Yoga, Vedanta and the Buddhist teaching of Mindfulness (Satipatthana) are all part of the teachings of the Great Himalayan Masters.The Himalayan region has brought forth many great wisdom teachers, Sages and Saints., including lesser known ones like Nityananda of Ganeshpuri who walked these Mountains immersed in a state of knowing that is not limited by religious bias, cultural boxes or styles of Yoga. It is this pure and yet universal wisdom which attracted Swami Nityamuktananda to dedicate her life to it. She took samnyasa (becoming a traditional Indian renunciate and teacher) in 2003 from Swami Anubhavananda and confirmed her vows in a traditional Vedic ceremony with Swami Veda Bharati in 2007
My life has been an unusual one, in so far, as I have been from a young Age interested in the Questions of why things happen and what is behind it…Why do people behave as they do? Who, what are we? What moves people? As well as studying in the traditional sense, I searched mentally and physically, to find answers in many traditions and cultures; this led me to the issues of awareness and self-inquiry – which motivated much of my decisions throughout life.
Although I studied in the traditional sense, I did this in different countries (Theology; Education, Psychology, Philosophy, Art and Design (Ceramics)).
The lack of Awareness not just in individuals but societies…and their impact on humanity and the environment disturbed me and encouraged me to do what I can to change this. So with this intention I taught in schools, colleges and universities, on international Conferences and Congresses… and that in many countries and not always without resistance ! Many times I found there was a fear of knowing the wider and deeper aspects of existence.
With the discovery of Eastern philosophy and a deeper spirituality perspective , I saw more and more the narrow confines of our so called “Modern, materialistic Western – thinking”… and so I turned to Taoism , Buddhism (Tibetan Buddhism as well as the Japanese Zen) and to the deep wisdom of indigenous people in many countries. I found a common dimension, a common truth behind all of these, from which we could learn much.
The destruction of the global materialistic Influence challenged me to balance the negativity to add beauty, especially as I became familiar with ancient Japanese culture. I changed and became an artist.The more spiritual seeker, philosopher, free thinker and artists merged an ever more widening inclusive perspective dawned which led to the deep wisdom of the original contemplative practices of Jnana Yoga and Vedanta.
Over the years I worked with several great spiritual Masters among them Zen-Masters, great Siddhas, the Tibetan Lama and Tulku T.Y.S. Gangchen, the great Yogi Swami Maheshananda and H.H. Swami Anubhavananda (Acharya of Vedanta) and M.M. (Mahamadeleschwara) Swami Veda Bharati, disciple of Swami Rama of the Himalayas; the latter more and more becoming a shining light guiding me on my path.
My life’s journey, took me in the beginning of the 90 ties, to immerse myself more in Indian spiritual traditions, and as one of my teachers explained: The Himalayan Mountains are the cradle of Buddhist teachings, Taoism, the many branches of what is called Hinduism and as we know of today even Christianity. The region has brought forth innumerable great wisdom teachers, Sages and Saints. Even in recent times, great beings like Nityananda of Ganeshpuri and Swami Tapovan Maharaj and one of the most influential ones for me, Swami Rama, walked these Mountains immersed in a state of knowing that is not limited by religious bias, cultural boxes (or styles of Yoga). It is this pure and yet universal wisdom that poured forth from these beings and those that walked in their footsteps which attracted me especially.
So when I was asked (after some years) by one of the great teachers to become a Swami and spread the wisdom teachings… I accepted samnyasa in 2003 from Swami Anubhavananda and confirmed my vows again later in a traditional Vedic ceremony with Swami Veda Bharati of the Himalayan Tradition in 2007
Now what does that mean… to me? The tradition of Swami’s goes back thousands of years and some say, way back to prehistoric times and may not even limited to what is called today India; It may even be connected (as the root of the word shows- to the word Shaman… referring to deep mystic traditions across the globe). This is my perception, gained in the last decades and it would probably not be accepted by traditional India.
In today’s India, most swami’s (but by no means all) align themselves with one of the ten branches of “the swami – tree” founded by the great philosopher and sage Shakaracharya ; and most would agree that on one side they are linked to a teacher/guru/lineage… and on the other side to one universal indivisible Reality, which is also simply called THAT, – the Ultimate Truth, which we find in the depth of human insight across the globe by many names.
I personally relate to that Ultimate as the Divine Cosmic Mother; (‘divine’ is Latin for ‘beyond’); I feel attracted to the three forms SHE is venerated as: Gayatri, Savitri and Saraswati.
The above dual awareness connects a swami to a certain lineage, but at the same time frees a Swami from being bound to a specific religion… so we have Christian Swamis, Sikh Swami’s Sufi Swami’s etc….(although most swamis associate with the Indian tradition of what is called Hinduism.) However in this plurality lies a very important point; a swami dedicates his/her life, one could say, to the Absolute Truth, beyond the different forms of religions.
There are many forms in which this can be done, for me being initiated in the tradition of Saraswati, the goddess of Wisdom, it is very much connected to sharing wisdom for the benefit of Humanity in whichever way, by the Grace of THAT power I am able to do.
Which brings us to another point: A swami is a renunciate, which means setting aside those limitations and worldly interests that grab hold of us, distort our vision and hinder us to become “truly human” (Swami Rama) and fulfil our potential to return to our original Nature.
For me this means sharing; sharing knowing, giving, supporting… being love. So that, as one of my teachers (Swami Veda Bharati) said: So that everyone in your presence feels loved.
