In Honour of Our Teachers
Throughout life we have mentors or teachers. The earliest mentors are our parents, or maybe a grandparent. Next are our school-teachers. As young adults, we come across people who are ‘special’ to us contributing toward making us who we are - Swami Karunananda Saraswati, an Australian Swami belonging to the Sivananada Divine Life Mission of Rishikesh, Northern India is one such person for myself.
Below is an ‘excerpt’ from a rare 1969 film, ‘India Called Them’, or alternatively called, ‘The Swami from Down-Under’ with Swamiji demonstrating Hatha Yoga postures at the Rishikesh Ashram.
Swamiji’s biographical details are scant, at least to myself. As far as I know he was born in Britain in the 1920’s. He served in the British Army in India during the Second World War. Somewhere during this time he took up an interest in Yoga. Following the War he migrated to Sydney, Australia. His mother also lived in Australia, in South Australia. He stayed in Australia for a time, but then returned to India to pursue his interest in Yoga. Around 1963 he met his Guru, Shivananda Swami of Rishikesh, and joined his Ashram. He received diksha, was initiated, into the Saraswati Order of monkhood by Sivananda given the name, Karun (‘love’), Ananda (‘bliss’), Karunananda, ‘the Bliss of Love’, a very apt description of the man.
My personal experience of Swamiji was when I travelled over to Adelaide and met him when he was living in the Adelaide Hills caring for his elderly mother after he returned to Australia from India following a life-threatening illness. This was around 1971, and I was 21 years of age. A benefactor owned a large heritage property turned Health Resort in the Adelaide hills and renovated the former horse stables for Swamiji to live in. Swamiji first came to my attention when I saw photos of him in popular magazines such as ‘The Woman’s Weekly’ and ‘The Woman’s Day’ taken at Rock Music Festivals. Here was a man around 50 years of age, sitting among hordes of young hippies, long flowing white matted hair and beard dressed in the very distinctive garb of a traditional Hindu Sannyasi monk – a blanket, bare topped, an ochre dyed cloth draped around his waist, and wearing wooden padukas (wooden shoes worn by yogis). Kind eyes and a benign smile upon his face, he was usually accompanied by two or three devotees. I was fascinated by this man whom I wished to meet. I knew he lived a ‘semi-recluse’ life and did not encourage visitors to his hills retreat.
Weekends were when he would receive the majority of visitors, and this was the time he would conveniently, or inconveniently (for visitors) take himself off for long walks in the hills, in the hope of avoiding the weekend throng. I therefore headed up past the villages of Hanhdorf and Mt.Barker during the week. I entered the property, walked to the heritage mansion resort on the hill, and was directed to the renovated stables some 100 meters down the hill. Outside was the man I had seen in the magazine photos. Dressed as previously described (even in the cold of winter), he took my hands and led me inside his simple, but comfortable dwelling of two rooms, one upstairs where he slept and worshipped, the other a basement downstairs, a kitchen and a bathroom. Meeting him in the flesh was an honored experience indeed. His shining eyes exuded love, warmth and humor. His face was bathed in a sunny smile, and his manner and demeanor was one of utmost naturalness and simplicity. His body was that of a trained Hatha Yoga, lean and strong. He spoke in a soft, clear voice, and with a distinctive Ozzie accent. I liked him. Fortunately he liked me, because he granted my wish to stay with him for the week.
To my horror, Swamiji insisted that I sleep in his upstairs bedroom, whilst he took the basement downstairs, damp with moisture. He was a fit, but not well man. I objected strongly. He insisted. He said I was ‘his guest’, and ‘a guest’ is to be honored as God. Each day morning we sat in silent meditation. He read from his favourite text, The Avadhuta Gita, a 10th CE text ascribed to Sri Dattatreya, which describes the state of an avadhut, an ‘unfettered one’, free from the limitations of the world and identified with the Self of All. It was an identification with himself. In later years, Swamiji himself wrote an enlightened commentary upon the Avadhut Gita. I do not know of any other writings. He taught me mantra recitation, and some yoga postures. He asked me about my life, and he talked a little about his own. I think his elderly mother was living up in the main house? At this time his principal disciple, a young man, was away, so I had Swamiji all to myself. My previous teacher was a great exponent of Hatha Yoga, Vijay Yogendra, but here was a Yogi who had fully imbibed the teachings of his Guru into his own being – the teachings of humility, love and service to others. I left his company saddened, but filled with an ardent fervor to pursue my yogic path in replication of Swamiji.
I know that during the 70’s, Swamiji’s health deteriorated to the extent that he had a stroke paralyzing one side of his body leaving him unable to walk and talk. The latter limitation he would have welcomed, as being already inwardly mauna (silent), losing the outer capacity to speak left him unabashedly in a total state of mauna (silence). It was now time for Swamiji ‘to leave the body’, and he wished to do so in his ‘spiritual’ home, India. With the aid of a few devotees, and accompanied by one disciple, Swami Karunananda, travelled by ship from Perth to India to his Guru’s Rishikesh Ashram where he was cared for by fellow monks until his soul departed the body in the late 70’s (date unknown).
The ‘great one’s’ pass through this life unannounced leaving hardly a trace of their existence.
In honor and humble remembrance of Karunananda, the personification of ‘The Bliss of Love’!