Swami Ritavan Bharati is Ashram Pramukh and successor of Swami Veda Bharati as per Swami Veda’s will.
Questions for this interview came from Carolyn Hodges. Answers are from Swami Ritavan Bharati.
Questions in Part 1 were published in the September 2015 AHYMSIN Newsletter.
Question: Would you talk a little bit about your special relationship with Swami Veda?
First, Silence, the language that says-it-all. Then, tears of gratitude, knowing this saintly being, this bodhi-sattva returned, and I was simply able to be present and attend to his needs, becoming a servant of the servant of Gurudev-seva.
Hearing and recording his talks was a blessing for many lifetimes. The inspiration in the manner and way he lived life, is a model for many more lifetimes. His deep understanding, his undiminishing commitment, his deep experience of meditation are the fragrant petals of hope I will carry for many more lifetimes. Yes, he was (and is): Mother, Father, Guru, Teacher, Friend, Companion, Guide par exultance. He remains the same, and more in his spirited presence, his subtle vision that guides each day of my life. He is closer than breath, and more alive than a heart-beat.
His words resonate in my mind, his love gushes through my heart, his appearance in each flower, leaf around me. His lessons remain to be learned in each challenge, in the resistances, the doubts, the fatigue, the worry arising each day. But when I lie in bed at night, before sleep and upon waking, he pulls me back to his bosom to feed me with grace. How to explain such a relationship is very difficult in words, allow me to go back into silence.
Question: Please share a little of your spiritual journey. How did you meet Swami Rama and Swami Veda? What are some of the milestones over your last almost fifty years in the Himalayan Tradition?
Swami Rama's life is a reminder for each of us, “…have a burning desire to know, to seek, to experience - the source of life, the meaning of life.” And, throughout Swami Veda's life, we all have witnessed such a Life-journey take many forms, in many places. In my journey, I was fortunate and blessed to find these two par-excellence life-guides, and return to the relationship of guru-disciple from the previous life. To return to the path of sadhana, spiritual disciplines to know samadhi, to aspire for moksha; and in that freedom as paramahamsa, to live with elegance and love, just as these luminaries of wisdom.
Such journeys cannot be reduced to words; for each is a lived story of loss and gain, weaving a tapestry called “life.” Each stage of dharma, each of the purusharthas (4 ashramas) unfolded with all the attachments and pains, gains and sufferings, all the spectrum of desires - filled and unfulfilled. Yet, a common thread, a riverbed of purpose, recalled in ageless teachings: “This life is one of sadhana with abhyasa (practice), and vairagya (nirvana).”
From that awakening as a re-birth at the age of 20-years: that baptism of light, that solar-flare of initiation, the following decades unfolded as Guru-seva:
The first decade as a brahmacharya: reading, studying, listening, and learning to serve. Much of this decade was spent as an ashramite at The Meditation Center under Dr. Arya’s direct tutorage, as well as frequent trips to Chicago to be with Swami Rama.
The second decade as a grihasta: After our Vedic Wedding by Dr. Arya, we assisted at The Meditation Center, and then departed for Honesdale – the Himalayan Institute. Along with completing the Eastern Studies Program, we worked and participated actively in the ashram community, where our three children, among the other faculty’s children, were known as “Baba’s Kids”.
The third decade as vanaprastha: Returning to Minneapolis to teach and manage The Meditation Center; the children departed for college, and my travels to the two ashrams in India became more frequent.
The forth decade as sanyasin: Returning to the monk’s life at The Meditation Center, devoted fully to teaching and serving the Lineage by guiding students around the globe and spending more time at SRSG in Rishikesh.
And, now the fifth and onward decades of service - seva, the ultimate love of life in the Oneness with All Life, as we all have experienced through our two illustrious models: Gurudev-Swami Rama, and our saintly Beloved-Swami Veda.
