Life of a Devotee-Swamy Lalitananda
Swamy Lalitananda was born into a Vedic family,Her childhood was steeped in chanting, scriptures and spirituality. After her samsara days of worldly duties, she returned to her roots to the life of a Sannyasin. She devotes her time, energies and attention to education for orphans,
running of orphanages and old age homes for abandoned elderly. She offers her prayers, hand, voice, word, chanting, yoga-asana expertise, pranayama to seekers in India and America. Her compassion for the deserving led her to raise awareness and funds for them. Her devotees share their insights and journey with mataji in her quest to uplift the most helpless- children and aged.
Kenya based Swami Padmapadananda shared his recollections with warmth-
I met her when she was a student at the Sivananda Yoga Centre in NY in 90’s when I was a staff there. She used to come with her late husband. After he passed, she joined us in NYC as staff. I met her numerous times, met her daughter at our ashram in upstate NY. I met daughter and family when they were young. Swamiji had already taken her Teachers’ Training Course, and I remember her teaching classes at our ashram. She was very popular. Over many years I used to bombard her with questions about Hinduism and related issues. She was extremely knowledgeable. I was impressed by her deep devotion and purity. Her having come from a traditional Hindu family was appealing.
She would gulp down gallons of hot water early morning. It was a bit comical when she would insist that she “jump on the applecart” whenever the staff went out, often the issues had nothing to do with her, and we’d laugh at her insistence. She would put hands together in Pranams to recite a mantra verbally. Even under lots of pressure, anxiety but she seemed never to lose faith. We loved her for what she was, at time she could be a bit demanding. She set high standards which we like to emulate.
People would crowd around her in anticipation of getting her attention, or for getting questions answered. I think her “Hindu-ness” and bhakti spirit attracted many Westerners. NY ashram in Woodbourne likely her journey in pictures.
Nonnie DiFazio is a sunny sweet CT based Meditation & Yoga practitioner, Instructor who shared anecdotes, stories and her thoughts on Swamiji-
Our journey is a book in itself. We met in 1999 at the Sathyanaryana Temple in Middletown in CT. I was trying to help write a resume for a young priest who was ready to move on. As an American, I was having trouble understanding him. The next thing I know, an orange clad woman is interpreting and the resume is completed. It was around noontime and the temple was closing at 6:00 pm. “Where can I take you” I asked. “0h I’ll Just rest here” was her response. Well, I took a Swami home with me and there she remained for months.
Since that day, we have grown to know each other very well. I became her right hand and she my spiritual mentor. Together, we traveled and taught. We went to Swami Dayananda and received blessing on starting an ashram. He named it Atma Vidya Ashram and advised Swamiji to work to help other Swami’s in her Sivananda lineage. This led to her partnership with Swami Omananda in Bangalore.
One day, Sathyanarayana Temple officers approached her to start a Hindu Sunday School at the temple. So we did! One of the most memorable events with Swamini was early on in our relationship when she did a naming ceremony for me at the temple. It was wonderful to be surrounded by my yoga students as we did the puja. Swamiji whispered my name in my ear, and then fed me like a baby. Each of my friends fed me honey. She wrote my name with her finger in rice, and sprinkled me with holy water. I was given new clothes, fruits from the puja and lots of flowers. This memorable ceremony was followed by a feast. And just like that, an average American woman Nonnie became Divya Jyoti and radiated that light all day long.
She took me in like her own spiritual daughter. My husband and I respect and honor her as our spiritual mother. Swamini is a lady of specific tastes. One of the first things I learned to make for her was lemon/ginger tea with honey, just the right sweetness was judged by color, not by taste. Ice cream Swamiji would usually opt for maple walnut or pistachio, likely it was a sweet way to get her protein and calcium. Swamiji’s fruit of choice is mange, and she avoids cold fruit and prefers room temperature produce.
For lunch, I would often make a large green salad with lots of fresh vegetables. It was lemon juice, honey and oil for her, no vinegar. If she was hungry for a snack, anything she could find would go on a cracker or chip-ketchup, relish, chutney. Her love for good old American sandwiches made it easy for me. No mayo or other egg products of course, but grilled cheese with tomato was a favorite. Lucky for us, she liked pizza and pasta, but her favorite meal remained rice and dal with vegetables and naan, usually followed by yogurt or raita.
Chuck, my husband and I have been devotees of Sathya Sai Baba for many years. I have traveled to India 10 times. Because of our extensive involvement with the Sathya Sai Baba organization, we had become familiar with Hinduism and Vedic teachings. So it was only natural to bring Swamiji along with us to various Sai Baba functions. Many of our Indian friends took to Swamiji like fish to water. They invited her to do pujas and homas in their homes. They loved it when she chanted Lalita sahastranama. It was a special blessing for them to meet her and it was my pleasure to share her.
She is the most determined, dedicated and totally surrendered woman I’ve ever met.
Serving a Swami became a full time job.
Drafting letters, writing grants and reports to IDRF, teaching classes, making
travel plans for Swamiji’s Teaching itinerary as well as the usual household
duties of cooking, cleaning and laundry, made me realize I needed to recruit
help. Many of my friends and yoga students were happy to help out with driving
her to doctor appointments.
A female monk who gave up a house-holders life for that of a traveling monk it was not easy. I was happy to help her but needed to learn how to serve her. Starting with cooking
Swamiji taught me and some of our yoga students to make dal, Subzi and Sambar without onion and garlic. It took some getting used to , specially for my Italian husband.
Another fun experience living with and serving
a Swami, was laundry. We laundered orange saris and other articles of clothing
every day. When the saris looked dull, we bought tangerine rit dye and dyed
them until they were that brilliant orange of a homa fire.
I brought Swamiji to all of the yoga classes that I taught as a “special guest”. Children and adults alike were taken by her knowledge and serenity. Soon, we were running retreats and raising money for the destitute children in India.
Swamiji had a vision; Iswara gave her my hands to help to achieve her dream. I drove her to Arsha Vidya to present her vision to Swami Dayananda. He not only blessed the concept, he named it “Atma Vidya” http://www.atma-vidya.org/ and motivated Swamiji to assist Swamis of the Sivananda lineage in India who were already struggling to serve the poor. Every dollar we raised for Atma Vidya, was matched by the India Development and Relief Fund-IDRF. Funds went to help the Swamis feed, clothe and educate the children in their care.
Atma Vidya Ashram under Swamiji’s tutelage continues with the mission of feeding, educating, housing orphans and shelters abandoned elderly.