10/25/1923 — 9/24/2012
From Prakash and others
A disciple of Yogananda and a student of his teachings for many years before arriving at Ananda, Satya had known and been deeply impressed by Swami Kriyananda when he was a teacher and minister in SRF. When Swami abruptly disappeared from SRF, Satya began a search that led him finally to Swami’s newborn work for Master at the Ananda Meditation Retreat.
In 1967, when the land for the Retreat had just been purchased, Satya, at Swami’s request, stayed the winter in a tent to look after the land. Swami himself was out teaching classes to earn the money to build the structures for classes, dining and cooking, and living – there was a beautiful forest, but no buildings, and no infrastructure. That first winter was the beginning for Satya of more than four decades as spiritual grandfather to generations of seekers looking for their path. He subsequently became the first manager of the Meditation Retreat, leading sadhanas and teaching meditation to newcomers. He was the first yoga and meditation teacher for many who came in those early years.
When I arrived in August, 1974, Satya introduced me to the basics – Energization, yoga postures, Hong Sau, Aum techniques. Quietly, humbly, without pretension or self-importance, Satya instilled confidence in us neophytes, presenting the challenges of the spiritual path simply and humorously. We would go away from his sadhanas and meditation classes full of enthusiasm to keep our practices strong and to go steadily deeper.
Drawn by his spiritual magnetism, many of us made our way daily to his afternoon sadhanas, where the period of meditation always began with Satya chanting, accompanying himself with kirtals. He trained us first by example, then when he saw we were ready, by giving us an opportunity to practice what we had learned. One day Satya informed me, in his quiet, unemphatic way, that he would shortly be leaving for two weeks and that I would be the sadhana leader until his return. So matter-of-fact, calm and confident were his words that, though I had no previous experience and had arrived at Ananda only a few months earlier, all hesitation vanished, dissolved by the power of his trust.
Satya taught us too in the way he had observed Swami. He was a fountain of wonderful, often very funny stories about the early days at the Retreat, ways in which Swami, without saying a word, always with good humor, respect, and kindness, would mirror a certain behavior to an individual in such a way that the individual would burst out laughing at himself. One wintry day, Satya walked toward me, spine erect, chest out, shoulders back, a perfect yogi! Suddenly he caved in on himself, began shivering and hugging himself. As he passed me by, he straightened up into his normal perfect posture, quietly commenting, “if you keep your chest out and your spine erect, you’ll never be cold.” How perfectly, and with what perfect kindness, he mirrored my own shrinking away from the cold. Into my mind’s eye comes a photograph of Swamiji and Satya, bare chested and powerful, flanking Major, the African lion trained by Satya’s son. Swami and Satya, Swami’s friend and student, here manifest the warrior side of their natures – lion-like courage, strength, fearlessness – spine erect, chest out – how the yogi meets life’s challenges.
Satya’s life was one of spiritual adventurousness. Late into the night he and his good friend Ramdas would read and discuss spiritual books, always ready for a new idea, a new saint, a new challenge. Satya was a sailor in the Merchant Marine, and would disappear for months on end onto the high seas. In a far different reality, he was also an Arthur Murray ballroom dance instructor. Several times he organized a gala dinner dance – an elaborate sit-down dinner with couples taking the floor to practice the classical dance steps they had been learning in Satya’s class series. So strong, confident and magnetic a lead dancer was he that his partner could simply relax and flow with his subtle guidance. My own elderly mother, dancing with Satya, felt herself magically transported, as she described it, to the beautiful world of her dreams – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Into whatever channel his energy flowed – divine warrior, sailor, yoga teacher, dance instructor – Satya was above all a universal friend, a living expression of a central principle of life at Ananda: “People are more important than things.” He would never define himself by the role he played, but always related with simple divine friendship, heart to heart and soul to soul. When Swami offered to make Satya formally a minister, Satya demurred, not wanting any outward role, outward recognition. People who felt somewhat separate from the larger community but wanted to feel connected would find in Satya undemonstrative, unquestioning acceptance and welcome – a bridge to deeper immersion in the spiritual life of the community.
From Prakash: In his later years, body and faculties waning, Satya grew brighter in spirit, deeper in friendship. Having met my sister years before, Satya always asked after her when he saw me, his simple query imbued with love, recognition of her reality as a soul, and respect for her divine potential. As he aged and outward things fell away, Satya lived more and more in his own spine, always inwardly centered in joy and outwardly radiating that joy to all who came. Toward the end, even when exhausted, collapsed, barely conscious, if someone came to see him, Satya would rise up out of his slough to be all there for his visitor, giving his full attention, love, and blessing. A pure channel for God and Guru in life, Satya’s light will continue to shine on Ananda, keeping the true, original spirit alive and strong in the time ahead.