As many tears poured forth as did mantras from this dharma-megha, this cloud of yearning. Knowing intimately only these two luminaries of the Tradition, nothing more was needed. They reminded me again and again, becoming a billionaire in this life was easy, just remember God's name in each of the millions of moments, God's bank-vault continually opened as a single stream of bountiful awareness. Mantra(s) have been my constant companion. And, now upon entering Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama we are all reminded of those blessed words from Gurudeva to contemplate: “Serve, Love, Remember.”
May the entire global AHYMSIN community remember a favored mantra from our Beloved Swamiji: Saumya-pleasant minded, so that "Every Person may feel Loved."
saumya-bhyas tvate sundaree
Question: How will we accomplish the mission of making available the teachings of Himalayan Tradition as taught by Swami Rama for future generations?
Following the example of our Beloved Swamiji - Be the generator of enlightenment for others. Begin with the Sankalpa, “I will seek enlightenment in this very life." When this is our sole ambition, or the soul's ambition, others will know your fragrance as the refreshing scent, the flavorful taste, the quenching thirst, the loving embrace, by which young and old-alike will be attracted, drawn to help, to serve, to learn, to model, to receive, to give. This was the way of the dharma-rulers, the virtuous guides, the saintly teachers, the sage-like parents who lived what they taught, exemplified what they expected others to model. Therefore, Swami Veda has said, “Counselor, do not give advice - console; teacher, do not lecture – inspire; parent, do not demand or command - be a model, and live by example.” May we aspire for such generosity of the spirit for the benefit of humanity.
Yours in loving service,
Swami Ritavan Bharati
Part 2 was published in October 2015.
Question: As per Swami Veda's wishes, you are now his successor as the Spiritual Head, or Ashrama Pramukha, of Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) and AHYMSIN. What are your duties and responsibilities in this role?
First, our hearts and minds are committed to Swami Rama of the Himalayas, who is honored and remembered as the Guru of our tradition. As a disciple of Swami Rama, early on Gurudeva entrusted me into the care and guidance of Swami Veda for meditation and sadhana. And at this time, Swami Veda's simple instructions were: "Do not change the teachings of Swami Rama and put all your energy to continue, sustain and enhance the works initiated by Gurudev’s mission and through my service to Gurudev." "Fulfill the same duties I carried with attention to administrative and financial matters, and limit yourself to matters of spiritual realm, knowledge and teaching." "Work in consultation with the community of sanyasin(i)s upholding the dignity of the moral and spiritual traditions and be exemplary as a spiritual guide.
Question: For the past many years you have been traveling most of the time, teaching and inspiring students in our Ahymsin centers around the world. Now that you are Ashram Pramukh, do you anticipate spending more time at SRSG? What is your schedule for the upcoming year?
It had been 20 years since my first visit to India in 1974 with Swami Rama for the Kumbha-mela; so with this anticipation, I returned to Rishikesh in 1994 which has become another “home.” This "pravijaya" or the wandering has become 22 years of pilgrimages (and 2 million+ air-miles) journeying to various countries in addition to India, offering guidance in the Himalayan Tradition to various groups and centers. Initially, this travel began as traveling companion for Dr. Arya (Swami Veda), and now with a host of other traveling teachers carrying the message, meaning, and inspiration of the Himalayan sages. Two years ago, Swami Veda said he needed me more in India at SRSG, so I significantly reduced my travel and teachings elsewhere. And, now, with the responsibilities entrusted to me as spiritual guide for AHYMSIN, my hope remains to give personal attention and service to each of the AHYMSIN centers and groups which number more than 135. Soon there will be announcements for regional retreats through which our team of highly trained initiators and teachers will provide inspiration and spiritual guidance.
Question: What are the important mission tasks that need to be addressed in the next year?
Together, we as the AHYMSIN leadership share a long list of tasks, a multitude of hopes for the sangha – for our well-being, and for our spiritual progress. These have been given in the past, many of which we have put into practice as integral routines in daily life. We will continue to emphasize the theme presented in our last Sangha, Sadhana as Applied Spirituality. So again, we will systematize the teachings; and organize ourselves as kalyana-mitras to encourage, support, expand our capacity to provide timely and current resources addressing everyday needs.
