Arsha Vidya Pitham, Saylorsburg, PA

A Venerable Hindu Monk

Tributes by Dr. Swaminathan

Swami Dayananda Saraswati (15 August 1930 – 23 September 2015) was an internationally known Hindu saint, a great visionary, an eminent and traditional teacher of Vedanta (the timeless religious, spiritual and core philosophy from India), a brilliant thinker, writer and an exemplary contributor to the enrichment of humanity. He attained mahā-samādhi (cessation of bodily existence) on September 23, 2015 in Rishikesh, India. Swami Dayananda’s contributions in the spheres of Vedantic teaching, service to humanity, global spiritual harmony, rural education, preservation of indigenous social and religious cultures and national and religious unification in India are unparalleled in terms of the benefits and positive impacts to the spiritual and social lives of millions of people around the world. He was unequivocally a venerable teacher, exemplifier of contemporary Hinduism and a visionary to follow and emulate.

Swami Dayananda exhibited unbounded love for the humankind and devoted his entire life for the universal emancipation and spiritual enrichment. His activities in the domain of interfaith dialogues with world religious leaders stand as testimonies to his quest for raising awareness of mutual respect and religious harmony. He had an unassailable conviction that indigenous cultures and traditions which are integral part of people and societies should be preserved and nurtured. He was fearless in advocating that the freedom to practice one’s religion is not negotiable. He was indefatigable in working for the protection of that freedom.

Swami Dayananda’s life and work can be broadly classified in three areas – as a quintessential teacher, an exemplary contributor and an initiator of global spiritual harmony. As a teacher of Vedanta, he established four traditional teaching centers and many others across the globe through his students with a primary focus on teaching Vedanta and Sanskrit and related disciplines. These traditional teaching centers carry the banner ‘Arsha Vidya’ i.e. Knowledge of the Rishis (Ancient Sages of India) and the word ‘Arsha’ has also been used by many of Swami Dayananda’s students in naming their facilities to mark the lineage. In order to teach the ancient wisdom of the rishis in a structured manner, which was heretofore taught on a one-to-one basis, Swami Dayananda designed a three-year curriculum. He along with his students taught several of these three-year programs and many of his students from these programs are now teaching all over India and abroad, serving as the torch bearers of the ancient Vedic wisdom.

The Bhagavad Gita Home Study (BGHS) is a magnum opus of Swami Dayananda. Based on actual classroom teaching of the Bhagavad Gita to students of a three-year program, the BGHS is an innovative and efficacious plan to allow the public to imbibe the teaching of Bhagavad Gita. Because of its wide appeal, the BGHS is translated into several Indian languages such as Tamil, Gujarati, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi as well as other languages such as Japanese and Spanish. Besides the BGHS, Swami Dayananda’s teachings, lectures and writings have been published in more than 60 titles in English. A popular book that has been translated to both Spanish and French is “The Value of Values.” It is particularly popular among youth as it discusses the commonly sensed human values, an appreciation of which is the most important ingredient for harmony among religions, nations and cultures.

Swami Dayananda’s relentless focus to the service of humankind and the betterment of the neglected people from the lower strata of the society resulted in the creation of the All India Movement (AIM) for Seva in the year 2000. As an independent public charitable trust committed to care for people who need help, it reaches out to children from the underprivileged sections of the Indian society by providing them access to good education through an innovative model of free student homes situated near public and private schools. The student homes provide the children a clean living environment, nutritious food, uniforms, schooling needs, value based education, extra-curricular activities and more. The objective is to make a difference in the lives of children in rural areas throughout India by giving them an opportunity to be educated, to grow with self-esteem, to pursue a dream and contribute to their family, society and country. AIM for Seva has already touched the lives of thousands of students and their families and caused a life-changing transformation in rural India. Swami Dayananda worked tirelessly over several decades to promote multiple inter-religious dialogues and was an author and contributor to many Joint Declarations, with Jewish and Buddhist leaders for example. In his obituary on Swami Dayananda, Alon Goshen-Gottstein described Swamiji as a pioneer of Hindu-Jewish relations (Huffington Post, Sept 25, 2015). Undoubtedly Swami Dayananda’s commitment to religious harmony made him a revered spiritual leader across a wide spectrum of traditions around the world. He advocated that, “religious harmony is closely dependent on the freedom each religion grants to the other,” and emphasized that important message with an extraordinary clarity.

