|Swami Dayananda Saraswati|
Swami Dayananda Saraswati
|Born||August 15, 1930
Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu, India
Dayananda Saraswati (Hindi: स्वामी दयानन्द सरस्वती) (born August 15, 1930) is a monk of the Hindu monastic order and a renowned traditional teacher of Advaita Vedanta, and founder of the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam.
Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati was born as Natarajan in Manjakudi - Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu on August 15, 1930 to Shri. Gopala Iyer and Smt. Valambal. He was the eldest of four sons. His early schooling was done in the District Board School at Kodavasal. His father's death when he was eight, meant Natarajan had to shoulder a significant portion of family responsibility along with his education. After the completion of his education, Natarajan came to Chennai (erstwhile Madras) for earning a livelihood. Natarajan worked as a journalist for the weekly magazine Dharmika Hindu (run by T. K. Jagannathacharya) and also for erstwhile Volkart Brothers (now Voltas Limited) for sometime. He also decided to be a fighter pilot at one point and joined the Indian Air Force, but left after six months as he felt suffocated by the regimentation there.
Natarajan became interested in Vedanta (Vedanta known also as Upanishad, is a positional name for the wisdom contained in the end portion of the Vedas, the most ancient body of scriptural and religious knowledge known to humankind) after listening to the public talks of Swami Chinmayananda in the years 1952-53. He became actively involved with the then newly formed Chinmaya Mission in various roles and he was made its Secretary within the first year of its inception. He attended the Sanskrit classes of P.S. Subramania Iyer, a retired Professor of English. It was Iyer who introduced the mode of chanting the Gita verses that is still followed by Chinmaya Mission, Arsha Vidya Centres and others as well. Swami Chinmayananda instructed Natarajan to set up Chinmaya Mission's Madurai branch which Natarajan was able to fulfill. In 1955 Natarajan accompanied Swami Chinmayananda to Uttarakasi and helped him in the preparation of a Gita manuscript for publication. In Uttarakasi, he met Swami Chinmayananda’s Guru, Swami Tapovanam Maharaj, who advised him, 'You have a duty to yourself which is also important. Stay here. Do japa, meditate and study.' Natarajan could not take up that offer at that point in time. However, he promised Swami Tapovanam Maharaj that he would be able to come after one year and he did. Natarajan returned to Madras and took up the editorship of ‘Tyagi,’ a fortnightly magazine of Chinmaya Mission. Upon the advice of Swami Chinmayananda, Natarajan shifted to Bangalore in 1956 and continued to edit Tyagi which was also moved to Bangalore. During his stay there, Natarajan joined the Sanskrit College in Chamrajpet and had the privilege of studying one on one with Prof. Veeraraghavachariar.
In 1961, with the permission of Swami Chinmayananda, Natarajan went to study under Swami Pranavananda at Gudivada (near Vijayawada) to clarify many of his doubts on Vedanta and self-enquiry. The stay with Swami Pranavananda helped Natarajan learn one thing clearly - that Vedanta is a pramana (means of knowledge) to know the truth of the Self. In Natarajan’s own words, 'I saw the Swami giving direct knowledge to the people he was teaching. This resolved all my conflicts. My problems with Vedanta had been my mistaken notion that it was a system.'
This critical shift in his vision about Vedanta impelled Natarajan to once again study the sastra with Sankara’s commentaries. In 1962 he was given Sannyasa by Swami Chinmayananda and was given the name Swami Dayananda Saraswati. In 1963 he went to Mumbai, (erstwhile Bombay) to the newly inaugurated Sandeepany Sadhanalaya of Chinmaya Mission, where he undertook the responsibility of editing the magazine of the mission Tapovan Prasad. In addition, Swami Dayananda taught chanting of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads to the students of Sandeepany.
In November 1963 Swami Dayananda undertook a study-pilgrimage to Rishikesh and stayed in a grass hut in Purani Jhadi. He spent three years there, studying Brahma Sutras under Swami Tarananda Giri at the Kailash Ashram.
