By Parveen Chopra
Pandit Rajmani Tigunait may not have the charisma of his master—Swami Rama, but after taking up the mantle of his organization he is playing it to the best of his ability.
Swami Rama was one of the leading spiritual gurus of the last half of the 20th century who were instrumental in creating the ever-expanding meditation-yoga wave in the world. He was a rare yogi and master who was at home with western thought. He readily participated in experiments at Menninger Foundation that helped to revolutionize scientific thinking about the relationship between body and mind, by demonstrating under laboratory conditions, precise control of autonomic physical responses such as breathing and body temperature. He went on to found the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy in Pennsylvania with many centers worldwide, and authored many books.
So, how is Pandit Rajmani Tigunait coping with having to don Swami Rama’s mantle since his demise in 1996? When you meet Tigunait, 47, he doesn’t seem to have the charisma of his master. Stocky, clean-shaven, he is wearing workaday trousers and shirt. He is a householder, he explains, married with two daughters. Without feeling intimidated by his role as the spiritual head of the organization, he is playing it to the best of his ability.
Called Panditji in his organization, he is happy that he doesn’t have to carry the unnecessary burden. ‘People don’t give the respect I don’t deserve.’ In fact, many people he comes across feel encouraged by his example, that they can follow the spiritual path without renouncing the world. ‘Transformation does not depend on clothes and other paraphernalia,’Tigunait says. ‘The journey has to start from where we are. There is no running away because your mind goes where you go.’
When a charismatic guru dies without leaving behind an equally charismatic successor, the organization usually withers away. But Tigunait reports that instead of receiving a setback, the work started by Swami Rama is flourishing.
Tigunait admits that there was some opposition initially to his succession, but it soon faded away. Swami Rama’s choice couldn’t have been wrong. Tigunait holds two doctorates, one in Sanskrit from the University of Allahabad and one in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He specializes in Vedic and tantric studies, has written 10-odd books and is a lifelong practitioner of yoga and meditation. By now he has taught meditation and spirituality for over two decades. Currently, he leads some major workshops, such as Unleashing the Power of Tantra, at the Himalayan Institute.
Tigunait may have remained a mere scholar who dabbled in spiritual practices, but for Swami Rama taking him under his wing. He recalls the events that led to this turning point in his life. Belonging to Pratapgarh district in Uttar Pradesh, young Rajmani was in search of Sri Vidya, the central, mystical/esoteric part of tantra, the practice of which involves Sri Chakra. He sought out many gurus and swamis but all of them could only teach the ritualistic aspect.
‘My question,’ says Tigunait, ‘was that anything external in the long run is disappointing because death will destroy it. What’s there I can hold on to?’ He had heard that Swami Rama was a master of Sri Vidya and Surya Vigyan (the esoteric system of transmuting energy into matter). The meeting took place in Allahabad in 1976, where Swami Rama had come down from Garhwal. The first thing Swamiji told me was how to be healthy—the correct use of diet, exercise, breathing and mastering a posture. His was a holistic approach to spirituality, not just doing A, B, C, but a combination that served the needs of body, mind, spirit, family and society.
Then came the initiation into Sri Vidya and 90 days of sadhana during the course of which he came to know that human body is itself a Sri Chakra. In time it led to the awakening of kundalini shakti. He even went to the Kamakhya temple, the famed center of tantra in Assam, on his master’s orders. There he had a vision of Mother Goddess and of the Ultimate Oneness.
In time, he was also initiated into Surya Vigyan, which involves the solar plexus, to awaken the fire within, learning to channel health and well-being from nature. Materializing things is just one aspect of this system. Sun symbolizes fire, which is the basic principle of bringing about change.
In 1979, Swami Rama called Tigunait to the USA. And going by his books Swami Rama of the Himalayas and the tradition of the Himalayan masters, he became a spokesman for Swami Rama and an interpreter of his mission. Not just yoga, Tigunaitis a leading practitioner and instructor of ayurveda, and is an expert in all branches of Indian philosophy. He is also the major contributor to Yoga International magazine (a bimonthly with a circulation of over a hundred thousand), published by the Himalayan Institute Press. Tigunait remembers that Swami Rama conceived the magazine about a decade ago after Yoga Journal published an article implicating Swami Rama in a sexual harassment case, ‘which was all nonsense’.Tigunait goes to the extent of saying that some organizations, with vested interests opposed to the spread of Indian spiritual thought and praxis in the West, periodically pump up such cases to malign Indian gurus and organizations active there. In this context, he names Swami Muktananda, Osho, Mahrishi Mahesh Yogi, who he believes is barred from visiting the USA. Fortunately, Tigunait says, the scandal came as a blessing in disguise. ‘Swami’s Rama’s students got more united.’
An executive committee runs the Himalayan Institute that Tigunait heads. It operates from a sprawling 400-acre campus in Pennsylvania and offers courses, of various duration, in yoga, meditation, biofeedback, and ayurveda. Many participants in these courses later choose to become residents here and take part in the various activities of the institute. One of them is publications. The Himalayan Institute Press has published over 100 books, audio and videotapes. Swami Rama’s classic Living with the Himalayan Masters remains a perpetual bestseller. Pandit Tigunait’s books published by the Himalayan Institute Press include Tantra Unveiled: Seducing the Forces of Matter and Spirit; Shakti: The Power in Tantra; From Death to Birth: Understanding Karma and Reincarnation; The Power of Mantra and the Mystery of Initiation.
Because Swami Rama lived and taught in the US during his active years as a master, he is less known in India compared to some other gurus. But, yes, he did shift base here in 1993. The Himalayan Institute Hospital and Medical College in Jolly Grant, between Dehradun and Rishikesh, founded by him is operational. It is an ambitious project that will eventually showcase Integrated Medicine. The India chapter of the Himalayan Institute is getting reactivated, and Yoga International will have an Asia edition.
Swami Rama is returning home as Pandit Tigunait.
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