How To Live With Grace: Join 2 Spiritual Leaders From India In A Conversation At The Grace Cathedral
Grace Cathedral and the Yoga on the Labyrinth community in San Francisco are welcoming Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji and Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, two renowned spiritual leaders from Rishikesh, India, to speak on Tuesday, July 26. The conversation will focus on Living with Grace.
Pujya Swamiji and Sadhviji both reside in the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, one of the largest interfaith institutions in India, located in the city of Rishikesh. Pujya Swamiji, president and spiritual head of the ashram, is actively engaged in interfaith work for world peace, eradication of poverty and environmental protection while Sadhvi is known all over the world for her gentle spirit, engaging talks and humanitarian efforts, working tirelessly to promote women’s rights, environmental awareness and put an end to poverty.
“We will be doing a beautiful program at Grace Cathedral that will center, of course, on grace,” Sadhvi said. “How do we open ourselves to the grace and live with grace in our lives? Many times people think or say ‘I wish I had grace in my life’ or ‘I wish grace would come to my life.’ Yet grace is always there, the Divine is always there. It’s just about opening ourselves to it, removing that which is blocking us from living in grace and with grace, every minute and every moment. There are so many emotional blockages to it, so many habits and patterns of behavior that we engage in, that block grace from us. So we will talk about removing the obstacles to the presence of grace, whether it’s ego, whether it’s our emotional ups and downs, anger, pain, grudges or whether it’s our almost epidemic addiction to distraction.”
In order for grace to really be present in our lives, Sadhvi said we must be present in our lives. So how can we be present every minute, every moment and really show up to life on a minute to minute and moment to moment basis? “You cannot experience grace yesterday or tomorrow. The only way to experience grace is right here and right now, in this moment, in this breath. So we will talk about how to do that.” To sign up for “An Evening with Pujya Swamiji and Sadhviji,” at the Grace Cathedral, click here.
A Story of Grace: An Interview with Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati
American born and a Stanford graduate, Sadhvi said her story is actually just a story of Grace. “It was Grace that brought me to Rishikesh, India and gave me such a deep and powerful experience that I knew that was home and that I was meant to be there.”
Sadhvi, born and raised in Los Angeles, California and raised in a Jewish family, did not consider herself religious. “Not only was I not religious, but I wasn’t someone who would have said, ‘I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.’”
She went to India to travel during a semester off when she was 25 and in the middle of a PhD program in psychology and had no idea that she would end up staying. “I was not consciously searching or seeking for anything. Of course, that was because I didn’t know that something like this exists,” she said. “Growing up in LA, no one had told me that such a deep possibility for life existed and so I had never searched for it. If I knew that such a divine possibility existed, I would have searched 24 hours a day for it.”
When Sadhvi went to India, Rishikesh was the first place she visited. “When I stood on the banks of Ganga, I had such a deep and powerful opening awakening, spiritual experience, that it turned my life, not upside down, but rather right side up,” she said. It was then she knew immediately and intuitively that this was home, that this was where she was meant to be and that this magic and spirit of India was where she was supposed to spend her life.
What is a Guru and How Did You Meet Yours?
The word guru literally means the remover of darkness. “Gu” means darkness and “ru” means the one who removes the darkness. That darkness of ignorance. “According to Indian spiritual tradition, the core of who we are is pure, perfect and divine, but we don’t know that, we don’t experience that,” Sadhvi said. “We identify with the body, with our skills, with our history, with our culture; so much rather than with the true divinity of who we are. The guru is the one who removes that darkness of ignorance, so that we can live in the light of knowing who we really are; and, of course by extension, who everyone else really is.”
When Sadhvi first met her guru, Pujya Swamiji, she was aware, very palpably, that she was in the presence of a being who was distinctly and qualitatively different from any being in whose presence she had previously been. “That difference was, to me, very obviously a difference in terms of how much he embodied, manifested and exuded divinity. It was very, very clear that this being in front of me was Divine, in a way that no one in whose presence I had ever been was embodying or was manifesting. I felt like I was really in the presence of the Divine when I met him and it has been an incredible beautiful blessed experience to be a disciple for 20 years.”
What Living in an Ashram Looks Like
An ashram is basically a spiritual community of people. “Parmarth Niketan literally means an abode dedicated to the welfare of all,” Sadhvi said. Parmarth Niketan is the largest ashram in Rishikesh and one of the largest spiritual institutions in the whole of India.
“What the ashram community is really about is people coming together and, in ours, one of the aspects that makes it unique is there is no requirement of what mantra you chant or which particular name, form or concept of the divine you worship,” Sadhvi said. “Many of the larger ashrams are focused on one particular lineage, one particular mantra, or one particular form of God and Parmarth is not. Parmarth is really open to people of every walk of life, every culture and every religion. There’s no sense at all of people having to follow one particular path, but we are all on a path and we’re all on a path of spiritual awakening and spiritual commitment. That is what brings us together; particularly a path of spirituality and service, or you can say spirituality in action, or more colloquially, yoga off the mat.”
What does life living in an ashram look like? “My life there to me really looks like a blessing from the inside and from the outside,” Sadhvi said. She said she could be taking on any one of a very wide variety of services, ranging from giving lectures, doing spiritual and psychological counseling and coaching for individuals or families, to writing articles or books, to overseeing any one of their myriad charitable and humanitarian programs. “It could also include putting a band-aid on a wound, overseeing the preparation of paperwork that the Government of India requires of non-governmental organizations,” Sadhvi said, adding that the beauty of that variety is that the ego doesn’t have a chance to latch itself on to anything.
