August 2017 By Rashmi Sehgal Rashme Sehgal meets Swami Vishwananda, a Mauritian born disciple of Mahavatar Babaji, and propounder of bhakti marga, who has opened an ashram in Vrindavan to highlight the cause of decaying river Yamuna Mauritius born Swami Vishwananda is the founder of an ashram in Springen, Germany where his followers follow Bhakti Marga, the path of love and devotion so that they may encounter divine love. Swami Vishwananda successfully combines Eastern spirituality with Western spiritual traditions, giving people access to divine experience regardless of their cultural background. His movement has grown rapidly and he travelled to India in December 2016 with a group of swamis and swaminis to inaugurate his new ashram in Vrindavan. Although small in size, the ashram has a powerful temple dedicated to Yamuna Maharani and Sri Giridhari. A dedicated environmentalist, it is obvious that Swami Vishwananda wants to highlight the cause of Yamuna river which flows past Vrindavan and desperately needs cleaning up. He spoke at length about his mission and vision in an interview with the author. You are now opening an ashram in India and that too in Vrindavan. What is the significance of having an ashram in Vrindavan? Vrindavan is a place where Behari is active. Originally, I did not want an ashram here but the saints and sadhus insisted that I have an ashram in Vrindavan because the energy of Shri Krishna is predominant over here. The city stands as a beacon of devotion and faith. The ashram is dedicated to Yamuna Maharani and Giridhari. This the first temple in the world which is dedicated to Krishna and his wife Yamunarani. She is one of the main wives of Krishna and had incarnated to marry him. Is Yamuna Maharani an incarnation of the river Yamuna? Yes, Yamuna Maharani is the manifestation of river Yamuna. The Yamuna river is one of the deities, one of the wives of Krishna. So the temple is unique because it will have Krishna in the form of Giridhari with Yamuna Maharani next to him. I hope the worship of Yamunarani will teach us to clean the river and bring down its pollution levels. When you see Yamuna in Yamunotri, it is flowing powerfully and rapidly. But then barriers are placed and her waters are diverted. The river stops flowing and becomes polluted. People do not realise the importance of a flowing river. The river maintains her balance of energy by flowing. All this pollution and dirt must be removed. I feel people here don’t respect the river enough. Most of the leela of Krishna was performed around here. We cannot forget how sacred this river is for us. We must commit to protect her intrinsic qualities. If pollution continues unabated, it reflects poorly on the people. If the government truly wanted to do something for the Yamuna, they would have done something by now to restore her flow. Up north, a great deal of Yamuna’s water is diverted at the Hathnikund barrage which has affected her flow. Last year, Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) gave ` 60 crore to restore the ghats of the Yamuna. The Japanese government have also given $210 million for revival of Yamuna. When I was in Vrindavan in 2015, there were all these gurus participating in the festivals, and I asked them, ‘Why don’t you clean the Yamuna?’ They said that their focus was not on material Vrindavan but on spiritual Vrindavan. But I wonder if your material side is not good, how can you concentrate on the spiritual side? When on the outside there is beauty, it helps you to focus on the inside. Why do you think yogis used to live in forests? Nature uplifts you, it helps to raise your soul to a higher dimension. People working in towns function in a certain way. They need to go on holidays, to mountains, rivers, and the sea to recharge, rejuvenate, and find peace. If they will destroy nature, where will they go to have peace, and re-energise themselves? It is the same thing in Varanasi _how dirty it is from the outside. The gurus and saints in India should really teach the people outside cleanliness. This will bring them closer to inner cleanliness. Nature is very important. Somebody once asked me how would it be to have an ashram in the city. I said, "No way. We can have a centre in the city, but an ashram must be located in nature." You are expanding the presence of bhakti marga ashrams across the globe. How does an ashram help to change the energy of a place? Every temple, every ashram means a place where people come together to be with God. That is what an ashram is; a high energy place where people come to recharge their batteries _you are recharged spiritually. Yamuna plays a big role in Vrindavan. Unfortunately, the people here do not realise her importance. They respect her but respect does not change anything. What does an ashram mean for the community who lives around such a place? The enigmatic Swami Vishwananda stresses that study of scriptures mustdevelop in us a yearning