Interview with Swami Atmavidyananda Giri
In 2016, Aron O’Dowd interviewed Swami Atmavidyananda and we have permission to include the interview transcript here for the benefit of Kriyavans. The transcript which follows has been faithfully reproduced with minor grammatical changes to aid readability.
Can you describe to us a bit about your journey and how it all began?
I was born into a very spiritual family. My parents were very devoted to a realised master and in fact they had asked for a blessing because they didn’t have a son. So they wanted a son, that’s how they brought me up with their spiritual practice. And when I was around five years old, my father gave me some mantra and he taught me some spiritual discipline. So I was practising from that time and when I completed my schooling, then I met a long time disciple of my master, Baba Hariharanandaji. And at first he taught me some yogic practices for a few years and then he brought me to my master Paramahamsa Hariharanandaji and got me initiated into Kriya yoga. So spiritual life had been a part of my daily life right from the beginning. And I had decided to dedicate my life, being a monk for humanity, to help them, and not only to progress in my life, but also to help others to rise in their spiritual life, so that’s how. It’s a peaceful and very beautiful life, a continuous journey, a happy life.
What was it like growing up in a spiritual environment?
This is really a blessing because it is said that if you want to grow spiritually, the environment has its own impact. And it is very important, because just like a seed is there, but if it does not get the proper environment and proper ground, so it cannot sprout. So that’s how, if he gets this spiritual environment, a lot of things are taken care of and we have less obstacles, because in the family, people are supportive. It really makes our journey, very easy and very beautiful.
In becoming a marketing expert, did you feel that God was helping you throughout your childhood in some way?
Really, I came to the marketing field because I wanted to help more and more people. And that was the field that gave, that really changed my personality. I was not so outspoken before. In fact, I didn’t want to do a job and my spiritual teacher asked me that, no, you should do a job for a few years before you go to monastic life, because you should see the world first. He said that if you are successful in this worldly life, then only you will be successful in the spiritual life. So he told me to do a job. So that’s how I did marketing job also, for almost closer to nine years. And that has helped me, because when I’m meeting with people, I can understand them, their problems, and also in a much better way I can present things. So that’s also a blessing.
It is indeed. What was it like meeting Paramahamsa Hariharananda for the first time?
Oh, that’s awesome, that’s a beautiful experience. I had not met him and before that, I had already accepted him as my guru or my master, because my spiritual teacher had told that he is your master, I am not your master. When I met Paramahamsa Hariharanandaji for the first time, I had no imagination how he would be. But the moment I saw him, it was like I was looking at a 1000 watt neon lamp. It was glowing and emanating so much peace. And just in a moment, I could immediately feel that this is the moment and he is my real master. And he is a realised master, no doubt that anybody who came in his contact has felt unconditional love, so much peace. He could immediately lift our state of mind to a higher state. Amazing personality.
In 2002, you decided to enter a full-time life of spirituality through taking renunciation. What was that like, the decision to make?
Oh, in fact, I had decided already to lead a monastic life when I was nine years old and I had told my family members, so it was just a preparation. I was waiting for the right moment when the master would call, because I didn’t know which organization, which ashram, where I would be. I knew that I would be a monk surely, but I was also waiting. So in 2000 I met the current master of our lineage Paramahamsa Prajnananandaji and immediately I told him that I had been practising meditation and waiting to join ashram life as a renunciate. And he said yes, you can come and join. Then I started winding up my professional responsibilities and some family responsibilities and in 2002 there was a Residential Brahmachari Training Course, which is a monastic training course in India. So I went there and just stayed there, I never went back home then.
You say from a young age, you knew you were doing this. How did it feel going through life to get to this exact point?
This training was really nice because I studied a lot of the scriptures which I had never studied before in my professional life. And since then, this is the most beautiful life I wanted. And not only there is a lot of peace and spiritual progress as compared to the previous years, this is the real life I would say. Of course I can state clearly that living in a professional life for almost nine years in the world, that was a good life, I enjoyed that very successfully, but this is a better life.
In looking back at everything to this point, would you change anything or tell your younger self anything not to do?
