Samadhi’s Guru Vishnu
Real Peace is Unshakable…Bliss is Unchanged by Gain or Loss
“AJ” Amy Jo Crowell, Publisher Dallas Yoga Magazine &
Co-Founder Cosmic Yogi Festivals
This summer I went to India for over 3 weeks. I went there to be trained in traditional Kundalini Yoga at Samadhi ashram on the Ganges River in Rishikesh. I traveled by myself not exactly knowing what to expect. I knew India was considered a “third world country” so I knew the amenities would be completely different from what I was accustomed. However, I found the traveling fun and fascinating meeting new people, trying new foods. Once arriving in India, everyone was helpful and kind. I was so excited to arrive at Samadhi ashram and meet Vishnu. You could feel his loving presence before he even walked in the door and once he walked into the room he seemed to glow a warm bright light all around him. His energy was refreshing. My heart immediately opened when his big smile stretched across his face and his eyes twinkled with age old wisdom. I knew right then, I was exactly where I was supposed to be and learning from him was going to change my life forever. I was right.
For the next few weeks, I was honored to have Vishnu Panigrahi teach me meditation, yoga and life lessons. I could sit and listen to him for hours. He had so much to share and guidance to offer everyone. He was not the kind of person who did his class and lessons then disappear for the rest of the day. Vishnu and his family dined with us and laughed with us. He advised us on important life matters and then would tell us the best restaurants in town, what to eat there and how to shop. His light-heartedness made me feel closer to him and the ashram. Vishnu does not put on any airs and his personality is sweet, happy and endearing. I loved his laughter…it was full of energy and true happiness.
I want to share Vishnu’s background and his current happenings with the Dallas Yoga Magazine’s readers. I know you will find his life experiences as fascinating as I have.
Yogi Vishnu Panigrahi has been steeped in spiritual endeavors since his childhood and even before his birth his great grandfather told his granddaughter (Vishnu’s mother-to-be) that there is a necessity of a boy from your home to be a spiritual devotee. The granddaughter prayed deeply over many months for a baby boy to come as her son and fulfill her great grandfather’s wish. After his birth, his mother would sing to the children songs and tell stories from the Ramayana (the famous epic on Rama Incarnation) and Puranas (the Indian versified Sanskrit encyclopedias of stories and narratives of divinities). As a young child his grandfather advised him to meditate for salvation and moksha and not indulge in prayers or rituals for lesser material or mundane purposes. A Radhe-Krishna Temple was constructed by the grandfather in their village in Orissa, India where Vishnu would frequently serve food and water to wandering sadhus who would come to rest for the night on the house verandah or temple verandah.
Many of these sadhus were “kum-phatia babas” (they wear the bark of kum trees) a special sect of knowledge-bearing hatha-yogis and shunyavadi whose founder was Alekh mahima, (formless god himself), who had a great impression on young Vishnu. These are the famous tree bark adorned babas that freely roam around parts of Orissa. They had no clothing or blankets while sleeping, winter or summer, only wearing a covering made of tree bark and carrying no extraneous possessions.
There were occasional discourses and satsang by visiting Swamis, counting among them was Swami Avdheshanand Giri of Haridwar. On these occasions Vishnu would skip school and attend the satsang (spiritual company and discourse of the saintly), resting under the trees after the satsang and he would reach home by riding his bicycle 6 kms. in the evening.
He found a kalyana-mitra (friend on the noble path) in a boyhood friend who would arrange to meet together at 3 a.m. morning in secluded places away from the village. Here they would join for meditation and chant all day “Mohamudgaram” (a famous hymn titled Mace to Beat Delusion with) by Adi Shankaracharya to dispel their fears and gain vairagya (intense inclination to renunciation). On Sundays and holidays Vishnu would serve the impoverished people at the nearby hospital by washing them and other chores of taking care of those waiting and recovering.
There was always a lack of nurses to care for the patients who had to lay on the cement floor with bare facilities. Once there was an old man with a horrible odor and small worms attached to his legs who was neglected. While he laid there, Vishnu cleaned the old man and shaved his head and beard for a few days. Eventually, the neglected man’s legs were treated and bandaged. The man was so grateful and driven to happiness and blessed young Vishnu. On a following day Vishnu returned to be with visit him, but the man was not there. He inquired to where he was, but no one remembered him or could say he had been there! Vishnu was surprised and felt it was God Himself who had come in the form of the old man then completely vanished!
Another time, an aged man was found debilitated with health problems. People turned away him because he was of low caste. Vishnu noticed him and at first took him to a hidden place as being an orthodox Brahmin he should not mix closely with the lower caste. But while beginning to help him with food he asked himself why should he hide? He brought him then to an open place and people observed Vishnu bathing the aged man and the comments came from the people that Vishnu has become mad and crazy! Vishnu did not relent and became a strong leader in his village and surrounding area against the caste differences.
At the young age of 15 years he became a member of Muni Samaj, a school of meditation and yoga founded by Shiva Muni, a saint devoted to long periods of silence. He sought out knowledge as best to his means and at age 18 met Vedanta Keshari Swami Niranjanji, popularly known as the “Lion of Vedanta”. Vishnu studied under him for two years and acquired a B.A. degree in arts at Jyoti Vihar University. By age 20 he delved into a path full of devotion focusing on cultivating universal love and sankirtan (singing and chanting for long hours as part of bhakti… the yoga of devotion and intense sentiment of surrender). His days and nights passed in prayer, japa (mental mantra-recitations) and chanting holy names in kirtan. This was a Bhakti tradition originating with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a great saint who lived in the 15th century, and popularized the path of bhakti, especially to Incarnation Krishna.