for God and make us humble I want true bhakts to spread throughout the world. It is through real bhakti and devotion to God that people will be free. Not through dogmas, or scriptures but through surrender to Him. The study of scriptures must develop in us a yearning for God and make us humble. If scriptures make us arrogant, then we are going wrong somewhere. People on the spiritual path must not be proud of their knowledge. Tomorrow, what will happen if they have a stroke? All that knowledge will be gone. But if spiritual love awakens within a human being, it can never be destroyed. It carries on from one generation to another. What is your mission for India given that we were a spiritual nation which is fast losing its spirituality? How can we regain it? India is the land of spirituality. Every God’s presence is here. This is a constant reminder of our inherent love for God, the need to make it more permanent. Everything we do must be an act of service to the Lord. Babaji (Mahavatar Baba) says, “Atma Kriya helps awaken our love and devotion to God. Every moment of our life is a service to God. Our life’s purpose is to love. As human beings, we can feel his love. By loving people, we have a glimpse of how to love God.” India is suffering spiritually because the minds of people have changed. People are blindly copying the West and by doing so, are losing their own culture. The spiritual and the material world are not separate but how much importance one gives to either of the one, determines one’s nature. Ashrams, sadhus, saints are a reminder of something more important than the physical, material life. What is the cause of present discord in our country? People like tobelieve that the form of god they worship is the best. If they were a little clearer, they would transcendtheir own institutions. People fight because they think they know better than anybody else. There is norespect, or harmony. The natural world should go hand in hand with spiritual world. India was known for its natural beauty as well as its spiritual beauty but they are now destroying their natural surroundings. (Mahavtar) Babaji talked about how Vrindavan was full of forests. These forests have been destroyed and today Vrindavan should be called `Buildingvan’. Everybody is competing about whose building is bigger, and bank balance fatter. People use knowledge according to what they want. If they have tamasic quality, they will use it in a tamasic way, if they have sattvic quality, they will use it in sattvic way. The gurus are competing with each other about the number of buildings and cars they own. If they have rupees one crore, they want Rs 100 crore. Divine love is reflected in simple people. They are not bothered about all these externalities. What does the Krishna Leela mean to you? You see in Krishna Leela, Krishna destroys all the barriers between people and God. He means everything to his believers, not just the gopis and gopalas. He calls everyone to have a relationship with him. He is not limited. You can love him as a child, girlfriend or boyfriend. Only he can take on so many forms. Other deities cannot take on these aspects _you cannot dance with Shiva. Krishan Leela is about establishing a personal relationship with Him. Has Indian culture become global? Our culture has spread throughout the world in the form of yoga, and meditation. India is such a rich country in every field be it education, material life or spirituality. Indians need to remind themselves of their great sages, their culture. They must never let it disappear. Hindu sanatan dharma is eternal. Other religions are governed by strict rules and dogmas; if they are not followed, the religion disappears. Whereas, sanatan dharma is always adapting, taking on different dimensions over time. That is why even when it declines, we find an uprising taking place in a different way. It is always adapting, always fluid. You grew up in Mauritius. Yet you chose Springen in Germany to set up your first ashram. Why? I did not start here. The first ashram was in Steffenshof. Why did I choose Germany? Since I was a small boy, I had a vision of a place where there were trees and a valley. I had been travelling around, and when I came to Springen and looked at the valley outside, I realised that this was the actual vision, which I had been carrying within me. I chose Germany because it is geographically well-situated. And also because people of Europe are searching for Truth and Germany has the right energy. In the new world, it will play a key role in changing this world. Tell us a little bit about your spiritual journey and your relationship with your guru Mahavatar Babaji. My relationship with Babaji is not from one life. We are linked to our guru. I remember the first encounter when I was very small. I was taken to a hospital because I had eaten some poisonous seeds. There was a man standing outsid
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