Around 1967, due to the declining health of Swami Chinmayananda, the Mission approached Swami Dayananda to give public talks and lectures. Accordingly, between 1967 and 1970, Swami Dayananda travelled to different towns and cities in India spreading the teachings of Gita and the Upanishads.
In 1971, Swami Dayananda agreed to conduct a long-term study program at Sandeepany and formulated a curriculum that would systematically unfold the vision of Vedanta. Between 1972 and 1979, Swami Dayananda conducted two three year residential Vedanta courses in Mumbai. In his words, 'At Sandeepany the teaching is traditional and rigorous. What would take a Sadhu in the Himalayas nine years to learn, the students at Sandeepany learned in two-and-half years.'
At the request of students in the US, in 1979 Swami Dayananda established a three year study program at Sandeepany West, in Piercy, California. In 1982 he returned to India and continued to spread the message of the Upanishads through public talks and lectures. Responding to the request of students, devotees and disciples, Swami Dayananda established the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam at Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania in 1986 wherein a three-year residential course was completed in 1990.
Swami Dayananda is a quintessential teacher and a revered scholar of Vedanta. Vedanta focuses on the one and only ultimate reality which runs through as a thread connecting the diversity in Creation. The knowledge of this reality helps one to transcend the apparent differences caused by race, religion, culture, nationality and so on and cognize the universal spirit that is present in every one. The teaching of this uplifting, unifying and liberating message of the Upanishads has remained Swami Dayananda’s central mission for the last five and a half decades. His depth of understanding and nuanced appreciation of Western culture make him a rare teacher who can communicate the vision of non-duality to modern listeners. Whether Swami Dayananda is teaching in the context of a traditional Vedanta classroom or communicating the absolute universal reality to the public at large in one of his hundreds of talks each year, his compassion and love of imparting knowledge shine forth unparalleled. Swami Dayananda’s lectures, books, public messages and declarations of inter-religious harmony contain pearls of wisdom underscoring mutual respect, understanding and harmony among people, religions and nations.
Swami Dayananda along with his students has taught ten three-year programs (eight in India and two in the United States) and many of his students from these programs are now teaching all over India and abroad. More than two-hundred of his Sannyasi-disciples are teaching Vedanta and Paninian grammar around the world.
As a teacher of Vedanta, Swami Dayananda has established four traditional teaching centers and many more across the globe through his students with a primary focus on teaching Vedanta, Sanskrit and related disciplines. These traditional teaching centers carry the banner ‘Arsha Vidya’ or ‘Arsha Vijnana’, i.e. Knowledge of the Rishis. The word ‘Arsha’ has also been used by many of Swami Dayananda’s students in naming their facilities to mark their lineage.
These residential centers conduct long-term courses, 1-2 week camps, weekend study programs and family camps throughout the year and the subjects taught include the major Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, several secondary texts of Vedanta and the Brahma Sutras. The study includes also the Sanskrit commentary of Sankara on these texts. Along with these studies, the Sanskrit language is also taught with Paninian grammar. The Gurukulams also conduct sessions of daily meditation and satsangas. Additionally camps are conducted for teaching Yoga, Indian Classical Music, Ayurveda, Jyotisha and allied disciplines.
The teaching centers founded by Swami Dayananda offer Indians and non-Indians, Hindus and non-Hindus, men and women alike, an opportunity to study the profound knowledge of Vedanta. The teaching centers conduct outreach programs to reach out to the public at large. At present there are at least sixty centers in India and abroad that carry on the tradition of Vedantic teaching under the banner of Arsha Vidya.
