On The Path Of The Divine - Swami Vasunanda
Swami Vasunanda, who has been with Sadhguru for 25 years, recounts his many activities and responsibilities in Isha from a part-time volunteer to ashram cook, brick maker for the Dhyanalinga, educator for tribal children, and above all, a spiritual seeker.
In this series, each month, one of our Isha Brahmacharis or Sanyasis share their individual background, observations, and experiences of what it means for them to walk this sacred “Path of the Divine.”
Swami Vasunanda: “I will have to do all this!” I thought, slightly exasperated and nervous looking at all the twisted poses in a magazine article on Yoga. My nephew had been insisting that I do some Yoga class and I wasn’t sure if I was really made for such a gymnastic feat. But he gave me no choice. This is how I landed up in my first class with Sadhguru – where my life changed forever.
When Sadhguru initiated us into Shoonya, the whole room seemed to be vibrating with the sound of the beeja mantra. I felt I was in a trance. On the closing day, we assembled at the Sadhguru Sri Brahma Seva Ashram in Coimbatore. It turned out that it was just 1 km away from where I used to stay, but I had never visited the place before. “This person looks like our Sadhguru,” I thought looking at Sadhguru Sri Brahma’s photo in the Seva Ashram. The class had a very profound effect on me overall, but what inspired me most was the way the volunteers offered themselves. So after the class, I wanted to join them, and I actively started to volunteer. Initially, I volunteered with the initiation days of Isha Yoga classes in and around Coimbatore. Soon I was involved in most of the Isha activities in Coimbatore and was visiting the ashram every Sunday.
The Screaming Silence
In May 1995, I had the opportunity to volunteer for the first Samyama in the ashram. For a group of over 200 participants, we were just eleven volunteers who did everything – cooking, hall setup, security, hall volunteering, everything. We had to shift food from what is now the 2nd Gate to T-block , carrying huge vessels by hand. It was very hectic and a lot of hard work but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hadn’t done Samyama by then, so the whole atmosphere seemed even more mystical. The entire ashram seemed to have been enveloped in an esoteric silence, yet we heard people screaming, making various animal sounds, and rolling all over the place. After the first couple of days, all the participants came out for sadhana at midnight, which happened in the moonlight. It was just amazing to be a part of it. Soon I too had a taste of this in my first Samyama.
Missed Sadhana Opportunity
Once I was volunteering for a class in Karur. Sadhguru was staying in a volunteer’s house that was very close to the Jain Caves that Sadhguru often talks about. Sadhguru had visited those caves and had shared that the place was still very vibrant and conducive for a spiritual sadhaka to do sadhana. After closing the class, Sadhguru called me and another volunteer and asked us to climb up to that small hill and do our practices there. “You also come with us, Sadhguru,” I urged. “I have stopped doing practices, pa,” he said with a smile. I didn’t feel like going without him and missed this opportunity. Till today, I haven’t visited those caves and sometimes I regret it, wondering, “Why did I not listen to Sadhguru?”.
Another intense volunteering experience for me was when the Avudaiyar for the Dhyanalinga was brought from Karur. I joined the procession from Singanallur office where Vijji Ma did an arati to the Avudaiyar. We were so excited that we made the procession into a kind of exuberant party. Volunteers colored their faces, tied ribbons around their heads, played drums, and danced throughout. I was in the rear of the truck where the Avudaiyar was kept, but it didn’t prevent me from jiving non-stop. Witnessing Sadhguru– who joined us later – perform a miracle to get the overweight truck to cross a narrow bridge, added to the excitement.
The Last Darshan
On January 23, 1997 evening, I received a call from another volunteer asking me to get some unusual items and immediately rush to the ashram. Only after I came here, I learnt that those items were needed for Vijji Ma’s cremation. After handing over the materials to a brahmachari, I joined the line to take her last Darshan. When I went near her to touch her feet, my eyes met Sadhguru’s. Till today, I remember that glance of Sadhguru - though I am not able to describe the depth of it. We stayed in the ashram overnight and left in the morning after the cremation.
During these years, I asked Sadhguru three times if I could come to the ashram full-time. Each time he said, “Yes!” But then, I couldn’t make up my mind. Actually, on one side, there was a deep longing to fully commit to the spiritual process that Sadhguru was offering us, but on the other side, I had no understanding or clarity of what it was about. I used to see brahmacharis in the ashram working very hard and used to wonder if I would be able to offer myself like that. Slowly, I realized no matter how much I thought about this, it didn’t make a difference. I did not have an explanation for what I felt while volunteering or while in the presence of Sadhguru, nor could I shake off my logical mind arguing against giving myself totally to something that I didn’t understand. So finally in 1997, I moved to the ashram full-time. I was initiated into Brahmacharya in 2000. I felt a certain freedom within me after the initiation.
