The Making of the First American Satguru
By Kalyani Giri
This review appeared in the Hum Magazine in Texas
The Making of the First American Satguru
From the Lofty Himalayas to the Breathtaking Peaks of Kauai
The sheer heft of The Guru Chronicles - The Making of the First American Satguru is the first indicator that this is no ordinary book. I page through and am riveted by the storytelling illustrations and an image gallery replete with historical photographs dating as far back as 1891. The narrative describes in exquisite detail a young American man's yearning for self-realization and the mystical and spiritually uplifting journey that shaped his future as America's first Hindu Satguru or Perfect Master. Forty years in the making, The Guru Chronicles describes the life and times of Robert Walter Hansen, who was born in Oakland, California, and would go on to become Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (1927-2001).
The sweeping saga of faith traverses the lofty Himalayas to the breathtaking peaks of Kauai. Through anecdotal accounts and carefully archived words of saints and sages (and others that were blessed enough to have known them during their lifetimes), The Guru Chronicles, compiled, edited, and designed by the Swamis of Kauai's Hindu Monastery, is a labor of enduring devotion. Forty years in the making, the 832-page treatise traces the young Robert's 1947 voyage via steamship to India and Sri Lanka in pursuit of a guru who would guide him on the path to self-realization. Vignettes of his personal odyssey are documented in his own voice as told to his disciples over the years; he speaks of the intense soul recognition that occurred when he met his guru, Siva Yogaswami, an enlightened master. After years of rigorous training, and upon his guru's directive, the Satguru returned to America to claim his rightful place as the American heir to the hoary lineage of Saivite mystics that started over 2,200 years ago in the Himalaya mountains. The Guru Chronicles delineates the roots of that lineage of siddhas, or perfected beings; the Satguru's guru Yogaswami and his guru's guru Chellappaswami, and earlier to sage Kadaitswami, and other nameless rishis, and way back to Rishi Tirumular and his guru, Maharishi Nandinatha.
Tall and charismatic, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, known affectionately as Gurudeva, was determined to promulgate Saiva dharma and bring Siva worship into the 21st century. He founded the Saiva Siddhanta Yoga Order and established America's first South Indian Hindu Monastery in Kauai, Hawaii. He also brilliantly conceived Hinduism Today, the first international Hindu magazine, a legacy that is formidably perpetuated by his disciples. He earned the respect and friendship of Hindu spiritual leaders and seekers alike, and at public gatherings the world over, he exhorted Hindus to take pride in the "most profound religion on the planet." Gurudeva was the latest guru in Saiva parampara; the next inheritor of the mantle is his successor, Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, the current head of the Kauai Adheenam.
What makes The Guru Chronicles so exceptional is that it is an astonishingly intimate window into the lives of the sages of yesteryear who were the very embodiment of truth and divinity. One is privy to their words and demeanors as they walk among us through the pages of the book. Scribed with gentle humor, simplicity, compassion, and humility by the Swamis of Kauai, the book shimmers with utmost love. It travels and lingers at the heart of Hinduism and God and self-realization, and educates the reader about the significance of the guru, worship, meditation, service, and Hindu dharma. The traditional style of paintings by the late artist S. Rajam adds eloquence and enchantment to the South Indian Tamil ethos of the book.
The Guru Chronicles was released last year on the 10th anniversary of Gurudeva's departure from the world. Recently, his disciples Paramacharya Sadasivanatha Palaniswami and Sannyasin Senthilnathaswami visited Houston and other cities to create more awareness of the book. Sadasivanatha worked on the book for 39 years and accompanied Gurudeva to Sri Lanka after Yogaswami had passed.
"In 1972, we interviewed all the villagers and recorded their stories. The power of the book is that it's a series of true stories," said Sadasivanatha. "For artist S. Rajam, painting was his religion, less about technique but more about consciousness."
The book, priced at $59,95, is available at www.minimela.com and at Amazon.com.