globe, having been translated into many languages. It was named in the "Best Yoga Sutras: Top Five List" in 2017.

Much as he had done with the opening of the Integral Yoga School in Connecticut in the 1970s, Satchidananda wanted to bring yoga and academics together in a residential school in India. In 1997, he founded a Satchidananda Jothi Niketan, a large residential school in Kallar, South India.

Integral Yoga, and its headquarters at Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville, continue to educate yogis around the world, offering programs and workshops year round in all aspects of yoga science. At the Integral Yoga Academy in Yogaville, as well as at the organization's other centers, professional yoga teacher and yoga therapist trainings and continuing education programs are offered.

Yoga and wellness[edit]

From the start of his service in the West, Satchidananda steadfastly promoted vegetarian diet, stress reduction through the yoga practices and philosophy, and living in harmony with nature. As a homeopath and naturopath, Satchidananda offered a holistic health perspective to the world of Western medicine. He was, at the same time, supportive of the positive aspects of allopathic medicine, and always spoke about the great advances achieved, particularly for acute problems.[citation needed]

"The Mind-Body Connection: Stress, Attitude, Diet, and Your Health" with Satchidananda and Michael Lerner, Dean Ornish, and Sandra McLanahan, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1987

Satchidananda's ideas were radical at the time—chief among them the notion that disease was essentially—"dis-ease", disturbed ease. The chief culprits responsible for those disturbances included: non-vegetarian diet, unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, illicit drug use, sedentary lifestyle and stress. He taught that treating illness from a purely allopathic approach put undue focus on symptoms without going to the root cause of disease. His teachings were to change the face of Western medical approaches to heart disease and lifestyle medicine through the research and work of his student, Dean Ornish.[20]

Another of Satchidananda's students, who became a mentor to Ornish, was Sandra McLanahan, who, in 1976, founded one of the first integrative health clinics in the US. The clinic included yoga therapy, at that time, fairly unknown in America.[21] From the mid-1970s onward, McLanahan and Ornish arranged for Satchidananda to speak at the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine, University of Virginia Medical Center, and many other medical institutions.[citation needed]

Michael Lerner, director of Commonweal, a leading health research institute in California, met McLanahan in the 1980s. She introduced him to Satchidananda, and Lerner, inspired by the Integral Yoga approach to well-being, subsequently established Commonweal's Cancer Help program. Another student, Jnani Chapman, worked with Lerner and in 1997 developed the Yoga Therapy in Cancer and Chronic Illness training program based on Integral Yoga Therapy and utilized in many medical settings. Integral Yoga Therapy's certification program has been accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists.[citation needed]

Vegetarian (and now vegan) diet was long advocated by Satchidananda for its health, ecological, and spiritual benefits. In 1972, he established the first vegetarian health food store in New York City, which remained the only all–vegetarian store in Manhattan, until its closure in late 2018.[22] Another branch, still operational, opened in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1980.

Interfaith work and social service[edit]

Satchidananda was one of the main early advocates of the interfaith movement in America.[23] His interest in interfaith understanding dates back to the early 1950s, when Divine Life Society members were preparing for Guru Poornima Day, an annual celebration honoring the divine qualities in one's spiritual teacher. Usually each lineage has a celebration, honoring only its Guru. Satchidananda suggested that the focus be on Sivananda and other spiritual masters too, including those of other faiths. That tradition continues today in all Integral Yoga centers.[24]

Over the many decades that followed, Satchidananda collaborated with other interfaith advocates. He worked closely with the Very Rev. James P. Morton (Interfaith Center of New York), Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, Brother David Steindl-Rast OSB, Pir Vilayat Khan, among others. In 1968, Satchidananda co-founded the Center for Spiritual Studies in 1968 in New York with Rabbi Gelberman, Br. David, and Eido Tai Shimano,.[25] The center hosted clergy of different faiths who would meet once a month to engage in interfaith dialogue. The center grew into the Yoga Ecumenical Seminar that would hold weekend retreats, encouraging followers of different religions to come together for prayer and meditation, and to share ideas.

During these interfaith retreats and symposiums in the early 1970s, Satchidananda had another innovation: the Yoga Ecumenical Service (now known as the Light of Truth Universal Service), in which representatives of different faiths gathered together around a circular altar and performed a worship service to a central light.

Interfaith service organized by Swami Satchidananda in 1975, Connecticut. Clockwise from the swami are Br. David, Fr. Beh, Taj Inayat, Roshi Prabhasa Dharma, Rabbi Gelberman.

In 1979, Satchidananda and Rabbi Gelberman founded the first interfaith seminary in America. Over 15 years, they jointly ran an annual program "The Swami and the Rabbi". In 1980, Satchidananda's student, Rev. Jaganath Carrera spearheaded the founding of the Integral Yoga Ministry, the first Yoga interfaith ministry and later, seminary. In the early 1980s, he developed the first "interfaith kirtan" and the All Faiths Yantra, which is the main symbol of the Integral Yoga organization.

The many interfaith programs and retreats he organized in the 1970s and early 1980s, inspired Satchidananda to create a permanent place that would express the essence of interfaith understanding. In 1982, construction began on the Light Of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS.org), which Satchidananda considered one of the most important parts of his life's work: A place to honor the universality of all faiths, through the symbol of light which is commonly shared by all faiths in the world. The shrine opened in 1986 and a second shrine was built by Sri K. Ramasamy and opened in India (LOTUSIndia.org) in 2014, in honor of the centenary of Satchidananda's birth.

For over twenty-five years, he lent support to interfaith organizations, serving on their advisory boards including The Temple of Understanding, Thanksgiving Square, The Parliament of the World's Religions, the International Interfaith Centre, The Interfaith Center of New York, and the United Religions Initiative.

Over the years, he received many honors for his humanitarian service, including the Juliet Hollister Award presented at the United Nations in 1996. In 2002, he received the U Thant Peace Award. In 2014, he was posthumously honored as an "interfaith visionary", with the James Parks Morton Interfaith Award by the Interfaith Center of New York. He was named a "Fellow of World Thanksgiving" by the World Thanksgiving Council in 1981 and named "Hindu of the Year" by Hinduism Today magazine in 1994.[16]

In 2009, Nalanie Chellaram founded a non-profit international collective of charities established in honor of Satchidananda and based on his core teaching of selfless service. SIS exists to serve children and families in need around the globe through various seva (selfless service) projects. Currently, SIS operates charities in Spain, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, India and the United States.[26]

Sexual misconduct allegations[edit]

In 1991, protesters accused Satchidananda of molesting his students, and carried signs outside a hotel where he was staying in Virginia that read "Stop the Abuse". Several former disciples claimed he used his spiritual authority to coerce them into sexual relationships. In response to the controversy, at least 12 board members of various branches of the Integral Yoga Institute stepped down. Ex-members formed a support group, the Healing Through Truth Network, to support his alleged victims and to raise awareness of the misconduct claims. Satchidananda denied all claims of misconduct. None of the alleged victims filed criminal charges.[27] He died a decade after the allegations were brought forward.


  1. ^ Landau, Meryl Davids (February 2012). "In Times of Scandal". Elephant Journal. Retrieved 17 August 2021.
  2. ^ Sita Bordow, Sri Swami Satchidananda: Apostle of Peace, Integral Yoga Publications, 2014, p. 4
  3. ^ Sita Bordow, Sri Swami Satchidananda: Apostle of Peace, Integral Yoga Publications, 2014, p. 34
  4. ^ Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Way: Food for Body, Mind & Spirt, Integral Yoga Publications, 2017
  5. ^ Sita Bordow, Sri Swami Satchidananda: Apostle of Peace, Integral Yoga Publications, 2014, p.135–136.
  6. ^ Sita Bordow, Sri Swami Satchidananda: Apostle of Peace, Integral Yoga Publications, 2014, p. 137.
  7. ^ Sita Bordow, Sri Swami Satchidananda: Apostle of Peace, Integral Yoga Publications, 2014, p. 203 and p. 207–208.
  8. ^ Sri Swami Satchidananda: The Woodstock Guru, Integral Yoga Publications, 2019, p. 20.
  9. ^ "Trademark Status & Document Retrieval". tsdr.uspto.gov.
  10. ^ "Trademark Status & Document Retrieval". tsdr.uspto.gov.
  11. ^ Boundless Giving: The Life and Service of Sri Swami Satchidananda, Integral Yoga Publications, 2003, p. 86.]
  12. ^ Sita Bordow, Sri Swami Satchidananda: Apostle of Peace, Integral Yoga Publications, 2014, pp. 384–389
  13. ^ a b Sita Bordow, Sri Swami Satchidananda: Apostle of Peace, Integral Yoga Publications, 2014
  14. ^ Colin Broadley and Judith Jones, Nambassa: A New Direction, A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1979
  15. ^ Prem Anjali, Sri Swami Satchidananda, Portrait of a Modern Sage, Integral Yoga Publications, 1996, p. 184.
  16. ^ a b "Hinduism Today Magazine". www.hinduismtoday.com.
  17. ^ Martin, Douglas (21 August 2002). "Swami Satchidananda, Woodstock's Guru, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  18. ^ Sri Swami Satchidananda, Integral Yoga Hatha, Integral Yoga Publications, 2014
  19. ^ Rev. Sandra Kumari de Sachy, Bound to be Free: The Liberating Power of Prison Yoga, Integral Yoga Publications, 2010
  20. ^ Dean Ornish, Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease: The Only System Scientifically Proven to Reverse Heart Disease Without Drugs or Surgery, Ballantine Books, 1995[page needed]
  21. ^ Dominick Bosco, "The Clinic Where Love and Medicine Go Hand in Hand", Prevention magazine, November 1977.
  22. ^ Admin, Web (6 January 2019). "Integral Yoga Natural Foods Closes Doors After 45 Years".
  23. ^ Editors, Y. J. (6 June 2014). "Celebrating Satchidananda's Vision of World Peace". Yoga Journal.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  24. ^ Rev. Sandra Kumari de Sachy, A Vision of Peace: The Interfaith Teachings of Sri Swami Satchidananda, Integral Yoga Publications, 2014, p. 31
  25. ^ http://vedicilluminations.com/downloads/Philosophy/Blue%20God/Rabbi%20Robert%20dos%20Santos%20Teixeira%20biography.html
  26. ^ https://www.sisproject.org
  27. ^ Hammond, Holly; Cushman, Anne (January 1992). "Satchidadanda Controversy Heats Up". Yoga Journal (102): 18.

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