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"The Guru Chronicles - The Making of the First American Satguru" by the Swamis of Kauai's Hindu Monastery - recounts stories of seven mystical gurus.
Kauai, Hawaii (MMD Newswire) October 10, 2011 - Westerners have always been fascinated with Eastern spiritual traditions, and many have explored Hinduism. Long before and well after The Beatles' ephemeral flirtation with Eastern meditation in the late 1960s, serious devotees have worked to establish a Hindu presence in the West. One such person was the late Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (1927-2001), known fondly as Gurudeva, whose remarkable story - and those of his predecessors, six other mystics - spring to life in a new book, "The Guru Chronicles, The Making of the First American Satguru." A collaborative effort by the Swamis of Kauai's Hindu Monastery, "The Guru Chronicles" will be released in October. And it's quite unlike any other book about mystics that has been published before.
Paramacharya Sadasivanatha, chief editor of "The Guru Chronicles," says, "Anyone on the spiritual path knows it's rare that the illumined lives of yogis and gurus are laid before us. We have but a handful: Yogananda's 'Autobiography of a Yogi'; 'Milarepa: Tibet's Great Yogi'; 'Ramakrishna and His Disciples,' and a few others. 'The Guru Chronicles' is very broad in scope, meticulously detailed but also very accessible. It is filled with the magical and highly mystical stories of Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, who was said by some to look and act like the Hindu God Siva. But it's also about his Sri Lankan guru Siva Yogaswami, and five preceding masters, who all held truth in the palm of their hand and inspired slumbering souls to 'Know thy Self.'"
Indeed, despite its subtitle, "The Guru Chronicles" is not just Gurudeva's story, and it spans more than the lifetime of one man, reaching back through 2,200 years of history and taking the reader from the Himalayas of ancient India to the modern-day Hawaiian Islands. Intended for fans of Eastern spirituality, yoga, mysticism, and magic, "The Guru Chronicles" also aims to transport readers into the world of intense spiritual striving on the path of enlightenment. Inspired by the authors' personal experiences with their most recent guru, Gurudeva, the book features detailed descriptions of the experiences, challenges and successes of an exceptional group of men.
Sannyasin Muruganathaswami, one of the senior swamis initiated by Gurudeva, agrees that "The Guru Chronicles" is different from anything else in its genre. "This is not your typical 'Autobiography of a Yogi' type of book," he says. "It contains the biographies of very special, realized beings told by those who actually met them. They're inspirational stories which come from these gurus to not only guide us on our spiritual path and in our daily lives, but also to drive us deep within, sometimes by unconventional means. For example, the book tells the tale of a devotee coming to Yogaswami (Gurudeva's guru) with an offering tray, and Yogaswami, detecting a certain dishonesty in the person, kicked it away. These are not your standard 'guru stories.'" Muruganathaswami adds that one of his favorite tales is about the Rishi from the Himalayas who went into a cafe in Bangalore, sat down to meditate, and pieces of paper - answers to peoples' prayers - began to fall from the air.
Paramacharya Sadasivanatha adds, "The swamis know how to tell a tale, but to their credit they also know when to step aside and let the great sages speak for themselves, quoting directly and often from the seven masters' oral and written legacies. This brings an intimacy and immediacy to the stories. You are hearing about God directly from those who knew God within."
Whether or not one is a practitioner of Hinduism, there's no doubt that Gurudeva was an accomplished man. He established America's first South Indian monastery, founded Hinduism's first international magazine, and created the West's only pan-Hindu endowment to financially support all lineages and traditions of Hinduism. American born, he set out on a spiritual quest shortly after the end of World War II, and his travels took him to India and Sri Lanka. After years of arduous training, and at the order of his guru, he returned to America to teach the path to God Realization. Ultimately, he was recognized and befriended by India's spiritual leaders as the first Hindu guru born in the West. He is considered America's first satguru; the term is from a Sanskrit word meaning "true guru," and is a title that is correctly given only to specific types of spiritual gurus.
Gurudeva founded the Saiva Siddhanta Yoga Order, whose spiritual tradition is derived from the Saivite Hindu traditions of South India and northern Sri Lanka, and he established a Hindu monastery-temple complex in Kauai, Hawaii. Today the Kauai compound is a lush 353-acre sanctuary that also houses a publishing center and the San Marga Iraivan Temple, and is a destination for Hindus who come on pilgrimage from around the world.
"The Guru Chronicles" is an ambitious work to be sure, nearly forty years in the making. The end result is a massive 850-page book filled with striking full-color illustrations by the late S. Rajam, who sequestered himself for two years in a tiny studio in Chennai, India. Rajam crafted hundreds of paintings, all grounded in the ancient South Indian art language, and all speaking subtly of the Hindu culture and the mystic's ways. The illustrations will make the book appealing to children as well as to adults, say the book's creators.
The authors of "The Guru Chronicles" stress that the stories of these mystic gurus have never been told before. They provide a rare glimpse into the life of a Hindu yogi, his daily practices, his renunciation of the world, his austerities and attainments. Reading about the lives of mystic yogis takes us into a world rarely experienced by the average person, especially Americans. The authors believe that the path of the mystic is really the path everyone will take eventually.
Besides telling the story of the individual mystics, "The Guru Chronicles" elucidates the roots of Kauai's Hindu Monastery, which today is a secluded, cloistered home and theological seminary housing two dozen dedicated monks who live and serve there full time. They strive to fulfill the dual goals of selfless service and self-transformation through ashtanga yoga, which begins with good character and piety, and leads to deep meditation and ultimate enlightenment.
The monastery on Kauai also has an educational and publishing branch, Himalayan Academy, which exists to promote understanding of Hinduism worldwide, and to preserve the sacred traditions of the faith. One of the Himalayan Academy's stated purposes is "to nurture and monitor the ongoing spiritual Hindu renaissance." The West is a fertile garden for that renaissance. In August 2009, Newsweek's religion writer Lisa Miller penned a short piece for the magazine called, "We Are All Hindus Now." In that article she pointed out that 65 percent of Americans believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life," which is a Hindu belief. Currently 24 percent of Americans believe in reincarnation, and more than a third of Americans choose cremation. There's no doubt that more Americans are open to Eastern spiritual ideas. Whether or not they choose to follow Hinduism, many will find "The Guru Chronicles" fascinating, as it bridges the East with the West through engaging stories of Hindu yogis and their contemporary American counterparts.
Adds Sannyasin Muruganathaswami, "The stories in 'The Guru Chronicles' should inspire and encourage people who are interested in Hindu thought and beliefs to examine their own lives and where they stand, whether they are on or off of the path of enlightenment."
About the Authors: The Swamis of Kauai's Hindu Monastery are a small group of renunciate monastics living at Kauai's Hindu Monastery at the foot of an extinct volcano, Mount Waialeale. Together they publish a quarterly magazine, "Hinduism Today," and have published several books on Hinduism, especially Saivite Hinduism. They lead a life committed to worship, meditation, service, and self-transformation.
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