In addition to teaching, Swami Dayananda has initiated and supported various philanthropic efforts. He founded the All India Movement for Seva, AIM for Seva, <http://www.aimforseva.org> in 2000 as an initiative of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, an apex body of Hindu religious heads of the various sampradayas which itself was convened by Swami Dayananda’s coordinating efforts. AIM for Seva is a public charitable trust with the singular vision to work for the welfare of the less privileged people in India through a network of seva (service) and caring. This transformative and inspirational vision to bridge the gap between the ‘haves and have-nots’ is implemented by AIM for Seva in a fundamental game-changing manner by making education accessible to every child in tribal and rural areas through the concept of a free student home or chatralaya. In addition, AIM for Seva provides basic healthcare to people living in remote regions of the country. It has grown to be a national movement making a significant impact in providing education and health care to the less privileged. So far, AIM for Seva has constructed 100 chatralayas across 14 states. Along with these student homes, through 18 educational institutions and 270 evening tuition centers, AIM for Seva serves over 35,000 students making a positive impact on 80,000 families in over 2,500 villages.
Swami Dayananda is a consistent and steadfast proponent of true freedom of religious pursuit. In his words, “The freedom to practice one’s religion is not negotiable.” According to him, religious freedom includes not just the right to choose, practice and propagate one’s religion, but the very important right to have those freedoms protected from an unsolicited attempt, and especially, a coercive attempt, to supplant one’s religion. He describes religious choice to be a complete freedom of letting all religions and correspondingly, the religious and spiritual pursuits of the people who are the followers of each one of these religions, coexist. He emphasizes that important message with a degree of clarity that is powerful enough to ward off religious conflicts and promote religious harmony. He advocates that “religious harmony is closely dependent on the freedom each religion grants to the other.”
Swami Dayananda has worked tirelessly over several decades to promote several inter-religious dialogues. He is the author of and contributor to many Joint Declarations with Jewish and Buddhist leaders for example.
Swami Dayananda organized the first Hindu-Jewish meet in 2007 in New Delhi, India. This was facilitated by the World Council of Religious Leaders whose Secretary-General launched an initiative “Religion One on One.” A joint declaration was issued acknowledging the shared values of the two traditions and for deepening the bilateral relationship predicated on the recognition of One Supreme Being.
The second Hindu-Jewish summit was held at Jerusalem in 2008. The Jerusalem meet concluded with a landmark declaration that Hindus worship ‘one supreme being’ and do not practice idolatrous worship as is generally misunderstood. The implications of this declaration have been profound in content and with far-reaching effects. Swami Dayananda’s article on the declaration has now been widely read, understood and appreciated by practitioners of the Jewish religion and beyond.
The third Hindu-Jewish meeting was held successfully in 2009 in the US. Swami Dayananda maintains a close relationship with the leaders of the American Jewish Council.
Swami Dayananda participated in two Hindu-Buddhist summits. The first one organized by the Global Peace Initiative of Women, was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2009 and the second one was organized in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2010. The objective of these summits in bringing together two of the oldest major world religions, viz., Hinduism and Buddhism, was to foster a world community based on mutual respect, compassion and true sustainability.
The list below will serve as a sample of the breadth and depth of Swami Dayananda’s reach, leadership, and commitment to religious harmony, and indicate the reverence he commands across a wide spectrum of traditions around the world.
|2010||Second Hindu-Buddhist Meet, Sri Lanka, June 2010.|
|2009||Third Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit, in New York & Washington DC, USA.
First Hindu-Buddhist Meet in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (Organized by the Global Peace Initiative of Women) in February 2009.
|2008||Faith in Human Rights Conference December 10, 2008 at The Hague, Netherlands.
Parliament of World Religions in Madrid, Spain on October 10, 2008.
Second Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit, in Jerusalem, Israel, 2008.
The fifth Global Peace Initiative of Women, held in Jaipur, India in March 2008.
World Religions after 9/11 Conference, Montreal, September 2008.
|2007||The International Inter-religious Encounter, held at Monterrey, Mexico, September 2007.
First Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit, in New Delhi, February 2007.
Convener of Hindu Collective Initiative (North America)'s Hindu Dharma Summit at Orlando, December 14–16, 2007.
|2005||From Inner Heart to Global Vision: World Conference hosted by the Dharma Drum Mountain, Taiwan, October 2005.|
|2004||Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, Parliament of World Religions, World Leaders' Meet, Monserrat, 2004.
Asia-Pacific Youth Peace Summit, Bangkok, Thailand, 2004.
World Youth Peace Summit, Taipei, Taiwan R.O.C, 2004.