It was during this time that Vishnu faced his greatest challenge so far. He was tested with a congenital heart defect and the doctor said the only way to survive was to have open heart surgery. There was no money at home for this type of surgery. They advised him to seek free care at the far-off hospital at Sai Baba’s Ashram in Andhra Pradesh. Vishnu’s friend collected some traveling money for him and told him to go and either come back after the treatment or perish. Vishnu left home alone traveling by general section and changing trains several times to reach the hospital. There they confirmed the severity of the condition and the requirement of surgery. The person in charge asked “Who is with you?”, for family permission of the operation and to sign the documents. Vishnu replied, “God is with me!” The operation was on August 12, 1994 and he was unconscious until Aug. 15th when he awakened. This is India’s Independence Day and Vishnu felt like he has come back from death’s door. Feeling like he was reborn a new person he made a sankalpa (vow) to passionately serve humanity.
He started this vow by organizing many camps, spiritual discourses and bhajan programs in the villages, serving mostly the poor and underprivileged in the Orissa state of India. During this time, he even started a grocery business to counter one man who was cheating the people by doing unscrupulous business. He borrowed 5000 rupees and turned it into profit over profit, eventually cultivating 25 acres of land for agriculture. His business maxims were “Love is the only thing to grow in business” and “Love & Faith, being very honest in business”. These were his slogans for success, but a tragic turning point came one year.
Suddenly at the same time there was a flood and the crops were ruined, cows that had been purchased for milking had died or became barren and the shop was robbed. All the money evaporated. The business failed but deep down Vishnu was relieved this was the cusp of a new landmark in his life. Giridhar Gopal Shastri came from Brindavan soon after to conduct satsang and lectures. On his last day lecturing he gave an invitation to the whole crowd that any brahmacharis (celibate novices to be initiated) can come with him to Brindavan and receive training. Though there were thousands in attendance in the crowd it was like he was speaking directly to Vishnu. Vishnu went home, packed a small bag and left for Brindavan without gathering any money. Reaching there was his greatest pilgrimage so far because it was the birthplace of Krishna. He was thrilled and so inspired that sleep was hardly a distraction for him. In four months, he read 18,000 verses of the Srimad Bhagavatam (one of the 18 puranas) was trained in kathas and was a member of Hari Katha Yojana. Katha is a beautiful way of delivering highly inspiring discourses of intense godly sentiment with songs and musical verses.
In Brindavan, he saw a picture of Swami Veda Bharati in a pamphlet and immediately felt that this is the teacher for him. He went to Rishikesh and the ashram but Swami Veda was not there, so he ventured to caves high in the Himalayas. There he met a sadhu baba (a yogi) who prepared Vishnu for stepping into the teachings of Swami Rama. Vishnu still carried one bag of nice clothes and shawls used in Katha and articles of worship with fancy pictures of deities. Vishnu had to carry this around carefully looking to see where his footsteps would go while the yogi would stride quickly through the forest in the night. The sadhu kept admonishing and scolding him to not be so fearful and attached if he was to really tread the path of Himalayan yoga.
Once the sadhu announced that these possessions are to be thrown into the Ganga river and declared, “if you want these attachments and fears then go back to your village and get married and take a life of comfort!” Vishnu asked, “How can I throw the pictures of Gods?”, the yogi replied, “If you throw them you will get the real God!” The next day the two of them went to the river to throw Vishnu’s things. Vishnu looked over each piece evaluating its’ value and thinking whether to keep it or throw it as he tossed a few things into the Ganga. At that point, the yogi gathered Vishnu’s remaining possessions into a bundle and heaved it in the water. “Throw money”, he said next and Vishnu was left with only one set of clothes, the one he was wearing. The yogi provided a cave for Vishnu to meditate and while sitting inside he heard a movement above and behind him. There was a cobra on an upper ledge of the cave, Vishnu could only close his eyes and do his best to compose his mind. Then he heard an inner voice, “I’ve come to release your fear, not increase your fear.”
After some time, Vishnu had to leave the yogi, ready to join the Gurukulam and be under the close guidance of Swami Veda Bharati. He had been teaching and guiding the students at the Swami Rama Institute of Meditation and Inter-faith Studies for 9 years. He obtained a Masters in Sanskrit and a Masters in Yoga.
He was guiding the Gurukulam students in all the practices and disciplines along with teaching philosophy, yoga and meditation to long-term guests and visitors.He was blessed and learned from other great Masters such as Swami Hari, Shri Mauni, Swami Shankarananda ji (Kriya Yoga Master), Swami Anand Bes (Founder of Viswa Shanti Mission).
Yogi Vishnu has been travelling and teaching outside and inside India. Now he is running and teaching at several ashrams in Laxmanjhula, Rishikesh. You can find him at Samadhi Ashram and World Peace School teaching students in the variety of programs the ashrams offer.
If you are interested in attending one of Vishnu’s Ashrams, please reach out to “AJ” Amy Jo Crowell, and she will share with you about the facilities and programs. Email her at email@example.com or call her 214-624-9896 X700.
Many of yoga and holistic programs these ashrams offer are certified by Yoga Alliance.
Samadhi Ashram: https://samadhiyogaashram.com/
World Peace Yoga School: https://www.worldpeaceyogaschool.com/