I walked slowly down the dirt roads of the Sivagiri Temple compound, and my eyes began to water. “Did I just interview the leading holy guru in Kerala?”
I was expecting to spend time with monks, which by itself would have been tremendous, but the monks were busy in meditation when we arrived. True meditation in India is respected because it is believed your spirit and mind separate from your body, and you cannot be interrupted until the two are joined again.
So my Rotary Group Study Exchange coordinator and host father, Baiju, made a phone call on my behalf, and within moments we were trekking to His Holiness’ bedroom, where Kerela’s top Hindu guru, Swami Brahma Sree Prakasananda, was resting from old age and illness.
Swami Brahma Sree Prakasananda
In Kerala, meeting this man would be equal to meeting the Pope. I wasn’t sure I wanted to disturb the swami. He was old and unwell and not accepting visitors. But I also knew if he was at all interested in meeting with me, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. I waited for the man on the other end of the phone to allow me access to his bedroom, and then it happened – I got in.
With Baiju and my team leader, Jim Deuser, we entered the swami’s bedroom, where I was prepared to greet him with a very formal namaste bow with hands prayerfully folded in front of my chest. He was lying down on his queen-sized bed – one sheet, two pillows and draped in an orange sash. Because the swami did not speak English, Baiju explained to the swami who I was, why I was in India and told him I was interested in speaking with him.
For a moment, I didn’t expect swami to speak, since he seemed to be communicating with his eyes and soft grunts, as if to indicate he was listening. But when he learned I was a writer and journalist, he took a long pause, then responded in Malayalam.
When he was finished speaking, Baiju translated. He explained that the swami was the disciple of Kerala’s most revered Hindu saint, Sree Narayana Guru, who was a proficient writer and poet. Baiju also explained that he had much respect for my profession, which emphasized the power of words and expressed thought. It seemed this was the cornerstone of Narayana Guru’s life, writing about ways to enhance peace among men.
Narayana Guru, who is buried at the temple grounds where the swami lives, was a reformer of social inequities in Kerala and helped end many people’s beliefs that castes and other social dividers should exist. Castes in Kerala were once divided into four levels of humans, with the lower caste of people being equal to slaves or animals.
Narayana Guru spent his life trying to reform these social perspectives and is now celebrated in Kerala as a great man and supreme Hindu saint. I asked Baiju to ask the swami if he could share some wisdom with me to bring home to the United States, and he said, “Tell her to bring home the message that we are all one caste, one religion and one god for man.”
He went on to say that the message of Jesus led to his followers and created a religion. And the message of Muhammed in Islam led to followers and created a religion. But the message of peace and unity from his pre decessor, Sree Narayana Guru, has managed to spread across the world – even to Texas – and it never needed to become a religion. It be came a lifestyle of peace and later became the basis for the teachings of the monks at the temples: “One caste, one religion, one god for man.”
As someone who appreciates and yearns for peace and equality among nations, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the power of his words. The swami never allows photos, but yesterday he gave special permission and allowed me to pose be hind him. At the end of our meeting, he gave me a small apple and blessed with his well wishes. It was maybe one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received.
I’m still confused about how that interview came together, especially since I know the swami doesn’t allow interviews. But I’m pleased and honored that I had the opportunity to meet him, and I know I will cherish the moment for the rest of my life.
Until tomorrow, Victoria.
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