Parliament of World Religions: Participant, Barcelona, Spain, July 2004
|2003||World Youth Peace Summit, Kyoto, Japan 2003.
Dharma Conference in New Jersey, USA, July 2003.
|2002||Foundations for the Future: The Next Thousand Years Television Series, one of 73 participating scholars, Washington, April 2002.
World Council of Religious Leaders – Founding meeting, Bangkok, June 2002.
Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders: Keynote address, Geneva, Switzerland, October 2002.
World Council of Churches: Represented Hindus in Hindu-Christian dialogue, Geneva, October 2002.
World Youth Peace Summit, Kyoto, Japan, November 2002.
|2001||International Congress for the Preservation of Religious Diversity in Delhi, 2001.(Inaugurated by the Honorable Prime Minister Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee and attended by the Dalai Lama among other distinguished attendees.)
International Conference on the Global Preservation of Sacred Sites, November 9–12, 2001, Taipei, Taiwan.
|2000||Millennium World Peace Summit at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in 2000, in which Swami Dayananda led the Indian delegation.|
|1999||International Conference of Great Religions of Asia at Kathmandu, Nepal.|
|1995||United Nations 50th Anniversary Celebration: Represented the Sankaracharya of Kanchi.
Addressed the UNESCO Seoul Global Convention on, “Tolerance, Restoration of Morality and Humanity.”
|1980||Addressed the United Nations Non-Governmental Organization representatives on, “The Moral Imperatives of Ending the Arms Race.”|
Swami Dayananda is a leader and pioneer in preserving the ancient cultures and religious and spiritual practices of India that have survived several millennia, yet struggle in modern times due to lack of support. He has started several Veda pathasalas (Centers of learning of Vedas) for the preservation of Vedas and Agamas to prevent their rapid extinction due to a lack of infrastructure for learning.
Swami Dayananda also founded the Dharma Rakshana Samiti, a body to protect the Vedic heritage,to preserve the native spiritual culture of India inherited from the rishis and to raise the awareness among Hindus of their Vedic heritage. This heritage which has percolated in every aspect of Indian society over the millennia makes all human pursuits into sacred acts serving the ultimate reality of God. The Vedic heritage and culture recognize and respect divinity in every being and in every aspect of creation.
Many of Swami Dayananda Saraswati's lectures, talks and discourses have been published in the form of books. These books deal with Vedantic teachings and their applicability to various situations in life. Many of his teachings are also available in audio and video formats. A non-exhaustive list of his books follows.
The Bhagavad Gita Home Study (BGHS) Course designed by Swami Dayananda presents the teaching of Bhagavad Gita in an innovative and effective way that allows easy assimilation. The BGHS course material based on actual classroom teaching of the Bhagavad Gita to students of a three-year program in Vedanta conducted at Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Saylorsburg, PA, contains carefully edited transcriptions of about 360 classes. As the material is based on a classroom style teaching it is very effective in its delivery mechanism and in fostering of understanding by the students of the program. The BGHS course is available as a nine volume series. The BGHS is Swami Dayananda’s magnum opus. It is a complete teaching including Yoga (the preparation) needed for gaining self-knowledge. The appeal of the BGHS course stems from the fact that it includes not only germane explanations of the verses but also appropriate contemporaneous examples which keep the readers engaged and focused on the pursuit of the knowledge. Intended for a self-study, the BGHS is best pursued in a group setting. The Gita study group comprises a small group of 8 to 10 people with a commitment to meet at a regular interval, like once a week, and study together. If the group is unable to find answers, one can note down the questions and have them addressed by one of the teachers at the Gurukulam or Swami Dayananda himself through email and/or direct communication. There are BGHS study groups in 23 states in the US and in many other countries including Argentina, Australia, Brazil India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom. Because of its wide appeal, the BGHS has been translated into other Indian languages such as Tamil, Gujarati, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi. In addition, Chapter 2 of the BGHS is available in Japanese and some of the chapters are available in Spanish.
(in alphabetical order)
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AIM for Seva
Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha