As satguru, I am in exclusive intimate spiritual communion with each of my devotees. I am at the center of each seeker’s life, beating in each heart, aware in each thought, good, bad or indifferent. I keep the threads of every devotee’s karma. I am the spiritual voice of dharma in their lives. To those seeking to understand our subtle tradition, it must be openly stated that the satguru is the keeper of all the intertwined threads, the repository of all intimate knowledge, the knower of the continuities of all his followers’karmas and dharmas, the confidant of each one’s secret heart, the listener to their most painful confessions in sealed confidentiality, the giver of their mind-quieting penances, or prayaschittas, the interpreter of their transcendental, light-filled breakthroughs, visions and dreams, the guardian of the future of each sishya.” So said Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami in the 1995 edition of Saiva Dharma Sastras, The Book of Discipline of Saiva Siddhanta Church.
Gurudeva began teaching and picking up these inner threads of devotees’ karmas in California in 1957. He quickly cognized the need for an external structure with which to manage and nurture a growing congregation. So, over many years he developed Saiva Siddhanta Church, the first Hindu institution in the world to embrace and mold the Western church structure into a strong religious organization with an ethnically diverse international congregation. Its headquarters is at a traditional South Indian style monastery-temple complex in the Hawaiian islands known as Kauai Aadheenam, or Kauai’s Hindu monastery. According to Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, Gurudeva’s successor and disciple of 37 years, “Gurudeva always did the same thing. From 1957 to his mahasamadhi, his core teachings didn’t change, his organizational concepts didn’t change, the essence of what he was trying to do did not change. What did change were the people.”
As a spiritual leader committed to teaching an Eastern religion in the West, Gurudeva always responded to the people who came forward, which evolved through the decades into a deeply sincere group of Saivite Hindu devotees. “In the 1950s Gurudeva was working with people who had been studying metaphysics and whose background was Christian. In the ’60s the group changed. It became young people, some with Christian backgrounds and some with no religious upbringing, exposed to the concepts of the ’60s,” said Bodhinatha. “The people in the ’50s didn’t understand expanded consciousness. People in the ’60s knew about it, by reading about it or by personal experience. The whole mentality became one more of inner experience and meditation.” Gurudeva’s teaching of Eastern concepts was like nectar, and many discovered their spiritual identity in Hinduism.
Beginning in late 1969 and continuing through the ’70s, Gurudeva traveled extensively throughout Asia, frequenting India and Sri Lanka to expose his devotees to Hindu culture. While visiting Jaffna on a voyage in 1972, Gurudeva met Sri Sita Ram Shastri, a leader among priests and a renowned mystical pundit of the island nation. Gurudeva told him that he wanted his Westerndevotees, the truly sincere ones, to become Hindus. Shastri told Gurudeva that it was fine to do. It is within the sastras. But it would take three generations before this lineage is fully established. Gurudeva took that prediction seriously. He kept it in mind over the next 29 years as he carefully guided the lives of his first group of householder devotees who had converted to Saivism. The third generation to which Shastri referred is now being born in several of these families.
The core of Gurudeva’s Church, the monastic ministers, were the first to enter Hinduism. “Those who were brought up in other religions had to go through a severance process. Some ran into religious conflicts and didn’t continue,” explained Bodhinatha, who supervised the process. In the late ’70s and early ’80s Gurudeva and his monastics guided the householders through the same process who wished to continue under the stricter guidelines he had established.
As Western devotees entered Hinduism in the 1980s, born Hindus from Asia started coming forward. If they were Vaishnavas, they, too, had to formally convert to Saivism and take on a Saivite name. This marked a significant permanent change in the makeup of the congregation. Says Bodhinatha: “We went from teaching yoga to Christians to teaching Saivism to Hindus; from a group based in California to a global group with members on every major continent.”
Though students and members came and went through the years, Gurudeva’s message did not change. Bodhinatha said, “He started talking about the Self; he ended talking about the Self. He started with knowledge about the monastic path and the family path; he ended with that knowledge.”
Gurudeva’s vision of a Hindu church never wavered either. He recognized the advantages of the church paradigm as an organized social structure, not to mention the legal and financial freedoms and protections granted in the US. So, with the help of San Francisco attorney Alvin Buchignani, on February 12, 1962, Saiva Siddhanta Church became the first Hindu institution to be granted church tax exempt status by the US Internal Revenue Service.
