Swami Swahananda – A Profile in Greatness
by Malay Das
Renuka Press, 2017. 234pp Paperback $16.95
If you are curious about how Swami Swahananda lived and taught during the latter part of his life, this is a good book to read. It’s not a biography of the Swami, though it has a brief summary of his life following its Preface.
Instead, Dr. Das offers a reverent and affectionate portrait, in both broad brush strokes and fine detail, of the doctor’s 17-year relationship with his beloved guru.
While Das’ narrative starts with their first meeting in March of 1995, almost three-quarters of the books is devoted to the last six years of their time together. The reason for this emphasis is Swami Swahanandaji’s declining health, which offered the doctor ever-increasing opportunities to serve and learn from him.
Dr. Das met the Swami late on a Friday afternoon; he had come to the Hollywood Center with his wife, his brother, and his sister-in-law:
“It was about 5:00 p.m. when we approached Swami Swahananda’s room. He opened the door to greet us. I saw before me a sannyasi with a glorious look about him, different from any person I had ever met. He invited us inside. We made pranams, and when I touched his feet, I felt something like an electric shock. I didn’t know what it was. He asked us to sit and then asked who we were, why we had come, and many more questions. We spent almost an hour with him. Then he told us he could not spend any more time with us that day because he had to attend the evening prayers in the temple, which started at 6:00 p.m. …
“He then said in a soft voice, ‘abar esho’ (come again). The way he said those words was so holy, gracious, inviting. As my family and I left I was filled with a tremendous joy. It seemed we had come to the right place.” (2-3)
Through 17 chapters with titles such as —
Learning through Holy Company
Attending the Dhaka Temple Inauguration, 2005
Swami Swahananda’s Love of Books, and
Lessons in the Guru’s Presence
— Dr. Das chronicles his growing confidence in and love for the Swami.
In Chapters 14, 15 and 16 —
Grace in Pain, 2012
Austin, October 2012, and
The End of an Era, October 19, 2012
— the doctor tells of Swami Swahananda’s last two months:
“Six or eight weeks before Swami Swahananda’s mahasamadhi … I was taking Maharaj’s blood pressure and giving him a B12 shot. No one else was present, so I took advantage of the moment and asked, ‘Maharaj, do you have any instructions for me for the future? Is there anything about my spiritual practice that I need to change?’ He smiled and said, ‘You are fine. Continue with what you are doing.’ He always stressed to me the importance of selfless service, and so he added, ‘Service, service, service. Give service and financial support where you can.’ Then he said, ‘You and I are waiting for the big one.’ He repeated ‘the big one’ two or three times. As he said it, I felt chills.”
Swami Swahananda had a massive stroke on Wednesday, October 17th, two days after his return from inaugurating a Ramakrishna Ashrama center in Austin, Texas. He left the body in Los Angeles on Friday, October 19th. Dr. Das writes:
“I understand ‘the big one’ to have been a reference to ultimate spiritual realization. My belief is that he had experienced ‘the big one’ at Austin sometime Saturday afternoon, because from that Saturday evening onward, through Sunday and again on Monday during the trip home, his demeanor was calm, serene, and joyous … Also in Austin, he had talked about how his lifelong ambition to realize God had helped him live his life as he wanted to, and then he said, ‘I did it’ twice, as if for emphasis.” (224-225)
Br. Shankara has served as Resident Minister of the Vedanta Center of Atlanta (GA) since August of 2010. Previously, he was an active member of the Vedanta Society of Southern California for 37 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org