No. I always try to inspire the youngsters that life is precious, every breath is precious and we should not waste our time because time is money also. And we should take the right decision at the right time. And I try to inspire them that, be successful in the world as my teacher did but at the same time, think of some spiritual discipline also, it will make you more successful. It doesn’t matter whether you want to be a monastic, or you want to live in the world, but the spiritual discipline certainly a part of your life, and we should take care of that aspect also.
What is Kriya Yoga?
Well, Kriya Yoga, as you know, there are two words, Kriya and Yoga. Yoga, the common meaning of this word is union and union with what? Union means there should be two so it is a union of body and soul. Union of, you can say, microcosm with macrocosm and union of our individual consciousness with cosmic consciousness. So that state of union is Yoga. And Kriya has two syllables, ‘kri’ and ‘ya’. ‘Kri’ has come from Sanskrit group word ‘kru’. ‘Kru’ means ‘to do’ or ‘action’, ‘activities’ and ‘ya’ means ‘divinity’. So Kriya means to perceive, to experience divinity in every action of our life. And in fact, when we say we are doing some action, who is really doing? Not this body, because when there is no breath in this body, it is dead body, it cannot function. So the power of God which is constantly flowing within us through the breath, that part of God is ‘ya’ and ‘kri’ means activity. So this is, Kriya means not only some techniques to practise but it is an attitude to live with in this world, that I am constantly united with God in each and every activity.
And how can we practise it and where can we practise it?
We have a worldwide organization and we have certain ashrams and monasteries, and throughout the world we have many Kriya centres. So we have a website www.kriya.org and wherever people are living in the world, they can just go on this website and see which is the closest centre. And we have many monastics as well as householders and beautiful teachers who go and teach Kriya Yoga. And I also travel throughout the year, almost half of the globe. So we go and teach those who are interested to learn Kriya Yoga. And that’s how they can, either they can come to monasteries or in the nearby centre whenever there are some initiation programs. They can go to the teacher and learn it.
How can somebody reach the level that you are, a swami? What levels are required?
You know, in our organisation to be Swami, first means that one has to be initiated into Kriya Yoga, and then one has to complete at least three months, residential Brahmachari Training Course, which is mostly happening in India. And this is the only year when we are trying to do it in the month of June in Miami, Homestead where I live. And after completion of this monastic training, the master of our lineage, he permits that if somebody is interested in living, so one has to leave after the training, at least three to five years, and we called them trainee monk. Then after five years, one can become a monk or a swami and then one can continue. So this is how one has to build up this spiritual discipline in life.
What happens when you reach that level and what happens when you get to the state of swami?
Truly speaking it is just a title. People said that you are a swami, you are respected, but what I think, it doesn’t make any difference except our own inner growth, our spiritual progress and for that one doesn’t need really to be a swami always. It depends on your own spiritual practice, how much time we devote and how much intensity we have in our practice, depending on what progresses. But yes, being a monastic has the advantage that we get the like-minded people around us and it helps a lot to create a beautiful environment for more meditation, more discipline.
And what happens day-to-day life as a teacher or swami?
Our life, this is really busy life. Sometimes some people ask me that they want to become a monastic but this is really hectic, but very active and busy life. We begin our day with morning prayers. And it’s just some short vedic prayers at five o’clock. So we get up at four and start five o’clock prayers and then longer meditation. And we have three times meditation every day. So we meditate and go to visit ashrams or when we do the programs on weekends, we also let people meditate with us together and apart from that we do some seva, means voluntary service for the community, as well as our own responsibilities within the monastery’s different departments. For example, I look after the publication, editing work also, for what master writes, four books, five books, every year. I also help in that. So we have a very busy schedule until 10 o’clock in the night.
Wow. That’s a very busy day. In the monastery you guys eat vegetarian food. Does that also help the progress of your growth or does food matter, if I eat meat or not, does that matter?
I would say that because I was born in a priest family in India and by birth I am vegetarian, and so also in our monasteries we eat only vegetarian food. But truly speaking, if you talk from the Kriya perspective, to practise spiritual discipline, it does not matter much what food we have. Yes at a certain level you may feel a little different, but in the beginning it doesn’t matter much. When we go more deeper into meditation, we might feel a little bit, but that’s fine. So really when we teach Kriya yoga or we practise Kriya yoga we do not give much stress on the food because my master always said that your food is your food and it’s better to practise first and when we practise we come to know automatically what food is more conducive to our practice. Instead of forcing, there should be a natural transformation.
