This interview took place at Yashodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada. This Ashram is on the beautiful Kootenay Lake.
(Some sections have been edited for grammar.)
Candess: What motivated you to become involved with the Ashram?
Swami Samayananda: In the late ‘70s I was in a PhD program in Transpersonal Psychology in California at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and it was one of the first of its kind anywhere in North America.
And it was in the first half of the year I was there I met Swami Radha. She came as a teacher in the course and she was teaching one of the workshops she had created called Life Seals. She had been very supportive of the whole transpersonal movement because she thought it was a way that women could come into the work, which was very dominated by men, the whole psychological field [was dominated by men]. And also she thought it was the women who would bring a more feminine approach into psychology and also open it up more to the spiritual. She really supported the whole transpersonal institute that was started there.
She agreed. She offered to come to teach and she did many of the first years that the school was there. That’s how I initially. . . a door opened, I met her and then I left California, my life went on in other directions and then I moved back to California.
Six months after I moved back she opened her first center of her teachings, her first one in the states, 20 minutes from where I was living. And so, I spent a lot of time with her in workshops she offered and with her during the mid 80’s. To have a teacher who was so, well, first of all she was female and that was wonderful, for me, but also to have a teacher who lived what she said. There was no discrepancy between who she was and how she lived her life and how she taught and what she offered. I always had a sense there was so much more behind her, as a person. I was always curious what that was. What was it that she knew? Why did she think the way she thought? It was always a drawing power for me.
So, It wasn’t until 1987 I came to the Ashram itself. I was living in California and I was with her. Then it was in ‘87 I came for the first time for our 3-month yoga development course. That was the first time I had taken it. So even then I was going back. I came and took the course and I went back to my job and back to my life in California. And over time in my life there has been a lot of back and forth, living at the centers that are connected with the Ashram and teaching there, directing there, but always coming back and returning here. A couple of years ago I said I just want to be here, so that is what I did.
Candess: That is great. It is beautiful here. Where is it that she first started? What was her first center?
Swami Samayananda: She immigrated to Canada in ’54 or a couple of years earlier, not exactly sure, but it was around that time from Germany. She had a visionary experience, which took her to India and to her training time with Sivananda, Swami Sivananda Rishikesh. And then he sent her back to the west. So she came back in ’56. A very different . . . she was 44 years old and she was a professional dancer and she was an immigrant and so she was doing any kind of work she could find to pay her rent. She left everything again which she had also done in Germany, and went to India.
She just wanted to stay there. He [Swami Sivananda] sent her back. He said no, there is a lot that you can offer to Westerners. In ’56 she came back. She only had 6 months with him and she said literally she’d only in that six months had 12 hours with him. Just with him. She came back. Her first center of work was in Montreal. Eventually she moved out west. The temperature and everything was much more conducive for her and she started the first Ashram in North America in Burnaby, right outside of Vancouver and eventually moved to this location here in the interior of BC. Yashodhara Ashram
Candess: The more I hear about her the more grateful I am that we have a Radha House Yoga Center in Spokane. So, being a Swami, What does it mean to be a Swami?
Swami Samayananda: There is sannyasan tradition. Sannyasan means becoming a Swami, living the life of a renunciant basically, in many countries of Asia. In the West it’s a whole lot less of a familiar choice in living a life. So what it really means is dedicating. I’ll talk personally. It means dedicating my life to the teachings that we offer here at the Ashram, which are Swami Radha’s teachings. So being of service to the people who come here, whether its teaching, whether its making special arrangements for people, listening to people, whatever it is, it really is making a commitment to a life of service, and doing the work that needs to be done. So the runinciation part is renouncing those things that I might personally want to do. What comes first is being of service and my commitment to the Divine, or to the Light or to whatever name we give that part of us that transcends the normal everyday life that we live. So it is really based a lot on surrender and learning what surrender means, which is very different than saying yes to anything that comes along and everything that comes along. It certainly is discrimination but it also is really learning what surrender is all about. What does it mean to let go of things that I am really attached to? Whether it is my ideas, whether it is physical things, or whatever. Freedom. There is a tremendous freedom that comes from a life of renunciation. I really recommend it.
Candess: I am doing the 10-day yoga course here now and I am just delighted. I can see how you and the other teachers have been so patient with us. (Swami Samayanda laughs) What is it like for you living in a spiritual community? How has your life changed?
Swami Samayanda: Well it’s interesting because in a community like what we have here, it is a constant learning. The people that come together at any point and time wouldn’t necessarily be people I might go out and choose and say, oh, could I live with you or could we live together. That is part of the surrender, trying to understand, why has this particular group of people come together at this time and how do we support each other. That means not just the nice, friendly, supportive times, but it means how do I remain honest with myself and with the people that I live with. There is a small group of us that are living here permanently. We have our own class every week and it is a reflection class and we talk about what we are going through and what we are thinking and we talk about things that come up among us. It stays very open and flexible and honest among ourselves, because if that doesn’t happen with the core, it’s not going to happen in the whole community.
One of the things I find very vibrant about this community is we have people here at times ranging in ages. Recently we had a 3 year old up to someone who is 87. It is very intergenerational in that way. So we all have an opportunity. In society things are so segmented. Here we all have an opportunity to learn to live together, to work together, and to eat our meals together. It really is an integrative way of learning. So for me it is very exciting.
Swami Radananda who is our spiritual director, who is Swami Radha’s successor, is very much like Swami Radha in that she truly knows that life is a flow, that life is change. We have all kinds of scientific facts now telling us that life is not what it appears to be. There are waves, there are changes, there are vibrations, and there is all of this happening all the time. So, we are more and more putting ourselves in that flow asking, what do we need to be looking at? What do we need to be asking? What are the next steps in the future? We are in a big process right now, looking ahead to the next 10 or 15 years, and the fact that many of us in the core group are in our 60s and one is 70, and one is 82. Here we are now. We can’t keep doing what we have been doing forever. The next generation, how do we bring them in which is in the process of happening? What are we going to do as we get older. I find it very, very exciting and it also takes some getting used to. In the outside world, at least in my life was trying to find the stability where things didn’t change so much. Here we are constantly moving and changing.
(to be continued. . .)