Gurudeva made his objectives very clear: “We urge members and other devotees to ‘Know thy Self’ through self-inquiry, meditation, traditional temple worship, scriptural study, guru bhakti and selfless service. We strive to bring members, devout sishyas of the parampara, into a pure, ethical life and guide them toward enlightenment and a direct consciousness of the Divine within.”
Membership in Saiva Siddhanta Church is no trivial association. Students are required to study the teachings for several years to become intimately familiar with the mystical monistic-theistic philosophy. They must adjust their lives to traditional disciplines, adhere to a strict vegetarian diet, tithe on their income and follow the character-building yamas and niyamas, 20 Vedic restraints and observances. Paramacharya Palaniswami quips, “The only thing harder than becoming a member of the Church is remaining a member.” Indeed, Gurudeva required each to requalify and rededicate himself or herself annually during the Guru Purnima festival in July. And he continually raised the standards, prescribing new sadhanas to goad members onward, never, ever allowing them to let down.
Gurudeva recognized a balance between meditation, or internalized worship, and external worship of the Gods as necessary for consistent spiritual unfoldment. He encouraged his followers, and all Hindus, to fulfill the five traditional obligations: daily worship in the home shrine, attending a temple once a week, pilgrimaging to a far-off temple annually, celebrating festivals and observing the essential samskaras, rites of passage. Samskaras sanctify crucial events in life: from name-giving to first feeding, beginning of education to marriage, entrance into elderly life to funeral. Gurudeva dusted off and breathed new life into samskaras, many of which had been all but left aside in cosmopolitan Hindu society.
He had searched for years for just the right place to establish the ashram that would become world headquarters for a complex Hindu ministry. Having considered locations in Asia and Europe, he landed on the Garden Island of Kauai in December, 1968. This, he felt certain, was the ideal place, situated half way between East and West. In January, 1970, he returned to Kauai and purchased the 1927 Japanese-designed island home turned resort and its surrounding acreage where he and his students had sojourned in ’68.
“Kauai Aadheenam is a traditional, male cloistered Hindu monastery,” Gurudeva wrote in 1995. “This is the site of the Kailasa Pitham, the seat of spiritual authority for this ancient guru lineage, formerly located in northern Sri Lanka. Here we protect the purity of the faith and decide matters of education, publication, innovation, theology and Church law. Here young men are prepared to eventually take holy orders of sannyasa.”
Kauai’s Hindu Monastery is a full-featured religious sanctuary replete with sacred forests, paths and ponds and two temples: the Kadavul Nataraja Temple founded in 1973, and the San Marga Iraivan Temple conceived in 1975, a traditional, all-granite, Chola style, Agamic Siva temple which will be the crown jewel of the Aadheenam.
Carving on Iraivan Temple began in 1990 when Gurudeva chipped the first stone. Sri Sri Sri Balagangadharanatha Swami of Sri Adichunchanagiri Mahasamsthana Mutt in Bangalore, India, generously provided 11 acres outside the city where hereditary temple architects and site manager Jiva Rajasankara from Malaysia built homes and worksheds and dug wells, creating a village where 100 men and their families could carve this elaborate white granite edifice in the traditional wayÑby hand.
Ten years later, on May 31, 2001, chief temple architect Sri V. Ganapati Sthapati and priest Sri Kandaswamy Gurukkal of Ontario, Canada, presided over the ceremonial placement of the first stone on the giant concrete foundation at Kauai Aadheenam [photo above]. Gurudeva declared at the event, “The vision of the Iraivan Temple as a place of pilgrimage for devotees of Siva throughout the world is becoming clearer and clearer and clearer as the days go on. It is a temple of boon-giving, a life-giving temple, a wish-fulfilling temple. Temples such as Iraivan are built on the sacrifice, sadhana and tapas of the people that are allowed to participate. Six thousand devotees of Siva from thirty to forty countries have contributed and sacrificed to bring Iraivan Temple to this stage of completion, and it is now being placed upon the foundation.” San Marga Iraivan Temple is now manifesting as the fulfillment of one of Gurudeva’s most profound mystical visions.
For over 30 years he shaped the ministry and character of his dynamic monastic order and family congregation and guided Hindu groups worldwide from his seat of authority as guru mahasannidhanam of Kauai’s Hindu Monastery, his tropical island home. The wholeness of the Aadheenam as it exists now registers as an incredible, indelible experience in the minds of visitors from all over the world. One pilgrim remarked, “Gurudeva has preserved the pure Jaffna Tamil culture and all of its refinements here.”