Laying the Bricks
My first activity after I moved to the ashram full-time was to oversee the manufacturing of bricks for the Dhyanalinga. I was a physics graduate and before coming to the ashram, I was helping my brother in our small family business of stationery manufacturing. I, therefore, didn’t have even remote exposure to any construction work. Since I knew that those bricks were being used for such momentous work, I was truly nervous when I was given this activity. But, as it happens with everything that we do here, things simply fell in place. We manufactured two lakh bricks in three months. It was quite something to systematically spread them out to dry in five sheds that we had specifically fabricated for this purpose, and to protect them during the rainy season – which was almost the year-round weather at the time. It was fascinating to see how we made temporary kilns to burn the bricks. Most of the bricks were used in the Dhyanalinga, while the rest, I think, were used in the T-block construction.
When the kitchen shifted from T-block to Old Biksha Hall, which was earlier attached to Spanda Hall, I was asked to take care of the cooking. I didn’t have any cooking skills, but somehow I did something out of my little experience of cooking during the programs. Some people liked what I cooked and some did not. But I just gave my best. Once we cooked for 2,000 people one day – I was super thrilled to see that we could do that. I was astonished this time when I heard that for Mahashivaratri 2017 we had prepared food for over one lakh people! I know what a humungous task it must have been for the Akshaya team.
Some of my fondest moments in this activity were when Sadhguru came to eat with us a few times upon my request. Then I was shifted to the Singanallur office as the caretaker of the kitchen there, which involved everything from purchasing vegetables to washing vessels and mopping the floor after cooking. During this time, once I approached Sadhguru about some personal issue that I was facing. “No complaints,” he said before I could tell him about this issue. The way he said this to me, it just sunk within me that I must learn to handle my personal issues myself, and allow him to do what he needs to do instead of spending time in sorting out our personal quarrels. Since then, I have never approached Sadhguru about any issue. Yet again, the highest reward of cooking in the Singanallur office was when Sadhguru came to eat there a few times.
The Final Involvement
In 2004, I shifted back to the ashram to take care of the security activity at 2nd Gate . This is where I first encountered a few tiny beings who hijacked my attention for the next 14 years – and it is so even today.
It was about 5 pm in the evening. A few village girls came to me and asked if I had a bicycle that they could ride for a while. At first, I was surprised by this request, but then when I paid attention to them, I realized that they were very poor children and wanted to just enjoy cycling. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a bicycle, nor could I find one in the ashram. But I got to talking to them and found out that they were from the nearby tribal village Dhanikandi. To my surprise, these children had been coming to the ashram every evening to eat and knew many brahmacharis here. “What class do you study in?” I asked one of them. “Eight!” the girl said with pride. Just to tease her, I asked her to write a few words in English. To my shock, she could not even write some of the alphabets properly. Upon enquiring with the other children, I realized the situation was the same with the others also. I felt so bad for them and asked them to come an hour early for their evening meal for some lessons in English and Mathematics. They all came the next day an hour early, very eager to learn English, but I never expected what happened next.
The Class of 25
There were twenty-five children of all ages – from 4 to 14 years old. They were too joyful and noisy and it was impossible for me to teach them anything. “Only if you are in 6-8 standard, you come tomorrow,” I told them. Some seemed broken-hearted when they heard this, but there was no way I could handle that group on my own. So from the next day, our classes started to happen in the room next to 2nd Gate security. Slowly, children from other tribal villages also started to join these classes.
In 2006, Sadhguru announced that he was going to start the Isha Vidhya School. I remember being surprised and wondered if there was really that much need for Isha to get into such an elaborate and resource-consuming initiative. “There are enough government schools in this area, we can just arrange for some tuition for these children and it should be fine,” I thought. But when I went to see the Isha Vidhya school and saw their infrastructure, the teachers and the school curriculum, I bowed down to Sadhguru within myself for making such a wonderful opportunity available to rural children. “This will put them on par with their city counterparts,” I rejoiced, dreaming about it.
Initially, it was planned that children of all ages, from 1st to 9th standards, could be admitted to the school, provided they passed a simple entrance test. I went from village to village and got sixty children to apply for the admission, but all failed the entrance test. Then we decided to get 5-year-old children to start school from LKG. We went again from village to village convincing parents to send their young children to school and somehow got 100 tribal children to study in Isha Vidhya on full scholarship, which provided tuition, bus fee, uniforms, books, copies, and other stationery. In 2015, this first batch of Isha Vidhya students took the 10th Class board examination and all of them passed with a whopping aggregate score of 89.6%. Some of these children are now studying in Medical and Engineering schools. This is the touch and grace of Sadhguru.
