I had the privilege and blessed gift to visit the ashram of the Himalayan Yoga Tradition founded by Swami Rama and currently presided by Swami Veda, who is the spiritual guide of the Tradition in Rishikesh, India in September 2013.
Unbeknown to me and my fellow teachers travelling on this journey from the West to meet the ancient traditions of Yoga in the East, an angel of a teacher, Aditi M. Gaur arranged for 17 of us to sit in an hour meditation with Swami Veda, who has taken a 5 year vow of silence that began in March 2013. A truly intense and profound experience beyond words!
This brings up the question:
What is the Himalayan Yoga Tradition and who is Swami Veda?
The Himalayan Yoga Tradition is one of the few known remaining traditional lineages that exist today. These traditional lineages can trace a clear line of Masters over thousands of years who have handed teachings down via a Guru-disciple relationship. A lineage is also one who is connected with the masters from the tradition through an unbroken link over time. Other authentic lineages include:
- Paramahansa Yogananda
- Bihar School of Yoga
And others that continue their work away from the public eye in cave monasteries and ashrams in the Himalayas
My Rishikesh, India trip with my “Yoganga” family was indeed the most incredible experience of my life. It would never have been so without Jim Harrington and Aditi M. Gaur. Aditi taught a module on Jim’s advanced teacher training program and retreat where she shared with us ancient approaches to Asana, Pranayama and Meditation. We were profoundly affected by our time in India and what we learnt from Aditi and Jim.
Aditi’s initial training was done through the Sivananda lineage after which she pursued her path to become an initiate of the Himalayan Yoga Tradition, recognizing Swami Rama as her Guru. South African Yogis were blessed to experience her shining light, incredible wisdom and wealth of knowledge during her visit to Cape Town and Johannesburg in March 2014. She shares with us further insight on the Himalayan Yoga Lineage and Swami Veda Bharati, who is much revered in India as a true master.
What is the essence of the Himalayan Yoga Tradition?
As a small sadhaka with limited understanding, I would say that the lineage I belong to teaches us to see the reality within. The uniqueness of the Himalayan Yoga Tradition is the fact that it can trace a line of Masters over thousands of years and the link between them remains unbroken in this way the lineage is still ‘alive’. If you travel within the Himalayas the mere mention of the names of Swami Rama and Swami Veda Bharati brings tremendous respect and reverence. I have been in the presence of several spiritual teachers and each time I share with them that I have been initiated into Swami Rama’s lineage they bow in reverence and speak of him with the respect that only a Master commands in India.
Who is Swami Veda and why is he so revered?
Swami Veda Bharati is a direct disciple of Swami Rama and a Mahamandaleshwar which is considered to be “Master of a Great Circle” in India. It is a much revered honorific title. Besides the four Shankaracharyas, the Mahamandaleshwars constitute the religious leadership of the Hindu faith. Swami Veda has been reciting the Yoga Sutras since he was nine years old and was proclaimed a “child prodigy” by the Hindi Press in 1946. What is interesting here is the fact that he has never gone to school, yet speaks 17 languages fluently.
My interactions with Swami Veda have revealed to me a kind, loving and humble soul who has walked the path that his Master guided him to with complete sincerity and devotion. Despite his frail health, (having five ruptured discs in the back and six arteries completely blocked), he continues to guide his students and disciples, displaying selfless love for all of them. I feel blessed and honoured to have been in his presence and have learnt so much from my interactions with him. He sets an extraordinary example for us young sadhakas to follow.
Please share with us the difference between being a student and an initiate of a Lineage?
From my limited understanding I would like to say that a student comes, takes a couple of teachings and goes but an initiate makes a commitment. A commitment to grow and serve according to the principles and teachings of the Lineage. By taking initiation you commit to a Parampara, (Tradition) and not just one person from the Lineage. You adopt the Tradition and it adopts you. It guides you and nurtures you in your journey to realize yourself and acts as a fencing, so to speak, to protect a shrub that has just sprouted from the ground so that it does not get trampled on or destroyed, allowing it to grow into its potential. As the shrub grows into a mighty tree, it becomes a source of shade for others. Most importantly this tree has fulfilled its purpose by reaching its potential. In my personal experience I have witnessed how my initiation gave new direction to my life, bringing depth and focus and allowing me to seek guidance when I needed it most from those who have faced the same challenges that I face today as a small sadhaka, (student). There is a gentle reassurance and certain security in that.
How does one become an initiate? What is the process and what does it mean to be an initiate?
The initiation process is a simple but powerful one and I don’t want to go into any details here but would like to say that it’s a commitment that must be made after much thought and introspection. It is good to ask yourself if you are ready to grow within the teachings of the tradition and accept them as your guides on your spiritual journey. Then, one must look for a lineage that is known to be authentic. Contacting, them, spending some time with them and then deciding to get initiated is a better way to make this commitment. The spiritual path is not an easy one to walk on so having a support system that can understand and guide becomes vital to one’s growth. Additionally, having access to teachings and practices that have withstood the test of time also make becoming part of a lineage worthwhile. If you are serious about walking the spiritual path and are determined to grow it would make sense to find people who can systematically guide you, on the other hand if you feel you aren’t ready to make the commitment, its best to take your time and explore. I must say that initiation should not be confused with renunciation. I get asked this often. You don’t have to give up your family, your career and your life to become an initiate. You receive a personal mantra during the initiation and you return to your life. The mantra becomes your best friend and through its chanting your evolution happens. Receiving a mantra and returning home is not enough, one must use it in one’s daily sadhana, (spiritual practice). All growth comes from that.
I often see people who have collected ‘mantras’ from several traditions, going through several initiations and don’t practice anything. To me it seems to be a waste of blessings conferred. If a seed has been planted within you, it would be a shame to not allow it to reach its potential.
Does the Himalayan Yoga Tradition offer programs for those seeking short term study?
Yes indeed. Their website www.himalayanyogatradition.com offers details on the programs that they offer which include Teacher Training Programs, long and short study courses and retreats. It is always nice to go and spend a few days at the ashram in Rishikesh (www.sadhakagrama.org) and explore the options available as well.
What other services does this institute provide for interested visiting learners?
The ashram is a wonderful place to go and learn and one should make the trip at least once a year. Here you get to learn ways to live in a happy and fulfilling manner. Being a lineage of dhyana yogis one can learn a systematic approach to meditation bringing it into your daily life. The lineage also teaches asanas as a preparatory step to Meditation (Dhyana). One can also undertake a silence retreat under the guidance of a mentor or teacher and I can tell you that this can be a deeply moving and powerful practice to take on.
Words cannot truly capture or measure the beauty and honour I had of visiting the Himalayan Yoga Ashram and the privilege to sit in meditation with Swami Veda. That particular event marked one of the most sacred moments of my Rishikesh experience.
I extend immense gratitude to the Powers that Be, to Jim Harrington and to Aditi M. Gaur for what was indeed an opportunity of a lifetime!
Interview compiled by Juanita Caprari, (www.yogamala.co.za).