His Living Legacy
Twenty-three monks, strong and united
For four decades Sivaya Subramuniyaswami carefully trained, strictly tested and lovingly molded a small, tight-knit group of men into an effective, orthodox yet joyous monastic order. The Saiva Siddhanta Yoga Order is of the Natha Sampradaya, an ancient tradition of Saiva yoga mysticism that began in the Himalayas and migrated south to Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. It is based on striving for Self Realization and service to Siva, guided by a mystical understanding and practice of brahmacharya, celibacy and transmutation of the sexual forces. Personal sadhana and the service of bringing Saivism into the modern age by disseminating the deep, inner teachings of Saiva Siddhanta have always remained the foremost work of this group of disciplined monks. They follow strict vows, own nothing, sleep on the floor, work very hard, live a cloistered life, don’t visit family or former friends and perform worship, yoga and meditation sadhanas for at least two hours each day.
Because they live the simple life of the renunciate, it didn’t matter that the Order grew from very modest beginnings. As Paramacharya Palaniswami, a disciple of Gurudeva since 1966 said, “In the early days monks couldn’t eat three meals a day, couldn’t buy new clothes when old clothes wore out, couldn’t pay electric bills and phone bills on time. Gurudeva had to use all of his considerable skills to bring us into having the present-day resources and self-sufficiency that we have. And he worked really hard at it.”
From an old house in San Francisco to a 458-acre monastery on the paradisiacal island of Kauai, world-renouncing aspirants continued to come forward and dedicate themselves to the search for the Self and service of Siva under Gurudeva’s large, graceful umbrella. But why? Palaniswami explained, “They’ve reached a maturity in their own searching in their spiritual life, in their quest for Truth, their quest for God.”
“Each one has his own story,” continued Palaniswami. “That story might be that he started at a young age searching through the many paths, trying to reduce them to the one that felt right to him, felt like his dharma. Another, perhaps, had an inner experience and wondered what that experience meant. Someone else might have gone to India and been adopted by the Gods, transformed in a temple and given inward directions. Others might have just met Gurudeva and seen in him the light and the wisdom and the profundity of the Self and wished to experience and taste that beautiful illumination that he wore so gracefully in his being. This is an order of great discipline and striving, so everyone who comes here comes with that kind of spiritual intensity, spiritual eagerness, and a search for God.”
The mix of ethnicities is as diverse as the ways in which Gurudeva’s mathavasis chose to leave the world and live as Siva’s men. Though it began in San Francisco in the 1950s and 60s with American Hindu converts and adoptives, in the 1980s born Hindu aspirants from Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Malaysia began to join the Order, balancing Gurudeva’s monasteries with a rich blend of cultural backgrounds.
This diversity has proven to be a great asset to the Order, one which helps them fulfill the myriad projects that are part of their greater mission. And theirs is no ordinary, social mission. “Gurudeva felt that there are enough Hindu institutions in the world dedicated to the noble enterprises of social and humanitarian relief. He saw that very few are fully dedicated to the profound enterprise of spiritual, personal transformation of people. To him the highest calling is spreading knowledge of the Self, service to Siva and sacred work, rather than secular work. Building the temples, translating the scriptures and promoting knowledge of the highest form was the highest work to do, and he wanted his monks to do that work.”
To My Dear Monastics
Excerpts from Gurudeva’s Letter of Introduction to His Sannyasins’ Vows
In Holy Orders of Sannyasa, Gurudeva enjoined his monastics as follows: The first part of your life was lived for yourself; the second part will be lived in the service of others, for the benefit of your religion. You have been tried and tested through years of training and challenges and proved yourself worthy to wear the kavi, the orange robes, and to fulfill the illustrious Saiva sannyasa dharma.
The sannyasin harkens close to Siva and releases the past to an outer death. Remembering the past and living in memories brings it into the present. Sannyasins never indulge in recollections of the forgotten person they have released. The present and the futureÑthere is no security for the sannyasin in either. Like writing upon the waters, the experiences of the sannyasin leave no mark, no samskara to generate new karmas for an unsought-for future. He walks into the future, on into the varied vrittis of the mind, letting go of the past, letting what is be and being himself in its midst, moving on into an ever more dynamic service, an ever more profound knowing. Be thou bold, sannyasin young. Be thou bold, sannyasin old. Let the past melt and merge its images into the sacred river within. Let the present be like the images written upon the water’s calm surface. The future holds no glamour. The past holds no attachment, no return to unfinished experience. Even upon the dawn of the day walk into your destiny with the courage born of knowing that the ancient Saivite scriptures proclaim your sannyasin’s life great above all other greatness.
