Arsha Vidya Pitham, Saylorsburg, PA

Tributes by Swamini Srividyananda

While it is a heart-warming privilege to pay tribute to Pujya Sri Swamiji, to do justice is a daunting task.

The vast expanse of time is occasionally dotted with the birth of a true teacher, one who personifies the term Guru. This individual is gifted with the ability to render complex ideas into words that are easily understood and assimilated; and this individual is endowed with the compassion to touch the hearts and lives of people in many ways. In our midst, was such a Mahatma—our Pujya Sri Swamiji.

Decades rolled by since Swamiji embarked on a mission to take the message, the light of the Śāstras to the masses. Through trials and tribulations, through pain and deprivation, by his determination, his devotion and sheer will Swamiji kept the torch aglow, lighting the torches of the next generation of torch-bearers. For the blessed many, the torches Swamiji lit have marked the beginning of a lifelong marathon as ācāryas and sevakas. They, as torch-bearers, have ventured out into this vast land and beyond to spread Swamiji’s vision and to create yet another generation of torch bearers. And others, though their commitments lie in different spheres, by merely imbibing the values as taught by Swamiji, have become beacons of light to their families and communities. Thus, the paramparā continues and will continue to resonate Pujya Swamij’s vision for all time to come.

Year after year, with diligence and patience, Swamiji unfolded the vision of the Śāstras, in his unique and lucid style, punctuated by anecdotes from his vast experience. The uncanny precision with which he drove the points home, left even the most uninitiated with clear understanding of a subject that can only be described as paradoxical. With his inimitable wit Swamiji made the examples he cited come alive. He could convince even a rank agnostic that the red rose in his hand is not a flower at all and that one plus one is in fact one and not two. Swamiji said, “Examples have no meaning without making them human.”

Because his innate nature was to give, it flowed with unstinting love and devotion. In his love for communication, his language, prose, style, diction and eloquence would undergo tremendous transformation in order to accommodate the changing faces of time, place and people. The word ‘sacrifice’ comes to mind when one considers the enormous time and effort that goes into the teaching, but any indication of the sense of that word was conspicuously lacking because it was his innate nature to keep on giving – giving compassion, love, knowledge, laughter and so much more wherever and whenever and to whomsoever it is needed.

Pujya Swamiji’s ability to reach into the very nucleus of a word and bring forth varied meanings and concepts made him a rare phenomenon. It is this ability that enabled him to expound on a single topic, such as śānti, śraddhā, namaḥ or om, for hours, with a deluge of words that surged like the Ganga in spate. It reminded one of a stream gathering momentum as river after river merged in it. Topic merged with related ones and then unrelated ones and often took a complete detour. It would take us anywhere from Vedanta to music, politics, science, psychology, values, jokes and the like. But Swamiji’s detour always slid smoothly back to the exact point of digression; even to the precise word, from where the detour took place. This scenario prevailed time after time leaving us perplexed as to how anything as uncanny, as impossible was this is possible.

His mastery in teaching was evident in the way he handled the subject matter, which is to remove all doubts and misconceptions that prevent one from understanding one’s essential nature. Having a clear comprehension and appreciation of the problems that beset the human mind, especially in the contemporary society, such as isolation, limitation, self-non-acceptance, his rare capacity to touch one’s heart with the depth of words unfolded the understanding of one’s innate freedom. Swamiji’s unique teaching style combined logic and scholarship, to make the profound ideas of Vedanta surprisingly current and simple to understand. For him, Vedanta was not just a subject matter; it is reality of life that can be communicated.

Today, the world hails the teacher – Sri Swami Dayananda – as a leading figure with unsurpassed scholarship and clarity of expression. His vision and message came through in a conscious process of unfoldment about life and its endless beauty, the world and its magical illusions, the profundity of God and the self.

And, today, Swamiji stands tall, not only as an exemplary ācārya of Advaita Vedanta, also as the very epitome of selfless service. Swamiji was a visionary in every sense of the word. His vision did not stop at this happening called Arsha Vidya Gurukulam but has taken into its fold several missions to bring about universal harmony through unity. One such journey for peace is through seva.

All over the world a staggering number labors under the grievous burden called poverty. Fortunately, all through ages, human life has been conditioned by an instinctive sense of obligation. It realizes that sufficiently exposed to society, in degrees at a time, with the required wherewithal, the less privileged can break out of their cocoon-like world. Pujya Swamiji’s vision propelled this realization into an explosion of action in the year 2000 with the inception of All India Movement for Seva. Its  mission is to make a difference in the desperate hopes of the needy; to release them from their slow surrender to the grim inevitable truth. Over the past decade and a half, the tremendous progress in the spirit and form of the Movement stand testimony to the magnanimous contributions of the caring and the benevolent. Swamiji said, “It is not what we get but who we become, what we contribute … that gives meaning to our lives.”

It seems as if I have shared a great deal about Pujya Swamiji but in fact it is not even the periphery. In a different context, the Kenopaniṣad says, “The eyes cannot reach it, or speech, or even the mind. We do not know it nor do we know how it could be explained differently.” You can see that I am faced with a similar predicament here in struggling to delve into the depths of Pujya Swamiji, the Visionary. I am trying desperately to fathom a colossal iceberg when I cannot even comprehend its tip. How foolhardy that is. But then again, where is and who has the wherewithal even to conceive a way to express something noteworthy that would do justice to Swamiji? That being so perhaps it would be prudent to leave the unfathomable un-fathomed.

Pujya Sri Swamiji attained mahā-samādhi. Consequently, did an era of inspiration come to an end; did the mahatma really leave us never to return? Swamiji’s legacy—the teaching, selfless service, compassion—are they not dynamic expressions of the timeless reality? Then, that being so, Swamiji is vibrantly alive among us. The teaching, the service to society and the empathy have already found expression through his ācārya disciples and devotees and that is what is meant by ‘Endings symbolize beginnings’; and indeed that is how Pujya Sri Swamiji’s vision will continue to unfold through his illustrious legacy. Surely, that is what Swamiji means by saying, “There is perpetuation. Nothing seems to finish. I will always be with you.”

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.