Yes, putting aside worldly interest and dedicate one’s life to the serve humanity in this way makes a swami in the European mind-set, akin to a monk, yet there is no monastic order or hierarchy behind a swami, he/she herself must have total integrity, so as to live attuned to the Absolute, the highest; which I call the Divine Cosmic Mother. This is possible only through giving up the individual ‘I’ interest and attitude; nothing is ‘mine’. In this way one hopes to become free of Ego-involvement and open to the underlying wisdom that governs all phenomena. When a wave subsides in the ocean is it giving up its individuality, or gaining the vastness of the unlimited existence of the ocean?
In this way life becomes “simple”.
This simple loving attitude is like the sun, or indeed Mother Earth – they give to the king, the beggar and the murderer alike, to all plants, all animals, all existence. Serving others, supporting life in every way, without expecting any rewards. She, the sun shines selfless-ly on the world. Hence the sun in many cultures is a symbol for the Ultimate. And some say this is the reason for the customary orange/saffron clothes of a swami. Others say the orange clothes are a reminder of the fire, the fire of knowledge that burns away wrong knowledge, the fire of hardship (ascetics) that burns away desire and attachment. Traditionally it is also connected to the symbolism of giving up ritual fire offerings, as one has “taken the fire into oneself”; i.e. has become the fire…fire of knowledge.
So although, I feel free of the restrictions, that in today’s world dogmatic customs impose on Swami’s – I accept the wearing of the Orange clothes, a sign of connection to this world wide symbolism and in honour of the tradition who taught me to serve humanity in the widest and highest way I can.
There are many variations of this ancient tradition, however all would agree that the swami should avoid all honour and recognition; — he is a servant to the world; it means he does not exist for his own “Ego-personality,” – ‘he has no specific name (except for others’ convenience so they may refer to him), no birthplace, no caste, no social grouping, no religion, no countries. He is a citizen of all earth, everyone’s closest relative to whom anyone may confide anything.’ this is what Swami Rama from the Himalayas voices. The Australian Aboriginals have an apt phrase for it: he/she lives “ For the Good of All!”
And the Buddha sent his monks out with the words: for the benefit of the many, bahu-jana-hitaya for the comfort of the many, baha-jana-sukhaya.
What does it mean for me? In our world today, we cannot cut off from other people, we cannot, we must not – fall into separation, there is only One Humanity, indeed there is only One Existence; we are all totally interconnected!
The last few hundred years , with rising materialism our world has been polarized into extremism. With it many people find themselves ‘not knowing what to do’ in the many complex issues of life. Complexity has always been there, but if we look through a narrow funnel onto individual aspects of that complexity, it becomes so confusing that we ‘ don’t know what to do’; ‘how to behave’; we lost awareness of what is good, what is right. Why? Because we look at life through a tunnel vision, of manipulated truth!
We see only the individual brushstrokes (not necessarily pretty); we get lost in the details of individualism – and lose sight of the greater picture of life.
I see my Job as spreading universal wisdom, open people’s perspective, step back from our individual narrow confines, help people gain a wider view, for the better of the whole. And ultimately to see ourselves as “Inter-beings” (Thich Nath Hahn) as connected in the great Web of Life, which is light, which is love ( Swami Rama of the Himalayas) .
For that, this swami, like all swamis are still called to work on themselves (Patanjali / the Yoga Sutras/ first chapter). If you like, refer to it as viveka khyati (discrimination) and abhyasa (practice of detachment)! Or you can simply call it: self-awarenes; which needs self-inquiry and has to culminate in self-purification.
This brings us back to the question that moved me from the beginning of my life. Now I see that this quest leads to see the interconnectedness of all life and beyond on the highest level. From such a holistic perception, one sees the need for a-hymsa (non-violence) and those values and ethical maxims that support – rather than destroy; people and society.
And this , if we dig deep enough, we find in all wisdom teachings around the globe; there is no monopoly on TRUTH.
With seeing this, comes humility, universal love and devotion and never taking things for granted! In practical terms it expresses in asking often uncomfortable questions; it challenges to look beyond the apparent; encourages self-inquiry and reflection; supports those that endeavour to look for a higher purpose in life; builds bridges between people, dogmas and religions and rekindles respect and love. In that there is no differentiation between East and West; North or South; one race or another; or the deepest core of one religion or another!
So to sum up: What does it mean for me to be a swami ? I aim to grow into: One that loves unconditionally and helps others to grow into the widest, highest wisdom they can, for Life is Love is Light.
I bow to HER, whose voices of wisdom guided me – with great gratitude.
Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati (Dr. Christa-Maria Herrmann (PhD; MA; MEd; DAD; Dip theol; Dip Ed; etc.), German by birth (1945), naturalised British, Swami Nityamuktananda shares wisdom and spiritual practices including meditation, in many countries and especially in workshops in Northern Italy.
In 1997 she was awarded a Doctorate in Eco-philosophy on the subjects of the Mahabhutas (Five Great Elements, a worldwide concept of the interdependence of different energetic Fields). In 1997 she received a ‘World-Peace Prize’ for contributions to World Peace (LGWPF/ NGO of UN).
She has also been teaching especially in two centres in India, for many years: Kaivalyadhama, Yoga Research Institute, Lonavla; as well as SRSG (Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama; Rishikesh Himalayas).
Swami Nityamuktananda is the founder-member of the Council of European Grandmothers; established 2015 for reawakening the wisdom and values of the feminine principle, in order to create balance and harmony in all walks of life.
She is the author of several books.