Sadhvi said her only personal goal is to spread as much love and peace as she possibly can in every moment and to be present with every moment, so deeply that she is able to respond to whatever the moment requires. “Whatever it may be, to be able to respond to that moment in the fullness of myself, in this beautiful blend of sadhana, which is our spiritual practice, our meditation and meditation in action, and the seva, which is service,” she said. “With Pujya Swamiji’s guidance and blessings, it’s really a goal to recognize that these two are not separate; they merge and are one. It’s not that my sadhana is over here and my service is over here, but rather that the service is the most natural outcome of the meditation and the service becomes meditation in action.”
Embodying All 8 Limbs of Yoga: The International Yoga Festival
Sadhviji and Parmarth Niketan ashram have also organized the International Yoga Festival for 17 years. The festival takes place each year in March. “It’s been just an incredible, incredible joy to watch it grow and expand over the years,” she said. “This past year, the festival drew about 1,200 participants from 85 nations and it’s just such a joy to see so many people of so many different countries, colors, cultures and creeds come together in the name of yoga in the birthplace of yoga in the Himalayas on the banks of Ganga, and to really engage not just in asana practice but actually in a full practice of so many different aspects of yoga during the week.”
What is so unique about the International Yoga Festival, Sadhvi said, is their emphasis on all of the eight limbs of yoga as described by the Sage Patanjali. “So it’s not just asana, and it’s not even just asana and pranayama, but it’s everything from the Yamas and Niyamas—How do we live? What does a yogi’s life look like?—all the way up into meditation, whether through actual meditation classes or through meditation on the banks of Ganga in the Aarti. We really emphasize the presence and the teachings of the spiritual masters in the program. We have a lot of spiritual masters coming from so many different lineages and traditions giving satsang, giving pravachan (discourses), giving dharma talks, teaching how to live yoga. Of course, since yoga ultimately means union of the self with the Divine, there’s really no more auspicious place for that than in the place where sages, and saints and rishis have been meditating and channeling yoga for so many thousands of years, the banks of the Ganges and lap of the Himalayas in Rishikesh.”
The next International Yoga Festival will be held March 1-7, 2017. For more information, visit www.internationalyogafestival.com.
Living in the Present with Grace
“I am deeply inspired by recognizing on a day to day, moment to moment, minute to minute basis, how much grace exists in the universe if we just open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to it,” Sadhvi said. “All we have to do is watch flower petals open in the morning, blossoms and fruit grow on trees, watch birds, the sunrise, the moon rise, watch a baby’s face, watch anything in nature and we recognize the incredible grace and care of the divine power that holds us all, and out of which we’re all created. In my life, the more I open to that, the more and more inspired I am, especially because as we open, we not only witness that grace, but are able to actually become vehicles of it and vessels for it. As that grace flows through you, you, of course, become the first recipient.
“For me, the more I open myself to teaching, to speaking, to writing, to serving, to all the ways that I’m hoping to have grace flow through me for the benefit of others, I end up being the first recipient of that. Experiencing the grace within me and experiencing that power and light within me is such an overwhelming and incredibly beautiful experience and awareness. To be able to unfold more and more into that experience moment to moment, is so inspiring. To be able to serve as a vehicle for that grace, for other people, is also really inspiring.”
Life is Magic: There is So Much More Than We See
There is so much more than we see, Sadhvi said. “If we just allow ourselves to literally open our eyes, open our hearts and be present in each moment rather than being indoctrinated, brainwashed robots by society, by culture, by our education, by the media, by our own fears; if instead of living our lives as puppets being pulled by all of those masters, if we just allow ourselves the freedom of awareness and consciousness in every moment, life really becomes magic and it becomes a gift. That choice really is ours.”
Sadhvi’s message to the world is this: “Let us all be present, be aware and bathe in the real freedom that we have, let us recognize that these chains are only chains of our own minds and that we have the freedom to break them. We have the freedom to live our lives as full, whole, complete, divine consciousness in connection with the Divine, as well as in connection with the Divine’s manifestation on earth in each other. If we can live like that then our lives become expressions of freedom, love and consciousness, and if we are able to see others as that as well. Borders and boundaries between us—on the basis of color, creed, culture, country—will dissolve.”
About Parmarth Niketan Ashram and Pujya Swamiji
Parmarth Niketan is a true spiritual haven, lying on the holy banks of Mother Ganga in the lap of the lush Himalayas. It is the largest ashram in Rishikesh, providing its thousands of pilgrims who come from all corners of the Earth with a clean, pure and sacred atmosphere as well as abundant, beautiful gardens. With over 1,000 rooms, the facilities are a perfect blend of modern amenities and traditional, spiritual simplicity. Pujya Swamiji is president and spiritual head of the ashram. In addition to being a spiritual haven for all its visitors, the ashram provides education, training and healthcare to those in need. Pujya Swamiji is also the founder of numerous humanitarian and environmental organizations, and actively engaged in interfaith work for world peace, eradication of poverty and environmental protection with organizations, including the World Bank, the United Nations, the Parliament of Religions and others. He also founded the Hindu Jain Temple in Pennsylvania.
For more information, visit www.parmarth.org.
Click here for more information on Pujya Swamiji and Sadhvi's visit to San Francisco on July 26th.