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Radha's Life of Service Part III

November 24, 2007 by Lightwaves

durgaarticlehead.jpgIn a continuing series of articles, Swami Durgananda will present her research into Swami Radha’s life before and after she met her guru, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, India.

In the October issue we had a glimpse of the way that Swami Radha tirelessly entered into spreading the teachings of her guru, Swami Sivananda, immediately upon her return from India in 1956. The following year she moved to Vancouver. How did this happen? I found an explanation in a small pamphlet she and her disciples published in January 1959.

“The ashram came into being after one year of fruitful activity in eastern and western Canada.” [I think she means 1957, one year after her return from India.] “Since the people on the west coast made the most effort towards the establishment and support of such an undertaking, it was decided to buy a suitable building in or around Vancouver B.C.” [The two sister doctors mentioned in the last issue were a good part of the support and helping her transition to Vancouver.]
“The choice fell to an old ten-room house situated half an hour’s drive by bus from Vancouver city.” [The location was on Marlborough Ave. in South Burnaby]”….As it is an old house the permanent Ashramites, Peter Burton and Joe Gnilka, spent all their leisure hours doing general repairs like painting, carpentry, plumbing, etc. making it what it is today—an ideal Ashram.”

The article explains the various activities in which the guests could participate. Classes and meditation and satsangs were offered. “Swami Radha is always ready to do whatever she is able to tackle. So…..in spite of a painful spine she will demonstrate asanas.”
In addition to the intensity of the move and settling in, Swami Radha planned a second trip to India in September of 1958. She called it a world pilgrimage and planned to make stops in Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Nepal, Egypt, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and then back home.
Joe Gnilka accompanied her on the trip.

We have newspaper clippings of her Hong Kong visit in Chinese, and fortunately some in English. One headline in The H.K. Tiger Standard, Sept. 15, 1958. states, “RENOUNCED EVERYDAY LIFE FOR YOGA; Canadian Lady Swami To Give Lectures Here.” It goes on to say, “Swami Sivananda Radha, the former Sylvia Hellman, is on a world yoga mission and arrived yesterday by air from Tokyo…..While in Hong Kong she will conduct yoga classes and give demonstrations and lectures on yoga and meditation.”

This same newspaper reported on her talk on September 17th . The archives have a hand written translation of the Chinese script beginning with “The small room of the Public Clinic was filled with the sound of Aum…The room was filled to capacity raising the temperature…While she lectured, disciples behind her took turns to fan her….She taught people how to breathe, that by learning the word ‘Aum’, one could experience the vibrational forces in one’s own body…Everyone began to chant ‘Aum’, some seeming to become completely immersed in the chanting….

“She demonstrated some small hand movements [mudras] and these gestures looked simple but the audience found that they could not do it when they tried.”
“At the end of her lecture she joined her hands and raised them above her head. Was that a yogi’s gesture?”

Later Swami Radha and Joe Gnilka made a recording looking back on their worldwide travels in 1958 and this gives a further sense of their visit to Hong Kong.

Joe: The Divine Life Society in Hong Kong, although they have no Swamis, are very active in Hatha Yoga, lectures, and articles in the newspaper. They must make very much effort I think. So for Swamiji they arranged….fifteen various lectures in women’s clubs, in the English speaking YMCA and YWCA,

SR: Where was it? Some kind of stadium and fifteen hundred people there. The seats were crowded.

Joe: And they were very much pleased. The newspapers had an article almost everyday about what Swamiji said, what Swamiji was doing and three TV programs were going on. So Hong Kong was really…..

SR: Keeping us busy (laughter) yeah.

After their return Swami Radha received a letter dated Dec. 9, 1958 from Ruth Barr, Hong Kong, who writes about wanting the notes to the Hari Om mantra and closing with: “We in the yoga classes profited greatly by your visit to Hong Kong. You must be enjoying your meditation among the Himalayas.” This refers to the trip she took to Rishikesh to be with Swami Sivananda again.

I remember her talking about this visit being very different from the first time in India 4 years earlier. There was not the same special feeling, the magic of that time with her guru. She said she complained to him about his not answering the questions she had in her letters. He told her, “But you had to learn to make decisions….Right or wrong you have to take responsibility for your decisions.” And this is what made her so strong and able to handle the challenges that she faced constantly.

The other parts of her yoga mission can be read about in her book, “In the Company of the Wise” where she describes her meetings with saints and yogis in different countries. Her contact with the Catholic saint, Padre Pio, in Italy is particularly moving as they were able to communicate beyond words since he could not speak English and she could not speak Italian. But she was deeply affected by their meeting. Joe described it to me recently, expressing his disappointment that he had not gone with her. He said she came into their room radiant and shining and dancing around the room saying over and over, “I got it, I got it,” referring to the confirmation of her life mission and the answers to questions she had. Joe smelled the scent of roses and violets that was always the sign of Padre Pio’s presence.

Another section to read is about how Swami Radha met in Burnaby the saint Sai Baba who died in the early 1900’s. It was a most unusual connection.

It seemed like she was launched into a new life in Burnaby but her guru had told her she would be in a place where there were mountains behind, water in front and lots of big trees. This was not Montreal, and it was not Vancouver, so where would it be?

Join us next month in Lightwaves for the answer.

Click here to listen to Swami Radha’s story of meeting Padre Pio.

No Comments »

  1. Swami Durgananda, you are doing so much to bring Swami Radha alive. thank you for this work you are doing.

    Comment by Philip Jones — November 24, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

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