Swami Dayananda was a true entrepreneur of the spirit.He excelled as a superior teacher, spiritual visionary, servant of humanity and a tireless contributor in enriching the spiritual aspects of the contemporaneous society. His far-reaching and transformational work had yielded salutary benefits to millions across countries and continents. He will continue to live in the hearts and minds of the countless people who have been inspired by his teachings.

One of the teaching centers founded by Swami Dayananda is the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam (AVG) in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. It has been serving the community for the past three decades by imparting the eternal Vedic wisdom in the traditional manner. Under the inspiring guidance of Swami Dayananda, AVG has been the ‘home-outside-the-home,’ for a large number of families all over the US. Located on 50 acres in a serene setting in the Pocono Mountains, the Gurukulam offers short- and long-term programs of study for guest and resident students of all ages. The campus is adorned by a beautiful temple dedicated to Lord Dakshinamurti, considered the first teacher of Vedic knowledge. Apart from Vedanta, classes on Sanskrit, Vedic chanting, Vedic astrology, Ayurveda, meditation and Yoga are also offered. There are ongoing meditation and Bhagavad Gita classes and Vedic Heritage program for children and youth on 1st and 3rd weekends. These classes are open to all. In Swami Dayananda’s words, “AVG is not an organization, nor is it merely a facility. It has a certain atmosphere, a unique personality or a soul that makes it a home. All of you can feel that this is your place, it is your home. Some may live outside, others may live inside, but for all of us it is home.”

True to Swamiji’s words AVG is becoming a spiritual home for more and more people and as a result the facilities such as the lecture hall, dining and kitchen areas have become inadequate to fulfill the growing need. Hence, with the blessings of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati and the consent of the Board of Directors, it was decided to construct a new facility of 21,000 square feet that can accommodate 400 people comfortably at a given time. Swamiji envisioned that the new facility will take care of the future growth of the Gurukulam. The construction work for the new facility has already commenced and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2017. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $7 M. Already $2 M has been pledged by a sponsor and another donor has come forward with an offer of $2.5 M, with the condition that the amount be matched by the patrons of AVG. This is very doable if 100 donors come forward with a donation of $25,000 each. As recognition of their generosity, the names of the donors will be placed on a plaque inside the new complex. This is a great opportunity and a privilege to extend the gift of the new complex in gratitude and loving memory of the great venerable saint, Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati.

Lord Daksinamurti

In the vision of the Veda, this creation is a manifestation of the Lord. Being the cause, he is all knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge. We have a name for that Lord Daksinamurti.

The Lord presented in this form as Dakṣiṇāmūrti is the one who has eight aspects. The first five aspects are thefive elements. In the Veda the world is presented in the form of five elements—ākāśa, space,which includes time; vāyu, air; agni, fire; āpa, water; and pṛthivī, earth.

In this Vedic model of the universe, the five elements are non-separate from the Lord. In fact, these five elements constitute the Lord’s form, which is this universe.

The next two aspects are represented by the sun and the moon.

When, as an individual, I look at this world, what stands out in the sky are the sun and moon.

The moon represents all planets other than earth, and the sun represents allluminous bodies.

The eighth aspect is me, the jīva—the one who is looking at the world.

These eight aspects are to be understood as one whole. This is the Lord.

When we look at the form of Dakṣiṇāmūrti, we can see representations of the five elements. Space, ākāśa, is represented by a ḍamaru, a drum, in his right hand. In order to show space in a sculpture, it needs to be enclosed.

Empty space is enclosed in the ḍamaru, enabling it to issue sound, or śabda.

Next, vāyu, air, is represented by Dakṣiṇāmūrti’s hair with the bandana, the band, holding his hair in place against the wind. Bandana is a Sanskrit word which comes from the root band, to bind.

In his left hand, you will see a torch, which represents agni, fire.

Āpa, water, is shown by the Gaṅga, in the form of a Goddess, which you can see on Dakṣiṇāmūrti’s head.

Pṛthivī, the earth, is represented by the whole idol.

Then there are people, the jīvas, Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana and Sanatsujāta, who are the disciples of Dakṣiṇāmūrti, sitting at the base of sculpture.

The sun and moon are also shown in this form of the Lord.

On the left side of Dakṣiṇāmūrti you will find a crescent moon, and on his right side there is a circle, representing the sun—a whole circle.

So we see five elements, two planets and the jīva constituting the aṣṭa-mūrti-bhṛt, the Lord of these eight factors that are the whole.

