Swami Ashokananda

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Swami Ashokananda, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.jpg
"A brilliant and accomplished spiritual teacher in the west" – Huston Smith
Yogeshchandra Dutta [Non-monastic name, till 1923]

23 September 1893
Durgapur, India (Now Bangladesh)
Died13 December 1969
Vedanta Society of Northern California
SectNon-sectarian. Believes in the truth of all genuine religions.
Known forSpiritual Ministry in America [1932 – 1969], the editor of the Prabuddha Bharata, English monthly organ of the Ramakrishna Order, from 1926 to 1930
OrderRamakrishna Order of monks
PhilosophyAdvaita Vedanta
Religious career
GuruVivekananda [Initiated Ashokananda in a vivid mystical vision, confirmed by four other direct monastic disciples of Ramakrishna--Brahmananda, Premananda, Shivananda and Turiyananda.[1]
Literary worksA Heart Poured Out, Shafts of Light, A Disciple's Journal, Ascent to Spiritual Illumination, Meditation Ecstasy and Illumination, A Soul's Journey to its Destiny, A Call to the Eternal, Spiritual Practice, The Influence of the East on the West, Spiritualizing Everyday Life, When the Many become One, Swami Vivekananda in San Francisco, edited Prabuddha Bharata for 5 years, ran The Voice of India magazine in America in 1945–1946, The Economic Views of Swami Vivekananda
Dominant preachingPractical Vedanta
Meditation is not simply thinking of God. It is an actual perception of God. It is not imagination; it is the anticipation of the Real.[2]

Yogeshchandra Dutta (23 September 1893 – 13 December 1969), known as Swami Ashokananda from 1923, was a disciple of Vivekananda of India and a monk of the Ramakrishna Math. From 1932 until his death in December 1969 at the age of 76 he was in charge of the Vedanta Society of Northern California, San Francisco (founded by Vivekananda in 1900).[3]:116


Dutta was born in the village of Bekitaka. He spent his childhood days in Durgapur, a village seven or eight miles west of the town of Habibganj in the Sylhet district of Assam (now part of Bangladesh).[1]

He joined the Ramakrishna Order in 1921 and was ordained into Sannyasa in 1923 by Swami Shivananda, second President of the Order. He served as an editor of the Prabuddha Bharata, English monthly organ of the Ramakrishna Order, from 1926 to 1930, during which time he refuted some of Mahatma Gandhi's political and economic views.[4]

His story continued in California, starting from the early 1930s, when the Eastern Religions were still looked upon with suspicion in the Western world. Under his leadership the Vedanta Society of Northern California built three temples (in San Francisco, Berkeley and Sacramento) and bought two thousand acres of land in Olema that became the largest Vedanta Retreat in America.[4]


Ashokananda rendered great service to the cause of the Vedanta movement in the West by his clear and thorough expositions of Vedantic teachings through lectures and classes for nearly four decades. A pioneer on the Vedanta frontier, he established new Vedanta Centres in Berkeley and Sacramento, developed the 2000-acre Vedanta Retreat at Olema (still the largest in the western hemisphere), and built the large New Temple in San Francisco to accommodate the Society's growing membership and activities. His contributions to the Vedanta Movement in America are well known, as are his lectures in print, which have become a popular source of inspiration since the first collection was published in 1970.[2]

As her spiritual teacher, Gargi saw Ashokananda as a compassionate guide. An adherent of Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta, he was aware of the divinity of all life and he saw in his disciples their potential perfection. Beyond their human quirks and ego-bound foibles, she says, he beheld the pure Spirit, and his role as a teacher was to polish the mirror of each disciple's perception to reflect this inner light.[2]

From 1953 onward his lectures were recorded on tape. Some of them have been transcribed and published.

Quotes about Ashokananda[edit]

"Swami Ashokananda's words emanated from the depths of his direct, illumined perception of the highest truths of Vedanta, and ignited in his listeners the longing for realization on their own." – American Vedantist

"Who was this man that one word of his could bore its way to the very heart of my being and resound there for years like a rousing gong?" – Sister Gargi

"In India there are just two or three original thinkers—just two or three, and Swami Ashokananda is one of them." - Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

"Swami Ashokananda saw in his students their potential perfection. he brought courage and strength to hundreds of lives." – The Beacon

"Swami Ashokananda was a brilliant and accomplished spiritual teacher in the West." – Huston Smith, author of The World's Religions and Why Religion Matters.

"His personality was like a flame that could change the darkest chasms of one's mind into fields of light." – Sister Gargi[5]

"Swami Ashokananda was a dynamic speaker, one of the best, and he attracted a steady stream of congregants to the Vedanta Society of Northern California." – Dr. Shelly Brown[5]

"Swamiji (Swami Vivekananda) liked Swami Sadananda so much because he could write a little. He thought highly of him. But if he had known Ashokananda he would have always kept him close in his heart." – Swami Shivananda

"For almost twenty years I sat at the feet of Swami Ashokananda. I learned from him, was amazed by him, enchanted by him—and often left in profound awe." – Sister Gargi

"We are all thrashing about in a dark and hurtful world, and all the while we can light our own indistinguishable lamp of strength and wisdom by which we can see our way. This was Swami Ashokananda's faith, indeed, his knowledge, and so sure was that knowledge that he gave his life to showing us how to light our own lamps." – Sister Gargi[4]


  • Sister Gargi (2003). A Disciple's Journal: In the Company of Swami Ashokananda. Kalpa Tree Press. ISBN 978-0-9706368-2-9.


  1. ^ a b Sister Gargi (2003). A heart poured out : a story of Swami Ashokananda (1st ed.). New York: Kalpa Tree Press. ISBN 978-0-9706368-1-2. (primary source)
  2. ^ a b c Sister Gargi; Shelley Brown, eds. (2004). Shafts of light : selected teachings of Swami Ashokananda for spiritual practice (1st ed.). New York: Kalpa Tree Press. ISBN 978-0-9706368-3-6.
  3. ^ Jackson, Carl T. (1994). Vedanta for the West: The Ramakrishna Movement in the United States. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-33098-7.
  4. ^ a b c Sister Gargi (12 December 2002). A Heart Poured Out – A Biography of Swami Ashokananda (1st ed.). Kalpa Tree Press. ISBN 978-0970636812.
  5. ^ a b Brown, compiled and edited by Sister Gargi and Shelley (2004). Shafts of light : selected teachings of Swami Ashokananda for spiritual practice (1st ed.). New York: Kalpa Tree Press. ISBN 0-9706368-3-0.