The purpose of our Sangha, our Global AHYMSIN family is to create a stable mind-field. Through stability within each mind, a spiritual community is created as a collective and stable mind-field, like the gentle ripples on a calm lake. Swami Veda himself mentioned that he had prolonged his life to further guide his students to take them to this next step: Personal lives become stabilized; mind-fields become stabilized and this becomes Sangha. We must carry it forward with greater zeal. To permeate with love all that we do will assure the continuity of AHYMSIN for many years-to-come, and this mission must be shared through our Youth Leaders. We also invite all our students to Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama. SRSG is a center of learning and sadhana. The purpose of the ashram is to create a stable mind-field.
Question: What is your long term vision for SRSG?
Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) is an oasis of peace and beauty. Those who make the pilgrimage to Sadhaka Grama find a peaceful-mind-haven to temporarily withdraw from worldly responsibilities. Here in their sadhaka-cottages they spend time in silence and contemplation, prayer and meditation along with other sadhana practices of the Tradition. Most have reported to us when they leave, that such an experience has brought a refocusing of their life’s ambitions. They feel rejuvenated in each and every layer of their personality. They recognize that the practices awakened an inner calling to rebuild mind from the foundation of being, and thereby their actions flowed now from a more pure, internal place of contentment. Many have shared that they left SRSG with a resolve to live a life of service, and return to their responsibilities with new mind-grooves, new mental habits and renewed determination. Life is short, an eye-blink; one must practice, tread the path, and move forward. Then the last breath will be sweet, a fragrance of contentment for a life well-lived. This is the blessing of Swami Veda in establishing Sadhaka Grama; this is the message of the sages of our ancient heritage. Our Gurudev, Swami Rama, reminds us: "You are the architect of your destiny. Death and birth are merely two events of life. You have forgotten your essential nature, and that is the cause of your suffering. When you become aware of this, you are liberated."
Question: Is there anything else you would like to share with our international Ahymsin family?
In 2013, at our Sangha event, Swami Veda initiated all of us into the mahavakya, the contemplation: OM KHAM BRAMA; contemplations cannot be defined, but this could be described as: Within that empty space known as creation, this illusion remains - empty. Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasungate, Bodhi, Swaha.
And with that offering made into the fire of knowledge, into the havan kundha of the heart, these two illustrious beings have blessed me with silence. With the completion of three years of ardha-mouna vow, my life has been blessed to continue with the fulfillment of the vow undertaken by our Beloved Swamiji. So in 2018, we will again gather as a sangha, and with a purnahuti, bring the 5-year mauna vow to a fruitful conclusion. Your support, your encouragement comes in the form of your own meaningful silence. May you embrace this ultimate svadhyaya as taught, guided, and practiced by Swami Veda throughout his life. Take the vow-the commitment of a half-day a week, a full day a month, a silence retreat each year, or a 40-day silence at your spiritual home in Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG). May our Gurudeva Bless you, May our Beloved Swamiji bless you, May all the Saints, Sages, Boddhi-sattvas of all Traditions and Lineages Bless you. OM Sham –
Yours in loving service,
Swami Ritavan Bharati
In Swami Veda’s Intention for AHYMSIN, Swami Ritavan Bharati mentioned that it is teamwork that is needed now - more collaboration, coordination and communication. Key to our AHYMSIN-management through Shi Hong and others, is the necessity of performing our duties as service (seva) for the betterment of society. It is important to work towards upliftment of humanity, relieving suffering, and fulfilling the mission of Gurudeva Swami Rama and Swami Veda; and in this way, engage in our duties our sadhana.
To read Sadhana as Applied Spirituality by Swami Veda Bharati: http://ahymsin.org/main/swami-veda-bharati/sadhana-in-applied-spirituality.html
To read the practice given by Swami Veda Bharati in 2013: http://ahymsin.org/main/practice/practice-for-the-next-five-years-and-the-rest-of-your-life.html