It Is Not Simple to Educate Rural India
Some children who joined Isha Vidhya, however, dropped out after a year because of various social reasons – no parents, a drunken father, or a mentally sick parent – such were the heartbreaking situations at home. This really made me restless within. Somehow, we found donors and arranged scholarships for thirteen such girls and got them admitted in the PSSG residential school in Coimbatore, with the help of some Isha meditators. But to my shock, eleven of them also dropped out from this hostel within a year. I personally felt so demotivated by their attitude that for the next two years, I had no desire to make any more such efforts in the tribal villages. “It is a waste of money and effort to try to educate them,” I thought. However, one day I met one of the girls who had continued to study in that residential school. There was a remarkable difference in how she was, and I was so happy to see her growing up so well. Then we decided to resume supporting girl children from broken families to study in residential schools. Even if a handful can come out of their pathetic conditions, it’s worth it.
We realized that many of those girls dropped out because they felt lonely. So, this time we took groups of girls together from each village. Those two girls who had the courage to make use of the opportunity became our ambassadors in these tribal villages and inspired the new children to settle down. Today, about 30 such girls are studying in Coimbatore on full scholarship from the foundation. About 10 years ago, there were only 2-3 degree holders in perhaps twenty tribal villages around the ashram. Now we have a bunch of them graduating every year. One of the two girls from the first batch who didn’t drop out from the hostel completed her B. Ed. degree last year, and is now teaching in Isha Vidhya. These children make me proud.
It is heartening to see how villagers around the ashram now see us as a part of themselves. Any problems they face in their lives, they call on us – whether it is regarding their health conditions, accidents, water shortages, organizing functions, or even disputes within their families. A few years ago, I received a call that a teenage girl had consumed poison and was dying. We rushed to the village and immediately took her to the hospital. Admitting a suicide case in a hospital is not easy because of its legal implications, but somehow we managed to save her. We found out that she had tried to commit suicide because of some family dispute. We counseled her and gave her a job in the ashram. In another recent such case, after saving the girl, the foundation gave her a shop to run near Adiyogi. It means a lot for village women to be financially independent. Every time I pass that shop, she waves at me or even runs up to me to update me about her life. It warms my heart to see her happy.
Despite the Horror Story
Some of the most memorable days of my life were when we went to Mangalore with Sadhguru. The entire journey was so exuberant and adventurous that even today I feel nostalgic when I think about it. At one point during the trek, we found a flooded river on the way. To go any further, we had to cross it, as there was no other way around it. The current was so strong that it seemed unbelievable for someone like me to ever be able to cross it, since I wasn’t a swimmer or quite the adventurous kind. I had not even gone out trekking before as a child or a youth. Now to cross this dangerously gushing water on foot seemed like an absolutely scary feat for me to perform.
Sadhguru and some other brahmacharis who knew how to swim well first crossed the stream and carried one end of a long rope with them. Then this rope was tightened on both ends of the river, while some of us who couldn’t swim at all were expected to walk across holding this rope. When my turn came to step into the water, my breath stopped for a moment. Seeing no other choice, slowly and steadily I walked across. The stream water sometimes came up to my shoulders and sometimes my feet didn’t find the ground beneath me, however I simply walked through the water. When I reached the other side of the river, I felt I had achieved something very huge that day.
During the same trip, we also went to Kumara Parvat, where Subramanya left his body. The previous night Sadhguru had asked us to trek up in groups and not on our own. He warned us (perhaps to scare us, so that we were alert) that we might find tigers or king cobras on the way. Our group decided to leave at 5 am, before sunrise. Watching each step, we walked up very carefully. By 11 am we were there, and after spending a few hours on top, we descended and were back by 5 pm. I was simply relieved that all through the trek and back we found only a rabbit and had no heroic encounters with tigers and king cobras.
Sadhana Works as a Torchlight on This Path
As I had said before, I never took up Brahmacharya with any clarity or understanding about the path or spiritual process. I decided to walk it only because I wanted to be close to Sadhguru and give myself more completely as a volunteer. This perhaps was one reason why I couldn’t keep up my sadhana very well and mostly gave priority to the activity that I was doing. Sometimes I struggled a lot within myself during the activity, but I always thought that happened because I was not able to fix something on the outside. Last year, I sat for Samyama and also attended the Samyama Sadhana that same year. With the support from the Sangha , I’ve been able to regularize my sadhana in the last one year. The difference within myself is palpable – my experience of life on the day when my full sadhana happens, and the day when it doesn’t, is starkly different.
This stability in sadhana has brought some clarity about the beauty and purpose of this path. It has made me feel even closer to Sadhguru within myself. I wish one day, I see Sadhguru with an enlightened eye. I am grateful to the Sangha for bringing me to this state of longing.
“Though there are many struggles and
Hurdles on the Path - One Sound
Keeps me on Track - Shambho!”
Editor's Note: Watch this space every month as we share with you the journeys of Isha Brahmacharis in the series, "On the Path of the Divine."