You can worship Dakṣiṇāmūrti as the Lord, the one who is aṣṭa-mūrti-bhṛt, or you can invoke him as a teacher, because he also is in the form of a teacher.

His very sitting posture, āsana, is the teacher’s āsana. What does he teach? Look at his hand gesture. That shows wha the teaches. His index finger, the one we use to point at others, represents the ahaṅkāra, the ego.

The other three fingers represent your body, deha, mind, antaḥkaraņa and sense organs, prāņa.

They also may be seen as the three bodies, śarīras, the gross, subtle, and causal. This is what the jīva mistakes himself to be. The aṅguṣṭha, the thumb, represents the Lord, the puruṣa. It is away from the rest of the fingers of the hand, yet at the same time, the fingers have no strength without it.

In this gesture, mūdra, in Dakṣiṇāmūrti’s right hand, the thumb joins the other fingers to form a circle, teaching that the jīva, who takes himself to be the body, mind and senses, is the whole. The circular hand gesture visually states the entire upadeśa, teaching: tat tvam asi, “You are That.” Just as a circle has no beginning or end, you are the whole. That is the final word about you. Nobody can improve upon that vision; no culture can improve upon it.

Even in heaven, it cannot be improved upon, for the whole includes heaven. Therefore, you have the final word here, because you are everything. It is better that you know it. That teaching is contained in the Veda, represented by the palm leaves in the left hand of Dakṣiṇāmūrti. And to understand this, you require a mind that has assimilated certain values and attitudes and has developed a capacity to think in a proper and sustained way.

This can be acquired by various spiritual disciplines represented here by a japa-māla, The fact that the Lord himself is a teacher, a guru, means that any teacher is looked upon as a source of knowledge. And the teacher himself should look upon Īśvara, the Lord, as the source of knowledge. Since the Lord himself is a teacher, the first guru, there is a tradition of teaching, so there is no individual ego involved in teaching.

Dakṣiṇāmūrti is seated upon a bull, which stands for tamas, the quality of māyā that accounts for ignorance. This is the entire creative power of the world and Dakṣiṇāmūrti controls this māyā; Then, there are bound to be obstacles in your pursuit of this knowledge. Dakṣiṇāmūrti controls all possible obstacles.

Underneath his foot, under his control, is a fellow called Apasmara—the one who throws obstacles in your life. This tells us that although there will be obstacles, with the grace of the Lord, you can keep them under check and not allow them to overpower you. There is no obstacle-free life, but obstacles need not really throw you off course; you keep them under control.

Thus, the whole form of Dakṣiṇāmūrti invokes the Lord who is the source of all knowledge, the source of everything, the one who is the whole, and who teaches you that you are the whole. He is Dakṣiṇāmūrti, the one who is in the form of a teacher, guru-mūrti.

We invoke his blessing so that all of you discover that source in yourself. If this self-discovery is your pursuit, your whole life becomes worthwhile. This project of self-discovery should be the project of everyone. That is the Vedic vision of human destiny

Arsha Vidya Gurukulam was founded in 1986 by Pujya Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati. In Swamiji’s own words,

“When I accepted the request of many people I know to start a gurukulam, I had a vision of how it should be. I visualized the gurukulam as a place where spiritual seekers can reside and learn through Vedanta courses. . . And I wanted the gurukulam to offer educational programs for children in values, attitudes, and forms of prayer and worship. When I look back now, I see all these aspects of my vision taking shape or already accomplished. With the facility now fully functional, . . . I envision its further unfoldment to serve more and more people.”

Ārṣa (arsha) means belonging to the ṛṣis or seers; vidyā means knowledge. Guru means teacher and kulam is a family.  In traditional Indian studies, even today, a student resides in the home of this teacher for the period of study. Thus, gurukulam has come to mean a place of learning. Arsha Vidya Gurukulam is a place of learning the knowledge of the ṛṣis.

The traditional study of Vedanta and auxiliary disciplines are offered at the Gurukulam. Vedanta mean end (anta) of the Veda, the sourcebook for spiritual knowledge.  Though preserved in the Veda, this wisdom is relevant to people in all cultures, at all times. The vision that Vedanta unfolds is that the reality of the self, the world, and God is one non-dual consciousness that both transcends and is the essence of everything. Knowing this, one is free from all struggle based on a sense of inadequacy.

The vision and method of its unfoldment has been carefully preserved through the ages, so that what is taught today at the Gurukulam is identical to what was revealed by the ṛṣis in the Vedas.