Our first stop was at Swami Dayananda’s Ashram in Rishikesh to meet Swami Sakshatkrtananda, the main Acharya [Teacher] there to talk about the possibility of my taking Sannyas Vows.
Satchitananda had already spoken to his Guru Swami Paramarthananda on this subject and Swami Paramarthananda, in turn had asked Swami Sakshatkrtananda to call him to discuss the issue. They had talked and now we would find out what they had discussed.
Swami Sakshatkrtananda told me that he would offer me Sannyas Vows but with the proviso that I would first have to undergo an intensive six-month Advaita Vedanta course at Swami Dayananda’s Ashram.
I replied, that, at the moment that was impossible, as I have a job. I would only be able to attend a six month course if I was not working and for that to be the case, I would need to be living, relatively self-sufficiently at our Ashram in Corinthos. I suggested it may be a couple of years before that is a possibility.
He replied that a Sannyasin is completely free and does not have a boss. We agreed that I would have to wait until circumstances were more conducive.
One other point of interest during our brief stop in Rishikesh was our visit to Swami Sivanada’s Ashram. Situated 30 – 40 metres above the road going up to Tapovan, opposite Ram Jhula bridge, it was a tranquil and beautiful place, with wonderful flower gardens perched high above the Ganges.
Our next stop was the famous holy city of Varanasi, recently given an extensive upgrade by PM Modi. Our hotel was part of the new Shri Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project. In fact, when we arrived, we were informed by hotel staff that the hotel had only been open nine days!
One of the main reasons we visited Varanasi was because a Vedic astrologer had told Satchitananda that he had been a Shiva devotee in one of his previous lives and that he had a special connection with the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The astrologer had said, that keeping an image of its Shiva Lingam in a prominent place, would ensure the success of our Ashram project.
On our first day in Varanasi, one of Satchitananda’s students travelled to our hotel to receive the Deeksha [a sacred Shiva mantra] that Satchitananda had received in 2021 from His Holiness, successor-designate Jagadguru, Sannidhanam, at Sringeri Math.
I also took the Deeksha directly afterwards. Our hotel was a good place to give the Deeksha, as it was very close to Kashi Vishwanath Temple and as we were the first people to ever stay in the room the atmosphere was very clean!
On our second day in Varanasi we visited the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, guided by a priest. Varanasi was very hot – around 40 degrees – and Kashi Vishwanath Temple was jam-packed full of pilgrims, pouring into the holy Temple in a constant stream, hour after hour.
The holiest spot of the Temple is the Shiva Lingam and we had just a few seconds in front of the window looking into the small room where the priests where making offerings to the Lingam.
It was at this point, while looking at the Shiva Lingam, Satchitananda nearly collapsed on the ground overcome with emotion, tears streaming down his cheeks. A few people close by, showing a far superior grasp of the situation than myself [I thought he had hurt himself] brought him back to his senses, holding him up and shouting ‘He’s a Guru, he’s a Guru’.
We sat down a few metres away and fifteen or twenty minutes later, Satchitananda was fine to leave and continue our tour. He later told me that it required a huge spiritual effort not to leave his body there and then and that he was convinced he had been at Kashi Vishwanath, two lifetimes ago.
Our next and most important stop was Sringeri Math, where we were returning for our third visit. In particular, we wanted to meet with the CEO of the Math, Dr. Gowrishankar, and to talk him on a number of issues.
We met him almost immediately and he was in good spirits and very friendly. We arranged a meeting for the following day.
In our meeting we gave a brief update and then asked Dr. Gowrishankar if he could endorse our project by issuing a headed letter signed by him, stating that we are working closely with Sringeri Math.
We also asked whether he would like to become one of the Directors of our NPO. He said yes to both proposals, though becoming a Director depends upon what is permissible under Greek law.
We also asked him whether we could have a private meeting with Their Holinesses the Jagadgurus and whether it was possible they could give us a blessed statue for our Temple. He said yes to everything!
In the end, it was not possible to have a private meeting with them. Nevertheless, Dr. Gowrishankar’s assistant Ranganathanji, was sent to the Guru Nivas Temple – where we had joined the queue to receive blessings from His Holiness, Sannidhanam – so he could keep his beady eyes on us and make sure we got to speak to him.
We waited until the end of the queue and spoke to Sannidhanam about our vision for an Ashram in Greece for about 10 minutes. We told him we had recently acquired land and had had a very productive meeting with Dr. Gowrishankar.
He replied by saying that when all the conditions are in place, such as the fruition of our meditation practice and the Grace of God, everything will come easily. This is the basic gist of what was said as relayed to us through his assistant Kishore, who was translating.
Finally, we asked him if we could have a statue, blessed by Their Holinesses, for our upcoming Temple. He said, yes and to return to the Temple later that day.
We were told to return to the Temple at 5:30 in the afternoon, which meant we would be first in the queue for the next Darshan [blessing] which was scheduled for 6pm.