Let your life as a sannyasin be a joyful one, strict but not restrictive, for this is not the path of martyrdom or mortification. It is the fulfillment of all prior experiential patterns, the most natural pathÑthe Straight Path to God, the San MargaÑfor those content and ripened souls. Leave all regret behind, all guilt and guile; others will preserve all that you proudly renounce. Let even the hardships ahead be faced cheerfully.
Never fail to take refuge in your God, your guru and your Great Oath. Be the noble soul you came to this Earth to be, and lift humanity by your example. Know it with a certainty beyond question that this is life’s most grand and glorious path, and the singular path for those seeking God Realization, that mystic treasure reserved for the renunciate. True renunciation must be complete renunciation; it must be unconditional. There is no room on the upper reaches of San Marga for mental manipulations, for play-pretend renunciation or half-measure sadhana. Let your renunciation be complete. Resolve that it will be a perfect giving-up, a thorough letting-go. Let go of the rope. Be the unencumbered soul that you are. Be the free spirit, unfettered and fearless, soaring above the clamor of dissension and difference. All that you need will be provided. If there is any residue of attachment, sever it without mercy. Cast it off altogether. Let this be no partial renunciation, subject to future wants, to future patterns of worldliness. Give all to God Siva, and never take it back.
All in a Day’s Work
A balanced life” was Gurudeva’s description of his daily routine. He faithfully led the monks’ daily two-hour meditation and worship from 5:30-7:30 AM. He spent several hours each morning guiding the lives of his Church members through personal communicationÑby telephone for many years, until the mid 1990s when he relied mostly on e-mail. Every afternoon was spent personally editing his books, the legacy of teaching he knew would last far into the future. In the photos (print edition only) here we see Gurudeva: 1) blessing a new calf born in the monastery’s pastures; 2) speaking on the phone with a devotee; 3) greeting the Vivek Dixit family, one of hundreds of families worldwide who consider Kauai’s Hindu Monastery a place of pilgrimage and spiritual authority, visiting often to receive the guru mahasannidhanam’s darshan and to seek his advice; 4) giving mantra initiation to Vasanthi Kunaseelan of Klang, Malaysia. Gurudeva was exceptionally creative, spontaneous and ever available, ready to respond to the needs of devotees as well as those of the wider Hindu world with new projects and publications that kept his team of two dozen monastics “on their toes, a little off balance.” Always staying at the center of it all, one of Gurudeva’s most unusual, recognizable qualities as a world religious leader was that he was always available, personally greeting and counseling thousands of Hindu visitors to his Aadheenam, speaking intimately with them about their lives, personal aspirations and concerns.
A Worldwide Congregation
A dedicated band of devotees further his mission, starting in their homes
An international group of men, women and children, the members of Saiva Siddhanta Church, strive for personal, spiritual transformation and steadfastly fulfill the objectives of the Church while living and working in the world, tithing on their income to support the Church, conclaving in local mission groups and gathering in homes to worship and perform karma yoga. Gurudeva summarized the path of these tried and tested souls in Living with Siva, Hinduism’s Contemporary Culture: “If both husband and wife are on the spiritual path, the householder family will progress beautifully and deeply. Their love for one another and their offspring maintains family harmony. However, the nature of their sadhana and unfoldment of the spirit is different from that of the sannyasin. The struggle to maintain the responsibilities of the home and children while simultaneously observing the contemplative way, in itself, provides strength and balance, and slowly matures innate wisdom through the years.”
It is this balance that Gurudeva taught his householder devotees to accomplish in his conversations with them, and in Living with Siva where he addressed every issue that arises on the family path, from the most spiritually subtle to the most mundane.
Kulapati Deva Seyon, who lives near the monastery on Kauai (only single men under vows live inside the monastery), had this to say: “Gurudeva brought the true and ultimate meaning of gotra, or family lineage, to his initiated devotees, whom he saw as his family lineage. While Gurudeva was the supreme monastic, he was never at a loss in advising on the business, social or intimate, personal problems of his initiated families, down to the smallest detail. He knew every family sishya on a deep, personal level their hopes and dreams, fears and shortcomings and never tired of guiding, helping and serving his congregation.”