You guys go through all different scriptures. Is there a particular scripture or text that you love to read time after time?
If we talk about the scriptures, it’s a vast ocean, one cannot completely read all the scriptures in one’s lifetime. So what is the basic scripture? We call it that as you know, the Vedas are considered to be the oldest ancient scriptures available in the human society and the essence of the Vedas is the Upanishads and the essence of the Upanishads is the Bhagavad Gita. And our masters, right from Lahiri Mahasaya and all the masters, they have written commentary on Bhagavad Gita and they also recommend that every Kriyavan must read this beautiful book of Bhagavad Gita which is a direct teaching of Lord Krishna. Because Bhagavad Gita gives answers to all the questions which we have in our life at any stage. So this is a very simple book and it has nothing to do with any religion even. Just like Kriya Yoga is not a religion, but it is a yogic practice, scientific technique. So also Bhagavad Gita is very neutral and it is for all, so that is the basic book I would recommend that one can read and when gets more interest then one can read Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, that is the basic book for anyone who practises yoga, which also speaks about the practice, the goal and certain values in life. Some observances we have to follow for discipline.
If you could tell anybody one particular item or topic that you have learnt, or you read or comes to mind, what would it be?
In Bhagavad Gita thirteenth chapter, there are twenty spiritual values which are mentioned. And there are three verses which one must read. And these verses they just talk about the beautiful qualities that one should bring as a discipline in one’s life. So that is one thing I can say. And in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali there are yamas and niyamas, which is a very basic preparation and it continues throughout our life. The yamas and niyamas, that is to be practised together. Yama mean the five observances, when we live in the society with others and the niyamas, also five observances or the values, which we need to practise for ourselves. So these are the ten beautiful values, which include nonviolence, non-stealing and truthfulness like this and morality like this. So these values are very important which are the basic, you can say foundation of any, our spiritual life, no matter in which discipline we are. So these two things are good for beginning and are to be practised throughout the life.
When you guys travel around the world how do you continue your practice? Or are there ways of getting around it?
Kriya Yoga is such a beautiful practice that you can practice it 24 hours. And as I said, that it is to see the presence of divinity in every activity. So whatever we do, when we teach, when we read, when we travel, we can always remain in that higher consciousness by watching our own breath, feeling presence of God. So this practice, one can maintain throughout. And whenever there is time, for example, when we are in the flight, so we meditate there also. And when we guide meditation we also meditate and guide. So it’s kind of a continuous practice we maintain. Sometimes it is hard, but surely if you want, we find time for our own value and we get up early so we compensate for our travel also, so this way we can maintain our practice.
Is there anything else you would like to add or feel that would be valuable to the listeners?
For me, all I’m saying is because we all are children of God and there’s no difference. I say that this practice which I have been doing, Kriya Yoga, it is the most beautiful practice. It is a scientific technique, which is non-sectarian and it gives immediate benefits. Although I had practised many other yogic techniques before I came to Kriya Yoga, I had seen many realised masters and monks also, but this is something different, which gives immediate benefit. And my master used to say, that Kriya Yoga is the quickest, shortest and surest means of self-realization. And this is what I have also experienced, this is the fastest technique and it is completely scientific. So there was a time in ancient times if you read the scriptures, it says that everybody living on the Earth planet was practising this technique of Kriya Yoga. So I wish that whether we are from any country, any part of the group, we all should practise this scientific technique to bring more peace, more calmness, and divinity and divine love into our life.
That is beautiful, thank you, Swami Atmavidyananda for coming onto the show and sharing what you have to share and your stories. And it’s been a pleasure having you on.
Thank you very much and I’m praying to God and I’m praying to all the saints and sages of all religions that we all grow in love, that we all develop more harmony, better understanding, and that we all realize our own self and live a beautiful loving life helping each other.
Aron O’Dowd is a Kriyavan from Ireland who interviews many interesting people in the course of his work as a podcaster and blogger.