At about 6:15, Sannidhanam appeared and then gave us not one, but two blessed statues! To Satchitananda he gave a statue of Sharadampa, the Goddess worshipped by Adi Shankara and to me a statue of Adi Shankara himself.
When Satchitananda received the statute, he was overwhelmed and tears began to flow. When Sannidhanam saw Satchitananda’s reaction, he looked at him with great affection. I’m sure all who were there were amazed by His Holinesses’ loving smile and benevolent look.
Satchitananda also gave Deeksha to another one of his students at Sringeri. This was quite an achievement, as his student had to travel all the way from Chennai, which is on the other side of the country. Moreover, after a recent accident, he was walking with great difficulty. Satchitananda was most impressed by his commitment and sincerity.
[Satchitananda outside the Vidyashankara Temple, at Sringeri Math, where he received Deeksha from Sannidhanam in 2021]
The next morning, at just after 7am, we set off in a tuk-tuk to the nearby, newly constructed, Sringeri Gosala, named in honour of the 34th Jagadguru, Sri Chandrashekhara Bharati Mahaswamiji.
The Gosala is located in a peaceful and secluded wooded area, about five kilometres from Sringeri Math. Where we greeted by the family of the young man in charge of the Gosala, Rashid, his family and neighbour, who would be our translator. A nicer group of people you couldn’t hope to meet.
We were informed that the cows that they have [I think, 4 adults and 2 calves] are a pure India breed – the best in India – and highly intelligent. They allow them to roam freely throughout the day, knowing that they will return of their own accord at 5 o’clock.
The average cow produces around 2 litres of milk a day, which is a relatively small amount, but of the highest quality. We were lucky enough to sample some of the milk, [warm] which was truly delicious. I say this as somebody who greatly dislikes warm milk and was dreading having to drink it when it was offered to me. It was like nectar!
As it turned out we were the first ever visitors to the Gosala. Satchitananda was asked to say a few words and this was captured on video and details of our excursion along with a few photos, were posted on a local internet news station.
Our final destination was Chennai, where we would once again meet Satchitananda’s Guru, the unequalled Advaita Vedanta Teacher, Swami Paramarthananda. Before our meeting, Satchitananda had spoken to Swami Ji who had kindly consented to Satchitananda’s request to allow him to perform the traditional devotional puja, called Pada Puja and for us to be able to film it. [We will upload the video to our YouTube channel]
Pada Puja is a ritual to express our thanks to a revered Guru [Spiritual Teacher] and the Guru Parampara [Holy Authentic Lineage] and thus receive Blessings and Grace. The word pada means foot or feet in Sanskrit. Pada Puja means to give thanks at the feet of the one we are honoring. It was a beautiful and heartfelt offering.
After the puja, we spoke to Swami Ji for some time, updating him on our general progress and particularly our meetings in Rishikesh and Sringeri and of course, Satchitananda’s experience at Kashi Vishwanath.
Swami Ji was very happy at our news, offered his blessings and was generally animated throughout as we passed on our news.
For the last few days of our trip, we attended four of our Swami Ji’s peerless Vedanta classes. We were lucky enough to be driven there by two of his devotees who we had befriended on our last visit and who had also very kindly invited us round to their house for some food.
All in all, it was a very successful trip and we achieved everything that we set out to do.
In August of 2021, Dr. Gowrishankar the CEO of Sringeri Math, wrote to us, explaining the following:
‘…You are free to come to Sringeri to seek Jagadgurus’ Blessings and Guidance. And also, we can arrange a Sanskrit class/ Shloka chanting classes from India to your upcoming ashram.
You have been blessed with a sacred mantra by Jagadguru. As directed by Jagadguru, you may continue to initiate the mantra to qualified shishyas.
The Gracious Blessings of Jagadgurus are conveyed for your welfare and prosperity. ’
Around one year later, during our third trip to India, on the 2nd of August, 2022, after first visiting my Guru Swami Paramarthananda in Chennai, we arrived at Sringeri Math, and almost straight away went into a meeting with Dr. Gowrishankar.
The meeting was very successful. He accepted our offer to become an Honorary Director of the Ashram as well as promising to help us in the future in various ways.
When the time is right, he will organize a priest to come to live with us in Greece who will be in charge of rituals and the study of the Vedas, particularly the study of Yajur Veda, which is associated with Sringeri Math.
Dr. Gowrishankar will also organize a person to come and live with us who has experience in the traditional way of looking after and keeping cows. The Ghosala, as it is called, will supply the Ashram community with pure and fresh dairy produce.
At the end of the meeting Dr. Gowrishankar left open the possibility that, at some point in the future, when the Ashram is fully operational and can be seen to be operating in accordance with a pure and authentic, traditional Advaita Vedanta Ashram, there is every possibility we may become a branch of Sringeri.
In April 2023, we will once again visit Sringeri Math and speak with Dr. Gowrishankar, in order to deepen our relationship with him and to seek his continued guidance and support and to seek the Blessings and Guidance of His Holinesses the Jagadgurus.