My wife, Roshi Eve Marko and I just returned from our annual teaching at the Sivananda Ashram on Paradise Island where, on the last day, we discussed Swami Vishnudevananda with Swami Swaroopananda. Below is a brief history of the wonderful Yoga Teacher and Peace Activist Swami Vishnudevananda. Swami Vishnudevananda A number of Zen Peacemakers will be gathering there in March. Also, Sivananda Peace Ambassadors will be joining all our Bearing Witness Retreats
Vishnudevananda Saraswati (December 31, 1927 – November 9, 1993) was a disciple of Sivananda Saraswati, and founder of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres and Ashrams. He established the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Course, one of the first yoga teacher training programs in the West. His books The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga (1959) and Meditation and Mantras (1978) established him as an authority onHatha and Raja yoga. Vishnudevananda was a tireless peace activist who rode in several “peace flights” over places of conflict, including the Berlin Wall prior to German reunification.
In reaction to a vision of a world engulfed by flames and people running hither and thither, oblivious of borders, Vishnudevananda began his peace mission, calling it the True World Order, aimed at promoting world peace and understanding. The first act was to create the Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Course in 1969, as he felt the need to train future leaders and responsible citizens of the world in the yogic disciplines. Later he conducted peace flights over the world’s trouble spots, earning himself the name “The Flying Swami”.
On August 30, 1971, Vishnudevananda flew from Boston to Northern Ireland in his Peace Plane, a twin-engine Piper Apache plane painted by artist Peter Max. His Vedantic message, “Man is free as a bird”, challenged all man-made borders and mentally constructed boundaries. Upon landing, he was joined by actorPeter Sellers and they walked through the streets of Belfast chanting a song called “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.” Later that same year, on October 6, he took off with his co-pilot over the war-ridden Suez Canal and was buzzed by Israeli jets. The same thing happened with the Egyptian Air Force on the other side of the Canal. He continued eastward, “bombing” Pakistan and India with flowers and peace leaflets.
On September 15, 1983 Vishnudevananda flew over the Berlin Wall, from West to East Berlin, in a highly publicized and particularly dangerous mission to promote peace. In a press interview given several weeks beforehand, he said, “Symbolically we want to show we cannot cross borders with guns, only with flowers. If they shoot me over the Berlin Wall what difference is it? Many people have died for war; I shall die for peace.” He safely landed his ultralight glider in an East Berlin field and, after several hours of questioning by East German authorities, was released to West Berlin, where he immediately held the Global Village Peace Festival alongside the Wall. The festival featured a walk across hot coals to demonstrate that the mind is stronger than matter, and figuratively that the human spirit can overcome “fire” of all kinds. Vishnudevananda returned to Berlin when the Wall fell in 1989, staging a peace festival and a brief meeting with then-East German leader Egon Krenz to thank him for allowing the events to unfold peacefully.
In 1984, Vishnudevananda and his students toured India in a double-decker bus, conducting programs aimed at awakening the Indian people to their ancient tradition of yoga. In February he tried to mediate between the Hindu and Sikh factions in Amritsar, entering the Golden Temple to speak to the Sikh leaders who had sought refuge there.
Over the years, Vishnudevananda met regularly with other spiritual and religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding. He organized yearly symposia on such topics as yoga and science, the possibilities of the mind, sustainable living and nuclear disarmament.
Vishnudevananda died on November 9, 1993. His body was then placed into the Ganges at the Sivananda Kutir, and the rite named jalasamadhi was performed, merging the abandoned body with the water.