This fortunate congregation is truly global and diverse, with members in the US, Europe and over 70 percent in Asia mostly Mauritius and Malaysia, as well as Singapore and India. Though stretched across the globe, they are no less connected than if they lived in a single village. Take, for example, the cross-national marriage that brought together the Deva Seyon family of Kauai and the Manogaran Mardemootoo family of Mauritius. In 1991, Kavita, Deva’s daughter, married Sivakumaren, Manogaran’sson. Though half a world away, the two families merged like milk poured into milk. Deva recalls, “Gurudeva’s constant blessings and loving care for the needs of our family led us to love and trust those who also loved him. His international global spiritual family became our family as we shared the same goals and priorities in life. In amalgamating our two families, all the big issues regarding the future of our children were already settled, as we shared the same kulaguru.”
Gurudeva required his Church members to live strictly by the traditional and time-tested protocols of Tamil Saivite culture, which he detailed in his 365 Nandinatha Sutras of Living with Siva. Association with orthodox Saivites of India and Sri Lanka allows Westerners to absorb the subtleties and depths of this refined protocol. Gurudeva also required a home life of ahimsa, tolerating neither abuse of a spouse nor corporal punishment of children.
The Saivite Sastras, revealed to Gurudeva in 1973, explain that “The guru worked with the families in the same way he worked with a single monastery.” Deva Seyon elaborated on that relationship between the monastery and family homes: “The monastery and the families of Saiva Siddhanta Church work closely together on many levels in fulfilling Gurudeva’s directives both within the Church missions and with the public at large. The families learn by watching the monksÑtheir attitudes, their commitment, their selfless service.” This relationship is born out of the love of striving through daily religious disciplines such as meditation and scriptural study that Gurudeva nurtured in all of his devotees.
The families of the Church forge frontiers in passing on the traditions of our Hindu religion by worshiping daily together in the home shrine, wearing Hindu clothing, raising children nonviolently, holding daily family meetings and spending an evening together at home at least once a week. Groups of families in each area collaborate and help each other live a meaningful Hindu lifestyle in many ways, such as home schooling their children together, hosting pilgrims and special guests and going on pilgrimage together to temples in South India and to the Aadheenam in Kauai.
Kulapati Mardemootoo eloquently summarized Gurudeva’s impact on the lives of householder devotees. “Gurudeva has exposed us to a way of life conducive to peace, love and harmony in and outside the home. He has given us the tools to be peacemakers, to shine as examples of good family people and elders who have been endowed with wisdom, able to stand as respected leaders even in the most difficult times. He has taught us by his own life how to be strong in our beliefs and values and succeed in life by planning carefully and living fully in the present. If we now enjoy daily the wonderful experiences of extended and joint families, and we know how to protect and keep our culture and religion alive and prosperous, it is all thanks to our satguru.”
A Sampling of Sutras on Family Life
Guiding and Nurturing Children
Those who live with Siva personally guide their children’s spiritual and secular education. They teach and model respect, share what happens each day, have fun together and shower love and hugs upon them. Aum. (14)
Restraint With Other Women
Siva’s married men, in the workplace and in the world, hold a courteous aloofness toward all women, whether young, older, single, married, divorced or widowed. They reserve their affections for wife and family. Aum. (87)
Holding a Daily Vigil
Worshipers of Siva perform a one-hour daily vigil, ideally before sunrise, in a clean, quiet place, after bathing and donning fresh clothing and holy ash. This vigil is optional on weekends and when traveling or ill. Aum. (21)
The Purpose of Marriage
Siva’s followers look upon their marriage as a spiritual partnership for the purpose of uplifting each other and bringing through higher souls. It is a union not only of a man and woman, but of two entire families. Aum. (116)
The Wife’s Dharma
Each of Siva’s married women followers strives to fulfill female dharma, perpetuating the race, family and the faith through remaining in the home to nurture, guide and strengthen her dear husband and children. Aum. (132)
Teaching and Modeling Good Conduct
Siva’s followers love their children, govern them in a kind but firm way and model the five family practices: proper conduct, home worship, religious discussion, continuous self-study and following a preceptor. Aum. (139)